Confession

My church background is Protestant, Evangelical, and mostly non-liturgical. But I’ve been wondering lately if our fear of rote ritual has led us to abandon some valuable spiritual disciplines, such as confession. People say that confession is good for the soul, and I don’t doubt it. Have Protestants lost an important spiritual principle by not keeping a culture of confession? I’m not suggesting that we adopt the Roman Catholic confessional. Too much of the related theology seems disputable. But perhaps we should try to foster a church environment that better allows or even encourages us to hold each other more accountable for our personal sins.

A former pastor of mine used to say that the circle of confession should be no bigger than the circle of offense, and generally I agree with that. In some circumstances it might be wise to confide in a spiritual leader or counselor, but usually it is appropriate to confess to and seek forgiveness from only those who have been sinned against or who are aware of the sin. So I don’t know what this might look like practically, but I wanted to bring it up and see what people think.

Should Evangelicals be more willing to own up to their spiritual failings? Should the Church encourage it, or even establish a “standardized” method of confession? What might the process be? Could we adapt the Roman Catholic system, or should we create something completely different? What dangers would we need to avoid? What benefits would come from it?

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9 responses to “Confession

  1. Confession is good, but I would not formalize it like the Catholics do. It must be done on an individual basis when appropriate and only the the people sinned against in my book.

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    • In principle I agree, Keith. But I’m wondering if there is something the Church can do to encourage us to do it more often, to be more accountable about it. It seems too easy to just let it slide, and not follow through as we should.

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    • That is interesting, Don–thanks! I had not thought of John 20:23 in the context of confession in general or the Roman Catholic theology of it. But now that you point it out, I can certainly see how it could be understood in that regard. On the other hand, it seems reasonably obvious from the rest of Scripture that only God can forgive sins against Himself (e.g., Luke 5.24). Obviously, it is our responsibility as Christians to forgive sins committed against us (e.g., Matt. 18:21f).

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    • Something else about your comment came to mind, Don. I have no experience with any of the Recovery systems, so I have only superficial knowledge of them. But it’s my impression that they purposely do not frame the activity (alcoholism, for example) as a moral issue, but more as a personal habit to overcome or even an illness to heal. That would mitigate the stress of guilt and shame, making the problem that much easier to overcome.

      If this is true–and I might be way off base on that–does that change the confession dynamic? It seems obvious that “confessing” a bad habit or an illness is a lot easier than confessing a moral sin. As Christians we believe that moral sin and the guilt and shame that come from it are real and need to be dealt with. Would it be appropriate in a church environment to reframe sin issues the way that Recovery systems reframe addiction issues, even just as a practical method of making it easier to break the sin habits?

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  2. It is interesting that our pastor’s latest sermon, based primarily on 1John 1:5-10, put a special emphasis on confession. He encourages the congregation to participate in 1-to-1 discipleship for accountability and real fellowship among members of the body of Christ. This sermon is actually the 18th in a series entitled “HOLY – A Pilgrim’s Progress.”

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    • Thanks, Scott!

      I have always taken this passage to refer to confession to God, which I certainly agree is necessary. Did your pastor relate it to confession among believers?

      My church has encouraged membership in small groups (four to six couples, or equivalent singles) for several years. I like the 1-to-1 idea. Does your church offer a system to bring appropriate people together, or offer any sort of training or guidance on how to start and develop such a relationship? As introverted as I am, it would be next to impossible for me to get that ball rolling without some sort of assistance or support.

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      • Our pastor did make a point about confession among believers, as verse 7 states: “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” To me, confession before God is the prerequisite to confession before our brothers and sisters, just like the great commandment to love God first in order to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).

        Our church does not offer training or guidance on how to start and develop 1-to-1 discipleship relationship, although I can see a need for that because I am also a introvert. While our pastor is just the opposite, he may not see that need as much.

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        • I have seen a lot of books and heard a lot of sermons on discipleship and personal ministry, but I have never seen or heard one that talked about them from an introverted perspective. I am not only introverted, but also very shy, so that makes such activities even harder. The Internet and social media have finally given me a medium to reach out and share with people. 🙂

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