There is a pretty clear mandate in scripture that we are to be a confessing people. In the Old Testament, God links confession and repentance with his covenant loyalty toward his people (Lev 26:40). In many other passages the people’s confession is a prerequisite to having an intimate connection with God. The New Testament is no different.
James 5:3-16 – “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
We have known all along that singing is important and we have outlets for that. We have known that prayer is important and we have outlets for people to do that. We have known that confession is important but I do wonder if we are lacking effective ways for people to carry that out?
1 John 1:8-10– “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”
We live such private lives. We don’t know our neighbors. It is very difficult for people to open up on a deeper level. How do we move from, “Hi, how are you?” “Fine.” to confessing our sins and becoming vulnerable to each other? We all sin and need outlets for confession yet the invitation is only used for that a few times during the year rather than hundreds. I think we could use a more effective outlet for confession. LIFE groups/small groups are a pretty good outlet for confession if people will take advantage of it. It is less intimidating and you are not confessing before 500 people. It can be done in confidentiality with the group if people finally get comfortable with each other and learn that we have to be vulnerable with God and others if we want to grow closer to both.
What has worked for you? Where do you feel safe confessing? How could we do better in helping people with an area that is essential for their spiritual growth? One thing I would suggest – being ready to accept people once we learn their struggles. If they confess and hear snickers or gasps, it is likely that will be the last time they will try that. And we must remember that at times we will be the one confessing and we don’t want people doing that to us. Confessing needs to be safe and safe comes from a supporting environment.
Here is a link to our small group lesson on confessing in prayer.
I agree that confession seems to be a thing of the past. It just isn’t something we do anymore, when the invitation is offered and the invitation song is sung … do we even expect anyone to respond? Obviously, it is something we are more comfortable with in small groups. When I had a Bible study going with some friends, we regularly asked for specific prayers for our struggles, a confession of sorts. And we had a desire for that accountability that makes confession effective.
I’m going to comment a little later about confession. I will also give you a link for a blog on men’s accountability groups and confession. Unfortunately the bookmark is on my other computer.
However, I do want to give you a link to read that goes along with your post earlier on roles of women and men in the church. The link is a book review, Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth Century Women Writing on Women in Genesis. It is sort of a commentary on Genesis gathering together all the written comments made back in the nineteenth century. You should read the review. The review will make you want to get the book. It will surely give we preachers greater insight into the mind of women and how they view scripture. It is not a book that either conservatives or liberals will claim as their own. It will challenge both sides and the middle as well. It will definitely be a purchase I will make soon. Here’s the link:
I enjoyed this post. It seems we have become so afraid we would be considered denominational that we have gotten away from some of the principles God set in place for kingdom growth. I believe confession is one of those. If we were confessing, we would not be see as “holier than thous” we would be seen as struggling christians striving to walk in the light.
Just a thought
Matt, some would question the idea that there is a clear scriptural mandate for confession among believers. At least not in the regular way in which you advocate in this entry. There is only the James 5 passage which advocates this practice.
I am very big, however, on confession to God & it being a big part of our regular prayer life. For some reason, we’re conditioned to believe that God can’t handle it or something. Like God would hear what we’ve done, turn to the Central Intelligence Director in Heaven, and say, “Who let this go BY?!” Confession before God is cathartic (Psalms 32), and vital for real relationship to happen.
I think that there’s some secrets that people should be able to have between themselves & God. That’s not to say that I’m entirely against openness between believers. However, I do have my concerns about how such “openness” is encouraged & applied pragmatically.
Great post! You asked: “How do we move from, ‘Hi, how are you?’ ‘Fine.’ to confessing our sins and becoming vulnerable to each other?” I believe the answer is in fellowship. Perhaps that is why you find confession easier among a smaller group of people – you have fellowship. Then again, another question that could be asked, “If we can’t confess among the larger group (i.e. there is not fellowship in the larger group) then is that larger group the church?” But, then again, that would be an entirely different topic.
I’m going to think about this a little while longer, then link to this post, adding a few words of my own. I hope many people will think about confession.
BTW, Happy Anniversary 🙂
Thanks for stopping my blog (which-as you can tell-I haven’t done much with for awhile). Good to hear from you.
You’ve got some good thoughts on your blog–I’ve enjoyed reading it. As you probably saw on my blog, I’m in ministry in Oregon. Ruthie and I are doing well–have an almost 3 year old daughter.
It’s pretty cool to be able to catch up with Harding folks via their blogs.
I hope to catch up with you more later.
PS–Noticed you were married to a gal named Missy and are big Florida Gator fans–is that Missy Suggs?
Thanks for stopping by and letting us hear from you. Yes, I was lucky enough to marry Missy Suggs. We are doing great. She is no longer teaching and is now doing marriage education. I look forward to hearing more about what you are doing in Oregon! By the way, your little daughter is soooo cute.
One thing that I try to stress to our small group leaders over and over again is that if the group is going to do something tough it must come from the top down. That means that the elders are serious about it, I (as the small group director) am serious about it, and the group leaders are serious about it. If they don’t see us doing it, why should they feel safe doing it? Confession will start with people having better role-models/examples of it and seeing that the person who does it met warmly and securely and that they are not ostracized by others for doing so. That opens the door for others to feel safe.
I have mentioned before Jerry and Lynn Jones’ definition of intimacy – freedom from anxiety in the presence of vulnerability. If we are going to be spiritually intimate we have to be vulnerable with each other and with God. The reason we can be free from anxiety is only if people are willing to be loving and accepting to those who admit their faults. When that happens, deep spiritual intimacy will result and people will grow.