Exploring Spiritual Disciplines: Confession
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16
It’s right there in the text. James seems to think it is a forgone conclusion that the followers of Christ will confess their sins to each other. But it is something that protestant churches have struggled with for many, many years.
Most of us are very private people. There are parts of us that we like to keep hidden form others, even in our closest social circles. And this doesn’t even necessarily mean our sins; some of this is a consequence of the long-held societal rules that forbade broaching topics like religion and politics in social settings (although, with the advent of social media, we have overcorrected this problem and perhaps share too much of our religious and political opinions without proper nuance to guide us).
Confession pushes us out of our comfort zone in regards to our privacy. Importantly, Richard J. Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline classifies confession not as an inward discipline, but as a corporate discipline. It is a discipline that we engage in as the community of the church, not alone.
One of the reasons, I think, this discipline is so difficult for us is because we have a deep sense of shame about our sin. And the reason for that is because we think our sin should leave us the moment we become followers of Christ. It is a struggle that has been ongoing since the beginning of the church; how can we live in the love and sanctification of Christ, while still feeling tied to the world of sin? But one of the ways we relieve ourselves from the guilt of sin is through confession. Foster puts it well when he says that when we confess, “our humanity is no longer denied, but transformed.” Public acknowledgement of our sin helps us begin the journey towards letting it go.
And this doesn’t just apply to personal sins; this applies to corporate sin as well. Publicly confessing our sins as a church, as a community, is the only way to put ourselves on the path towards healing. For instance, until the church recognized its sinful attitude towards its Black brothers and sisters during their quest for equality and Civil Rights, we could not truly start the healing process. It is only once we confess and repent of our sin that our sanctification begins.
Confession is not an easy discipline. In theory, one would think it would be the simplest. It requires little time commitment when contrasted with the other disciplines. But our pride often stands in the way. Confession does not have to occur in front of the entire congregation, but it should at least be occurring with someone you can trust, who you believe can guide you through the forgiveness that Jesus offers. Because it is through confession that we can find healing.