This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Thursday, May 21, 2009

Circles of Confession of Sin

Recently Justin Taylor posted "Another Perspective on Confessing Sins Publicly" that reproduces a comment made by Ken Stewart on Justin's blog entry titled, "The Risk of Confessing Our Sins."

Below is my comment on Justin's blog.

____________________________

It is as if Ken Stewart rifled through my files of unpublished materials or eavesdropped on numerous conversations I've had. He has expressed precisely the same things that I have been preaching for decades. It must be that we're deriving our beliefs from the same source, the Scriptures.

Tony Cooper mentioned his observations concerning the so-called "revival" in 1995 at Northwestern College where I teach. I remember well that student leaders came to me to ask for my assessment of what was happening and for guidance. I offered my assessment, as requested, and offered guidance. Student leaders did not welcome my imparted wisdom. One student was not satisfied with the response of his fellow students. He took some of his fellow students with him to seek John Piper's wisdom. John told them essentially the same things that I offered. They were willing to hear him and accept his cautions, thankfully. However, by that time, enormous damage had already taken place.

I remember distinctly that at 10:30 am on April 5, 1995, I took the opportunity to leave chapel at the normal closing time, when given the opportunity to do so. I left because I knew what would be erupting, namely a stream of students who would be making public confessions of private, even secret, sins. I left because I had no desire to know the intimate and secret sins of students whose faces I would be seeing in my classes. I did not want to have entirely unnecessary, unwarranted, and ungodly knowledge of their intimate sins. I did not want to have such things deeply imprinted upon my rather potent memory. I did not want to be caused to stumble during a lecture on holy things while looking into the faces of students in my classes.

Thus, I left chapel and did not return. Despite my efforts to guard myself from being contaminated with public confessions of private and secret sins, I could not escape entirely because I overheard conversations (gossip) among faculty, staff, and students concerning various students who stood to confess publicly their very private sins.

I could go on and on about this. One of my former Student Assistants greatly shamed herself by making such a confession of a sin that she had committed several years earlier and of which she had repented and to which she had never returned. Weeping, she came to speak with me. She was so profoundly distraught because of her public foolishness that she wanted to leave Northwestern College. From my contacts with her following that event, I observed a very changed woman. She severely injured herself to such an extent that she foundered for several years thereafter.

When students asked for my assessment of the "revival," I often asked a sequence of questions. Do people hang their freshly washed underwear out on a clothesline to dry on their front yards? Why, then, would they ever hang out their very private sins for all to view in their public disclosures in public confessions? The teaching of the gospel is clear. Is it not? Confess sins in as wide a circle as the committed sin is known. If it is simply a sinful thought, why would any of us confess a sinful thought to anyone other than to our High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ?

5 comments:

bjr2000 said...

Romans 7 gone very bad.

Pilgrim said...

What do you think has led to the errant practice of publicly confessing private sin? Do you think it's the influence of culture? Psychology/psychotherapy? Roman Catholicism? Something about fallen human nature ("the wicked flee when no one pursues")?

Does the practice actually reveal a lack of faith, not believing that God is faithful and just to forgive us when we confess to him?

Do you apply Jas 5:16's "confess your sins to each other" narrowly to the situation of prayer for healing?

How about the modern popularity of "accountability partners?" Any thoughts there, in reference to confession of sin, public and private?

And of course, follow up to all those questions: why/how?

A. B. Caneday said...

My note is too long to post. I will break it into two notes.

What do you think has led to the errant practice of publicly confessing private sin? Do you think it's the influence of culture? Psychology/psychotherapy? Roman Catholicism? Something about fallen human nature ("the wicked flee when no one pursues")?

Great questions, Joe! I have the sense that you purposely lobbed these questions my way because you knew how I would respond. (Am I right?)

I am persuaded that all the above have led to the wrongful public confession of private sins. Modern psychology has in large measure highjacked almost all things Christian and has perverted these things. Confession of sin, under modern psychology's influence, has become little more than therapeutic purging to feel good about oneself.

I observed in April 1995, during the "revival" on our campus, that students were exploiting the crowd that had keen ears for prurient and titillating confessions as priests in the confessional booth but at the same time as psychotherapists to hear the most intimate details of their exploits incited by active youthful hormones rendered out of control by their fallenness.

So, yes, as you aptly quote--"the wicked flee when no one pursues." They foolishly pursued modern psychology's/psychotherapy's trap of feeling good about themselves without actually repenting of their sins, which includes forsaking their sinful pursuits.
Does the practice actually reveal a lack of faith, not believing that God is faithful and just to forgive us when we confess to him?

Yes. I also addressed this back in April 1995. Our students showed that they were children of the times. They were thoroughly nurtured under the influend of modern psychology and psychotherapy. Hence, many needed instant gratification. Many needed instantly to feel good about themselves. Manyy needed a sense of tangible acceptance and approval. Hence, rather than turning to God in confession of private sins they seized upon the opportunity to confess publicly their private sins so that they could have what they pursued. It lasted as long as it could, which was very short, for what they pursued was not the substantive cleansing from the heavenly gospel but the fleeting feeling from earthly teachings.

A. B. Caneday said...

Do you apply Jas 5:16's "confess your sins to each other" narrowly to the situation of prayer for healing?

I also addressed James 5:16 in April 1995 as it touched upon the "revival" on our campus. "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed." I do not take this verse as narrowly confined to the situation of prayer for healing. Rather, I take the verse as a general admonition that we should embrace in order that we might avoid finding ourselves in a situation that requires healing from a physical malady that has come upon ourselves because we have not properly tended to the matter of confessing sin. This, of course, is not to suggest that every physical malady is due to a specific sin that we have committed, or put even more starkly, a specific sin that we have committed but have not confessed. Rather, the James 5 passage suggests that some physical maladies may be so tied with sins that have not been properly confessed.

I take James' admonition--"Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed."--to be in keeping with all biblical instruction concerning confession of sin. Confess your sins within as wide a circle as your sins are known. If known to you and to God alone, confess your sin to God alone. If your sin is a thought known to you and to your wife and to God alone, confess your sin to your wife and to God alone. If your sin is publicly known, as in your church, confess your sin before the church. If your sin, though known to you and to God alone, entails other people, such as theft or swindling, confession to God alone is hardly proper. Confession of the sin to those wronged is also necessary. Of course, restitution and reconciliation must also take place.

Surely, James is not suggesting, as many Christians assume, that we are simply to go up to one another and "spill our guts," confessing intimate details to people who have no knowledge of our sins until we spew out the bilge upon them, and that we must be prepared to accept the bilge that others may spew upon us.

James, the brother of our Lord, reflects intimate knowledge of Jesus' teaching throughout his letter. Hence, it is unthinkable that James' admonition of 5:16 does anything but assume that his readers already know quite well that confession of sin is a sacred duty that is to be done within its proper spheres, within the sphere of knowledge of the sins to be confessed.
How about the modern popularity of "accountability partners?" Any thoughts there, in reference to confession of sin, public and private?

Wow! Here's another question I addressed in 1995. This notion of "accountability partners" derives from modern psychology/psychotherapy. It creates an artificial relationship, a kind of therapist-patient relationship.

Again, confession of sin is to be done in the presence of those against whom I have sinned, who have observed my sin, who have received knowledge of my sin because I failed to confess promptly, or whom my sin directly affects. "Accountability partners" is a Protestant substitute for the Father Confessor of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of seeking "accountability partners" we ought to seek Christian friends for all the right reasons we should seek friends, but not for the purpose of using them as Confessors.
And of course, follow up to all those questions: why/how?

I hope that my responses explain why/how.

Pilgrim said...

Didn't mean for them to be softballs. :-) I wouldn't have been surprised had you replied, "None of the above, Joe, but rather..." followed by something of which I'm unaware. I've never had a conversation with you on these matters, so I thought it'd be a good time to hear you on it.

Your observation that they fled to psychology/psychotherapy was keen, and it unveils a sad irony: it may have actually been the Holy Spirit pursuing them, yet they fled from him as though he were an enemy, fled from him into the arms of a true enemy, comforted by false saviors offering a falsely eased conscience.

I'll try to ask tougher questions ;-)