Cross or Resurrection 2a: Stop confessing your sins!

This post is part of the series which I started with Cross or Resurrection 1: Which is Determinative? But I am not numbering it as the third in the continuing series as it is not really new material. Instead I am writing to highlight one of my main points in Cross or Resurrection 2: Greater than John the Baptist.

In that post I wrote that

The ancient Jews offered regular sacrifices and sin offerings as a sign of their repentance. But these animal sacrifices had no power to change them

and backed that up from Hebrews 10:1-4. I continued:

Sadly we see the same attitude in many of our Christian churches. Roman Catholics are encouraged to confess their sins regularly to a priest in private. Anglican worshippers, among others, are expected to repeat at least every week words such as the following …:

We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness …

When the priest offers the absolution, they believe that their past sins have been forgiven – but also that they are expected to continue to sin, so they have something to confess the next Sunday. Clearly this kind of repeated ritual is no more effective than Old Testament sacrifices …, as it cannot “make perfect those who draw near to worship”.

The biblical picture of the true Christian believer is very different …

Traditional confessional in Saint-Thiébaut Church, Thann, FranceSo I would appeal to Christians to stop dragging up and confessing trivial or imaginary sins, and to churches to stop expecting them to do so. Yes, there is a place for Christians to confess their sins, when they have gone seriously astray and need to be brought back into God’s path. In such cases it may well be appropriate to confess privately to a church leader, and receive personal counsel and assurance of forgiveness. But if a Christian needs to do that regularly, there is something seriously wrong with their understanding of the Christian life. And if a whole congregation is expected to recite a weekly General Confession like the Anglican one, then they are being taught that wrong understanding.

As Christians, we shouldn’t expect to sin, and we shouldn’t let others teach us that expectation.

So, I appeal to churches, especially Anglican ones, throw out your lengthy prayers of General Confession. Instead, expect most of your congregants to be living good Christian lives, and encourage those who do need to put something right to deal with the matter individually, either alone with God or with the help of one of your ministry team.

0 thoughts on “Cross or Resurrection 2a: Stop confessing your sins!

  1. People DO tend to live up to expectations… church expects them to be sinners, and so they live like it… I just about throw up every time I hear a believer say, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace”… NO, you’re NOT a sinner.

  2. Peter, as you realised I fully agreed with your start point, that the cross and ressurection belong inextricably together and that we are called to live their reality. But you seem to have made a connection that I would not have made.

    I may have missed his point , but I have never been easy about Wesley’s ideas of Entire Sactification. I do not believe we will reach a state of perfection this side of the grave. Indeed I see as much danger in claiming such perfectionism as I do in the propserity gospel. Our lives should certainly reflect the ressurection life, the future breaking into the present as others have put it, and by the power of the Spirit this will happen. If we never seem to progress along that road then it is reasonable to wonder where we really are before God. But that does not equate with a state of entire sanctification ot whatever we want to call it.

    We are called in Ephesians to go on being filled with the Spirit basically because we leak and get used up – well I do! Similarly it seems to me that the thrust of such as ! John 1 v8-9 and Romans 7 v 14-20, is that the journey is ongoing. I do not believe any of us can say honestly we live in a state of sinlessness – only Jesus has done that. Many teachers I have known, e.g. at Spring Harvest, St Andrews Chorleywood, have stressed the need to keep short accounts with God. That being so it seems right to me that we recognise that fact early in a time of worship, and acknowledge before Him the reality that we do slip and stumble. Such acknowledgement can help to free us more in worship.

    So I would be wary of abandoning a form of corporate confession . When I am presiding, I normally encourage a moment of reflection in the invitation – is the Holy Spirit at this time bringing to you anything grieving him or restricting his movement in your life. As a Reader, CoE order does not “allow” me to pronounce the so called priestly absolution. Perhaps that is as well, not least it avoids the misunderstanding such forms can give out. The “non priestly” forms (” may God forgive us” ) are perhaps more meaningful – indeed our former curate always used them. I think he took a view similar to that you expressed in your post immediately fllowing this one. On occaisions I have read the 1 John verses and prayed that we receive that as a personal assurance from the Lord.

    I agree with your point that sometimes we may require individual counsel. One of the exhrtations in the 1662 service recognises that. In which case any mature and godly person could assist you.

    I realise that you and others may not see corporate confession in the same way. But while we might debate this as an issue, I would not accept that it in any way compromises the totality of the cross and ressurection.

    Sorry this is a bit long.

  3. Colin, thank you for your thoughtful comment. It was the kind of response I was hoping to provoke from my Anglican readers.

    Did you actually read my previous post, on which I based this one? There I quoted 1 John 1:8-10 and explicitly rejected Wesley’s ideas of sinless perfection or entire sanctification, writing that “we should not claim to be sinless and perfect”. But that is the direction in which we should be heading.

    Yes, we should recognise our weaknesses, our not always godly attitudes, and our occasional specific sins. There may be a place for acknowledging this briefly within a service, but with a proper balance to avoid the expectation that we will always continue to sin.

    I just wrote more about forgiveness and absolution in a follow-up post. But I will say that I disagree with your preference for a “non-priestly” form like “may God forgive us”. The problem with this is that it sounds like we are begging God for something uncertain. Instead we should be relying on his promises, that there is no condemnation for us in Christ as our sins have already been forgiven, and claiming these promises for ourselves. I realise you have to abide by Church of England rules, but they can hardly complain if you read this promise from 1 John 1:9.

  4. Mr. Kirk,
    Excellent post. You’ve expressed what I have wanted to say time after time, service after service, to different pastors. “Why are you service after service leading your congregation in a general confession of sin?” Doing this convinces them that they have to live a defeated life of committing sins every week. It also lowers our expectations of God’s power working in our lives to cleanse and keep us living a life of victory. I would not say that a Christian cannot sin, but that we don’t have to sin. “These things … that ye sin not… but if any man sin, we have an Advocate…” Thanks again for this good post. Keep up the good work. -Phillip

  5. eter
    thank you for your response. Glad to be of service by being provoked!

    Seriously, yes I had read your comments on Wesley. Perhaps I should have expressed my thoughts there a bit differently. Apologies. Cathy has a cousin who is married to a Methodist Minister. I must ask him for his take on Entire Sanctification sometime if he is up for deep theology when we get together. But he has personal care of 3 churches plus a circuit so he is rather busy. I do agree with your comment that we should be heading in the direction of it.

    I also note that you feel there “may be” a place for a brief act of acknowledgement. I would myself perhaps go a bit further and consider it an important part of preparation of our hearts for freedom in worship. So I would personally include it more often than not. And in normal course it is fairly brief, subject to us wiorshippers recognising the importance of what we are doing, rather than mindless repetition., or needless wallowing.

    I am less convinced about avoiding an expectation that we will continue to sin. Unless we accept Entire Sanctification, then I see the other side of the coin being that we will by definition continue to sin though clearly that should be less in terms of frequency and seriousness, however you define that. And John and Paul seem to underpin that. So confession in an approrpiate way seems right and proper to reflect a (right?) view of reality. And as you say “There is no comdenation for those in Christ”. Assurance of that is worth hearing and receiving over again.

    I appreciate your closing comments on a form of assurance. I have no expectation or undertanding that I should be a presbyter, but if I was, like our former curate, I would probably continue as CoE order expects of me now. Yes we can rely on his assurance, and how often and in how many other ways we often need to hear assurances here and elsewhere. No one has complained when I have used Scriture direct! I had noticed your more recent post and may come back there – or not.

  6. Your opinion is at the root of not merely all the abuses that happen among Christians, but the inevitable cover-ups that drag not only the manifest sinners into spirals of wickedness, but their innocent victims.

    The pastor has been sexually abusing the youth? Couldn’t happen, he’s obviously living a good Christian life. That husband is beating his wife? Not possible — he’s not a sinner! This church is a bastion of racism and greed? May it never be so — we just can’t be expected to sin, after all.

    Your idea that people would be quick to confess “serious” sins if they in the habit of ignoring “trivial” ones goes right against human nature. And what you think might be a trivial sin might be horrendously harmful to someone else.

    I submit that you are either supremely sheltered from the realities of human and Christian existence, or in grave peril of overweening pride. Please don’t lead others in your folly.

    I prefer to follow St. Paul: “Of sinners, I am the worst.”

  7. Thank you, Phillip. I agree with you.

    Colin, I am aware that some Anglican confessions are quite short, very different from the 1662 Lord’s Supper confession which I quoted. But most of the ones I have seen I would still consider too long. I liked what we did in family services in a previous church, which was basically to read out 1 John 1:8-9. However, we mustn’t forget the preceding verse 7: if we walk in the light, as Christians are expected to do, we will be purified of every sin, which implies that we won’t need to confess them any more.

    Meanwhile I rather think that most Methodists today are rather embarrassed by Wesley’s sanctification teaching and don’t really hold to it. It’s worth remembering that Wesley never claimed that he was entirely sanctified, only that in principle people could be. I’m not sure whether I agree. But then in almost any field of human endeavour we know we cannot perform perfectly, but that doesn’t stop us trying and make us settle for mediocrity. The problem I see is with far too many Christians settling for mediocrity, and I see the General Confession as presenting that as the normal Christian life.

  8. Gordon, you are totally misinterpreting me! I would say the complete opposite of this. I am absolutely not offering any kind of licence for sin, of the kinds you mention or indeed of any kind at all. You certainly cannot blame this teaching for the best known church sexual abuse scandals, which are among Roman Catholics who teach very strongly the opposite, the need for regular confession. On the contrary, I could blame the scandals on their teaching, which some might misunderstand as meaning it is OK to continue to sin, even in the most flagrant ways, if they confess those sins each Sunday before mass.

    You also totally misinterpret Paul, who meant that he had been the worst of sinners before Jesus saved him from that life. See the context in 1 Timothy 1:15-16.

    I accept that you have a point about trivial sins. No sin against another person is truly trivial. I was thinking more about the approach I was encouraged into: trawling through my memory to drag up some slightly covetous or unloving thought, not action, so that I could have something to confess.

    I would urge any church leaders, in their teaching on sin, to insist that Christian holiness by no means at all implies that any action which might otherwise be a sin is OK because one is a Christian.

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