Cross or Resurrection 8: Finding the Balance

With this post I conclude this series. Perhaps “Cross and Resurrection” was not the best title for it, as it has in fact ranged much wider than these two events. Here are the previous posts:

In each of the preceding posts, apart from the opening one, I warned against the dangers of taking one aspect of the faith, and of the New Testament narrative, as the central focus of Christianity and as determinative for the Christian life. In each case I named a particular stream within the church which sometimes strays too far in focusing on one aspect to the neglect of the others.

The key to the Christian life is to find the right balance between these matters. Each of them is important and indeed necessary for a proper Christian life. Tightrope walker Ramon Kelvink Jr.But no one of them is important enough to be the central focus, or to cause the others to be neglected. The Christian life must begin with repentance and forgiveness, made possible through the Cross, and continue with the new life inaugurated by the Resurrection and empowered by the Holy Spirit – always taking Jesus’ life on earth as an example but remembering that he is now reigning in heaven and will come again at the end. If anything here is missed out, there is a serious imbalance which needs to be corrected. But if we keep the right balance, the Christian walk is a straightforward, if not always easy, one.

Cross or Resurrection 7: Jesus is Coming Soon

I have just one more brief part to add to my series on what is determinative for the Christian life, before drawing my conclusions. I have looked at John the Baptist, at the life and teachingthe death on the Cross, and the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, and at Pentecost. Finally I want to look at the expected Second Coming of Jesus, and at those Christians who seem to centre their faith on looking ahead to that coming – to the Rapture, to the Millennium, or to the final Day of Judgment.

Harold CampingThis year’s most notorious preacher of the End Times has of course been Harold Camping, whose prophecies of the Rapture on 21st May and Judgment Day on 21st October attracted widespread ridicule, especially when nothing unusual happened on either day. Camping’s clearest error was to ignore the clear biblical teaching that the exact dates of the end have not been revealed to human beings, as Jesus taught:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Mark 13:32 (NIV)

It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Acts 1:7 (NIV)

But Camping’s error was deeper than that, and its depths are shared by many more Christians, especially those of a more Fundamentalist persuasion. Their fundamental mistake is to focus more on what is coming than on what needs to be done in the present. Yes, Jesus warned us to be ready for his coming, but also that we need to be working faithfully until he does. Paul had no time for those who gave up work to wait for Jesus to come.

We mustn’t forget that Jesus is coming. But we can’t expect to know when. As Jesus told us, wars and earthquakes are not signs that the Day is imminent (Mark 13:7-8). So we shouldn’t make this the centre of our Christian life.

Concluded in Cross or Resurrection 8: Finding the Balance.

Back to the USA

Peter and Lorenza KirkMy wife Lorenza and I are taking a trip to the USA for the next three weeks. We will be based in the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia, where we expect to spend Thanksgiving with our good friends. We will then be sorting out some business matters – and also hope to have some time to see the area. We leave tomorrow morning, 22nd November, and should be home on 14th December.

I hope to be able to finish off the series Cross or Resurrection. But otherwise I don’t know yet if I will have time for blogging while we are away.

We will be sad to miss Tim and Marci Chesterton, whose own transatlantic trip coincides with ours. But we look forward to making new friends and business contacts, as well as to seeing and celebrating with our old friends.

Cross or Resurrection 6: New Life After Pentecost

Pentecost, by El Greco (1600)In this series on what is determinative for the Christian life I will move on past John the Baptist and past the life and teachingthe death on the Cross, and the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, to look at the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and at how some Christians put an unbalanced emphasis on this.

It will be no surprise that here I am referring to Pentecostals, and to their successors in the Charismatic Movement. For many centuries the practical implications of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and especially the supernatural gifts which he gives, had been neglected in churches. These gifts were put back into use by the Pentecostals in the early 20th century, and in the second half of that century started to be practised in established denominations, as well as in numerous independent charismatic churches which would not label themselves as Pentecostal.

Whatever one might think of the more spectacular charismatic gifts, I hope my readers would agree with me that it is wrong to focus on them as the centre of the Christian life, especially if that leads to a neglect of Jesus Christ. In the past some Pentecostals have made speaking in tongues the determinative mark of a good Christian, but I am happy that that is no longer typical. Others in the charismatic movement have been accused of putting too much emphasis on healing, even though in most cases they see this at least in principle as glorifying Jesus and bringing people to him.

Less controversially, it is largely but not only in the Charismatic Movement that a new emphasis has been found on ordinary Christians living the Resurrection life. This is a biblical emphasis:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

The implication here is that Christians should move on from focusing on the sinful old life which they have died to, and instead live the new life for which they have been born again. But the danger comes when people presume that they have already reached the perfection of Resurrection life, that they are already reigning with Christ in his perfect kingdom. This view was widespread in the Corinthian church, and Paul responded to it with cutting irony:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. … 13 … We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

1 Corinthians 4:8-13 (NIV)

Clearly the Corinthians had gone too far in claiming to “reign”. Paul brings them back to reality by calling himself “the garbage of the world”, a point not about his sinfulness but about how people treated him. His life was not always the victorious one which some were claiming to live; he was often “hungry and thirsty”, and even “brutally treated” (v.11). He wanted to teach the Corinthians that the Christian life, following God’s call, would often be like this.

Yes, as Christians we have been raised with Christ. But we are still living in an in-between world. The kingdom of God is breaking through into it but is not yet fully established. And it is only within that kingdom that we can reign with Christ. To the extent that we are not surrounded by that kingdom, but are in a world that is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), we can expect to struggle and suffer. If we retreat from that world into a Christian bubble, we are insulated in part from that struggle. But while there may be seasons for such retreat, the Christian calling at least for most people is to take the kingdom of God out into the world, and to risk the suffering which may come as we do, while expecting in the long term to see Jesus Christ bring the victory.

Continued in Cross or Resurrection 7: Jesus is Coming Soon.

Cross or Resurrection 5: Risen and Ascended Lord

This series on what is determinative for the Christian life started with John the Baptist and continued with the life and teaching of Jesus and with his death on the Cross. Now I want to consider whether the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ should be considered the central focus for the Christian life.

Christ Pantocrator - detail from Deesis mosaic, Hagia Sophia, IstanbulThis is an emphasis which is sometimes seen as characteristic of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, in contrast to the western churches which tend to put more emphasis on the Cross. To be honest I don’t know how true this is of Eastern Orthodoxy in general, but it does seem to be reflected in the prominence of the image of Christ Pantocrator in Byzantine and more modern Eastern church buildings. The Jesus in these images is not living on earth or dying on the Cross; he has risen and ascended and is reigning as the Lord Almighty.

Now it is certainly true to biblical teaching that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and that he is enthroned there as King. Indeed today, at least in many western churches, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. But he is not the heavenly counterpart of an earthly emperor, as seems to be implied by the Orthodox iconography and theology. Jesus’ idea of rulership is very different:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:42-45 (NIV)

The Christian life, therefore, is not to be one of subjection to a heavenly tyrant, ruling through his regent on earth the emperor. Yes, the emperor may reign, and Christian people are to honour this rule in earthly matters. But in spiritual matters, although Christ is indeed King, his reign has a very different character, one which involves humility and self-sacrifice, demonstrated and shaped by his life on earth and his death on the Cross. If these are lost sight of in worship of the heavenly Christ, again the Christian faith has lost its proper balance.

Nearing the end of this series, continued in Cross or Resurrection 6: New Life After Pentecost.

Cross or Resurrection 4: The Centrality of the Cross?

I continue this series on what is determinative for the Christian life by looking at the Cross. I have already looked at the life and baptism of John and at the life and teaching of Jesus as possible focal examples for our own life, and have concluded that the former is sub-Christian and the latter is inadequate apart from what follows. Now I want to move on to consider what very many Christians consider to be the very centre of their faith, the Cross, or more precisely the death of Jesus on it.

Dali, Christ of St John of the CrossFirst I want to make it very clear that for me this Crucifixion is absolutely vital for the Christian faith. The atoning death of the Son of God, however one might understand it and formulate it doctrinally, is the only basis for the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of sinners to the holy Trinity. Its significance goes beyond this into the cosmic realm, as it effected the reconciliation to God not just of humanity but of all things (Colossians 1:20, Romans 8:21).

However, for many Christians, especially those in the Reformed tradition, the Cross is treated as more than just one of the central aspects of their faith. For them it is THE centre, the one focal point of Christianity, relative to which everything else is secondary. Their presentations of the Gospel tend to begin and end at the Cross: Jesus died for the audience’s sins, and nothing more need be said.

These Christians of course accept that Jesus was the Son of God, and was born and lived as a man among us. After all, apart from that his death had no special meaning. For the most part they also accept that he rose again and ascended to heaven. But these parts of the story rarely if ever figure in their preaching, either as part of the narrative or for their theological significance. In part 1 of my review of Adrian Warnock’s book Raised with Christ I noted how, for example, people could be assured that they had become Christians without even learning that Jesus had risen again – and I expressed my amazement that it took a voice from God to prompt Adrian to preach on the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

This focus on the cross alone has its effect also on what these people understand the Christian life to be about. I started this series by linking to a post by Daniel Kirk (no relation) Resonate: Matthew (Ch. 11), in which he writes:

life in the kingdom is not about seeing fortune and glory here and now. It is as much or more about crucifixion. But resurrection awaits for those who are faithful to the end.

Well, it is good that Daniel does not ignore the Resurrection, but he seems to see it as relevant only in the distant future. For now, it seems, we should only take up our cross and expect to suffer with Jesus.

Now I certainly don’t deny that this is one aspect of the Christian life. Yes, Jesus did say

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Luke 9:23 (NIV)

But immediately before that he said

The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Luke 9:22 (NIV)

For Jesus there was no Cross without the Resurrection to follow. Similarly those who follow him should take up their cross only in the hope of resurrection. And this is not just something for the distant future. Jesus also said

no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.

Luke 18:29-30 (NIV)

Yes, giving up all that is dear to us for the sake of the kingdom will be painful. At times it will feel like being crucified, and for some it may even literally mean that, or its equivalent. But Jesus promises us far greater rewards, not only in the age to come but also in this life. The apostle Paul fills out some of the details which Jesus left unclear, for example in this favourite verse of those who focus on the Cross:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

What is sometimes missed in this verse is that the Christ who lives in the believer is not a person who is dead from crucifixion, but the One who rose again from the dead. So Paul’s teaching is that Christians are living the Resurrection life of Jesus, in the body here and now. He makes this explicit elsewhere:

because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus …

Ephesians 2:4-6 (NIV)

The consequence of this is that our salvation depends not only on the Cross but also on the Resurrection, as Paul also made very clear:

if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

1 Corinthians 15:17 (NIV)

What this means is that a Christian faith centred around the Cross, with the Resurrection considered as a secondary matter, is seriously unbalanced.

Continued in Cross or Resurrection 5: Risen and Ascended Lord.


Life and Death, Physical and Spiritual

One of the arguments against evolution commonly used by young earth creationists concerns animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. The established science of evolution clearly implies that animals died long before humans came on the scene. After all, carnivorous animals evolved to eat other animals. And what are fossils except the remains of dead animals, and sometimes plants? However, as former creationist Phill Sacre writes,

One of the Creationist doctrines is that there was no death before the fall. No animals or humans died before mankind sinned, and God instituted his curse.

Michael RamsdenBut what is the basis of this doctrine? Does it have any foundation in biblical teaching? Sadly, first we need to clear away some misinformation which has been put around. BioLogos is a usually excellent group which “explores, promotes, and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith”, and takes a clear stand against the anti-scientific approach of many creationists. So it was a surprise to read a recent post at The BioLogos Forum Life and Death in which Oxford-based lecturer in Christian Apologetics Michael Ramsden says the following, in a video with a transcript, when he really should know better:

In the New Testament we find when we talk about life, we have the idea of living or ‘bios’. In other words, we talk about how we are alive. But Jesus talks about the fact of “coming to life “ when we know him. That doesn’t suddenly mean that our heart starts beating. It means that there is this whole side to us which was dead… which wasn’t alive and is now… that has actually sprung to life.

(I twice tried to comment on this BioLogos post, but my comments disappeared, and even their moderators cannot find them.)

Well, either Ramsden doesn’t know his Greek, in which case he shouldn’t quote Greek words, or he is deliberately misrepresenting it. The word he quotes, bios, has nothing to do with “coming to life” when we know Jesus.

In the New Testament there are two main Greek word groups used for the concepts of “life” and “live”. There are also some words, mostly derived from oikos “house”, used for “live” in the sense of “dwell”. By far the more common of the main word groups consists of the noun zōē “life”, the verb zaō “to live”, and a few cognate words, together found over 300 times in the New Testament. The less common group, consisting of bios and its cognates, is found only 15 times.

The bios word group has a very specific meaning, at least in the New Testament. These words are used only for physical earthly life and lifestyle, and for the physical resources needed to live this life. Typical examples are Luke 8:14 and 21:4. They are never used in any relation to non-material or spiritual aspects of life, and certainly never for the new life which Jesus gives.

By contrast, the zōē/zaō word group, although sometimes used for physical and earthly aspects of life, is most commonly used for the life of God, in himself and in his people. Interestingly, this word group is never used for animal life, except for the beasts of Revelation which are only symbolically animals.

This suggests a clear distinction in biblical teaching between two different kinds of life – and by implication two different kinds of death, although there are no separate Greek words for them. The first kind of life, often described by bios, is purely physical and earthly, and ends in physical death, the first kind of death. This kind of life and death is shared by humans and animals. The second kind of life, for which zōē/zaō is always used, is spiritual and heavenly, is shared by humans and God, and doesn’t usually end in death.

This distinction can help to explain many of the details of the Genesis account (although zōē/zaō words are used for animals in the LXX Greek translation of Genesis). We read that

the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 2:7 (NIV)

Thus the first human being is distinguished from the animals by “the breath of life”. God also tells this first man

you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.

Genesis 2:17 (NIV)

But when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit their physical life did not come to an end. In fact Adam lived at least 800 more years (Genesis 4:4). How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? The point is surely that at that moment the first couple lost their spiritual and eternal life, and became merely mortal, like animals. For the first time they are forbidden access to the tree of life by which they could live for ever (Genesis 3:22). For the first and last time people who had been truly alive spiritually died. Their descendants, although made in the image of God, were not born with this spiritual life. The only exception was Jesus Christ, the second Adam, who was born with physical and spiritual life, died spiritually as well as physically on the cross, and was raised again to new physical and spiritual life. And he made it possible for us to be born again with spiritual life.

Adam and Eve lost their spiritual life but continued to live physically. As Christians we have regained the spiritual life which they lost. If Jesus doesn’t come again first, we will die physically, but we will never lose our spiritual life, and at some time we too will be raised to new physical life.

The implication of this is that only this zōē life has any spiritual significance. The bios life of animals, and of humans without Christ, has no true meaning, although it sometimes functions as a symbol of spiritual life. For people without zōē life, human physical death, the end of bios life, is the ultimate tragedy, the ultimate evil. Increasingly animal death is also considered evil. But in God’s scheme of things this physical death is not an evil, not a result of sin, but simply what is natural in the world.

So there is no reason to deny death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. For hundreds of millions of years, according to the evidence from fossils, animals have lived and died. But this is nothing to do with sin or evil. The creationist doctrine about this has no proper theological basis, and so offers no reason to reject the consensus of scientists about the past of our planet.

The prophesied time will indeed come when

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox …

Isaiah 65:25 (NIV)

Maybe this will be true of literal animals at some future time. But its main significance is surely not to do with carnivores changing their diets, but that there will be an end to human conflict in the everlasting kingdom of the Prince of Peace.

Cross or Resurrection 3: What about Jesus' life?

Tim ChestertonI want to start by thanking my blogging friend Tim Chesterton for naming Gentle Wisdom as the first of his ten favourite Christian blogs. His own blog Faith, Folk and Charity is one of my favourites, when he finds time to post in his busy life. It is hard to believe that it is more than four years since I met Tim, when he was on sabbatical here in England. I regret that much of the excellent material from his former blog An Anabaptist Anglican was lost when that blog was closed after his sabbatical.*

I also want to thank Tim for a comment on my post on the central message of the Bible, in which he pointed out an issue with how I have set up the series of which this post is the third part. I started the series by posing a binary question: which is determinative, the Cross or the Resurrection? But in fact there are other choices which could be made on the basis of the New Testament. The one which I dismissed in part 2 of this series, that the example of John the Baptist is normative, is hardly a Christian one. But, as Tim reminded me, it is a Christian position to take the life and teaching of Jesus Christ as the basis for Christian living. This is in some ways a third alternative to focusing on the Cross or on the Resurrection. It is one especially associated with the Anabaptist movement, as well as with the strand of Catholic spirituality associated with the classic book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. So in this post I will look at that alternative focus.

I want to affirm strongly that the life of Jesus is a good and important example for Christian living today. This has been a consistent theme on this blog. Five years ago I wrote that Jesus is Our Fully Human Example. Three years ago I suggested, rather controversially perhaps, that the faith of Jesus Christ should be a model for our Christian faith. I would also affirm, against some dispensationalists, that the teaching of Jesus is directly relevant for Christians today. We are even expected to live according to the Sermon on the Mount – although there is grace for us when we fail.

"The Sermon On the Mount" by Carl BlochBut this mention of grace illustrates the inadequacy of making the life of Jesus the centre of Christianity. Can we really be expected only to follow the teachings of the Great Teacher and to live as he lived? It is for good reason that many have concluded that the Sermon on the Mount was intended as an impossible standard to live by. It is indeed impossible if we try to live by it in our own strength, treating it as a new law to replace the one given through Moses. But the Sermon is surely intended as more than an unattainable standard given to force us to repentance.

While some might just be able to live for a time in obedience to Jesus’ teaching, there are clearly ways in which no one can hope to do as he did in their own strength. Jesus was best known in his own time, and perhaps in ours, for the healings and other miracles which he performed. As I have argued before, he was able to do such things not because he was God but because after his baptism he was filled with the Holy Spirit. And he expected his followers to do not just similar works but also greater ones (John 14:12). That is clearly impossible for ordinary human beings without the power of God.

Thus both the teaching and the miracles of Jesus point us beyond his life on earth. It is only through his death on the Cross that men and women can receive forgiveness, without which even a perfectly amended life is pointless as it cannot atone for past sins. It is only through his Resurrection that people can receive a new life with the ability to overcome evil and live according to Jesus’ teaching, even in the Sermon on the Mount. And it is only through Pentecost which followed them that anyone can receive the power of the Holy Spirit to perform the even greater works which God has prepared in advance for them to do (Ephesians 2:10).

So we have to conclude that, important as the life and teaching of Jesus are for the Christian life, they are not its central focus. True Christians need to look beyond following his example and his instructions to what follows, which alone is able to effect achievements with eternal consequences.

Continued in Cross or Resurrection 4: The Centrality of the Cross?

* UPDATE: Tim tells me that all the significant posts from Anabaptist Anglican have been transferred to his main blog Faith, Folk and Charity, where they can be found in the April, May, June, and July 2007 archives.

Who can forgive sins but God alone?

Jesus and the paralysed manWhen Jesus declared that a paralysed man’s sins were forgiven (Mark 2:5), some people were not happy:

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Mark 2:6-7 (NIV)

Their final question was of course intended as rhetorical: on their understanding, only God can forgive sins, and anyone else who claims to do so is blaspheming. But I want to look at it as a real question, one which came up while I was working on my post Cross or Resurrection 2: Greater than John the Baptist.

So what was Jesus’ response to the Jewish legal experts’ criticism? Well, he healed the paralysed man, but first he said that by doing so he would demonstrate, not that he was God, but that

the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

Mark 2:10 (NIV)

Now as orthodox Christians we believe that Jesus was not only the Son of Man, the representative Human One, but also the Son of God, himself God and the third person of the Trinity. But it is interesting that Jesus did not suggest that this was why he was able to forgive sins.

The point is clarified in Jesus’ teaching after the Resurrection, when he breathed on his disciples and said to them:

Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

John 20:22-23 (NIV)

In other words, the authority which Jesus already had to forgive sins has now been passed on to those who believe in him, to his continuing body on earth.

Similarly James wrote that as believers we should confess our sins to each other, not as a weekly ritual but when we have something specific to confess, and expect to be “healed” which surely includes being forgiven (James 5:16).

In churches within the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, including Anglican churches, only ordained priests can pronounce the absolution, which is generally presented and understood as the priest not forgiving sins but declaring that God has forgiven them. But in the biblical material it is the believer, not God, who forgives the sins, and there is no hint of a restriction to a special priestly caste.

So the answer to the question is not “Nobody except for the three persons of the Trinity”, but “Anyone to whom God has given authority to do so”. And he has given this authority not just to Jesus, and not just to a few selected priests, but to his whole new “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) consisting of all Christian people.

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.