The great power of open confession is that it can bring conviction and repentance to others. There is no doubt that a public confession is always appropriate but not always required. This is proven by the many true spiritual revivals that spontaneously included public confession of sin. As James states, “Confess your trespasses [sins] to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
But leaders need to be on guard for people who can destroy the Lord’s work by publicly sharing “profane and idle babblings”. Paul cautioned Timothy, “…Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim. 6:20).
And as people truly admit their wrong and desire to make things right the Law of God has clear instruction on how to make that happen. For example, if someone has taken or destroyed someone’s property God tells us “…then he shall confess the sin which he has committed. He shall make restitution for his trespass in full, plus one-fifth of it, and give it to the one he has wronged.” (Numbers 5:7)
The Canadian Revival in the 1970’s saw waves of public confessions that led to many wrongs righted and people brought to true salvation. It was also true when spiritual awakening exploded at Asbury College in Kentucky also in the 70’s. Restitution always follows confession when people are convicted by the Spirit of God.
When we speak of pastors and deacons, they should be required to make public confessions of sin, but each member of the church should prayerfully consider if his or her confession would edify everyone. Since we are members of Christ’s spiritual body every sin indirectly affects the spiritual condition of the church. The first-century church practiced public confessions and openly corrected one another.
Today people are not committed to spiritual purity or are afraid of being hated and judged. But hiding sin will bring judgment, and the church that downplays Christ’s directions for church purity grow in numbers and seem blessed. In contrast, the local church that dares to actually follow biblical purity is usually small and abandoned, deemed intolerant and harsh, or hypocritical judges.
When the leaders of the church harden their hearts and do not confess or repent then God will act to purify His church. But scripture speaks clearly, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” (1 Timothy 5:19) As scripture states sin must be attacked and fought against so all will fear the Lord and live upright.
When sin is practiced by believers or supposed believers, whether in ignorance or because of false teaching it still stirs Jesus to judge a local church. [See Revelation chapters two and three for details.] And Paul explains that sin affects others. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
This is serious business with God and Paul further commands a local church “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” (1 Corinthians 5:6-13)
Well, the American culture judges the church that judges the one who claims to be a Christian when they remove “the evil person” from the local church membership. And even more alarming, many spiritual leaders ignore the scripture with the new tolerance of loving and accepting everybody. But then I am afraid that Jesus judges the popular churches that use false grace as the reason for such open tolerance. Be clear, we love the lost, but Christ demands change and confession of sin from all His real narrow road followers.
It is never inappropriate to make a confession as long as certain guidelines are followed.
1/ A confession needs to acknowledge the conviction of the Holy Spirit. “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one…” (John 8:9) “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed;” (1 Corinthians 14:24) “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me;” (John 16:8)
2/ A confession needs to be very brief with just enough details that the church understands the nature of the sin. “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19) “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:6) “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)
3/ A confession needs to protect the reputation of others who may have been involved. “You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, And set them in order before your eyes.” (Psalm 50:20,21) “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18)
4/ A confession needs to be made with humility and remorse – avoid instructing others when you confess or explaining any solutions – leave this up to the leadership. “Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; My eye wastes away with grief, Yes, my soul and my body! For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.” (Psalm 31:9,10) “For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge…Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.”
5/ A confession needs to be discreet – not defrauding by giving inappropriate details of evil. “For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12) “And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.” (1 Timothy 5:13)
6/ A confession needs to end by seeking the forgiveness of the church, and the leaders of the church should lead the church to respond with a declaration of forgiveness. “But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us” (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
REMEMBER, LOVE IS THE GOAL when the church gathers on Sunday or any time. Speaking to fellow believers in love is God’s will as the greatest thing because it fulfills His goal of building up others. The “one another commands” are to be practiced as Christians gather together as the body of Christ. A good confession is the public practice of these one another commands, as long as you are speaking words of “edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” [1 Cor 14:3 (NKJV)]