Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Confession has two parts . . .

The church's ancient practice of private confession has much to offer God's people, and yet I see that it is frequently misunderstood and consistently underused. I wonder why that is?. Why, when the practice of confession has a Biblical foundation, solid theological backing, and enormous personal benefit, is it so often dismissed?

The Lutheran fathers themselves encouraged private confession and strove to retain it in the church even after their break from Rome, and yet modern-day Lutherans shun the practice as being "too Catholic." Evangelicals often place great stock in person-to-person accountability, but yet they frequently dismiss the churchly practice of private confession as being entirely unnecessary. In my experience even Roman Catholics--the very group most people would expect to practice private confession--are uninformed of the practice and generally consider it an antiquated practice belonging to a bygone era.

I'm thinking that's really too bad. It saddens me to think that private confession has, for many--probably most, actually--Christians, gone the way of the dodo. It's not just that private confession seems strange. After all, fasting is awful strange, too, and there are no end of books on that subject. For that matter, fasting even seems to achieve fad status once per decade or so. It gets to the point where you can't invite 1/2 of the church out for after-worship lunch as they're all fasting for one thing or another!

So I've come to the conclusion that the reason private confession isn't done much anymore is not just that it seems odd to people, but it must be something more. Perhaps it's misunderstood. Perhaps it has a certain stigma. Perhaps people just plain don't understand it. So what can I do? If only there were some way that I could write about confession and instruct people on just how fine and wonderful it truly is. If only I had some avenue, some way of reaching out via an electronic medium to untold numbers of Christians . . .


Yes, you've guessed it. I'm starting off a blog series on the practice of private confession. Why? Because I think it's a valuable practice, and I'd like to encourage you to think about it and try it out, no matter what your denominational stripe may be. It is valuable because of what it does and what it offers: conviction and forgiveness.

You Christians know from personal experience how those two things go hand in hand, but have you ever wondered how they are worked out in practical, actual ways? Have you ever struggled with doubt over whether your internal battles with lust or greed or coveting had crossed the line and spilled out into your life in the form of actual sin? And did you ever wonder, "Is this something I need to confess to God?" And have you ever been so burdened by a sin that you longed to hear God Himself declare to you, "Your sins are forgiven" just so that you could know that you know that you know it was really, actually, true?

If you've ever struggled with doubt, asking yourself the question, "Yes . . . but how do I really know I'm forgiven?", then I invite you to come along with me as together we explore the ancient and beneficial practice of private confession. It is my hope that our explorations will both challenge and edify you, but it is my certainty that they will not leave you disappointed.


  1. Thanks for starting this conversation. I have found it difficult to begin where I serve. One prof at Seminary always put it this way: "If it's not there when you arrive, you may have to 'gift preach' it for a while." By which he meant, continually lift up what God is offering through this practice in sermons, Bible study,etc. I suppose I've only tried this a few times, and should be more patient! The prof. DID say that "it might take a good stretch", that is, a good amount of time for this to catch on. But again, kudos for starting this! I'm interested to know what other pastors experience.

  2. There were two books that really convinced me of the worth of this practice. One was "Life Together" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The section on confession was so impressive that I was motivated to consider the practice and preach a sermon series on it. The other was CPH's study on Confession--the one in the "Lutheran Spirituality" series. Simply uh-MAZ-ing. I heartily recommend them both as good starting points.

    I wish I could say that the practice has really caught on in my congregation, but it hasn't. But still, because it's valuable, I offer it, remind people of it, and teach on it occassionaly. One day, perhaps, people will see the great value in it. Until then . . . I blog! :)