Time for confession
Friday, October 5, 2007
By Jill Ramsey
Invitations invite people in and make them feel accepted. Or they should, at least.
There is one kind of invitation that makes me uncomfortable, and unfortunately it happens every Sunday.
This invitation is offered by some ministers after their sermon to
encourage people to place membership, be baptized and confess their
sins to the church.
The invitation I grew up hearing was: “As we sing this next song, come
forward if you would like to join our church family by placing
membership, being baptized, or if you have any other need that can be
met at this time.”
For some reason, these words cause church members to expect anyone
with a “major sin” to come to the front and announce it publicly.
Samantha Rodgers was pressured by the leaders of her church to
publicly confess her sins. Members of that church stopped talking to
her, and she never felt comfortable there again.
Josiah Daniels moved to a new town and told his new youth minister
his trouble with underage drinking and illegal drugs. His youth
minister told some of the families in the church, and Josiah was no
longer invited to hang out with the other teens. Parents kept their
children from hanging out with him.
It occurred to me recently that having an invitation to come forward
at the end of a sermon, or an altar call, is not Biblical. It is not
unbiblical, but there is no place in the Bible that states that we
should publicly proclaim our pitfalls.
There are many Biblical examples of a “call to action” after a sermon.
Lessons generally end encouraging people to decide to follow God. A
message would not be persuasive without such a demand, but that demand
does not need to come in the form of a guilt trip on the audience to
gush their personal struggles to everyone.
You have probably heard this famous verse from James 5:16 in defense
of the weekly call for confessions: “Therefore confess your sins to
each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The
prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
This verse does not say to confess your sins one to everyone.
Not everyone in attendance on Sunday can offer a righteous prayer.
This verse points at confessing to others who have a believing faith in
God who intend to pray for the healing of the sinner.
Maybe everyone in your church is righteous and at a place to receive a confession of sin, but that is not true of my church.
Those who gossip find and spread all parts of the sinner’s story. The topic of lunch conversation is the confessed sinner.
Not everyone who confesses deals with devastating rumors, but it does happen.
A leader of the Stamford Church of Christ in Conn. prescribes to a
time of reflection instead of the typical invitation because of the
frustration he had with public confessions.
“They were almost invariably non-disclosing and consequently of
limited spiritual or transformational value and tended to attract the
same people up front over and over. Members know we still encourage
people to come up during the time of quiet if they wish.”
We should confess and take ownership of our sins, but I do not think a corporate worship service is the appropriate time.
A confession of sin should be given to a trusted, righteous person who
can take time to pray for and build a relationship with the person
confessing. The point of confession as seen in James is for that person
to be healed by the offering of faithful prayers. Confessing is not to
relieve guilt, it is to receive healing.
Church services should be focused on convening with God. There
shouldn’t be the concern to keep a particular reputation, which is
unfortunately what a lot of people are concerned with when they show up
Furthermore, what happened to Samantha should be stopped. Who is to
say that Samantha’s sin should be confessed publicly, but someone who
cheated on a test shouldn’t? A man viewing porn should confess, but a
gossiper can be looked over. A pregnant teen must come forward, but a
liar is dismissed.
This double standard makes it seem like God has a rating scale for sins.
If we were honest, we would all be on the first pew with a letter to
the church listing our sins of the week. We all have things we struggle
with; we fail. We take breaks from being a Christian and join the world
from time to time. But we wouldn’t want to bother the church with our
little sins, right? Wrong.
Confessing is not just for those who make big mistakes. Josiah and
Samantha are not worse than any other follower of Jesus. We should all
be confessing to righteous people that will pray for our healing.