Brother Dave Black linked to David Regier’s blog regarding his many good thoughts regarding confession and he says, “I thank God for those people in my life (including bloggers I know only via the web) whose company invigorates me, and when I watch their lives I am full of new resolve to confess my sins and shortcomings (sometimes to others and not only to God). I have found it extremely helpful, as David points out, to remember that my actions and thoughts are never purely private matters but effect the people all around me, for good or for ill. I too am growing in my ability to be transparent with my fellow Christians. For people in whom the Holy Spirit is working, living without personal integrity and spiritual community is simply intolerable.”
This is so very important, but Dave’s bracketed comment has something extremely important to say, (sometimes to others and not only to God). The word “sometimes” is a very wise word to use and it is with that thought in mind I wrote a response to David’s great comments:
I have, through my own experience in those days, and that of others in later life, modified my thinking to a large degree. I like to think that the Biblical idealism of my younger days has been been balanced by a healthy Biblical realism, which is not at all cynical.
I am reminded of Solomon's words, "If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, And if you scoff, you alone will bear it."(Prov.9:12)
I was warned by a wise older brother to never share the deep things of the heart, such as you speak of, with another brother unless he had proven himself trustworthy, and then, with only one whom you know will conscientiously honor your trust, and bear your burdens with you. I confess I privately scoffed, and I did have to bear it, for many years to come.
Our Lord's words to the disciples mean much more to me in these days, "I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves."
As much as I loved, and was loved in return, by the congregations I served for many years in Jesus' name, there are still only three or four people with whom I would share my confession.
During my years I have seen lives, literally destroyed, families damaged, simply because Christians are imperfect human beings, who, without intent, malice, or any other purpose, thoughtlessly leaked a confidence shared in confession.
The older brother mentioned above, in my opinion, was one of the wisest and most mature Christians it has been my privilege to know. He was a deacon in a church which didn’t recognize elders, but never understood they had a God trained elder in their midst.
I am thankful to David for prompting my thoughts and want to make clear that my further comments are for whomever may want to peruse my sorry attempts to share some of the lessons I've learned.
I have learned that there are many reasons why people “confess”, both publicly and privately. For some it is simply a psychological transfer of their guilt onto the one/s to whom they confess (“you are to carry my burdens”). For some there is a sense that they portray themselves as heroes of the faith because they have the “guts” to confess . For some it is a carry over from R. C. doctrine. Sometimes there is bravado in the confession ( “my sin is worse than yours”) . To many confession is simply a work which must be done on the way to heaven. Strange, but very human, never-the-less true. There are many reasons which are not genuine Biblical confession (often bringing to question the genuineness of their faith).
Some, or all, of these can be very real stumbling-blocks for new, or immature Christians.
Confession is not necessarily connected with saving faith. Unbelievers often confess for the above reasons, even in tears, often because they have been caught out.
I am convinced that, even amongst Christians, there is seldom any awareness, or recognition, of the enormity of our sin, and that the confessors often grade the seriousness of their sin, as lesser or greater sins, and therefore less or more serious..
Grief and ensuing sorrow leading to repentance recognizes the grave insult which our sin does to what our Saviour, in His life, death and resurrection, has done on our behalf, and ought to be the reason we confess, by specifying the sin, firstly, to our heavenly Father, and secondly, to those offended, and generally (not specifying the sin) to the wider group, NOT simply because it is a good, thing to do.
My concern is that there seems to be a culture of confession developing in many churches, especially the non-institutional ones (I don’t belong to one), which has absolutely nothing to do with genuine Biblical, Holy Spirit influenced, sorrow and repentance.
I have no doubt that there are many false professors (unbelievers) in congregations who have done much harm to the cause of Christ via the well meaning, but naïve use of the Scriptures, by genuine brethren, to justify an idea that seems to have reached its time, or what is assumed to be a re-discovered truth. As I mentioned in my response to David, I have seen lives destroyed and families damaged because of this.
Maybe, many, who have been recognized as elders, need to understand that they ride donkeys, not white chargers, and lead the way in general confession as the congregations meet, and teach about the fact that confession, apart from a genuine relationship with Christ (saving faith) and genuine repentance, that confession is meaningless.