A Culture of Confession

INTRODUCTION

It is a very strange thing when people “long for” revival but seem uncommitted to corporate confession, which is the first evidence of a spiritual awakening.

The sort of spontaneous confession I’m referring to is described in this quote from Paul Tournier; “Then suddenly there dawns upon us the vast, entire endowment of God’s free love and forgiveness, and of the reconciliation he offers us in Jesus Christ. It is this which bowls us over, frees us from the burden of guilt, transforms us, provokes repentance. It is this discovery which periodically in history gives rise to an outburst of infectious faith, mass conversions and irrepressible joy.

As a Christian psychotherapist Tournier praised highly the power of confession to bring healing to the whole person.  If King David and the returning prodigal son found the freedom to confess, “I have sinned”, why do we in the gospel age find confession so difficult (2 Sam 24:17 ESV; Luke 15:21 ESV)? How has our spirituality slipped so low?

A SOCIETY WITHOUT SIN

A renowned American theologian criticised the social gospel of his day; “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (H. R. Niebuhr).

We are no longer faced with the gospel of do-goodism characteristic of the 1930’s, but we are faced with a church dominated by a gospel of relevance. Pragmatism1)Truth is defined practically in terms of “what works”, what increases church membership. controls the culture of most of the numerically growing churches of Australia.

And in a secular culture that revolves around the dynamic of self-acceptance and positive self-esteem little space is left for speaking of something as “negative” as personal sin. “Mistake/error/darkness” may be OK terms but “sin” is a dangerous word that might re-victimise the traumatised.

It seems unthinkable in an age of advances in genetics, neuroscience and psychology that our understanding of human nature is going backwards. Such a mindset is necessarily alien to secular experts on human behaviour but their optimism seems shared by many church authorities.

In the wake of popular culture much Christian preaching and ministry has become so therapeutic in character that it operates almost exclusively at a psychological level.

Such methods often improve how people feel and act, but they cannot impart anything of the new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17 ESV; Gal 6:15 ESV).

Transformation at this level of being only comes through death to self and resurrection in Christ (Gal 2:20 ESV). We need to listen carefully to past Christian heroes whose experience of life was richer than ours.

SHALLOW

John Wesley initiated small groups (“bands”) designed to help believers confess to one another, and as a result be healed. He insisted members were “to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve?” These gatherings were of crucial important in maintaining the purity and longevity of the eighteenth century Evangelical Revival.  

Closer to our time Dietrich Bonhoeffer (martyred 1945), memorably remarked; “The most experienced psychologist…knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian… The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ…. The greatest psychological insight…cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.

Bonhoeffer’s position is true because he understands the power of the gospel.

The early church, with none of our medical or psychological knowledge, had power before the ravages of depression, anxiety and PTSD through the gospel (Rom 1:16 ESV). The unashamed prominence of open confession in the Bible has always been a key to the health of the people of God.

CONFESSION IN SCRIPTURE

Every faithful Israelite knew what it was like to confess his/her sins before a sacrificing priest as an essential part of a God ordained rite to liberate from the wages of sin (Lev 5:5 ESV). And the nation knew corporate confession was the way to be healed from divine retribution (Ezra 9:6-7 ESV; Neh 9:3 ESV; cf. Lev 26:4 ESV 0ff; 2 Chron 7:14 ESV).

At a personal level the impact of confession could be dramatic; vs.1Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven… vs.2 … in whose spirit there is no deceit. vs.3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. vs.4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me… vs.5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.(Ps 31:1-5 ESV).

Whoever seeks to cover their sin carries a heavy inner burden, but whoever’s sin is covered by the Lord is set free. “Is anyone among you sick…. confess your sins to one another…that you may be healed.(James 5:14, 16 ESV).  I remember a dramatic “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that transformed a very sick lady into a bundle of radiating joy once she confessed she had often wanted her husband dead.

REVIVING A WAY OF LIFE

Without the humility embedded in confession God will continue to resist healing the Australian Church as we are resisting him (James 4:6 ESV).  Rather than hankering after works of power as the key to a mighty move of God we would be better prepared for a genuine revival through learning how to practice concrete mutual confession of sin.

The Light of Christ cannot flood our hearts until our darkness has been cleansed; the darkness of secret ambition, jealousy, unbelief, fear, pride etc. (Ps 24:3-4 ESV).

As the impactful East African revival (1930’s+) majored on Christians being open to one another about their sins, “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7 ESV), when we seek each other out to ask forgiveness it will be plain that the edge of revival is on us.

Is this even imaginable?

“Yes!”

Not because of anything we see in Church life but because of the undiminished power of Christ’s gospel (Eph 3:20 ESV).

CONCLUSION

Cultivating a Spirit-led culture of confession is a priority for pastors and church leaders. Behind the doors of the dammed up hearts of multitudes of wounded, grieving believers there is a torrent of hurt, confusion, anger, disappointment and despair.  

Confession opens the flood gates, and as the innermost being is washed with the blood of Christ and the pure water of the Spirit cleansing from guilt, shame, depression, anxiety and a host of physical illnesses will flow (John 7:37-39 ESV; 1 Cor 6:11 ESV; Tit 3:5 ESV; 1 John 1:7 ESV).

This is a wonderful vision.

A habitually confessing church is a refreshed church empowered and alive to do the works of God in the world (Acts 3:19-20 ESV).

The first step in humble wise praying for revival is to ask the Lord to send us the grace to confess. May the Lord grant us this wisdom.

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 21st March, 2018 |

Author: Dr. John Yates


MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 21st March, 2018 |       |


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References   [ + ]

1. Truth is defined practically in terms of “what works”, what increases church membership.

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