Saturday, August 06, 2005

Into the Light

Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and his own heart will find there is no sin that can be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified even by the rankest sins of a brother.” Dietrich Bonhoefffer, Life Together

This week’s chapter on Confession was thought provoking and helpful. The idea of opening ourselves to the “gaze of God” through private (individual) and corporate confession underscores a discipline and grace that is crucial to our intimacy and growth with God. Yes, salvation is an event and a process. And it is in the process (sanctification) that we find the discipline of confession helps us grow into “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”(Eph. 4:13) But the corporate aspect of the discipline – to me – is quite tricky.

Scriptures solidly and without wavering teach the “universal priesthood of all believers”. Therefore, can I have no qualms over I John 1:9 or Psalm 51. In fact, the private bit of confession ‘ist kein problem”. It’s the corporate bit that unsettles my tranquility.

How do I make peace with the exhortation to a more public confession? To whom do I confess? Are there qualifications to consider? How do I put into practice the exhortation of James 5, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed”? Foster does a good job speaking to the matters. He even points out a hazard or two along the path of this corporate discipline of grace.

Confession begins in sorrow, but ends in joy,” says Foster. Yet, the sorrow of confession should be a sorrow over our sin and not the sorrow of a trust betrayed. Certainly, every believer – by virtue of the work of Christ and the Word of God – is capable of receiving our confession. Yet, in practice, this is not true. “Though it is unfortunate, it is a fact of life that some people seem unable to keep a confidence.” (Foster) In today’s terminology, some people are "safe" and others are not.

There is a dichotomy in Christianity that we must make peace with if we are to transact life together successfully. The dichotomy is this. God has called us out as a holy people and set us aside for His glory. Positionally in Christ, we are holy indeed; yet, practically this holy people with a noble calling live – very often- in unholy and ignoble ways. Therefore, not all brothers or sisters in Christ are “safe people” and we are naïve if we discount this reality. Moreover, we are wise to exercise a bit of caution as we draw near to others in the body of Christ.

I admit that we will be closer to a smaller number – generally very few- than to the body at large; nonetheless, even amongst the few, we must seek the grace of God to discern who is “safe” and who is not. As we are developing a new friendship, it may be prudent to place a few smaller tests in play that can confirm that my friend is amongst those who are generally able to keep a confidence. As time passes and trust is maintained, I may then become convinced that this new friend is amongst the few with whom he and I – together- can delve deeper into areas of our hearts as we seek to grow in Christ and practical godly living.

The” iron sharpening iron” bit of scripture is important to remember. Solomon put it this way.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4)

Yet, how do I become confident regarding the place for more public confession in my walk with Christ and within His church?

I know that Christianity consists of a call to Christ and a call community. And yes, there are disciplines that we partake in corporately as part of our life together. Nonetheless, the disciplines play (only) a part in placing us “before God so that He can transform us” and “have value only as a means of setting us before God so that He can give us the liberation that we seek”. “They (the disciplines) are not the answer; they only lead us to the Answer.” These thoughts from earlier in Celebration of Discipline remain true and apply to the discipline of confession, as well. However, there is clearly a place for corporate confession.

The more anonymous “stylized form” of the Confessional (a.k.a. the sacrament of penance or reconciliation) may be a starting point; yet, somehow I think the “confess your sins one to another” goes deeper – and is even more risky- than the image I have of entering a confessional and confessing my sins to a priest. Yet, if I were to do this, at least my sin is “out in the open” – albeit in a very limited way – and this may have some merit.

I do agree, as Bonhoeffer writes, “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has been brought into the light”. So, am I willing to wrestle with the matter?

I may not understand God’s exhortation to confess “one to another”; yet, this is true of many other truths in the Christian life. Frankly, I think much of the value of the disciplines is in the humility required for submitting and the faith that I exercise to obey. Certainly, there are many things I would like to know better and chief amongst them all is a desire to live closely with my Creator, worship my Saviour, and know Him well.

Granted, there are limits to many of the disciplines. For example, the limit of the discipline of submission (Ch 8) is the point at which submission becomes destructive. (If you are unfamiliar with this statement, Ch 8 Submission is really worth the read.) Likewise, there are limits for public confession. Not everyone in the body of Christ is safe. Not everyone is mature. Not everyone is practically qualified to receive our confession. So, be aware, act wisely, exercise discernment and pray. For, there is a limit to the discipline of confession.

Nonetheless, the discipline of confession remains important to living in the light of the Cross – even against the backdrop of the dichotomy of the church and out life together. Yes, we are a “fellowship of sinners” and – at the same time - a “fellowship of saints”. Both conditions are true for the community (the communion) of Christ-followers who, by the grace of God, are being changed into the “likeness” of His Son. Therefore, God does not exhort us to harm when He exhorts us towards confession because included with His exhortation is the instruction to pursue prudence, wisdom,and discernment, too.

His exhortation towards confession is good. It is for our well-being and His glory. “The Discipline of confession brings and end to pretense. God is calling into being a Church that can openly confess its frail humanity and know the forgiving and empowering graces of Christ. Honesty leads to confession, and confession leads to change.”

May God grant us the grace sort this issue out - even if it is with “fear and trembling”- and “once again to recover the Discipline of confession”.

God Bless.


Anonymous Paula said...

Thomas, thanks for your original thoughts and for injecting more than just the fare we are given from the text. I appreciate your insights. Having been through the process of confession with a trusted confidante on several occasions, I am well aware of the importance of 'safe' confessors. This aspect of corporate confesion can't be stressed enough.


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