Confession stands as one of basic Christian disciplines that has been largely forgotten in our modern Christianity. I have written about this previously in Benchmarks, “Confession is the speaking side of solitude. In solitude one is still and listens; in confession one is honest and speaks. [Richard] Foster speaks of confession as the acknowledgement that Christian community is not a community of saints but rather a community of sinners. When we are honest with who we are in confession, we are truly set free and transformed by God’s mercy and forgiveness.”
Modern-day Christianity talks a lot about community and it is one of the hot buzzwords that’s spoken and written about. As Christians we long for genuine community and we hold out community as an attractive element of Christianity to a world that is moving increasingly superficial. We talk a lot about community but we don’t talk at all about confession.
Community cannot happen outside of confession.
The irony is, however, that community cannot happen outside of confession. Without confession, as Foster writes, the Christian community becomes a community of “saints” where pride and jealousy can breed comparison, envy and conflict. It can breed a community that becomes more focused on it’s own works rather than the work of Jesus. A community of confession, a community of sinners, understands that we are a community of fallen people, who continually fall short of God and must rely on the grace, mercy, forgiveness and complete work of Jesus. Simply put a community of confession lifts up Jesus while community of “saints” can quickly fall into the trap of lifting up it’s own accomplishments.
Confession cannot happen outside of community.
Community cannot happen outside of confession and the opposite is true as well, confession cannot happen outside of community. If confession is speaking then one has to speak and another has to listen. Our confessions have to come within community- the community of the church, the community of family, the community of marriage, the community of friendship. That is the hardest aspect of confession. To be a confessing community means that each of us has to be honest about ourselves and honest to each other. Many times it’s easier to be honest with God than it is to be honest with each other. After all God already knows us and knows our actions, words and attitudes but we can cover up our actions, explain our words and hide our attitudes but those things destroy community.
I think that is what James talks about in James 5:13-18. In the passage, James gives three examples of things that destroy community: suffering, celebration (success), and sickness. We can probably see how suffering and sickness could destroy community but what about celebration, happiness or success? Typically, nothing makes us rely less on God than prosperity. And nothing makes us more aware of our heart’s desires than when we have a little extra money at the end of the month. To these destructive elements, James says that we need to call in the community, pray and confess. There it is again, confession linked to community and community linked to confession.
Confession is community in action.
The idea of confession is something that God has been working in me for a few months now and last Sunday I finally had the courage to go to my wife and confess some attitudes that I’ve had and that some of the things I did amidst the hurt, anger and frustration of the church job mess where wrong and I needed to confess and ask forgiveness. And you know what? It was hard. And it was freeing. It was community in action.
If true community takes confession and confession takes a community, how do we begin? It might be awkward to grab the first person you see at church and start confessing to them. But that just might be the way to start. Just image if the church was made up of people who confessed to each other the ways they are suffering, the ways they are celebrating, the ways they are sick. Imagine if the church was made up of people who prayed, I mean really prayed, for each other in the same power in which Elijah prayed? Imagine a church made up of people who confessed their brokenness and were healed. Never mind a church, imagine a marriage or a family like that! That is a community that would stand out to people far from God. And all it takes is the courage to say, “Hey, I need to tell you something…”
© Ryan Vanderland 2014