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The Lost Art of Public Confession

One of the things that I have really been pondering lately is the power of sin. Sin is a powerful force. A powerful force which is given that power when it is hidden. It is crazy and almost counterintuitive, but the things that we hide from others because of embarrassment or fear end up gaining control of our lives through that specific act of hiding them from others.

Anyone who has ever struggled with an addiction knows in some part the different levels of hiddenness. We hide things from ourselves through self-denial. We hide things from others by lying or by failing to reveal the whole truth leaving out parts of the reality. We hide things because we are afraid. Afraid we won’t be loved. Afraid of our own limitations and failures. Afraid that if people see us for who we “really” are they will reject us. The more fear grips us the deeper the hiddenness goes and the more power that thing has over our lives.

How do I know this? I have a highly addictive personality and have struggled with many addictions in my life. From things as innocent as collecting cards, television, fantasy sports to my continual struggle with my addiction to smoking. (So there you have it, if you didn’t know before you know it now…I’m not perfect and some may even now look at me differently and some might reject me because of that smoking addiction) Smoking has run my life, but slowly I have begun to face the “demon” that controls me. You can’t necessarily see it from the outside but inside things are changing. Before I used to hide it from everyone but my friends who smoked. I would mask it with cologne and chew gum (admittedly I still do this…patterns of life are hard to break). I would lie to my mother and say I quit or say I was smoking less than I was. The more I isolated myself from the truth and sharing the truth with others the more gripping the power of the addiction over my life became. I would drive to different towns to sneak a cigarette. I would make “grocery runs” so I could have a smoke. Life became a game of hiding it as best I could.

Now as I have started to do the deep seated heart work, I have realized the importance of publicly naming my addiction. It isn’t so much to gain sympathy or even really to get advice and support from others. The importance of publicly naming my addiction is the only thing that really releases that deeply hidden sin. The layers of lies and self-delusion keeping that sin in its deep dark recesses of my life begin to be pealed back and light is able to shine as it is exposed. I haven’t kicked the addiction but I am beginning to loosen its grip on my life by naming it.

I had to share that because I needed to name it and deal with it in my own life, but just as importantly I have been wondering if “sin” has a grip on so many of our lives and even our corporate life of the church because we are afraid and so we hide those things and give them dominion over our lives. Instead of admitting our brokenness we hide it or ignore it.

I have seen the power of that hiddenness in my own life, but I beginning to see the same thing ruling over the lives of my friends, loved ones, acquaintances and even the churches I have served and serve. Instead of naming those things and publicly confessing them we continue like they don’t exist. The proverbial “elephant in the room” that weighs our individual lives down and our corporate lives down.

Now some of you might be thinking in your head that we do have public confession as we often have prayers of confession in our liturgy. Yes, that is true. However, I wonder if our inability to specifically name our individual and corporate sins in our contexts has kept us from true healing from God.

I am reminded of passage from the fifth chapter of James (verse 16 to be exact):

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. (The Message)

Have we lost the art of that practice? Could it be that part of what is holding us back from being the Christians we are called to be both individually and corporately is that we have let sin get dominion? Could it be that the spiritual vitality of our churches is held back because we don’t bring those things out into the open and hand them over to God in prayer?

What would it look like if our churches were actually places where people could reveal their brokenness and be prayed for and be healed? One trip to will show you that many people have those hidden things, but what if we had a space where those could be shared and prayed openly so that we had “whole and healed” people? What if we took purposeful time in our elder meetings or administrative council meetings and confessed those things that grip our church?

Have we lost the art?