|Book: Creating a Secure Church: BOOK TWO|
Part 1 : Objectives & Obstacles
Part 2 : Secure in Relationships
Part 3 : Secure in Ministry
Part 4 : When Things go Wrong
Part 5 : Concluding Thoughts
Chapter 6: Secure Enough to Confess
“Confess your sins to each other”
In the earlier chapters I spoke about facing the truth that we are not nice people, yet it takes a measure of security to face that truth and be able to confess it. So important is this subject of facing that truth and coming to a place of confession that I am giving this a complete chapter to itself.
Before we go to the confession verses let's remind ourselves of a key New Testament verse:
1 Jn 1:1,2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the father in our defence - Jesus Christ the Righteous One.
Right, says John, I'm writing these things to help you avoid sinning, but I'm realistic enough to know that you may miss the mark, so if you do, remember Jesus is speaking up for you. The possibility of getting it wrong is clearly there. In times of fairly low spiritual activity that possibility is greater.
In most of the West at the time of writing, the church may spend much time rearranging the furniture but real signs of powerful Holy Spirit moving are limited, which means the quality of spiritual life is often fairly low. Hence the appalling divorce figures or figures of people leaving the church. If revival comes, one of the first signs of it must be a cleaning up and reinvigorating of the church.
6.1 Scriptural Teaching on Confession
The Bible has many useful things to say about it. Let's pick out a few verses to provide the basic picture.
Lev 5:5,6 When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the LORD …. a sin offering
Neh 1:6,7 I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Rom 14:11 It is written: " `As surely as I live,' says the Lord, `every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.' " So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
1 Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives
6.2 The Significance of Confession
We really do need to take hold of this truth. It's one that has often been legalised, formalised, and stripped of all meaning in some parts of the church and ignored in other parts. Yet leaders and counsellors still know from countless experiences that confession is vital if a person is to walk free from their past. Sins, failures, call them what you will from the past, weigh like millstones around the neck of many. Because we have largely ignored this as an issue, many in the church today are carrying weights that should have been shed long ago, but instead they are still struggling with them.
In Book One I told of the instance we had as a church when the Lord led us into a time when individuals went and poured their hearts out to one another. This was a time of confession, a time of cleansing and releasing. I also told of the young man who came to us and confessed his sin of child abuse. These have been challenging times of God moving to release confession and the fruits following it.
A Telling Story
Just recently my wife told me of a friend of hers, a lapsed Catholic, who had told her of an incident a number of years before. As she was approaching her wedding she felt she ought to go to the local priest for confession, something she had not done for a long time. As she confessed she found herself remembering and confessing stealing a sweet from the class sweet jar at school when she was five! As she came away from that confession she found a complete new sense of liberation. Now this simple story confirms what the Scripture tells us in a number of places:
Beyond Surface Confession
Having attended a number of Bible Weeks in my Christian lifetime, I have watched numerous occasions when people have been called out for an ‘altar call' to acknowledge a particular sin or sins, and as good as that is (and many are set free) the pastor in me senses that this is often only second best.
Why? Because so often on those occasions, the sin is being dealt with in a very superficial manner. I believe what happens on those times, and I do want to reiterate that I believe those times are good, is that people come forward with an awakened sense of failure and are led in a simple prayer of confession and then dismissed. This, I would suggest means only half a work is being done.
6.3 The Context and Ingredients for Confession
For there to be true confession and for it to be dealt with in a proper manner, I want to suggest that there are some needful ingredients:
1. Genuine acknowledgement of failure
The Bible illustrates this for us. When Ezra confessed his sin (Ezra 10:1), he did it with tears and threw himself on the ground before God. This was a genuine heart move. For confession to be meaningful there does need to be a genuine heart move. Those of us who are or have been counsellors, can think of times when we have heard people say the words but we've known there was no heart move.
2 Cor 7:10,11 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done
Paul knew about this when he spoke of repentance. Confession is one stage in repentance, but real repentance brings a heart yearning to be completely free from the sin. Surface confession merely produces words. This is the problem of structuring confession into the life of the church. So often it becomes a procedure or practice, not a heart response to God. It may create an easing of conscience but it is a false sense of security when the person 'confesses' and goes away unchanged and carries on doing the same thing.
2. Opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to thoroughly cleanse
When a person is truly moved into genuine confession and repentance it is a work of the Holy Spirit. When a person's heart is open on one issue of repentance, it is often an opportunity for other unconfessed issues to be dealt with. The fact that the person is willing to deal with an issue, will often mean they are willing to go further and clear up other things, particularly if they feel secure with their mentor or counsellor.
It is this last point that is crucial to this issue, and in large meetings it is absent. For there to be a real sense of security there needs a relationship and a sense of really being cared for. I will deal with this more fully later in the chapter.
3. Opportunity for the Spirit to fill and empower.
When this process is going on our tendency so often is to rush and only do half a job. Confession is only a small part of the work that is an interaction between the Holy Spirit, the counsellor and the individual. Ten minutes previously, the individual was a person hiding sins. Some of them they were aware of, while others were hidden to their conscious mind. Then as the Holy Spirit started moving, the individual became aware of a sin that had not been dealt with. A conviction came upon them and they realised they needed to do something about it. First there would need to be confession and seeking forgiveness and then would need to come forsaking the sin for a righteous life.
Some of us at this point would be happy to stop in our dealings with this individual, yet if we do, we often miss an opportunity to bless them and draw them into a deeper relationship with the Lord. Once the individual has confessed, sought God's forgiveness and forsaken the sin, there is then an opportunity to pray for the individual and maybe seek God for a prophetic word of encouragement. For those who balk at this please read my later chapter on 'Secure in Ministry - Gifts'.
For those of us who feel at ease in moving in charismatic ministry, we often have an opportunity at this point to bring great encouragement in the form of prophetic pictures or words from the Lord. It is also an opportunity to pray for the individual to be filled with the Spirit and for their relationship with the Lord to be deepened.
6.4 When Confession takes place
Confession takes place when conviction occurs, so the next question is, when does conviction occur? I would suggest there are a number of times when I have known or heard about conviction occurring. In some of them security is a factor, in others it isn't. It seems that there is almost a spectrum from no need for security to a great need of security. In the list that follows we'll start from no security and work towards complete security. In each situation it's not a case of ‘needing' security, it's simply that security becomes an ingredient that enables confession to come more easily.
1. Sovereign Move of God
Without doubt there are times when there has been a sovereign move of God and no human being has been involved. The greatest numbers of stories showing this comes from accounts of revivals in history. For example in the Hebridean revival in the early part of the twentieth century, testimony was given of a non-Christian business man who arrived on one of the islands and before he had gone many yards up the steps onto the island, the power of God had come upon him, conviction had come, he repented, realised the truth of what he had heard in the past and was saved on the spot! Obviously in this sort of situation there is no need of any sense of security being brought through human intervention.
2. God speaking through Scripture
Again there are times that perhaps many of us could relate to, when reading the Scripture we have become aware of failure and a need to confess our sin that we have just read about. Again here is a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, this time through the means of Scripture reading, but the outcome is the same and, again, there was no other human being involved and no sense of security being brought.
3. God speaking through Prophecy
When we come to the use of the gift of prophecy we move into a new area where another human being is involved and whenever that happens, that other human being has the capability of opening up the individual to the truth or shutting them off.
An example of the latter is surely that of Moses going to Pharaoh. A careful reading of the Bible indicates a number of times the Scriptures say God hardened Pharaoh's heart and a number of times it says Pharaoh hardened his heart. So what was happening? Pharaoh already had a hard, self-centred, godless heart. By sending Moses to directly confront him, God knew that Pharaoh's response would simply be to harden his heart even more. Pharaoh chose to harden his heart and God knew for a certainty that that was how he would respond.
So, we need to be clear here. There are people who are clearly hard hearted and whatever you say to them, it will simply confirm them in their hardness - but that is their choice and they are accountable for that! Then there are the majority of people we deal with inside the church who have come to God and who would want to go on with God but simply don't know how to get free from their old life or their present circumstances and walk out in newness of life.
I'll speak more on this in one of the chapters on Ministry, but the person bringing a prophetic word has the ability by the way they bring it, to either help people open up to the word or close down against it. I remember once hearing a lady in a large meeting bringing a prophetic word in a most harsh manner. The worship leaders, along with the rest of us probably, obviously wrote it off and passed straight on without comment. However as they did that I suddenly realised we had missed the word from God, for that is what it had been, yet we had been turned off by the channel.
The obvious truth is that, if we can turn people off by the way we bring a word to them, the other side of the coin must be that we can also help them receive it by the gracious way we bring it. If we can bring God's word, whatever it is, with love and grace, we enable that person to more easily receive it. We make them feel secure with us and therefore with the word that comes. If it is a word that is of correction, if it is brought in a loving environment, then they will be that much more able to respond to it with confession then and there. The more secure they feel in our love and acceptance as we bring the prophetic word, the more they will be able to face the truth and acknowledge their failure and be willing to take steps to bring change, and the more their faith will be released to rise and go forward and enter into all that the word spoke for them.
4. God speaking through preaching
Preaching must be one of the classic ways that God is able to bring the truth to bear on our lives. Yet it is also the way that we can most abuse because there is a large human element which, unlike the prophetic, is usually planned. The preacher spends time considering what he feels God wants to say, and the more discerning preacher may consider how he feels God wants him to say it.
Again I'll be dealing with this more fully in the Ministry chapter, so for now all I want to point out is the ability to make the people feel cared for - or not! Like the illustration I gave above, it is possible for the channel of the message, the preacher, to open or close hearts by the way he preaches. He can bring a sense of security, of loving care, or he can bring a sense of arrogance that turns the people away from the message. Where that message required a response of confession, it means he turns people away from that possibility.
Within this subject, we should also note that there are times when God moves in sovereign power, in what we usually call revival times, and in those times it seems it doesn't matter how the preacher conveys the message, the message will have impact and will bring repentance and confession. However this is not to act as an excuse to abuse people. Merely because it's happened in the past and God used it, it doesn't mean that He's blessed by that. He used Balaam and He used Balaam's donkey (Num 22) but both of them were in negative circumstances.
When we come as preachers, we come with the frailty of human beings with the foolishness of preaching the Cross (1 Cor 1:18 -25), but we also come in the name of Jesus and should therefore look to him for his grace in which to bring truth. When we achieve that we create a sense of security in our listeners which enables them to come out from behind their protective barriers and acknowledge before God the reality of their imperfect lives. The more secure they feel in our love and acceptance in bringing the message, the more they will be able to face the truth and acknowledge the truth of the message, and their failure, and be willing to take steps to bring change.
5. God speaking through discipling (mentoring)
When a leader is acting as a mentor to a disciple we have one of the strongest opportunities to convey the love and grace of God. There are two approaches that can be employed in discipling a person:
a) Formal Discipling
Where that discipling is of a form that is just concerned to see the disciple performing a number of spiritual functions and following a number of perceived rules of Christian living, this is an organisational or structural discipleship which leaves a cold, organisational heart in the disciple. Of course for busy leaders we rationalise that this is all we can give someone, so we have to formalise it, we have to package it. The leader is perceived as a leader, distinct and distant from the disciple. This is an authoritarian leadership where directly or indirectly there is a demand on the disciple to follow. Now of course this is seen by many as how Jesus is seen in the Gospels to operate. He is distant from his disciples, he is the Son of God, and so he can demand “Follow me.” Yet that is only half the picture.
b) Friendship Discipling
The alternative approach to discipling is to become a friend of the disciple, to share life, not just methods and words. This, of course, takes time. It takes time to share your life, share your feelings, experiences and the things you've learned the hard way. In this approach you share an example for the disciple to follow, you create a relationship in which they can express their hopes, their fears and their failures. In this approach you create security, you create an environment in which the disciple feels free to acknowledge and confess failure, openly and often. (We will say more about this in a later chapter).
This, I suspect, is the other half of how Jesus did it. He didn't call the disciples together on odd occasions for a prayer meeting, or a teaching meeting, he lived alongside them and they saw him living twenty four hours a day. In this context, as I sought to explain in a previous chapter in Book One, Peter felt he knew Jesus and could be at ease with him. He felt secure with Jesus.
In this context Jesus could speak into Peter's life and Peter could acknowledge failure. The same can be true for us in this form of discipling approach. It opens the door for God to speak through our relationship and thus for the disciple to feel secure in that and come to a place of rapid and regular repentance and confession. The more secure they feel in our love and acceptance in the discipling relationship, the more they will be able to face the truth and acknowledge their failures and needs and be willing to take steps to bring change.
6. God speaking through counselling
Perhaps nowhere more than in the counselling room is security an essential to help people come to a place of confession. With the growth of counselling in recent decades must come the temptation to get into routine counselling where the approach is cool and clinical. For the Christian counsellor, the objective must surely be to bring the ‘client' into a closer relationship with God through Jesus Christ to receive all the attendant benefits that go with that relationship.
For every human being, as these books constantly seek to remind us, failure in life always comes back in some form or other to failure in relationship to God. We are not looking to blame or lay guilt and condemnation, but if a person has a wrong relationship, either with God or with another person, or simply sees themselves wrongly, the objective of the counselling must be to lead them back into a right relationship which means, first of all, acknowledging that something is wrong.
Directive counselling tells the person what is wrong, indirect counselling allows them with your help and more especially with God's help to come to see the truth themselves. When this happens we have a work of God taking place. As we've seen previously, we cannot force a person into confession, but we can create an environment of love and acceptance whereby they can feel that they will not be rejected if they confess sin and, even more, they feel secure enough to be able to come out from behind their protective wall (which they may have had up for years) and acknowledge the truth - that they were wrong, they need to forgive etc. The more secure they feel in our love and acceptance in the counselling environment, the more they will be able to face the truth and acknowledge their failure and be willing to take steps to bring change.
6.5 Following Confession
Security is not only an issue to help release confession, it is also something to be considered following confession. The fact is that people will remember how we dealt with them when they previously came to confession, and if there is anything negative about our response to them, it will hinder them coming to that point again in the future. Please understand that in this book I am not suggesting that I believe we should be failing and confessing every day, but the truth is that we do fail from time to time and therefore from time to time there is the need for confession.
Therefore we should always be considering the future. How will this person feel about coming to me again in the future to confess? When they came and confessed, did they find total love and acceptance as well as forgiveness? I find again and again with the prophetic gift that, as I come to pray over someone where they are coming in confession, the Lord briefly but surely acknowledges the confession and grants forgiveness, but the main emphasis is then placed on their future.
Hope is granted through the prophetic word, again and again. Instead of confession being a formal, negative thing it becomes a door of blessing and hope. It doesn't just deal with the past, it opens the way for a new future. When this happens, and I never do this purposely, the person goes away, cleansed, forgiven, freed from the past and set up for a new future. This person is then willing to face future failures because they know it will not be a time of guilt and condemnation but a time of clearing away failure and being encouraged into something better.
6.6 And So?
What is the twofold point we've been making here in this chapter?
Confession should be a regular aspect of Christian life because we all fail
and all need to clear away our sin in the prescribed Biblical manner.
That manner indicates that it should be out loud and to another person.
Although for mundane things confession to God alone is adequate, for
larger issues at least, confession to another person helps bring release and
a sense of freedom and cleansing.
So our application questions in this chapter need to check both our attitude towards these things and the means we have for dealing with these things.
What is my attitude towards this whole subject of confession?
In my own life is there anyone with whom I feel secure, who I feel I can completely trust, to whom I could share my failures and pray with in seeking forgiveness before God?
In my church is the subject of confession something that is taught and clearly practised?
In the event of the above questions producing negative answers, how may I, with God's grace and wisdom, seek to bring change?