Monday, September 6, 2010

Confess Your Faults

Confess your faults, one to another, James 5:16 tells us. I’m not sure when the Catholics first built their confessional boxes and made confession a requirement for salvation, but in modern times the confessional box often aids sagging plots in television shows by providing a place where the evildoer can talk about his crime without fear of the police learning of his crime. Of course, his confession is often overheard by someone standing nearby or by some recording device placed in the box. It’s all in good fun to make things more interesting.

But before you go sticking confessional boxes in your stories, let’s look at the idea of confession a little closer. The Catholics have popularized the idea that confession is going and telling one’s sins to a priest. Protestants have turned around and said that it is God we should confess to and not to a priest. When we look at James 5:16, the phrase “one another” seems to indicate that confession is not limited to the sinner and the priest, but the church members are to confess to each other. It appears that we are to confess to people as well, so some people have gotten the idea that we should stand up in church and tell the rest of the church all the things we’ve done. All of that is built on the premise that confession is telling someone your sins. Let’s see if that premise holds up.

The word confess appears many times in the Bible, but it is used to translate a word that appears even more frequently. Many times when it is used, the concept of going and telling your sins to a priest doesn’t even fit the context. For example, Revelation 3:5 has Jesus saying of the man who overcomes, “I will confess his name before my Father.” Philippian 2:11 says that “every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Neither of those verses can be used to talk about us telling our sins to anyone, either another person, a priest or God himself. But there’s more. The Bible talks about us confessing God’s name, confessing God and God confessing us. The words that we translate as confess are sometimes translated with words like praise.

Someone who wants to hang onto the confessional box might talk about confession bringing us to a point where we can praise God, but that’s a stretch, to say the least. It makes more sense if we go through the Bible and everywhere we see the word confess we read the word acknowledge. The word we translate as confess actually means to acknowledge. It doesn’t carry with it the concept of sin, in and of itself. If the Bible talks about confessing sin, what it means is that we acknowledge sin. But if it talks about confessing God, it means that we acknowledge God. If it talks about our confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, it means that we will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. If we then confess our faults one to another, what that means is that we acknowledge our faults.

In the broader context of James 5:16, what we see is that James is talking about church members praying for the healing of each other. I don’t think he is actually talking about us telling other church members all the bad stuff we’ve ever done. Instead, I think he’s saying that when we’ve offended someone we should say to that person, “Yeah, I agree that what I did was wrong. I’m sorry.” That person will then be better able to forgive us for what we did to him and will find it easier to pray for us. One of the quickest ways to put an end to a fight is to agree that the other person is right.