One of the most troubling and confusing chapters in Kingdom Now: Pursuing Unity in the Body of Christ to Change the World is Chapter 6, “Confess Your Sins to One Another.” Despite being perfectly biblical (see James 5:16), it befuddles both Protestants and Catholics alike. Protestants think that confession to another person isn’t a common practice. For Catholics, confession is reserved for the priest. Yet James puts it right in the middle of a section on prayer and healing for one another. What’s that all about?
I thought I had explained it well in the book, but members of my groups still struggled with the concept and I struggled with giving them an example.
Real Life Experience
Then one day immediately following our group, I met a friend for lunch. She was running a bit late, and as she rushed in, before she even sat down, she blurted out, “I can’t believe what I just did!” As she settled, she told me the gruesome tale of how she had reacted to something her mother had said. She repeated her mom’s words and her own words and tone. She expounded on her attitude and how she had totally not respected her mom. She confessed that she was still upset and didn’t know how to make it right.
As she talked, I realized that we confess our sins to one another all the time.
No, we don’t enter a confessional or sit side by side or back-to-back. We don’t make a ritual of it. We simply share with those we’re close to. Those we trust. We share our shortcomings and ask for help in repenting, in getting back to normal in whatever circumstance we’re explaining. All that is confessing our sins to one another. We do it over lunch or coffee. On the phone. In an email. And frankly, we don’t think much of it. We usually don’t think of it as confession; we think of it as confiding. As sharing with our friend. But the reality is, we have just confessed a sin and we are consciously or subconsciously expecting a response.
A Listener’s Response
As listening friends, we exhibit empathy, warmth, and respect. We nod. We use appropriate body language. We sigh. We say, “Oh no!” And then in one way or another, we offer absolution. Perhaps this is where we could be a bit more deliberate. Perhaps we could offer specific words of forgiveness and declare the sin forgiven (see John 20:23). We often talk about ways to handle the issue better the next time. We usually encourage the friend to go back to Mom and repent. We may even do some healing prayer to help our friend heal from childhood hurts or enemy attack.
My point is, being the Body of Christ isn’t hard. It’s something we do every day. We just don’t think about it in that way. But maybe we should. Maybe we should realize that as we “one another” with one another, we are being the Church, the ekklesia. And as we extend those practices outside of the Christian community, we are being the ekklesia. And that’s really what being the Church is all about.
So don’t get hung up on the logistics of confessing your sins to one another. My guess is that you do it all the time.