October 1, 1997 Issue
by Ronny F. Wade

Question: My question for you is twofold: (1) where do you find the scripture or scriptures to justify the practice of public confession by an erring brother, (2) before he may take part in the worship service? 

Answer: There can be no forgiveness without confession. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" l John 1:9. The issue before us is, when is the proper time and place for Christians to make confession of sins? Do all sins require a public confession before the church? Are there any sins that require such a confession? In determining the answer to these questions as well as those asked by the querist, we must take into account what the Scriptures have to say about this very important subject. In Acts 8 we have the case of Simon who had obeyed the gospel under the preaching of Philip. His profession prior to his obedience was that of a soothsayer or sorcerer. When Simon witnessed the transference of spiritual gifts by the laying on of the apostle’s hands, he tried to purchase this power with money. Peter rebuked him "Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money...for thy heart is not right before God." Here is a clear example of a member of the church doing a wicked thing. Peter does not tell Simon to confess his sin before the congregation, but rather says "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee." It would appear that the Apostles, Simon, and God were the only parties involved in this matter hence it was treated by Peter as a private matter with Simon being told to "repent and pray God." Had Simon not repented and confessed his sin, he would have been lost. By any stretch of the imagination can anyone envision Peter using Simon in the public services of the church to teach or pray as long as he continued in his sin? Surely not. Repentance and confession were necessary for forgiveness. Today many Christians sin privately. They should repent and pray that God will forgive them. There is no scriptural precedent for anyone coming before the church to confess a private sin. Such a practice should be discouraged rather than encouraged. In Matthew 5:23-24 we have a situation involving two people where one has sinned against the other. The proper procedure is for the guilty party to go to the one wronged and make amends. "First be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift." In Matthew 18 Jesus says "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone." In both these passages, we have a private matter between two people. Such matters are to be settled between the parties involved. No mention is made of either individual going before the church to make a confession at this point. In fact in the case of the latter verse Jesus says "If he hears you, you have gained your brother." The private problem has been privately solved. We should note here that in such a case if the offending brother decides to make a confession before the church, without going to the brother he has offended, he has failed to do what the Scriptures command him to do. On the other hand, if the offending person refuses to repent when approached by the offended party, he is instructed to take one or two more with him that "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." If he refuses to hear them, then Jesus instructs "tell it to the church." It now becomes a public matter. The church knows about the situation, or sin involved. If the offending party refuses to hear the church, he is to be rejected. Suppose, on the other hand he listens to the church, what course of action should be taken? According to I John 1:9 he must confess his sin. Since the church is aware of the sin, it reasonably follows that the church needs to know about his repentance and confession. If he failed to repent and confess, could the church, knowing about his sin, continue to use him in the services? Surely not. Every private sin should be repented of and confessed to God privately. Sins between individuals need to be handled among the parties involved and should not be brought before the congregation. Public sins, however, are another matter. Those sins about which the church has general knowledge should be dealt with in such a way that the church is aware of their solution. Does this mean that one has to walk down the isle and make a confession before he can be forgiven? Not necessarily. One who is guilty of any sin should repent of and confess that sin as soon as possible. There is certainly no scripture that teaches one has to wait until the next church service to do so. However, the church should be made aware of the resolution of the sin. But what happens when one is guilty of publicly sinning in a congregation, but instead of making things right in the church where the sin occurred they go to a near-by congregation to make a confession? The same rule should apply: one can repent of and confess sin at any time, however, the church where the sin occurred needs to be informed by sinning party that he has repented of the sin, and asks their and God’s forgiveness. With reference to using people in the public worship services of the church, such participation is a privilege. To use someone whose past or present conduct is questionable is without doubt unwise. To use someone whose public sin has not been corrected, is not only unwise but wrong. There are many scriptures that teach we should "know those who labor among us", and that wicked people should be withdrawn from (l Cor.5). To imply that a congregation doesn’t have the right to demand repentance and confession, on the part of the erring before they are used in the public worship services, is to ignore all such scriptures.

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