Gut Check #4


Let's start the week with a bang. I think the number of American Christians who struggle with this gut check question is in the millions. Sadly, the answer for many people is yes.

Will you lose your standing at church
or the support of Christian family and friends
if you finally, publicly confess
the sin you've kept secret for years?

Protestantism broke from a corrupt Roman Catholic Church that turned Jesus into "Jesus and…." I don't support the idea that we need to add anything to Christ's finished work, so I don't support the RCC. However, if there's one area that the RCC has dealt with far better than any Protestant sect, it's in the area of confessing sins. 

Imagine always having a flesh and blood human being available to hear our confession! Although the usual advice to repeat some pointless "Hail Mary's" isn't the recipe for repentance, what do the Protestants offer? The Bible has this to say:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
—James 5:16 ESV

Too few Christians are willing to hear another's confession, and even fewer are willing to confess. Yet what power, healing, and freedom resides in that confession!

I've known Christians who literally wound up institutionalized because they kept secret sin secret. A Gaboon viper in its typical surroundingsOr they worried that whatever they'd done was somehow treading on "unforgivable sin" territory.

In a way, who can blame them? We talk a lot about our sinfulness, but when someone sins in a way unfamiliar to our own experience, our first reaction is usually judgment.

Many years ago, a much younger Dan was part of a men's group. One day, we studied passages on confession and decided that we would confess our sins to each other. By the time it was all done, self-righteous me had been traumatized by the utter depravity of the guys around me. They shared things I couldn't even imagine, making my sins seem small.

However, as I grew older, I better realized the depths of my own depravity and saw that while my sins were indeed different than theirs, mine still deserved hell. The same Christ who cleansed me had cleansed those men, no matter how awful their confession might have been. In time I learned that none of us is pristine, even the most devout. There's not much difference between my 100 percent sin and their 100 percent sin, no matter what gradations we assign to a certain moral failure.

Too many of us learn the hard way on this one, though. We need to be more ready with grace and less with our high and mightyness, because that superiority we wield like a club is the reason so many are in bondage to secret sin.

The bulimic pastor's wife. The lauded Christian businessman who lies to clients. The self-help expert who hates herself. The porn addict. The judgmental. All need a grace-filled environment that encourages confession and remembers the Golden Rule.

Frankly, I think a private confession booth is a good thing. Our self-righteous attitude imprisons too many others in their jail of sin. Those folks need us to listen and offer grace first, not judgment.

I'm listening. The comment section is open—and during this series, anonymous. 

{Image: a Gaboon viper in its typical surroundings


Other posts in this series:

28 thoughts on “Gut Check #4

  1. Lenbenhear

    Hi Dan. Great blogsite you’ve got here. Lots of really good and thoughtful stuff to read. Thanks for posting it. Now: regarding the message and theme of the most recent offering: Yes, without a doubt we must have more loving, gracious, and NONjudgemental attitudes within the Christian community; we must also be able to *truly share* with those who are friends and/or elders in the Body.
    Discernment and *the necessity of Christian standards* are A GIVEN;
    but the unkind or accusatory and judgmental attitudes which often ACCOMPANY all this can be devastating and HIGHLY unchristian in every way.
    btw: I’m a Tozer, Ravenhill, and Philip Yancey ‘fan” too. (!)
    Shalom and GOD bless, brother.

  2. Lenbenhear

    PS/ I LOVE ALL THOSE WHO LOVE THE LORD, … and I love my enemies too ! … THANK GOD for them, … they keep me on my toes like nothing else quite can !

  3. Not sure if this is relevant but …

    I have a dear friend who had been the pastor of a church for several years. He had been touched by God and wanted the men to have a more genuine relationship with Jesus. He decided one men’s group that the men were going to begin “getting real.” He talked about the depravity of man and the need for confession and repentance. He then confessed all the hidden sins of his heart to a then stunned group of men.

    Within two months he had lost the pastorate and was looking for a place for his wife and eight (that’s right, eight) kids to live.

    Be verrrrrry careful with this one.

    • Carl,

      No doubt, this has to be done right. In the case of pastors and elders, I suspect their best option is to find other pastors and elders from other churches to take their confession. Too many people are unable to handle the sin in their leaders’ lives, even if they mentally assent that leaders sin.

      A funny story of what happens with these confessions under the wrong circumstances:

      I was at Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1980s in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Since CMU was about 7:1 men to women at that time, our larger IV group had about thirteen small groups, only two of which were for women.

      We had small group leader meetings from time to time. At one meeting, the IV chapter president decided we’d confess to each other the one sin we most struggled with. There were about eighteen of us at the meeting, seventeen guys and a lone female leader (since the other woman leader could not make the meeting). We sat in a circle on the floor of the room, and the IV Pres and VP started.

      Both confessed that their greatest sin was “lusting after women” (these were college-aged guys, after all).

      Well, that exact same response tripped off the lips of one guy after another. By the time a dozen guys had revealed this same sin struggle, I’d started watching Sheila, the only girl there. She was a very prim and modest young woman who I’m sure had been a Christian from about the day she was born, if you know what I mean. Sheila’s eyes were growing wider and wider with each confession because , to her, there was no escaping it: every guy in IVCF, even all these respected group leaders, was a slavering sex fiend.

      Of course, she was the very last person to speak, all these lustful male eyes probably undressing her as she collected her thoughts and groped for some sin to confess besides “lusting after women.” I noticed, too, that she’d kind of backed out of the circle a little, as if afraid to even be a part of this progressive revelation of young male desire.

      When she finally, in the most trembling and mousy voice possible, confessed, “Well, sometimes I get jealous,” I collapsed into the center of the circle weeping with laughter. Of course, everyone was so deadly serious that they didn’t get it, but eventually they all figured it out and we laughed uncontrollably for about five minutes. All except Sheila, who was probably scarred for life.

      She later married the lustful VP of the group, from what I understand.

      • Dee

        You said, “Of course, everyone was so deadly serious that they didn’t get it, but eventually they all figured it out and we laughed uncontrollably for about five minutes.”

        Sorry, Dan. Maybe it’s because I relate too much to Sheila’s history, but I don’t get what all the guys figured out. Can you spell it out for me, please?

        • Dee,

          Well, the other folks finally realized how all that sounded and what a silly idea it was to do such a thing when it was probably a given that all of us 18-22 year old men were going to say that dealing with our thought lives was our toughest area. Probably not a good thing to do considering there was a lone female present. Sheila laughed about it, too. You can get so earnest about this kind of thing and lose all sense of humor.

          Oh well, maybe this is just a guy thing….

  4. Ekval

    Wow…you are doing bad things to my gut of late Dan…

    As you and Carl spoke of earlier a side danger here is the ramifications of this on others when the sinner is in a position of power. Such was the case for me. Fear of the consequences, not just for my own life, but for many others is what kept it from coming out from me even despite having heart to hearts with another man every week. I just knew that a ton of people would be hurt.

    Eventually I did fess up to a select group of people (partially as I was found out in any case). While publically the damage was minimized to some extent by my walking away in as nondisruptive manner as was possible, it was still devastating, not just to me, but for the organization I worked for too. And considering the fact that I’d invested the past few years of my life into that place, I am currently adrift and alone. My family is still together, but not whole, my career and lifeplans are demolished and to be honest, my own sense of my place in God’s plan just shattered.

    At the same time, there is some good to be brought out of even such sinful things. I was amazed at the grace of the few people that I let in on the secret sin. No one hated me, even at least one person who had every right to just flat out shoot me. In every case their goal was to restore me to Christ. Graciousness was given a real face to me through all of it.

    What has been the killer for me since then is that while there was grace, the follow up for me seems to be lacking. I am doing the right things (behavior modification), but am having such a terrible time with the heart issues. I feel bereft, even by those same people that showed me grace at the time. I don’t think they meant to “wash their hands” of me, but it feels that way to me now in my isolation.

    In other words, as with so many things in the Christian faith, the letter was followed and everything appears okay, but the follow-up with the relationships that are so vital is very lacking. I’m not trying to be accusatory, as I said, I was shown kindness in all ways, and the sin was mine, therefore the consequences mine (and sadly my family’s, and others) to bear. But I can’t help but feeling that this idea of “accountability” that we talk so much about in the modern church is not really followed all that well.

    That leads me to an idea for another “gut check” that relates to me and that I know I failed at numerous times. Do we actually confront in love those we are close to who are sinning? Or do we turn a blind eye? Do we attack when we do?

    Thanks again, this series is painful, but convicting as well Dan.

    • Ekval,

      I knew a pastor who started abusing amphetamines to keep up. When his church found out, they did everything they could to ensure he would never work anywhere again.

      He cleaned up and got straight. He’s back in the ministry, too, but not in the same denomination. There’s always hope.

      I’m sorry to hear that your situation has been tough. Joy comes in the morning. I pray that your morning arrives soon.

      Bless you.

  5. Ekval

    It occurred to me after I posted that I didn’t really fully answer the gut check. Yes, I would have lost my standing completely if I hadn’t left on my own. And to be honest, perhaps rightfully so considering my place.

  6. No idea if I would lose my standing or not, and too terrified to try. I have been, as most other American christians have, steeped in the idea that God forgives, but christians shoot thier wounded. I also tend to lean too heavily on the “Against Thee, and Thee alone have I sinned” part of the concept of asking forgiveness. We walk so narrow a path between living in the world of very real consequences and that of our idea of what grace and mercy mean. I would be happier giving my confession to the God that killed His own people over and over for thier sins, than the people that I go to church with. And frankly, I would be more trusting of His judgement than thiers.

    But we are faced with a Bible, and therefore God, that says it is better for us to confess our sins to one another. It is a beautiful picture, is it not, that it is possible to have a body of believers that is patient and kind, doesn’t boast or act in pride, isn’t rude or self-seeking, is not angered easily, or keep a record of wrongs, rejoices in truth, and doesn’t wallow in evil, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. And will never fail.

    Or is that just a pipe-dream?

    • Peyton

      The big difference between the evangelical dichotomy — hide it at all costs vs. let it all hang out — and catholic (note the small "c") confession is prudence. You confess to a priest or other confessor, and that person is under absolute moral obligation to say nothing about what was confessed. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer puts it thus:

      The content of a confession is not normally a matter of subsequent discussion. The secrecy of a confession is morally absolute for the confessor, and must under no circumstances be broken.

      I would trust perhaps a dozen people in my congregation with information about a deep trouble. I would trust two (both women) with a confession. Be careful to whom you confess!!!! This is Prudence.

      Prudence is a virtue that directs reason to choose rightly the proper means to attain the end in view.

      • Which makes the biblical injunction to confess sins to one another that much more of a measure of the spiritual maturity of the body. Are we so immature as a body of believers that there are so few in the body we can trust?

        • Peyton

          David, I fear we are so immature. We are gossips (right up there with homosexuals, you know), slanderers, and indeed the whole panoply of Romans 1 — with a veneer of Christian respectability.
          We daren’t confess to anyone who has not squarely faced their own sinfulness — and been appalled by it, and astonished at the mercy and justice of our Father God.

    • David,

      I think that people who are truly dead to the world are those people who can truly forgive and handle any confession. My wife and I know people like that and we’re not afraid that they will mismanage our confessions.

      You simply have to have a history with people. This is why restoring true community to our churches is so vital. Our disconnectedness to others in our society brought about by industrialization, the American Dream, and Social Darwinism has bred this inability to grow deep, meaningful relationships. Some of us are trying to do better. A few are succeeding.

      Hang in there. Be the one who will not be shocked and will be the one others trust to hear their confessions.

  7. Diane Roberts

    During the early 1970’s it was BIG stuff in churches to get into small groups and let it “all hang out.” We were told that if we were “authentic” other Christians would respect and love us. Sound familiar? We seem to be going back to that today. The big problem was who you told. It turned out for most of us that people didn’t love us when they saw how “authentic” we were. And, because of this, most of us ended up in therapy.

    • Diane,

      Both of us know there are the right kind of the Christians and the wrong kind. Confessing to the wrong kind is a recipe for disaster. We didn’t know that then, did we? 😉

      Now if only that ratio of good to bad were a lot greater…

  8. Annonymous

    It is an amazing gift to keep a friend even after they know about all the garbage in your life. I am blessed to have two such friends. We attend diffferent churches but we gather once in awhile to do scrapbooking together. It is during our scrapbooking sessions that we can expose all our weaknesses, express doubts and frustrations, and receive prayer and understanding in the most difficult times.

    I don’t even trust anyone at my church enough yet to do this. I had expressed to some ladies at church my frustration with a situation in my home. I was shocked and hurt at the pastor’s wife’s harsh reaction to my situation. Apparently she thought I was the sole source of the problem. She called her reaction “speaking the truth in love”.

    I didn’t feel the love.

    I am determined to provide that kind of support to other women the kind of moral and spiritual support I needed and desired, despite the lack of role models for me follow.

    • Anon,

      Our small group from our old church has been through so much and has heard so many confessions that I suspect nothing would shock us or be too tough to handle. That makes the group special. That’s why we still are a part of it, even though we don’t go to that church anymore.

  9. For me, the whole key is relationship. I have, perhaps, two very good, deep relationships with other guys (I am a man) whom I feel I could be totally honest with. But that’s it. Those two… perhaps one more, but it is questionable… and the reason I have anyone to confess my sins to at all is that we have built a trusting, mutually respect-based relationship. I know I can trust them and they know they can trust me. I would never get up before a group of people and simply barf out my deep, dark sins… unless, of course, the Lord led me to do this as a move towards church-wide revival or something – as happens sometimes… and which still blows me away.

    I have a very good friend – (not one of those three) – who, over 12 years ago, was involved in something that most on this list would find repulsive. He knew the moment it happened that it was “wrong” and he knew he had crossed a line he should never have crossed because he was a Christian, working in ministry at the time. But, he did cross that line. And he paid for his offense by going to prison. In prison, in fact, during the first few DAYS of his sentence, he went through what he would call an amazing resoration proceeded by deep and heart wrenching repentance. After 3 years, he was released – and now, 9 years after his release – he still LIVES with the after-effect of what he did because of our legal system. And because of that, he has not been able to find work in a church – even though he “confessed his sins to one another” and “has repented.”

    I think back to a line in the great movie, “The Natural.” Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is recovering in his hospital bed after an old wound of his is reinjured… the original wound was the result of a gunshot he received from a woman he was going to sleep with – but instead, she shot him. His childhood friend (Glenn Close) comes to visit him in the hospital and he tells her, “Some mistakes you never stop paying for.” And that is, unfortunately, very true – even in the Kingdom…

  10. Anonymous

    This is a large and lumpy question. I will just say that in an earlier response to one of my posts you mentioned that I seem a bit misanthropic. I was taken aback by that at first but now I would tend to agree with you. I don’t have a sort of generalized hatred for humanity, not at all, but it IS true that I am deeply mistrustful of other people (Christians and non-Christians alike) and to some extent I learned this behavior in church. To this day my guard is up around pastors, their wives, and the hoi polloi of the church; I feel more comfortable keeping some distance between us – not because I’m out there living in willful sin and I want to keep that from them (my sins aren’t terribly spectacular, just perhaps more deadly), but because I do not trust them to be who God has called them to be in any matter pertaining to MY life, if that makes any sense. I have no desire to make it onto anyone’s blacklist, so to speak, and I have SEEN this kind of thinking in action before, and the fallout was terribly harmful to the person on the receiving end. I have seen people driven away from not only church, but God as well.

    I have been a Christian for most of my life (over 20 years) and in that time I have made exactly ONE friend in whom I can confide, and vice versa, and NEVER does any judgment or condemnation flow from her to me, or me to her; just encouragement, Scripture, and offers to pray.

    I think the church in America has a long way to go before it can handle confession without making a shipwreck of people’s lives. JMHO.

  11. I’ve enjoyed your thought provoking posts lately.
    Having had an abortion in my early 20’s, this was the secret and shameful darkness that the enemy worked so effectively in with me for many years.
    After I finally found healing, in Jesus, for all of the wounds from that abortion I found my silence difficult to keep. For one thing, when Jesus has done such a HUGE thing in healing such deep and destructive wounds, it’s difficult not to tell people. But I also came to realize that I was not the only woman in my church with this background. I could relate in a very real and personal way to the pain and torment that she experienced as it related to her abortion. I was compelled to share my experience so that others would know that they were not on their own and that Jesus can and does heal EVEN this.
    What I experienced was interesting. When the inevitable discussion of abortion would come up in Sunday school every January there were always people in the class who didn’t know my background. It is very interesting the comments that would come and how drastically different they’d be once they found out that I was one of “those women” that they’d earlier judged so harshly.
    I think the bottom line on the issue you’ve brought up is that people generally are willing to offer mercy and forgiveness as it directly relates to how much mercy and forgiveness they believe their own life has required.
    I was never a very merciful person or a forgiving person until I allowed God to deal with me about my own sin. Seeing in a closer way the depth of mercy and forgiveness that has been lavishly poured out over my own life has given me the ability to offer a bit more of it myself.
    Having said all of that I’d like to challenge you and also some of your other readers with something……..
    I don’t deliberately or arrogantly refer to Protestant churches with a little p, or any of the denominations that fall into that category in a lower case…out of respect for the beliefs and teachings of the people and their denomination.
    I also do not trash an entire denomination or all of Protestantism because of the depth or shallowness of a few believers I may have known within those circles.
    I’d like to challenge you and the others here, before you trash the entire Catholic church because maybe you knew someone who was Catholic and their spiritual life seemed to be nothing more than empty ritual, maybe you ought to look beyond that a little bit.
    You state some very common misconceptions about the Catholic church right off the bat, I know they are common because I once believed those things to be true of the church myself. But I’d like to challenge you to really look at what the church really teaches. Not to convert to Catholicism yourself necessarily but in order to be more knowledgeable about what you speak of.
    I’m not slamming you for it, as I said I used to be very vocal about what I thought the Catholic church believed and taught based on what I’d heard from someone who’d heard from someone who once knew a Catholic. Look at what the church really teaches, not what you’ve always been told they teach.
    I know that it sends a shudder down the spines of many Protestants and well as Catholics, but we share much of the same fundamental doctrine of the faith than you’d ever imagine.

    • Deanna,

      A well-traveled Christian speaker once told me that in any coed group of more than twenty Christians, at least one of the women in that group had had an abortion. He says that he’s never seen an exception to that rule in twenty years of speaking.

      That means that your average church is going to be loaded with women who have suffered through what you did. I praise God that you found healing and will be praying that your journey will be used by God to speak to women against having an abortion.

      Thanks for sharing. God bless.

      • Dan,
        What I found at Alan Guetenmacher Institute website (I’m sure I’m not spelling that right) was even more narrow than that..their stats were more like 1 in 6 women in any given denomination. But either stat indicates that you don’t have to look much further than your own pew in most churches. There really is no difference among Protestant, Catholic, or the Jewish faith according to the AGI stats I read. In the US nearly half of all women (43%) will have had an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. We cannot ignore the 40 million + babies but neither can we ignore the mothers of those babies…or the fathers.
        Sorry to get on a soap box …as you can tell it’s something I’m very passionate about.
        What this original post brought out, in all of the stories that have been shared here, is the reminder of the need for all of us to be more merciful…especially those of us who have received so much.

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