Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What's Happened to Confession?

The Associated Press published a brief story about the diminished number of Catholics who practice the sacrament of penance by confessing one’s sins to a priest. The speculation is that parishioners have become so fuzzy about right and wrong and what constitutes sin that they no longer feel the need to confess, or some have substituted their time on the therapist’s couch for the confessional booth. You can read the story here.

We Protestants don’t practice confession to an ordained priest but we do believe the Scripture when it says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

We believe in the “priesthood of the believer”, that is, every believer has direct access to God and his or her prayers are heard as well as any ordained clergy. Therefore the practice of confession takes place between one believer and another in a trusted, covenantal relationship. I meet with trusted others every week and part of our time is spent confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another. I just did it again today.

However, my observation of Protestants is not unlike that of the Vatican study about Catholics. I think fewer people today practice confession and the repentance (change of living) that goes with confession. What’s happened to confession?

I do think our culture in general is more fuzzy about right and wrong. I also think that we’ve lost a great deal of “fear of the Lord” (i.e.: awe and respect) and therefore reduce God to a more doting grandparent who tends to look the other way and lets us get away with things. And, in our consumerist day, I think the majority of faith that is practiced is a kind of “what did I get out of church today” experience. God is not Someone to whom we yield and obey but rather a therapeutic helper to my challenges and problems.

The Vatican’s response to their findings is to publish a new handbook on confession to drum up enthusiasm among Catholics toward the sacrament. I don’t think a new handbook will help much.


Becktoria said...

Scott, I think this study is quite revealing and that you are right on. For me, one of my biggest deterants to confession is a lack of deep Christian relationships. Should the spirit urge me to confession, I don't know who I would go to! And I have a funny feeling I'm not alone in that.

Scott Brewer said...


You raise a very important point. Practicing confession with the wrong person(s) can be very hurtful.

We must develop relationships with safe people. My current group of trusted others formally agreed to a covenant with one another that included items like confidentiality, complete honesty, commitment to love one another no matter what, and a promise to be available in time of need.

Finally, I've learned enough about myself that I realize I would hinder the work of Christ in me if I didn't have these trusted others with whom I confess sin, pray, share fears, dreams, disappointments and desires.