The Lost Art of Confession


Most people have a love / hate relationship with Confession. Confession is more properly referred to as the Sacrament of Repentance and is to be the secret heart of a Christian’s life. But it is so often one of the most underutilized and misunderstood sacraments of the Church. Confession is in some circles spoken against as not necessary, or “too Catholic” or some say was not a practice found in the lives of the men and women of the Old or New Testament or in the life of the Church from the earliest times. And for most the idea of confession brings up feelings of shame, embarrassment and fright. And yet, many of us try to live with a heavy conscience as we try to theologize and/or rationalize our irrational sinful thoughts, words, and actions. We may ask, “Can I not simple confess my sins directly to God?” Of course, we can and should confess directly to God even though there is no scriptural basis for such a practice. But in conjunction with this private devotional confession we need to, on occasion, come before Christ (to whom we are making our confession) with a priest as a companion, guide and witness. How often have we confessed to God our sins and promised to never do them again and yet find ourselves later to have been in denial or habitually continuing in this very same sin? The earliest Christians had this figured out.

When the early Church read verses like 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” they took it pretty literally. They practiced public confession. Each one would stand and confess out loud what sins they had committed. As the Church grew this became more difficult to do and the presbyter began to witness repentance privately on behalf of the community that the person was confessing and as a witness to the person that the Lord and His body, the Church, had heard and forgiven them. (Priests are strictly forbidden from revealing to any third party what they have learned in Confession.) Although it is a mystery there is, without a doubt, power in confessing our sins to another and hearing him pronounce the words of forgiveness and absolution of Christ and His Body so that we are free to go and sin no more. (John 8:11) Everyone should have at least one person that knows everything about them. Most counselors, to some degree, make their living off of hearing confession.

The next few posts I will blog a bibliography on Confession, discuss the icon pictured above and we will look at confession is some depth. For now, here is a brief Scriptural basis for further reading on Confession (for loads more just Google “scriptural basis for confession”):

John 20:19-23, 1 John 1:8-9, Psalm 51, Matthew 16:19, 2 Samuel 11:1-12:13 and James 5:16

What do YOU think about confession? Should it be the secret heart of a Christian’s life? Is modern counseling to some degree a clinical model of confession?



Filed under Confession: 5 part series

5 responses to “The Lost Art of Confession

  1. Robert

    I agree, confession is good for the soul, but I’ve been given some bad advice from a priest or two, which has driven me away from the sacrament and even church for a few months until I was able to resolve those issues.

    The difference between confession and clinical psychology is that the blame does not rest with the person, but the exterior world. My mom disciplining me for being a bad kid isn’t her fault for the method she chose, but my fault to have received the punishment. There is very little personal responsibility in modern, secular counseling.

    • Fr. James Coles

      There is a difficult balance that we must work hard to achieve with a confessor. On the one hand the priest should not be seen as simply another advisor (among many) on our personal road to self-fulfillment and on the other hand we need to be assured that the priest is listening to the us and the Lord and that he knows what he is talking about. Thankful that you were able to resolve the issues and return.

      • Robert

        Honestly Father, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. From Antiquity to the Cradle, to the Grave and Beyond, I’m not leaving the Eastern Orthodox Church.

        I can’t go to church when I’m that upset, I can’t disrespect God with being in His house and no focusing on Him.

        Yet, the irony is, I’m disrespecting him by not attending and resolving this particular issue sooner, so either way it’s my loss because the distance has been created.

  2. coffeezombie

    Hi, came to you blog from you Twitter account (on Twitter, I am coderforchrist).

    As a little background, I came from the Baptist church, where Confession was one of those un-Scriptural things that Catholics do as a result of putting their priests between them and God.

    And yet, at my church, we did have a similar practice. It manifested itself in many ways, one of which was an “accountability partner;” this was someone who “held you accountable” to live a Christian life. This was usually a mutual relationship: you and your accountability parter would question each other about the various things each struggled with.

    There was also a mentor relationship you might have, where a “mentor” was something very similar to a spiritual father.

    Finally, in Sunday School classes, we would basically have group confessions (sex-segregated, of course).

    These confessions were never seen as being a way of being cleansed or forgiven, of course. You confessed privately to God for that purpose. And they were never as….thorough as the Sacrament of Repentance.

    So, as Baptists, who derided any mention of Confession to anyone other than God as papism, we could not help but institute something similar.

    It is my opinion that this is because Confession is just a basic human need. How often do we hear phrases like “I just need to get this off my chest,” even from non-religious folk?

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