December 5, 2009

A Time and A Place

I graduated from a small, evangelical, Christian liberal arts school called Taylor University located in Upland, IN in 2001. As an alumni, I receive in the mail an alumni newsletter about once a quarter. As I was reading the most recent issue I came across an article highlighting this past fall's Spiritual Renewal Week and the spontaneous "avalanche of student confessions that lasted for more than six hours" (Taylor, p. 9) which started after a student began confessing his sins to the assembled student body. All of this took place on the very first night of Spiritual Renewal Week.

I know that these types of public confessions are not specific to Taylor as my younger siblings, along with my wife and a number of our friends have had similar experiences at the various smaller Christian schools they currently attend or have graduated from but I wonder if there is an appropriate time and place for such a confession. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the importance of confession and its ability to bring about healing, forgiveness and freedom but I will say that I am not convinced confessing one's sins of various addictions to thousands of peers is the best avenue for such healing to begin.

Of course God can use such a time of confession but I can't help but wonder the long term implications of such public openness, not only for the individual confessing but the audience who is forced to do something with the sins that are confessed. Why does this seem to happen in a setting like this on a college campus but we hardly ever hear of this happening inside a church in front of a congregation? Is it possible that confession in a small group or even one-on-one setting might provide a healthier more intimate level of accountability, encouragement and support? What happens to the college student who confesses to a crowd of her peers about an addiction to drugs or porn and then walks off the stage? It would seem hard after hours and hours of an intense time of confession not to have 1, 2, 10, 20...50 students fall through the cracks of intentional follow-up, accountability and discipleship but maybe my personality causes me to avoid things like this.


Matt said...

Interesting thoughts Matt.. few things. I'm going to jump around so i apologize in advance for absolutely no organization.

"but maybe my personality causes me to avoid things like this."

-Me too. But, if this were to happen at church would you then feel more comfortable?

" wonder if there is an appropriate time and place for such a confession."

-I'm not sure there could ever be a bad time to confess. I think confessing ones sins has been dubbed down to our own prayer time that it has lost all of its ability to heal someone. (would you agree?)
God knows what we have done. The confessing should happen to our brothers. I think one thing i have learned over the years is that sin grows and lives in darkness. The whole idea of confessing is to get your sin out into the open. The more people there are to hear it, the more possibility there is for people to be doing something about it for you.

"why does this seem to happen in a setting like this on a college campus but we hardly ever hear of this happening inside a church in front of a congregation?"

-Easy. the atmosphere at church is in my opinion completely different then a schools chapel. I would feel much more inclined too confess at school then i would be at church. Would you like to confess to a bunch of mostly strangers (the church) or people your surrounded with everyday (school).

Side note- Being at Indiana Wesleyan we here a lot about these spiritual revivals it's interesting to say that we have never had one. Every semester we hold summit week which is supposed to increase our openness toward this kind of revival, but I often wonder why our school hasn't had one? Could it be that IWU isn't has "God driven" as so many think? Does God find favor is other schools? Or is it purely the students? I don't know, but it makes me wonder.

Anonymous said...

I am unsure but don't believe that public confession is Biblical. Biblically , if you have sinned against a brother you must go to him, confess your sin, and ask for their forgiveness. One who is without Chist may not know how to respond to that process and be unwilling to forgive you.

Confession is necessary and between us and God. We may need to admit or agree that we have hurt someone or even a group of people but that doesn't need to be before strangers or those unaffected by our action/sin. To ask for someone to come along side of us to keep us from stumbling in an area we struggle with, is Biblical. To share past sin we have dealt with as a show of how to conquer temptation or to publicly praise or declare what the Lord has done for us, that is different than public confession. It is your testimony to God's work in you and it is Biblical and is to be applauded.

The risk we take in public confession is that there are those who may misunderstand the process of confession, those who may use it against you or the forum where it is presented, or for those who may not know the Grace of God and think public confession is all we need. Now the place I would agree with public confession is once you have confessed to and asked for God's forgiveness, if your sin is against a group of people (a small group, your siblings, your family, etc.) to call that group of people together and to confess to them, to ask for their forgiveness is Biblical.

Lastly, to have an accountability partner(s) that knows an area of sin you struggle with; this/these trusted souls are entitled to your confessions -- but remember they are not your redemption. Only Christ is that! Only he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. Always confess to him for he is the only one who can save you from yourself!

Kyle said...

I think being honest and open about our faults is EXTREMELY important. As Brennan Manning wrote in the Ragamuffin Gospel, "When a man or woman is truly honest (not just working at it) it is virtually impossible to insult them personally. There is nothing there to insult. Those who were truly ready for the kingdom were such people. Their inner poverty of spirit and rigorous honesty had set them free. They were people who had nothing to be proud of"

I love the idea of the pure honesty, where you aren't afraid to admit your addictions and faults. I think it is important that with your confessions, you have a will and desire to get better- so that there is the sense of true "repentance". Obviously, we all have our faults, and we will always sin, but to become 'content' with a sinful life can be a VERY dangerous thing.

So I think true confessing with a will to get better is an awesome thing. I think we need to confess to God as well as to other people though.

I have a lot of problems with today's church. It is not a community like I believe it is supposed to be. But I honestly have not the slightest idea of how to create a community within a large church like ours.. I think it would end up with MANY people leaving, which could be a good thing i guess?

It's hard to be honest and willing to admit your imperfects and addictions, but i'd say that it is almost absolutely necessary to have community if you wish to overcome them.

So, I think confession is good in small groups and large groups, or even 1 on 1. I just hope that with the confession, change will occur and accountability with your Christian brothers + sisters.

Kyle said...


I think public confession can be confession of any sins, and I'd say that a large portion of our sins are almost straight forward against God- as apposed to particular people.

IE: with addictions or ego/pride, it would be hard to confront everyone that you have been prideful to?

And an unwillingness for someone to forgive us is not exactly our problem, it is merely human. We can only ask for forgiveness, we can't make someone forgive us. I think confessions show an honesty that Christians are absolutely not perfect people, but instead very imperfect people who NEED a savior.

(not sure if I really made a point or not :P)

Matt Lipan said...

Matt: thanks for the thoughts. i'll try to share some of my thoughts in response to your points.

no, i would not be any more comfortable if this type of public confession happened in the church. i think the point for me is that i am not comfortable w/this type of confession period, simply because i am not sure it is appropriate or the best way to handle issues like this. i do think we have downplayed confession so much that it has become nothing more than literally telling God we're "sorry". i completely agree w/you that sin grows in the darkness and confession can shed light on those struggles, but again i wonder if in front of hundreds of people is the best "light".

i have a hard time thinking that there are not some students on one's college campus that s/he would not consider a stranger. every single person knows every single person? if so, wow, props to that school for developing a great community.

that's interesting to me that you haven't experienced this type of confession at IWU. i say this because i know of other IWU students that have experienced this very thing. it could be you simply missed the chapel or service where it took place, which is certainly a possibility.

as far as IWU not being as "God driven" as people might think, i have no grounds to comment on that but it is an interesting thought you bring up.

thanks for sharing some great thoughts! i look forward to hearing more.

Matt Lipan said...

Anonymous: thanks for the read and willingness to comment.

i like the point you bring up about those who might witness a public confession and not know how to respond or might misuse such information. i think that a confession done in this way has the potential of creating an awkward experience for someone who might be new to faith or have no faith at all. like you mentioned, this could end up sending the wrong message if it is taken in the wrong way.

good stuff, thanks for sharing!

Matt Lipan said...

Kyle: thanks for the read and comment.

great post! i agree w/your points talking about the importance of confession and it's relationship to community. i'm not sure true community, as Christ designed it, can really happen w/o a willingness to be open and vulnerable. again, i think all of this is important but feel as though a smaller setting (small group, accountability partner, etc) is truly best for something as intimate and intense as confession.

thanks for being willing to share some solid stuff. great quote from Manning btw