The Discipline of Confession
After the inward and outward confessions, Foster moves into the corporate confessions with confession. Now, when one says confession, the temptation to go straight to catholic theology is very real. Up until my college years I was the same way, thinking that confession was merely an outdated mode of the faith that didn’t need to happen anymore. In fact, I was raised to believe so deeply that the Christian faith is an individual faith that I believed on some level that I did not need to confess my sins to anyone but God.
But the Christian faith is not just an individual faith. It is indeed a corporate faith as well. And as such, there are some things that we need to do corporately, and confession just so happens to be one of those things.
Now, Foster is not arguing that we should confess every sin we commit to anyone within earshot. Quite the opposite, in fact. Foster argues that there is a very select type of individual who needs to be the one that we share our confession with. They need to demonstrate spiritual maturity, wisdom, compassion, good common sense, the ability to keep a confidence and a wholesome sense of humor. Most of these are self-explanatory (keeping a confidence especially. There are those within the church who would use sins as a weapon against others), but I had never thought about the sense of humor. It becomes clear when I think about the need to be able to hear a confession without giving in to the temptation to make jokes and force levity into a situation that it may not be called for within.
Foster also give the three requirements for confession. We must examine the conscience first, probing deep and getting detailed with our sins, not allowing ourselves to give into the temptation to simply use blanket statements to keep ourselves from admitting anything specific. We must then exhibit real sorrow. I like the definition that Foster uses for sorrow, calling it “an abhorrence at having committed the sin, a deep regret at having offended the heart of the Father.” It isn’t just being sorry that we did it, or being sorry that we got caught. It is really feeling just how deeply it hurts and offends our Father to have done what he have committed. Finally we have to have a determination to avoid sin. This can also be termed that we need to have a “yearning for holy living, and a hatred for unholy living.” We don’t just want to confess that we screwed up, we have to truly desire to change. Foster makes a comment in a footnote that we are quick to absolve others of sin, and that in doing so in our modern evangelistic practices that we may be doing harm in absolving people of sins that they are not truly sorry they have committed. I find this interesting and would love to spend more time thinking on it in my own life. Does offering absolution for sins that are not repented of actually hurt the development of another’s faith?
This discipline is fairly straightforward. We sin. We need to confess our sins. When we confess to another person, we are confessing to God (as we are all tasked as priests in God’s Kingdom). I find that in my own life, I do not confess as often as I probably should. It has been difficult as a pastor to find individuals who are willing to listen and fit the criteria that Foster lays out here. Far too often I am viewed as a pastor and the temptation is there either for me to withhold sins because of my office, or for the listener to become horrified that a pastor could commit such atrocities and still be a pastor.
Of all the disciplines thus far, this one may be the most difficult for me to accomplish because of my calling in life. But I find myself on the other end frequently, and understand that my role does allow me to serve others in great ways because of this discipline.