Public Confession of Sin

QUESTION: “Since there is neither command nor example of a confession of sin being made before the church, where is the authority for such a long-time practice?”

REPLY: First, it is good that scriptural authority is desired and demanded (Matthew 28:20; Colossians 3:17; 2 Timothy 1:13). Indeed, we must have such authority, else our work and worship is void and vain (Matthew 15:3-9; Acts 15:24; 2 John 9).

Second, just because an act (in this case, public confession) has been practiced for many years, does not make it right or approved in the sight of God. Infant baptism and sprinkling for baptism are both old traditions, but they exist without divine authority.

Third, there need not be a specific command or example of every action before it can be said to be authorized. Where is the example of a church owning a meeting house? Where is the command for it to do so? Yet, who will say that a “church building” is unauthorized (1 Corinthians 11:20; 14:23; Hebrews 10:25)? Where is the command for the church to take the confession of a penitent, alien sinner before the church? Where is the example of an alien sinner confessing Christ as Lord in response to an invitation song before the church? There is no specific command or example, but who will say that such is unscriptural and unauthorized (Mark 16:15-16; cp. 1 Corinthians 14:22-25; Revelation 22:17)?

Fourth, will someone say that an alien sinner may confess Christ before the church, but that a child of God may not confess sin before the church?

Below are some questions which may help to show scriptural authority for one to make a public confession of sin before the church.

  1. Since one can give offense to the church of God, could he not give offense unto a local church? Is so, should one not repent and confess his offense before the church (1 Corinthians 10:32)?
  2. If one’s sin is told to the church, should the church not hear its confession (Matthew 18:17)?
  3. Would not a confession before the church in Corinth have been an expedient way for the fornicator to confess, since the church, in an assembly, had delivered him to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:4; cp. James 5:16)?
  4. If Diotrephes had repented of his pride and rejection of John and others, would it not have been expedient to have confessed his sin in a public assembly since his evil was, in part, against the church (3 John 9-10)?
  5. If an elder who sins is rebuked “before all,” or before the church, may he not also confess his sins before that same assembly (1 Timothy 5:19-20)?
  6. Since Peter was withstood to the face “before them all,” could he not also have confessed his error in the same place, i.e. “before them all” (Galatians 5:11-14)?
  7. Since one way to fulfill the command to speak to one another and to teach and admonish one another in spiritual songs is to do so in an assembly, could we not also fulfill the command to confess our faults one to another and pray one for another when the whole church is assembled (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:16)?

A public confession before the church may not always be the wise, prudent, or scriptural thing to do (Matthew 18:15). Each case must be individually determined. However, as the questions above show, one may, at times, confess his sins before the church.

Larry Hafley