The Confessional

“I thought Methodists’ didn’t make Confessions.”
“I thought that was something that only Roman Catholics did.”
“I don’t need anyone between me and Jesus!”
“I’m afraid of telling God my sins outloud. Someone might hear!”

I thought I would answer each of these questions, and make some reflections on them within the context of what I, as a Christian and as a Methodist Christian, do.

“I thought Methodist’s didn’t make Confessions.”

That depends upon what one means by “making one’s confession.” If one means that Methodist don’t confess their sins to God, then I’m sorry, that impression is wrong. We are most certainly called to confess our sins to God! Indeed, we have several liturgies, both in the Hymnal and in the book of Worship, which aid groups in making Congregational confessions of sin. If, however, one means that we don’t have the tradition of sitting down with a minister or other Christian and making our confession of sin, then you are correct; that kind of a confessional is not, as such, a formal part of our tradition. That doesn’t mean, however, that such kinds of confessionals don’t happen in The United Methodist Church. Quite the contrary, during the last 9 years of my ministry I’ve heard a surprisingly high number of confessions like this. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s helpful for us to go to someone we respect for their Spiritual insight and tell them what we’ve done wrong and seek advice on how to go about setting things straight. That, my friends, is a Confession of sin. And that happens more often than many Protestants would imagine!

Depending upon the background of the individual who comes to me, I’ll suggest either a formal liturgy to aid that person in making their confession, or I’ll suggest that they turn to 890 in the back of the Hymnal and, changing the plural pronouns to singular pronouns, and personalizing the prayer even further by inserting the sins they wish to give over to God following the words “... and by what I have left undone.” It’s a powerful experience, my friends, to kneel down before God and make a confession like this, and it is equally powerful, and important, to hear the wonderful words of assurance which our Lord has given us! “In the Name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.”

“I thought that was something that only Roman Catholics did.”

Not at all! Formal confessionals are part of the liturgies of many western denominations. The UMC, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Presbyterians Church USA all have congregational prayers of Confession in their Hymnals and Books of Worship, and the Episcopal Church as a Liturgy for Reconciliation in the Book of Common Prayer (a liturgy I, personally, find very helpful).

“I don’t need anyone between me and Jesus!”

Theologically speaking, there is no one between you and Jesus. Even when one makes one’s confession of sin with a minister present, the minister is powerless apart from the Word of God. One makes one’s confession of sin to Jesus; the minister is there to give counsel and advice, and to pronounce the words that Jesus gave us: “In the Name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.”

“I’m afraid of telling God my sins outloud. Someone might hear!”

There are times when I certainly don’t want to voice my sins outloud! However, there is a great power in actually vocalizing your sins so that your own ears can hear them. That’s what a prayer closet is for.

I’m going to challenge you; if you are uncomfortable asking a minister to be present when you make a confession of sin out loud, then take the following prayer (which is modified from 890 in the UM Hymnal) and pray it in the quiet silence of your own home, where no one but God can hear you. Get used to hearing your own voice saying, aloud, your own sins. You won’t have the experience of hearing someone else tell you, in those wonderful words: “In the Name of Jesus Christ, your Sins are forgiven,” but you can read the minister’s response at 891 or 892.

Most merciful God,
I confess that I have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what I have done,
and by what I have left undone.
Especially troubling to me are the following sin:...

I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on me and forgive me;
that I may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your name. Amen.

Alternate Words of Assurance:

If I confess my sins,
God is faithful and just,
and will forgive my sins
and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.
Thanks be to God!

© 1998, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved