The Toxic Church And Why We Still Need Confession

Two weeks ago, my husband preached about confession and its healing qualities at church. Afterward, I was like, “Babe, that was heavy.”

It bothered me a little that I thought of confession in such a dark light. During morning prayer earlier this week, I asked God to talk to me about confession and what it was supposed to look like. Immediately the chorus of Irish songwriter Hozier’s song, Take Me to Church, started to play in my head.

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

Offer me that deathless death

Good God, let me give you my life

 The lyrics, raw yet nothing short of offensive, made most nice, church-going folk like me squirm a little in our pews. Yet it was his lyrics about confession that haunted me.

 I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

 That morning, finally, I understood his fear. Because it is all of ours. We fear confession because we think God and others are waiting to sharpen their knives and injure us further by cutting us out of relationship, slamming their door in our face or shaming us for our acts.

Hozier’s words reveal perhaps the truest glimpse of our culture’s fear of confession. And it’s not unwarranted. The church has made a business of shaming sin in order to get the behavior to stop. But shame only brings more wounds, more pain, more disconnection. When we use shame to stop sin, it’s like trying to heal a bullet wound by shooting the person.

This is why Jesus never condemned people when they brought their sin to him. The sin had already done the punishing.

How confession feels… [Click for credit]
It’s a tragedy. For millennia, Christ’s body, the church, has prevented its own healing by handling the pearls of people’s transparency and hope with disregard and brutality. When we respond to someone’s confession with more shame and condemnation, we only make the wound of the sin worse.

James’ letter to believers urges them to confess their sins “so you may be healed”. How did we get so far from the original intent of this beautiful ritual and instead come to treat each other as the sum total of our addictions, infidelities and impulses? No wonder confession and repentance feel so dirty to us.

This condemnation and the growing toxicity of a Body (the Church) that isn’t safe to confess and be healed is a symptom of a church who has forgotten the Gospel. That while we too were still sinners, Christ died for us. We forgot that we are being transformed into his likeness. But that doesn’t mean we have arrived. We have forgotten that “she who has been forgiven much loves much”.

But what should true confession be like, I wondered to God. Immediately, I saw in my mind a picture of a man approaching someone and opening up his coat to reveal a ghastly, dark wound. This was the sin. And I saw in that moment that the wound of sin must be treated with care and dignity. There was no room, no need for punishment. That had already been done.

When we apply the Gospel’s forgiveness to someone’s confession, true healing can begin.

What confession is: healing and relational restoration. Peter and Jesus, now friends again. [Click for credit]
I understand that there are many variables to consider here. Some people are not willing to confess and repent for their sins. Their wrongdoing is discovered, and they resist changing their hurtful or destructive behavior. These people need to be called out and given choices. Some sins need to be disciplined because of legal implications or the person needing to experience the effects of their choices. But these are not the situations I am talking about.

I am specifically referring to the act of accountability and mutual confession that so rarely exists in the church today. So in regards to those who are coming to us with the pain and awareness of their sin, presenting their repentant hearts with the hope of restoration, we must understand that the shame and disconnection of their sin have already been the greatest consequences, and we need to dole out nothing more. Except mercy and reconnection.

It may be appropriate to help the person consider how they will make amends, restore trust or pursue holistic healing in their situation. But again, shame is just not an essential ingredient to this process. A person who is committed to their own wholeness needs only a radical commitment to community and authenticity. From that heart posture, he will do whatever is needed to ensure wrongs are made right.

The Bible speaks of confession as if it’s liberating and healing, and although few of us have experienced it that way, God’s response to Adam and Eve in the Garden is our model. When he discovered them, newly aware of their nakedness, God explained the ripple in the universe from their actions. They were not protected from the consequences. But because the relationship was most important to God, he promptly clothed and restored them.

And that’s what we are to do. God is in the clothing and healing business, and we are his kids. Our only job as the hearers of sin is to clothe and heal.

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