Finding freedom in corporate confession
Every now and again, our campus experiences a communal event that is impossible to ignore. Last Thursday, the evening session of Missions Conference concluded with a very candid and very public outpouring of confession. Prompted — some will say by emotion, others will say by social pressures and others still, by the Holy Spirit — students laid bare those deepest, darkest tragedies and sins. But many are asking the same question: Does public confession such as this hinder more than it heals?
Freedom in corporate confession
No one doubts that confession is important. After all, as Proverbs 28:13 reminds us, the one “who conceals sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” In Psalm 32, David refers to the lack of confession in his life as a sort of spiritual cancer, from which his “bones wasted away.”
Many of us, confessedly, have experienced this silent burden in our lives at one point or another. Be it a sin committed by us or against us, we have borne that burden in silence. And many from that population recognize the freedom that confession to God offers. Yet I believe we also acknowledge the worth of confession in community. The fifth chapter of James instructs us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” as “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
Yet, does the general public of Biola’s campus constitute a “community” worth confessing to? Shouldn’t this be done in private with one or two close confidants? These are the worries of those who feel a bit more skeptical about Thursday night. And I certainly understand their concern. It’s jarring when, in the basement of Horton or the laundry closet of Hart, you’re affronted by someone else’s dirty laundry.
Making confession among others more common
There is freedom in speaking out what was once held silent. In total transparency, a no-turning-back commitment to authenticity alleviates the pressure set by righteous expectations. When hidden hurts and secret sins are allowed to abide in our hearts we become less than what we are to be. Several students expressed being victims of abuse, molestation and rape. Others disclosed past and present addictions to sex.
These acts, when kept hidden, cause division in the kind of Christ-centered community we strive to foster as lies of guilt and shame are too often fixed fast. When our fellow students confessed Thursday night, we were able to offer each of them reconciliation back into the community their hidden hurts estranged them from — and created a space for the Spirit to publicly restore purity.
But maybe we should be asking a different set of questions. Why was it necessary to release these burdens in such a climactic setting? What is it about our community — at large and our micro-communities more specifically — that kept us from sharing our hidden hurts with those with whom we are in constant connection? We become too busy with our routine, too occupied by our everyday lives, too bound by others’ expectations to pause and own up to the fact that we’re less than perfect, and that sometimes life sucks. In confession — to five or 500 — there’s freedom. And for those who engaged in what the Spirit was doing on Thursday night, they — we all — are now invited to walk in that freedom.
Confession happened. But that does not need to remain in the past tense. May I submit to you, Biola, that we not remain a community grasping for camp high after camp high. Let us instead be consumed by the freedom that authenticity—with each other and with the Spirit—brings.