What About Confession of Public Sins?
Weldon E. Warnock
The Bible says, "Confess your faults one to another...." (Jas. 5:16.) There are too many (one is too many) church members who sin and completely ignore the teaching of this scripture. The word "confess" in this passage comes from the Greek word, "exomologeo," which means "a public acknowledgement or confession of sins." (Vine's Word Studies.) This word also conveys the idea of speaking freely, openly, and from the heart. Hence, when a child of God sins in a public manner, he ought to have the courage and humility publicly to acknowledge and openly and freely confess his sins.
But somebody says, "James is talking about those who have personally wronged another." Friend, this text is broader than that. The phrase, "Confess your faults one to another" should not be restricted to personal offenses, but it also applies to any public sin. Certainly private offenses toward our fellowman should be righted but James enjoins upon US that we correct all manner of sin that brings reproach upon the church and shame upon its Head.
John writes, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I Jn. 1:9.) The word "confess" in this verse comes from the Greek word, "homologeo," and means, "to confess, i.e. to admit or declare one's self guilty of what one is accused of." (Thayer.) Vine says of the word, "to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction." As you can see, Thayer and Vine give almost identical definitions. The passage under consideration shows that confession of sins is made also unto God, admitting guilt, and asking his forgiveness. Whether the sin is public or private, we are to confess it to God and he will cleanse us of it.
From the foregoing scriptures, we can clearly see that it is just not enough to quit a sin or sins, but a confession of the sins is necessitated. If the sin is public, we ought to confess our faults one to another" as well as to God, but if the sin is private or secret, then we ought to only confess it to God. As David said to Jehovah, "...cleanse thou me from secret faults." (Psa. 19:12.)
Failing to Confess
One of the laxities today in the church is a failure on the part of erring brethren to confess their sins. Some church members will quit attending services for a period of time and then show up as though nothing had happened. If they are not called upon for something or other, they will feel hurt and mistreated. Others will be guilty of drinking, lying, cursing, fraud, etc., and come to worship expecting to be used in some capacity and treated like a faithful brother. These kinds of brethren need to be told in no uncertain terms that their hearts are not right in the sight of God, and that they need to repent and confess to God and to the church for such sins. Then they can be used.
Some say that there is nothing in the Bible about brethren coming before the church or assembly and making a confession of public sins... that confession of sins should be made just to God. Certainly God didn't tell the erring that they had to come to the front pew during an assembly to make a confession, but he did tell them to confess their faults one to another. This command could be carried out different ways. Coming forward before the church during an invitation song is just one way that this command may be obeyed. The point that we are interested in is an open and public confession of sins... not the method that is to be employed.
When a confession has been made to the church, then the church can be assured that the erring brother has repented and therefore extend to him the right hand of fellowship. Otherwise, how would the church know just when to begin using a brother if he had to confess only to God and not let the church know that he had repented of his sins? For example, let's say a brother gets drunk and "paints the town red" and that this incident is known by several people. . If he doesn't have to confess to the church for his disgraceful act, when could the church use him again for prayer, to preside at the Lord's Table, etc?
First Sunday? Second Sunday? A month? The answer would be, "As soon as he repents and confesses his sin."
The Merits of Confession
The effects of confession of sins are many. First, God is obeyed. We should always obey God. Second, confession shows a conscience that is still sensitive to sin. Many have rebelled against God until their hearts are so hardened and calloused that the word of God has no longer any effect upon them. Third, confession is a safeguard against sin. Having openly made known our sins, we will not be as prone to commit the same sins again. Fourth, others will be in better position to help the erring brother. Somebody has said that "an honest confession is good for the soul." How true this is.
Brother, have you sinned publicly? If you have, then confess it publicly. The blood of Christ will cleanse you from all sin and you can make a new start. Then live faithfully unto death.
Truth Magazine VI: 11, pp. 12-13