Here is a good question:
Between Oprah and the therapist's couch, is there any role left for the church confession?
This question was posed by Michelle Boorstein, a Washington Post staff writer. In her article, "A Call to Confession, for It Is Fading: D.C. Archdiocese Opens an Ad Barrage to Revive the Elemental Rite," she writes that the Archdiocese of Washington is launching a campaign using ads on buses, subway cars, billboards, brochures, and radio spots to bring people back to the confessional. She wrote:
Priests and sociologists of Catholicism have theorized about the drop for years. Is it because of a culture that tells us we aren't responsible for what we do wrong? Or could it be something less dark: that the traditional Saturday confession time has simply been gobbled up by youth soccer leagues and errand-mania? Or maybe something more dark: that we don't even know what sin is anymore.
To me, her last suggestion explains the reason people no longer confess their sins: they do not know what sin is.
In the past, when people knew what sin was and understood the consequences of sin, they believed confession of sins was the only path for reconciliation with God. Boorstein wrote:
In the ancient church, punishments were sometimes public. Sinners were ordered to do such things as long-term fasts and in some places were seated separately or banned from the church during communion. Today penances can involve the traditional order to recite (and re-recite) prayers, telling a busy parent to spend more time with a child, or mandating a nature hike for perspective on God's creation.
Today, most people in our society have lost the biblical meaning of sin. Today, ministers preach about the sins of racism, militarism and environmental degradation. Since most people do not have a good understanding of the biblical concept of sin, they ask: "What is it that I am supposed to confess?"
In the world in which we live, people blame the environment, genes, and social conditions for the things they do. For this reason, instead of realizing the need for confession, people emphasize the need for improvement.
Good luck to the Catholic church. People will not recognize the need for confession until they realize that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) and that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). James 5:16 urges believers to confess their sins, because, as John wrote: "If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Confession, Michelle Boorstein, Repentance, Sin