We would call it, “The Day No One Showed Up for Church.”
No, it would not be a weather-related cancellation.
No, it would not be because the pastor began a new 24-point preaching format.
And no, it wouldn’t be because of some flu outbreak, or some other incapacitating plague.
Although I could be wrong, the reason no one would come to Sunday morning worship would be the announcement that we would be taking the instruction from James 5:16 seriously.
For those who don’t have it memorized (what?), James 5:16 admonishes us to: “Confess your sins to one another.” Yes, I suspect that, ‘Confess-Your-Sins-Aloud’ Sunday would be poorly attended.
Clearly, James was not interested in having a high attendance Sunday. Why in the world would you encourage the faithful to confess their sins to one another?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer seems to have a pretty good rationale for confessing our sins to one another. In his aptly titled book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer argues that when we confess our sins—yes, our particular sins and not just a generic grouping of disobedience to God’s commands—to one another, we are gifted with what he calls, “A breakthrough to new life.”
Quoting Proverbs, the German theologian believes that the confession of sins is key to the renunciation of sins. In short, confession to another believer creates a humbling—if not humiliating experience—that leads to our working hard to give up that vice.
He’s got a point. Proverbs 28:13 reads: “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Ah, but I’m prone to concealing my transgressions. And I suspect that I’m not alone. Bonhoeffer clears his throat on the matter by stating, “Sin wants to be alone with people…Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person.”
We are all sinners, true. But we’d rather not talk about it. In fact, if an actual sinner showed up in worship on a Sundaymorning, I daresay that I’m not sure we’d know what to do about it.
We Baptists belong to a rich tradition, and our allegiance to the truth of Holy Scripture is well-documented. But the prospect of confessing our sins (like those other traditions do) to someone else in such a bold, detailed and vulnerable fashion makes us recoil. Bonhoeffer and James—I can imagine—would say that our repulsion and fear of coming clean with God and others is the result of sin further poisoning our hearts.
It’s a tough word, I know. Trust me, I am equally as convicted by this.
Yet, I think James and Bonhoeffer have got me cornered on this. The German theologian who single-handedly took on the Nazis says: “The root of all sin is pride, superbia. I want to be for myself; I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and my desires, my life and my death.” This is freedom run amok. This is the textbook definition of Adam and Eve’s desire to be like God in the garden of good and evil.
All is not lost, however. Bonhoeffer says: “Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power.”
Could it be that the practice of confessing our sins to one another might be good for both the individual and the community? Jesus clearly grants his followers the authority to forgive sins in his name (John 20:23). Maybe, just maybe, full transparency with God and our neighbor might just lead to our renunciation of our particular sins.
Perhaps the most demoralizing realization in all this is not that we do not practice confession, but that we don’t have someone in our lives that we can trust with our confession. In all fairness to the institution of church, we may be providing opportunities as a church to walk humbly with God. But we’ve collectively chosen to walk with Him alone because we think it’s easier than traveling as a tribe.
The book, Life Together, is about Bonhoeffer’s attempt to shape the Body of Christ into a more, ‘New Testament’ expression of the Church. It is a convicting and difficult read because it suggests that the church should be a community that is real, vulnerable and honest with one another.
I am not afraid to confess that this is a frightening prospect. But it may just be the key we’ve been looking for that will open the gates of the Kingdom of God.
In our context, this is a very hard sell. By inviting people into such intimacy, we may ironically be creating an empty sanctuary.