Specific or Generic?

Burl E. Russell
Indianapolis, Indiana

In many congregations it seems there is a misunderstanding about what constitutes confessing your sins. I believe that if we are convinced we need to do this -- that our sins have been of a public nature - we should be specific in our confession - in most cases.

The word "confess" itself suggests revealing something not already known, and Webster's dictionary defines it thus: "to admit, acknowledge a fault, sin, or crime." To me this is both singular and specific, singling out one particular fault or sin, hence when one generalizes by acknowledging that "I have sinned," I, do not believe he has fully obeyed God's commandment, because he has not admitted anything which is not already known. We read in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned" and in 1Jno.1:10 that "if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us."

Let us notice a command of God in Leviticus 5:5, which follows a list of sins which He has condemned: "And it shall be when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing." While, of course, this was under the old law, I do not believe the command to confess has changed essentially, just as most of God's laws have not changed in effect. (Of the Ten Commandments, only the one regarding the Sabbath has essentially changed.)

We also read about the theft of Achan and of his confession, in Joshua 7. In verse 19 we read this: "Joshua said unto Achan, my son, give I pray thee, glory unto the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to him, and tell me what thou hast done, hide it not from me." In verse 20, Achan answered thus: "I have sinned against the Lord God . . . and thus have I done." Then he confessed to Joshua (and to the Israelites) EXACTLY WHAT HE HAD STOLEN AND HOW HE HAD DONE IT! EVERYBODY knew WHAT ACHAN HAD DONE!

Again we read in Acts 19 about the Christians who had been convinced that their dabbling in "curios arts" was sinful. In verse 18 the record says: "And many that believed came and confessed, and shewed their deeds." Not only did they make their specific deeds known, but some piled their valuable books up and "burned them before all men," thus proving their repentance - then and there.

In view of such a command to be specific, and of, such examples in both the Old and New Testaments where God's people were specific in their confessions, when their sins were of a public nature, how can we believe that merely admitting that we "have sinned" will suffice?

I also believe that confessing particular sins has much merit from the human viewpoint. It edifies those who are witnesses, as it teaches them what others consider public sins, and encourages them to confess theirs. Furthermore it precludes confusion, and in some cases it even removes the reason for injustice being done. Just suppose that a false rumor about a brother committing a very vicious and repugnant sin (in the eyes of men) was circulated about the time this brother confessed that he "had sinned," is it not likely that many would assume (rightly or wrongly) that this brother had admitted his guilt of this heinous sin, when he was "confessing" a sin which most would think trivial? Therefore, this brother would probably unjustly bear this stigma the rest of his life, when he was innocent.

While I do not believe that the elders or the preacher should arbitrarily demand that those wishing to confess, be specific, I do believe that these commands and examples should be given the consideration they deserve. We, or at least I have, often accused the Catholic, Church, of actually promoting the cause of evil by helping its drunken and licentious priests keep their nefarious deeds from the public. Are we also doing this thing, in effect? Are we removing the element of fear and deterrent to sin that God has injected into His design in I Tim. 5:20 and Acts 5:5? The fear of public opinion has kept multitudes from doing evil. Let us not be guilty of encouraging sin by helping in any way to keep public sins from becoming public. If we do we have fallen into a snare of the devil and are hindering the greatest deterrent to sin, the fear of the court of public opinion.

June 1969