The Confession by Pietro Longhi
In this painting by Pietro Longhi, we see the penitent waiting patiently for a turn at the confessional. Confession is a component in our spiritual development and is the topic of my random thoughts in this post. Perhaps a good place to start is the Church Handbook of Instruction, the authoritative guide to church management:
Two types of confession are identified here. We are to confess our sins to the Lord. The second, reserved for more serious sin, is confession to their presiding church leader. In my study of the scriptures, however, I came upon a third version of confession – confessing our sins to each other or to the church.
Here are some of the scriptures in support these three confessional choices:
Confession to the Lord
From Romans, chapter 14:
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
From Alma, chapter 17
4 And they had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him.
From Doctrine and Covenants, section 64:
7 Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.
We receive, through the blood of Jesus Christ, a cleansing and sanctification that we cannot do for ourselves. No matter how we try to live and no matter how much good we do in the world, it will not wash away our sinly stains. Confessing our errors to the Lord can bring a peace to the heart. The prompting can also help us understand what we can do to protect us from further attacks.
Confession to an ecclesiastical leader
From Helaman, chapter 16
1 AND now, it came to pass that there were many who heard the words of Samuel, the Lamanite, which he spake upon the walls of the city. And as many as believed on his word went forth and sought for Nephi; and when they had come forth and found him they confessed unto him their sins and denied not, desiring that they might be baptized unto the Lord.
From Doctrine and Covenants, section 42
88 And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.
89 And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.
90 And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many.
91 And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed. And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God.
92 If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her.
93 And thus shall ye conduct in all things.
I couldn’t find a good scripture supporting confession to a leader in the New Testament but one probably exists. We are told to first take our offense to the person that was involved. If there is not penitence, the complaint should be taken to the elders (that should spice up quorum meetings). This is done to apparently avoid embarrassment on the part of the parties involved which seems to run counter to the need for humility and a broken heart.
It is interesting to read in verse 90 regarding what audience is involved in the chastening. A crime against the community should be dealt with in front of the community. While this may take place in the community at large, it doesn’t seem to be the process within the church. When was the last time you heard someone chastised from the pulpit? I guess we are now much more socially correct than in the past.
Confession to the members
From James, chapter 5
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
From Moroni, chapter 6
2 Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
From Doctrine and Covenants, section 59:
12 But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.