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Confess Your Sins...

 

 

This is a biblical analysis on the subject of Confession (the confessing of sins) as taught by the International Churches of Christ (ICC). The ICC teaches that the confessing of one’s sins to another person, a person which the leadership has assigned as a “discipling partner”, is an ordinary and expected part of the Christian life. During the time I spent in this movement, one was expected to call his or her “discipling partner” on a daily basis and discuss how one’s day was spent, how many people one had invited to church or Bible talk, how many phone numbers one had obtained, and what were the sins one had committed that day. Many times I was asked if there were any sins that I needed to confess. At times I was taken through a short verbal checklist of sins. My “discipling partner” would ask if I had committed a particular sin, I would answer yes or no, and then we would move on to the next sin. I was expected to confess all of my sins to my “discipling partner”. On one occasion I was told by my “discipling partner” that after my giving into a temptation to sin, the first thing I should’ve done was to have called him and confessed it to him. Not confessing ones sins was looked on as being closed, hiding or keeping things from one’s “discipling partner”. After all, how could my “discipling partner” disciple me if my life was not an open book to him (including knowledge of all my sins)? This is the way people were led to think. It was an expected practice. And if one was reluctant to participate in this practice, one was shown James 5:16. People were led to believe that this expected practice was scriptural. It was instilled in me (and others that I know of) that failure to comply with any part of this discipling routine, especially the confessing of sins, meant that one’s heart and one’s attitude was not right.

Though the ICC states that there is no hard and fast rule that one must do this (which they even make note of in their literature), the implication within the teaching materials and the guidance of the leadership is that if one is not willing to confess their sins to another person (discipling partner), as it is practiced and taught by the ICC, then something is wrong with that individual. A good example of this is found on page 66 of The Disciple’s Handbook, an official ICC teaching manual containing two series of studies prepared by the leader of the movement, Kip McKean. It is stated,

“None of this is to write a rule that says ‘you must confess every sin to some other person.’ But isn’t it clear God’s people need to have a confessing attitude? Isn’t it clear that hearts cannot be pure where there is hiddenness or deception?” (The Disciple’s Handbook, Discipleship Publications International, 1997, p 66)

This statement comes at the end of the confession study in which confession to another person (not to God) is taught as the right thing to do. It appears that what is being said is that although confessing sins to another person is not a rule, it is clear that this is what God’s people need to do (or at least need to have the attitude to do). Then comes the implication that one’s heart cannot be pure, and that one is being deceptive if one is unwilling to do so. Is this biblical? Is this what Jesus taught? Did Paul speak of this in any of his epistles?

Let us look at this teaching of confession as presented on page 66 of The Discipleship Handbook and analyze the Scriptures that Kip McKean uses to support his teaching. One comes to this study on confession having read and discussed Psalm 32 and Psalm 51. It is stated in column one of page 66 that “From these Psalms we can learn valuable lessons about how to come to purity of heart and how to keep the heart pure.” These are listed as “a) We must be willing to face our sin.... b) We must be broken over that sin... c) We must be willing to confess that sin... d) We must be willing to accept forgiveness...” So, it is established previous to the confession study, that part of the process needed to “come to purity of heart” and to “keep the heart pure” is the practice of confessing sins. On this point, I would tend to agree. The question is: Who does the ICC teach that one needs to confess to in order to have “purity of heart”?

Point one (under the heading ‘Day 39--Confession’) asks for a brief summary of the two Psalms. Points 2 and 3 deal with King David seeing the sin in his life, being broken and contrite over his sin and then confessing his sins. Point 4 then asks, “Who did David confess to?” Immediately after the question, in parentheses, is the statement,

“If you said ‘God’, think again. He wrote this Psalm of confession to be read and heard by all Israel.” (The Disciple’s Handbook, ibid)

This is a major implication that the confessing of sins which is needed in order to “come to purity of heart” and “keep the heart pure”, is confession to someone other than God. It must be noted here that the phrase “purity of heart” and other similar phrases are used in Scripture in connection with forgiveness of sins and coming to right standing in front of God. (Acts 15:9, 1 Jn 1:9) Apart from the implication, the statement, itself, is just outright absurd. First of all, most of Psalm 32 and all of Psalm 51 were written straight to God, not to the people of Israel.

“For day and night your hand was heavy upon me...” (Ps 32:4)

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble...” (Ps 32:7)

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps 51:1-2)

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Ps 51:4)

According to these verses, whose hand was heavy on David? God’s. Who was David’s hiding place? God. Who protected David? God. Who was David pleading with for mercy and compassion? God. Who is David asking to blot out his transgressions, wash away his iniquity, and cleanse him from his sin? God. Who had David sinned against? God. And who did David say is justified to judge? God. Again, David is speaking straight to God; not to the people of Israel, not to church leaders, not to a discipling partner, but to God. Notice that David does not even name his sins. He is just seeking forgiveness and cleansing from them. And he is seeking that forgiveness and cleansing from God.

Secondly, Psalms were not written as proclamations “of confession” to be read to all Israel. They were songs to be sung to music. Most of the Psalms were praises to God for things which had already occurred, requests and petitions to God, and worship to God for who He is. Others were prophetic, written through David by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 22 is one example).

Thirdly, verses 3-7 of Psalm 32 records the account of David’s confession to God, written in the past tense.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you (God) and did not cover up my iniquity. I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ - and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Ps 32:5)

David had already confessed his sins to God, and God had already forgiven him. This happened before the Psalm had ever been written, and long before anyone of Israel had ever heard it. This was not a Psalm “of confession”, it was a Psalm about confession (confession to God). David even says, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD, not to the people of Israel. David was not confessing his sin to anyone by reading or singing this Psalm. He was telling about his confession that he had already made to God, and about God having already forgiven him.

Also, how could Psalm 32 be David’s confessing his sins to the people of Israel if he never once in the entire Psalm ever specifies what his sins are? And even if he were to specify them, why would he be confessing to men the sins which he had already faced, had already been broken over, had already confessed (to God), and which God had already forgiven him of? Think about it. Psalm 32 is a Psalm of praise (read the entire Psalm, especially verses 7 and 11), a testimonial to the grace and mercy of God in having forgiven David for the sins he had already confessed to Him v. 5), not a confession of his sins to the people of Israel. And David is encouraging the people of Israel to put their trust in this very merciful God. (v. 6 + 10) David even records what God had already said in response to his confession and request for forgiveness. (Ps 32:8-9) The Psalm was written to encourage others (including us) not to try to hide our sins from God (which only brings His wrath, judgment, conviction, etc. vss 3-4, but to humbly acknowledge and confess our sins to the Lord-- trusting that He (God) will be merciful and forgive us (just as He forgave David).

As for Psalm 51, it is a prayer to God. It is a deeply personal petition to God for forgiveness and cleansing (read again Psalm 51:1-2 and 4). This idea of Kip McKean’s that David was making confession to the people of Israel has no scriptural support whatsoever. And to suggest that David was not confessing to God (“If you said ‘God’ think again” (Disciple’s Handbook, p 66) is outright absurd.

After attempting to establish this idea that, in these two Psalms, David was making confession to the people of Israel, not to God, the next point (point 5) of Kip’s confession study asks “What did you learn earlier about confession from 1John 1:9?” 1 John 1:9 states that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (NIV) The implication being made from points 4 and 5 of Kip’s study is that only by confessing one’s sins openly to another will God, “forgive us our sins and purify us...”. This implication is also made on pages 59 and 60 of Disciple’s Handbook, under the heading: ‘Day 20--When We Sin’. On page 59 Kip McKean equates walking in the light (as cited from 1 Jn 1:7) with bringing one’s sins out into the open through confession, this confession of sins being to some other person. It is then stated on page 60,

“Remember this: Satan’s only ground in darkness. When we confess our sins and bring them out into the light, we take away from him his only base of operation, and we enjoy the power of God’s grace and the blood of Christ continually cleanses us from all sin.” (Disciple’s Handbook, p 60)

What is being said here is that in order to take away satan’s only base of operation, to enjoy the power of God’s grace, and for the blood of Christ to continually cleanse us “from all sin”, we must bring our sins out into the open by confessing our sins. Again, this confessing of sins is to some other person. Immediately following the above statement (p 60) are two questions: “Have you been open about your sins?” and “ Has God forgiven you?”

Again, as Kip teaches, to be open about one’s sins is to confess them (to some other person). So what is being implied, if not outright stated, is that unless one confesses one’s sins to some other person, those sins are not forgiven by God. Kip and the leadership of the ICC can dance around and play word games all they want by stating that there is no rule that says “you must confess every sin to some other person.”, but it is crystal clear that they are teaching that sins not brought out into the open (into the light) through confessing it to some other person, remains hidden (in darkness). And God does not forgive sins that remain hidden. Therefore, in keeping with Kip’s teaching, logic dictates that for a person to have every single sin cleansed by the blood of Christ, and forgiven by God, that person must bring every single sin into the open by confessing every single sin to some other person.

This is a very subtle and misleading presentation by Kip McKean. Yet, we have already shown the above premise upon which this follows (that David confessed his sins to the people of Israel - not to God) to be false. And the Bible continually teaches over and over again that it is God who we must confess to in order for God to forgive us. It is God we have sinned against. It is His Laws we have broken. God is the offended party. And He is the Judge.

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Ps 5l:4)

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you (God) ...I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ - and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Ps 32:5)

As an example or model prayer Jesus taught that disciples are to go directly to God for forgiveness of sins. (Lk 11:2+4) This is the teaching of the Bible. (1 Tim 2:5, Heb 4:16 and 10:19-22, Lk 18:13-14, Ps 32:5) Confessing directly to God is also the example in Scripture set by Nehemiah (Ne 1:4-11), Daniel (Dan 9:3-20) and Ezra (Ezr 9:5-10). And even though Ezra was a Levitical priest, he taught God’s people to confess to God. (Ezr 10:11) Many groups have used the false teaching that you must confess your sins to a person placed in a position of authority over you by the group to dominate and control people (particularly Roman Catholicism). If a person wants to confess their sins to another person, in order to seek counsel, prayer, or whatever, that is their choice to make. But they should never feel that they have to, or that they are expected to. The Bible clearly teaches:

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 2:5)

The Greek word translated “confess” in I John 1:9 is from the Greek verb homologe, pronounced homologe homologe.gif (458 bytes), meaning “to say the same thing”  – loge (logehomologe.gif (458 bytes)) means "to say" and homo (homo) means “the same”. You are to say the same thing that God says. When God in His word says that the thing you did is sin, you are to agree with God by acknowledging and confessing to Him your wrongdoing, your sin. This is what the verse is saying in its context, which is then brought into contrast to what is being said in verse 10 about people who claim that they have not sinned and thus deny His word which says they have sinned, thus tantamount to calling God a liar. Also concerning I John 1:9, it is significant to note that in the original Greek there is no punctuation, no commas, etc. Hence the verse more correctly reads “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”. He (God) is the understood subject of the sentence. The verse is saying that if we humbly acknowledge our sins, agreeing with and confessing our sins to Him, He will forgive us. I John 1:9 is specifically speaking about confessing our sins to God for forgiveness and cleansing from sins. This agrees with the rest of the whole Bible that teaches that God is the one we must confess to in order that we may receive forgiveness of sins.

There are circumstances where it is appropriate and needful for a believer to confess guilt or sin to another person. Such a circumstance would be if one has specifically wronged another. In that case, the one should confess the wrong doing and seek forgiveness from that person. But moreover, one should confess and seek forgiveness from God. After all, He is ultimately the only one who has the power and authority to forgive us and cleanse us from sin.

Point 6 of Kip’s confession study begins with an instruction to read James 5:16, followed by the statement,

“You will be tempted to not let this be happening in your life, but you must remember how right it is.” (The Disciple’s Handbook, Discipleship Publications International, 1997, p 66)

Again, the language used implies that confessing one’s sins to another is what is “right”, and that refusing to do so is succumbing to temptation. According to Scripture, temptation is negative, not from God, and, therefore, goes against His will. So the implication being made by this teaching of the ICC is that not confessing one’s sins to another person (a specified person chosen by the leadership of the ICC) is going against God’s will. Given the language used, for one to confess all their sins to another person does not need to be a written law. The language used here, and on pages 59 and 60, implies that it is God’s will, and therefore a spiritual law.

The main problem with point 6 is that James 5:16 cannot be read out of it’s context. It cannot stand alone as an independent statement. Why not? Because verse 16 begins with a connective word, “Therefore”. It links the sentence or thought before it with the sentence or thought after it. In other words, it links verse 16 to verse 15. Verse 15 also begins with a connective word, “And”, which means that verse 15 is linked to verse 14. One has to read verse 16 as a part of a whole that encompasses verses 14, 15 and 16.

“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (Js 5:14-16)

These verses are dealing with physical sickness. The word translated “sick” in verse 14 is the Greek word greek_diseased.gif (170 bytes), pronounced as-then-eh’-o, and is defined as: be diseased, impotent folk (man), (be) sick, (be, be made) weak. These three verses are instruction concerning physical healing through the power of prayer. The emphasis in this passage of Scripture is on prayer, not confession. Verse 14 says,

“He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (NIV)

Having done this, verse 15 states that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will lift him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven”. Notice also that the anointing with oil was to accompany the prayer. The King James Version even puts the two together, “...and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the LORD”. (see also Mark 6:13) According to these verses, it is not the confessing of one’s sins to another person which brings healing. It is the prayer “offered in faith” (and at times accompanied by the anointing of oil) which brings healing. And if one would read all of verse 16 instead of stopping at the word “healed”, this would be very clear as it is “the prayer of a righteous man” (not the confessing of sins to another) which is “powerful and effective”. Verses 17 and 18 continue this line of thought with an example of a righteous man, his prayers, and their effectiveness.

It is not supported anywhere in these verses (or anywhere else in Scripture) that confession to a specified person, such as a discipling partner (or to any other person for that matter), is expected or necessary (especially on a daily basis) in order to have “purity of heart” before God or to be forgiven by God. And if a believer does choose to confess a sin to another (in addition to his or her confessing to God), then it should be kept confidential. The person hearing the confessed sin has no scriptural warrant for going to anyone else with this information, unless the person confessing is asked and permission is granted. The one hearing the confession has but one responsibility, to pray for the one confessing the sin.

Many former members of the ICC have claimed that confidentiality of members’ confessed sins has been routinely violated by the leaders of the ICC (e.g. See television reports WCVB/Boston “Evening News” 04/18/93; BBC/London “Newsnight” 10/05/93; ABC TV “20/20" 10/15/93; CBC/Canada “The 5th Estate” 12/15/93; King World “Inside Edition” 05/19/94) Many have alleged that leaders’ knowledge of confessed sins (which were supposed to have been forgiven and forgotten) were later used against them to exploit, dominate, control or even publicly humiliate them. Rick Bauer who was a major leader in the ICC for several years says:

“Violations of confidentiality are unfortunately one of the common denominators that many who have left the ICC allege. The details of one’s personal life, sins and other embarrassing information that were discussed in the context of a one-to-one Bible Study end up being passed “up the line,” so that leaders are privy to a host of information about the members in their charge. I have observed this process, I have taken part in this process, and I have used information obtained in this manner for the purpose of controlling the behaviors of members in my charge while a leader in the ICC ... The sheer weight of the allegations of such breaches of confidentiality, coming from a wide variety of sources over decades of analysis of this organization, would at least bring to mind the old adage ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ ... In the spring of 1993... I came into possession of a shocking document. It was a computer printout with the names of scores of members of the Boston Church of Christ. Not just their names (grouped by House Churches), but shocking and private details about their lives. Their sexual sins (many committed years before their affiliation with the ICC), their failures, their racial and ethnic differences, even perceived mental health observations, all crudely assembled into a master document -- a congregational “Sin List,” if you will. ...Not only were there intimacies detailed for the leaders to know, but the crude, unprofessional, racist, and cynical assessment of these rank-and-file members is so blatantly detailed. Were the members to ever know at what low regard they were held by their leaders a revolution would ensue. How did I get the document? A former zone leader in the ICC turned in the document stating that he had personally received it from ICC Elder/Teacher Gordon Ferguson.” (Rick Bauer, Toxic Christianity, Freedom House Ministries, Bowie, MD, 1996, pp.23-24 of Ch. III)

We’re talking about files and files and files of records of people’s sins (and other personal information)! The authenticity of the list has been thoroughly proven and documented (See Television Reports on the ICC “Sin Lists,” Confidentiality and Other Documentation). Before ABC TV’s “20/20" program aired their investigative report about the ICC, in which they asked ICC Elder and Chief Spokesperson Al Baird about the list, they verified its accuracy. As stated by Rick Bauer in a letter to Al Baird,

“To validate the accuracy of the document, ABC contacted individuals on this list who in turn verified the accuracy of their sins and uniformly expressed contempt and revulsion for the fact that intimate details of their life had been confessed and that information had been communicated to third parties without their awareness.” (See Television Reports on the ICC “Sin Lists,” Confidentiality and Other Documentation).

In their program “20/20" reported:

“Bauer says it’s church policy to encourage new members to confess past sins to church leaders. The new members assume their confessions will be kept confidential. But Rick showed us a list that was made containing such confidential information, a list which was then passed on to leadership. Included are things like:

‘...recently was unfaithful...’
‘...has lesbian background with Coast Guard woman...’
‘...pre-marriage abortion...’
‘...abused sexually by father...’

Former church leaders say confidential information like this is routinely passed among church leaders who sometimes use it to “break” reluctant members.” (ABC TV “20/20", 10/15/93)

It is important to realize that for an upper echelon leader like Gordon Ferguson to get such a document, many people would necessarily be involved in gathering and assimilating such information and passing it up the ranks.

Scott Deal is a former ICC member and upper echelon leader in the Toronto church. Concerning “Sin Lists” and violations of confidentiality Canada’s highly respected “Fifth Estate” program (CBC Television) informs us in their report on the ICC:

“Scott Deal says that this information wasn’t always written down but that it was passed around, talked about, in order to control them.” It was also reported, “Scott Deal says that if a church member started to question the system, showed signs of independence, his old sins would be brought up and used against him ...” (CBC TV - Canada “The 5th Estate” 12/15/93)

Allegations of violations of members’ confidentiality is still one of the common denominators of the many who continually leave the ICC

The breach of confidentiality is not a minor discrepancy, but a major ethical violation -- it is sin. And in the ICC this has not occurred in a few isolated cases by new members -- but has been a major pattern over the years practiced by leaders of the movement. False teaching and practices concerning confession of sins, coupled together with violations of confidentiality by ICC leaders - has resulted in many people being spiritually abused, hurt and damaged by the International Churches of Christ.

Paul warned believers not to be deceived and instructed them to test (or examine) all things (1 Thess 5:21). He also instructed believers to expose deeds of darkness (Eph 5:11). This analysis is an attempt to follow those instructions.

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