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Is Confession and Repentance Now Passé?

In my previous blog, I made the case for why we should value truth over political correctness. I now continue with that case. With moral relativism and political correctness now defining society’s actions, we need to examine the effects this is having on society and the church as well.

Down through the annuals of history, the church has always been known as a community of believers where repentance for one’s sins is expected and grace is freely found. These two things find their deepest meaning in the Bible and are inseparable. Yet, too often people expect grace to be freely bestowed while ignoring repentance and accountability.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor and theologian in Nazi Germany, warned the church that if they did not address the deeper issues of discipline, repentance and forgiveness, they could never achieve genuine Christian community. He said, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline.”[1] Today’s church needs to heed Bonhoeffer’s warning. Already signs of spiritual atrophy are palpable in churches and calls for personal repentance for sin are readily rebuffed.

This raises serious questions for the church. Is today’s church too lax or politically correct when addressing the issue of sin? Is the mention of sin now passé? Is the church in danger of losing its moral relevance? Is even the last question redundant, given the growing number of therapeutic churches that now define sin as just some psychological maladjustment? Churches need to determine if they will value biblical truth or give way moral permissiveness? It would appear the latter is gaining ground.

The moral erosion, now evident in many churches and unmistakable in society, didn’t just happen overnight. Forty years ago, secular Psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, lamented the absence of sin in the everyday dialogues of American society when he wrote:

In all of the laments and reproaches made by our seers and prophets, one misses any mention of 'sin,' a word which used to be a veritable watchword of prophets. It was a word once in everyone's mind but now rarely if ever heard. Does that mean that no sin is involved in all our troubles—sin with an ‘I’ in the middle? Is no one any longer guilty of anything? Guilty perhaps of a sin that could be repented of or atoned for? . . . Anxiety and depression we all acknowledge, and even vague guilt feelings; but has no one committed any sins? Where, indeed, did sin go? What became of it?[2]

Since Menniger’s time, the church has had many years to recalibrate its moral compass. So is it doing any better now? Not according to secular author, James Twitchell, who says, “Looking at the Christian Church today, you can only see a dim pentimento of what was once painted in the boldest of colors. Christianity has simply lost it. It no longer articulates the ideal. Sex is on the loose. Shame days are over. The Devil has absconded with sin.”[3]

Because the church has been losing its moral relevance, the confession and renunciation of sin and the pursuit of God’s holiness are entirely foreign to our secular society. But then again, God himself is totally foreign to the consciences of many. But where are we to lay this blame? I believe society’s moral downturn can be attributed to the lack of biblically and godly informed disciples and their vanishing conscience? The church is failing to be the salt and light Jesus called us to be and the consciences of many are becoming seared as with a hot iron (see: 1Tim. 4:2). J. I. Packer states:

An educated, sensitive conscience is God's monitor. It alerts us to the moral quality of what we do or plan to do, forbids lawlessness and irresponsibility, and makes us feel guilt, shame, and fear of the future retribution that it is tells us we deserve, when we have allowed ourselves to defy its restraints. Satan's strategy is to corrupt, desensitize, and if possible kill our consciences. The relativism, materialism, narcissism, secularism and hedonism of today’s western world help him mightily toward his goal. His task is made yet simpler by the way in which the world's moral weaknesses have been taken into contemporary church.[4]

Without an informed biblical worldview and conscience, the church stands little chance of being a moral beacon to society. The church, once the veritable quintessence of authentic confession in regards to sin, now in many cases is marching to the drumbeat of moralistic relativism. Carl Laney points out:

The church today is suffering from an infection which has been allowed to fester . . . As an infection weakens the body by destroying its defense mechanisms, so the church has been weakened by this ugly sore. The church has lost its power and effectiveness in serving as a vehicle for social, moral, and spiritual change.[5]

Thomas Oden also regrets the church’s current treatment of sinful behaviour as just “social influences”. He laments the lack of any emphasis on personal confession and culpability:

The confession of sin is now passé and hopelessly outdated to many minds. Naturalistic reductionism has invited us to reduce alleged individual sins to social influences for which individuals are not responsible. Narcissistic hedonism has demeaned any talk of sin or confession as ungratifying and dysfunctional. Autonomous individualism has divorced sin from a caring community. Absolute relativism has regarded moral values as so ambiguous that there is no measuring rod against which to assess anything as sin. Thus modernity, which is characterized by the confluence of these four ideological streams, has presumed to do away with confession, and has in fact made confession an embarrassment to the accommodating church of modernity.[6]

As Oden points out, holding anyone accountable for their sinful actions is now an embarrassment to both the individual and the church. The consequence of such thinking is that no contemporary church should ever subject anyone to personal or corporate confession, let alone, culpability. But happily that cannot be said of every church.

I just recently returned from a Church Renewal Conference in Steinbach, Manitoba. Church Renewal is a ministry of Southland Community Church. I have attended many conferences over the years. None have impressed me with biblical authenticity and a call to godly living as much the Set Free Seminar weekend at Southland Community Church. The Set Free Seminar is an integral part of Church Renewal. It is a serious call for biblical reflection, confession and godly living. It is a challenge to live out the truth of Christ’s teachings and to be set free from sin, bondage and addiction. Their theme verse comes from the words of Jesus, “If you hold to my teachings, then you really are my disciples and you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). It was refreshing to experience a conference stripped of hype and political correctness. Instead, it was anchored in the timeless truth of God’s Word and our need for confession and repentance.

The Bible reminds us that God’s Son died to set us free from our sins. Yes, our sins! Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have no sin and you have no need of confession. The Apostle John says, “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1Jn.1:8). Paul said in Titus 2:14, “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people.” Why not accept what Christ has done for you? His abundant grace and forgiveness awaits you. The Apostle John says, “If we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins, because we can trust God to do what is right. He will cleanse us from all the wrongs we have done” (1Jn 2:9-10). Friends, confessing your sins is not politically incorrect, it’s taking the path to freedom and finding God’s marvelous forgiveness and grace.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York, NY: Harper Row, 1954), 47.[[

[2] Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? 6th ed. (New York: Hawthorne Books, 1974), 13.

[3] James B. Twitchell, For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), 149.

[4] J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1992), 151.

[5] J. Carl Laney, A Guide to Church Discipline (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985), 12.

[6] Thomas Oden, Corrective Love: The Power of Communion and Discipline (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1995), 56.

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