Does Any Sin Merit A Public Confession?
The scriptures tell that we are to confess our sins to whomever we have sinned against (Matt. 18:15). We know that the scriptures speak that any sin always involves God and if it is only known by God, then we should confess only to him. For, Matt. 18:15-20 teaches us that we are to keep these issues (sin) as confined as possible. However, once the church knows, it becomes different. When one has brought reproach upon the church, there becomes a need to publicly repent and make a correction because we are to “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:” (1 Cor. 10:32). But how do we know which sin becomes deemed as public knowledge?
All should know that each Christian is responsible for his brother or sister and the entire church is responsible for each member. An example of the kind of sin that becomes public knowledge is as follows: “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph. 5:3-5) This means that those that fall as a Christian is not living up to the demands of a Christian life and would need to be corrected.
The Christian life is an open book for when one sins against another, who have they told and who has the other person told? Whom have those that the two have involved told? In the case of fornication and preaching false doctrine (there are other examples, etc.) there are doctors, friends, and family that are involved and the list continues to grow. This makes these types of sin well known and public. Therefore, if sin separates one from God then it can also separate a Christian from the church unless repented of and mended. This is needed because those that are guilty of sin are guilty of sinful conduct, but if that person is brought to repentance, there will be no punishment from either the church or God concerning this matter.
One sin that comes to mind on this issue is that of fornication. When one becomes impregnated by another, it can never be contained between two people. Everyone with eyes to see become witnesses of the pregnancy and to what has happened (even though they may not know all the specific details). Therefore, if one does not come forward and ask not only God, but the church in which reproach is brought upon, rebuking publically is necessary because the sin has been committed in either a public setting or is known publically. This causes a great problem for the purity of the church.
One who has sinned must be willing to see how a public sin can affect the church. While we may be individual Christians leading individual lives, Christians share a unique joy to be interconnected with every other Christian. So when one is joyous, others are joyous and when one hurts because of sin other Christians hurt with them. Therefore, if a public sin is not repented of and that individual continues not to be sorrowful in a public manner, this brings shame upon the church and the Lord who purchased the church with his own blood. Furthermore, it sends an added message to others indicating to others that their actions are tolerable or favorable in the church and that the purity of the Bride of Christ can be tainted. But, this is not so.
In Acts 5, we read of the public practice of discipline upon Ananias and Saphphira. They thought that things were done secretly, but the congregation knew and since they were deceptive with their sin, judgment was cast upon them by God. As a result, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. (Acts 5:11) Discipline is not easy, but the individual Christian cannot think about only himself in these matters. Instead, he or she must be willing to think of the church as a whole. Therefore, the purity of the church must continue to remain pure. For, discipline (only according to the Holy Scriptures) helps the weaker members to be strong lest they too should follow in the same course of shame and ignore the beautiful Bride of Christ.
Another example can be read about in Acts 8:12-24. Simon, then a recent convert offered the apostles money to receive the power of granting spiritual gifts to others. But, we can see that this notion was rejected and Simon was told to repent which he did in front of those who were there. Again in 1 Corinthians 5:1ff, there was a fornicator among them whom Paul had heard about (which happens when a sin is public knowledge: it spreads). Paul told the church to deliver this person from the grasps of Satan. Furthermore, he told the church at Corinth not to keep company (associate) with those that fornicate because they are considered wicked people unless they repent. So, when sin has become public, forgiveness must be asked for publically. Therefore, when one does come and ask for forgiveness, Christians are then able to forgive him and encourage his faith. (2 Cor. 2:5-10).
This makes it imperative that the one who commits such sins comes forward making things right not only with God, but with the church which has become shamed and attacked by this event. And if the impenitent sinner continues in a course of public sin or has not asked to be forgiven by those whom he or she has sinned against, the unfortunate time will come when he or she needs to be rebuked before all. For, “them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” (1 Tim. 5:20) Therefore, since not only the sin is public, but the rebuke is also made public, the confession & correction must be in public as well to purify the sadness and shame of sin within the church.
The church in Colossae, in regards to making corrections to those in the Lord’s church was told to, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: (Col. 3:5). To mortify means to separate or to make dead those who do these things mentioned. Therefore, if one has sinned publically in a manner such as this or in other public ways which are not according to the words of God, they have not only sinned “against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.” (1 Cor. 8:12) Therefore, the church is to warn or rebuke the unruly (1 Thess. 5:14) and reprove the ones who are doing evil work (Eph. 5:11). For the apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” (Eph. 5:11, 12) Now, how did the church or the apostle Paul ever hear about the things that were thought to be done in secret? It is because certain sins such as those mentioned above cannot be contained. For example, idolatry cannot be hidden because of the practices of idolatry. Again, covetousness cannot be hidden because it is seen in work ethics and a greedy drive from within oneself. Therefore, these things cannot be hidden and must be repented of as well as any other sins which would be done in a public manner and brings disgrace upon the church.
Therefore, repentance is not just sorrow alone nor is it from the thoughts that makes one feel bad just because he or she was caught and the the sin has now presented itself to others. When sin is recognized, it cannot just be stopped and never again performed. It must be repented of sincerely “For the wages of sin is death;” (Rom. 6:23). This means that sin condemns the soul. Therefore, true repentance involves acknowledging that you have sinned (2 Sam. 12:13). It is by saying that you are sincerely sorry (2 Cor. 7:10). It means that you are willing to put off that sin and are now determined to live right (Acts. 26:20) and that you make a request to be forgiven. (Psa. 51:1-3)
Repentance is all motivated because of the goodness of God (Rom. 2:4), the willingness to humble yourself before God, and the fear of everlasting punishment (Lk. 13:1-5). Therefore, by repenting you are saying that you are turning from sinful actions (Matt. 12:41), that you are putting off the old man of sin (Col. 3:5-9), that you are putting on the new godly man (Col. 3:10) and that you are ready to continue to walk in the light (1 Jn. 1:7, 8) so one day you will inherit all the joys of Heaven (Lk. 15:9).
Sin is part of life, but it can be overcome. It is tragic to think of the publicity that sin brings with it, but it does not have to overwhelm anyone. However, people who publically sin and do not or will not repent publically, must sadly be rebuked to desire the results to: save that one soul eternally by converting that person who errs from the truth (Jam. 5:19, 20). But this is to not be done out of hatred toward that person. Those who are rebuking are to show love toward the one who stumbled. (Rev. 3:19). Therefore, the one that sinned can easily hear them and change from evil (Matt. 18:15-17) and to snatch that person from the everlasting fire of sadness and torment (Jude 23).
Paul admonished the church to withdraw its fellowship from every brother who sins or walks in a disorderly fashion (2 Thess. 3:6). The church is to note the person who allows sin to reign in his life and who is unwilling to repent and change. (2 Thess. 3:14, 15). However, if withdrawal of fellowship (which is a last resort) is deemed necessary, it is not to be done in hatred or in an enemy way, but to admonish him as a brother or sister to restore that person at fault (Gal. 6:1). Therefore, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn. 1:9) Turning from sin can become difficult, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)
It can be a terrible situation to sin publically. But, it is an eternal mistake to force these things into privacy and refuse to remove a public stain of sin against God, Christ, and the Bride of Christ (which is composed of several members) just because one did not see the need to come forward and remove the dishonor that he or she has brought upon the church. Sins that become public knowledge must be dealt with in a public manner so the one that sinned can be restored to the church and draw strength and encouragement from the congregation. Furthermore, by making it right publicly, it removes the disgrace from the person and the church. And by doing Bible things by Bible ways and restoring the purity of the Gospel of Christ within the church and the individual, all will be able to continue in the glorious fellowship with one another in brotherly love.