sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Bible in 90 – Day 77: Confessional

Then he breathed on them and said,, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.’

John 20:22-23 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Many of us protestants have a confession phobia. We acknowledge that we need forgiveness but the idea of someone to “hear” our confession and pronounce absolution sounds too “Roman Catholic” and after all, we tell ourselves, “all I need to do is go to Jesus in private prayer and I can receive forgiveness that way.” Is that  all we need to find forgiveness?

This passage always fascinates me because it puts forgiveness in the hands of the apostles, the leaders of the Christian community. They are to be bearers of forgiveness to those that they encounter, their authority for such work comes from Holy Spirit. If they pronounce forgiveness then people will find it, if they do not then people will not. No “standards” are given or guidelines, I guess the Spirit will be the guide.

I know that the idea of someone hearing our confession is scary. Confession places us in a vulnerable place, our hearts poured out, our “secrets” revealed. This responsibility could easily be abused. It would be easier to keep it to ourselves, just between us and God but does it help us to be renewed?

In the best case scenario all Christians should be part of a community of forgiveness. These communities would be places where we can be accountable to one another for our growth in grace, including confession, but also the declaration that we are forgiven. At times this community could call us to task when our behavior does not align with our baptismal covenant, when we fail to live up to the promise we made at our baptism/confirmation/profession of faith.

In my life I have been blessed to find these communities of forgiveness and accountability. Spiritual directors, covenant groups, spiritual friends, have helped me find forgiveness but also find my way back to God at times when I have failed. This direction, restoration, and growth in grace would not have been possible if I would have just “confessed my sins to Jesus.” I am thankful that I made myself vulnerable and was willing to share my difficult journey with others.

I believe that our Christian faith calls us to such communities of forgiveness and growth in grace. So let us find these communities and claim the power of the Spirit given to us to help each other find forgiveness, restoration, and growth in love of God and neighbor. May these communities become our confessional!


Bible in 90 – Day 76: Was Blind & Now I See


Bible in 90 – Day 78: Us & Them


  1. Juan,

    This work of “confessing our sins to each other that we may be healed” was the work of the bands– as opposed to class meetings– in early Methodism. Bands were very small groups of 3 or 4 mature and trustworthy persons, always same sex in Wesley’s day. They were not required for all Methodists, but they were highly recommended for class leaders, helpers, lay exhorters and lay preachers, and anyone else desiring this level of spiritual work for their lives and the lives of a few others.

    There are some beginnings of such groups in a few places in the US.

    May there be more for those who seek them.

    • I can understand why. For me the primary place for these times of confession has been in Spiritual Direction. It is a safer, trust-filled, and grace-filled place for this important spiritual practice. So I’m sure that I am not alone in preferring a smaller “place.”

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