A Jagged Contention: Sympathetic Company

“A number of church members who have joined Alcoholics Anonymous or weight-control groups have reported on the radical difference in the atmosphere that they have found in these groups from the atmosphere found in average congregations. In such groups, organized around a confessed need of the participants, there can be compete honesty. People can tell where they are, they can bare their problems, their failures, their doubts, and their fears. They can do it because they have a confidence that they are in sympathetic company. They are not going to be cast out for failures, they are not going to be scorned or laughed at. They can experience the therapeutic effects of telling all without losing their acceptance. Since there is mutual sharing, there can be mutual help.  This is precisely the attitude one would expect in a church that really believed in justification. Our Protestant churches all unite in one way or another every Sunday confessing: “We are sinful and unclean, we have come short of thy glory.” In this way the church acknowledges that it is a community of those who confess they are sinners. But seldom does the atmosphere of the church encourage or even allow its members to spell out the confession in meaningful detail. Having ritually confessed to our sin, we must henceforth put on the false front of righteous piety.”

– William Hordern, Living by Grace, pg. 171-172


How can one explain the “false front of righteous piety” found in so many of our congregations? What can we learn from groups like AA when it comes to being open about our sinfulness with one another?

Share your thoughts in the comments

One thought on “A Jagged Contention: Sympathetic Company

  1. I know some of you are of a different opinion, but I personally feel we do not need to have public confessions of private sins in church, unless we are speaking in general terms about sin, its affects and consequences in our lives. I have seen people stand up in a non-denominational church I once visited in the past, and heard a litany of personal sins each wanted to tell the congregation. ” I was in a band, and I did cocaine and other drugs for years, ” said one young man. I know we are all sinners, but why the need to itemize your past bad conduct to everyone in church? Is there a root of pride or vanity involved here? Why not consider the matter a private issue between you and the Lord, being grateful and humble for His forgiveness and mercy? I think the only time a public confession should be considered is when a pastor or deacon of renown must resign for an indiscretion, and the matter affects the congregational life of a church. Then one might feel truthful confession is warranted, and an apology and forgiveness sought. We can and should confess sins to one another in certain but not all situations involving relationships. Wisdom is needed in this area of confessing sins and faults to others. But as for me, I generally do not see it as a necessity for members of a church to air their “dirty laundry” before the congregation. Even an AA meeting should be focused on the addiction of alcohol and the consequences, but it is not cause to go into detail about everything.


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