Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday Devotions: True Confessions

Lectionary Verse: Matthew 18: 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

It’s called ‘church discipline’ and it’s usually only employed these days against misbehaving pastors. I wonder what would happen to the members of our congregations, if they knew that being Presbyterian means that the local Session has the power to question and rebuke them over their selfish actions and sinful lifestyle choices? There would probably be a riot in the pews and a couple of lawsuits thrown in for good measure. People would be offended and go join another denomination, unbeknowingly subjecting themselves to whatever ecclesiastical hierarchy or spiritual oversight that church practiced.

Way back in 19th century Scotland, a seat was set in front of the congregation where Saturday night rabble-rousers, drunken good ol’ boys, and brazen hussies were brought before the congregation to repent of their public sins. Usually, one of the elders read out a list of names and if the ‘sinners’ were present, they had to come down to the front, be publicly rebuked, prayed over by the minister, and sent back into the community of the faithful. Going to church on Sundays was sometimes like a public hanging; there was more glee in seeing neighbors properly chastised than in joyfully worshiping the Lord.

Those days are over – thank goodness – instead we offer prayers of confession and silent moments to ask God for mercy, forgiveness, and restoration. We are left to inwardly get things right with God by telling Him quietly about our mistakes and regrets, our selfish choices and unfaithful moments. Church then, becomes a safe sanctuary where we can come to the mercy seat of Christ and seek His pardon. It’s no longer a public execution of our wayward spirits; it’s an act of individual repentance within our hearts.

Perhaps, as a denomination, we should confess our self-righteous divisions and self-inflicted wounds to Christ each Sunday, asking for His mercy, grace, and healing. After all, if this prayer process is good enough for individual souls each week, surely it must be thousands of times as effective if we confess our parts in causing what hurts the PCUSA, and seek in turn what Christ offers to heal us.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we all are guilty of offending You and dividing the Church. We allow our pride to pander to our prejudices, and we permit our hard-heartedness to hinder our hearing. Forgive us for being fractious and foolish, arrogant and offensive. Teach us to tolerate one another and to celebrate our kaleidoscopic Christianity. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.


Sarahlynn said...

I think this is excellent. Thank you.

Becky Ardell Downs said...

we make time each week for confession and reconcilliation with God, but how could we also set time aside for confession and reconciliation with each other? it seems to me that, though the old way of public humiliation was not effective or appropriate, it did take seriously our responsibilities as a community to care for each other and for how we behave ourselves together. Just a thought.

Stushie said...

Becky, our church holds a special healing prayer time in the Sunday worship service (check it out at

It usually involves prayers for those who are sick, broken, or addicted. Your suggestion is a wonderful idea, so this coming Sunday I will ask our people to think about healing the breaches between family, friends, and foes.

Thank you!