Tuesday in our neighborhood is garbage day; whatever you put in the cans they will take. We also have a recycling day on Friday but today is the day you get rid of all the stuff that needs to be gone. Once a week, on Monday night, I put out our two trashcans (the garbage men sometimes arrive as early as 5 a.m.), along with three 20 oz. Mountain Dews, one each for the driver and the two guys in the rear. It’s a thank you for doing a tough job because, at from least my perspective, who really wants to spend all day with other people’s trash and castoffs.
During my prayer time on garbage day I take the opportunity to focus on taking out my spiritual garbage. There is an obvious link there, except the analogy breaks down for most Christians in that they have to deal with this themselves; they dont have garbage men to help them out with the task.
The Apostle James said:
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:15-16a
And then there is the famous passage Roman Catholics and those other denominations that have the sacrament of Penance love to quote where Jesus said to his disciples:
If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld. John 20:23
My personal favorite for discussion is 1 John 1:9.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
There is nothing in Johns epistle, at least as far as I can tell, to say to whom the confession of sin should be made. Oh I have heard many times over the years that it is to God, and that is the substance of the Confession of Sin in the Anglican and other liturgies. However, the only other context of confessing sins in the New Testament is in the James passage we saw earlier. Jesus statement in John doesnt explicitly deal with confession of sin, only forgiveness of sin.
Why do I bring this up? Well it is not to argue that Protestants should go to their ministers to confess their sins and ask for absolution, though I have known some to do just that. It is to point out what I see as a great deficiency in both the liturgical and the non liturgical Christian churches. I also believe that is there lack of teaching on and implementation of the confession of sin within the larger Christian Church, outside of the Catholic and Orthodox communions. There appears to be an unspoken assumption in the rest of Christendom that all confession is directly to God, but that is not explicitly stated anywhere in the New Testament. What is explicitly stated is confess your sins to one another.
It is on days like today that I wrestle with this issue. To whom can I confess my sins? Yes, I can and do confess them to God, but that doesnt fulfill the scriptural demand. Even during the years of my Episcopal membership I relied on the General Confession in the liturgy and only went to actual confession twice that I can remember. I think James envisioned this as a regular practice, not a once a in decade undertaking.
Update: See also Garbage Day Redux in which I deal with a question my wife asks me about husbands and wives as confessional partners.