Awake!, November 8, 1974 Issue, Pages 27-28:
What Is the Bible's View?
Should We Confess?-If So, to Whom?
CAN you truthfully say that you have never done wrong? No, we all err. How do you feel afterward?
The first reaction may be to hide or cover over an error. Is that not true? But then your conscience may bother you. (1 John 3:4; Rom. 2:14, 15) Have you not found that a desire to have a clear conscience and to be right with God urges you to confess the matter, obtain forgiveness and put it all behind? But should we confess, and, if so, to whom?
It is clear from the Bible that acknowledging or confessing one's sins is important. When John the Baptist came preaching repentance for sins against the Law, many Jews "were baptized by him in the river Jor dan , confessing their sins." (Mark 1:4, 5, Common Bible) Also, Jesus urged his followers to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."-Matt. 6:12, CB.
Regarding sins against God, obviously we should admit our errors to him and seek his forgiveness. (Compare Psalm 32:3-5.) But what about when we wrong our fellowman? The Bible tells us to get the matter settled with the person whom we have wronged. Notice what Jesus told the Jews in the Sermon on the Mount: "if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift [to God]." (Matt. 5:23, 24, CB) Following this advice would mean admitting to the other person the wrong and taking steps to be reconciled to him. This would include one's family members.
What if a person committed adultery? Adultery is a sin in the sight of God. But it is also a sin against one's marriage mate, for your mate has exclusive right to sexual relations with you. (Matt. 19:5, 6; 1 Cor. 6:16) So if a person committed adultery, how could he expect God's forgiveness unless the sin was confessed to his mate?
Akin to this is the question of whether an engaged person should confess to a prospective mate immorality committed in the past. Many couples are willing to let the past remain a closed book. They see that even if years ago, perhaps before becoming a Christian, one of the two had committed immorality, that past act was not then a sin against the person who will now become a mate. Hence, Jesus' counsel at Matthew 5:23 , 24 does not require confession to the prospective mate. But, of course, some persons in this situation may want to "clear the slate," so to speak, and avoid any possibility of its coming to light later with possibly damaging consequences. And, whether now or later, if a Christian were asked about the past and were obliged to answer he could not lie to keep it secret.-Col. 3:9.
As to another aspect of confession, perhaps you have read recent headlines, such as, "Vatican Reforms Confessional-Less About Sex, More on Taxes." As is widely known, Roman Catholics are expected to confess serious sin to a priest authorized to "absolve" sins. The Council of Trent in 1551 decreed "that sacramental confession is of divine origin and necessary for salvation by divine law. . . . The Council emphasized the justification and necessity of auricular [told in the ear, private] confession as practiced in the Church 'from the beginning.'"-New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 132.
In arguing for auricular confession to a priest who grants absolution, theologians point to Jesus, for he undeniably declared forgiveness of sins. When in faith a cripple was brought to him, Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven you." Some hearers objected, so Christ added: "That you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins- . . . I say to you, rise." And the man was healed! (Luke 5:18-26, CB) Note that Jesus could declare sins forgiven, but just as easily could heal the man. Is that true of those who "absolve" sins today? And observe that the account here says nothing about the man's making any "auricular confession."
But some may refer to John 20:22, 23, where the resurrected Jesus told his apostles: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (CB) Again, is there any mention of a need for auricular confession to the apostles or others? No.
Were Jesus instituting auricular confession, should we not find evidence in the Bible that the apostles heard such confessions? One might expect this to be so especially inasmuch as the Council of Trent held that auricular confession, with resulting absolution of sins, was "practiced in the Church 'from the beginning.'" However, even though recommending the practice, Jesuit professor J. L. McKenzie says: "The origins of auricular confession are obscure; it is old, at least as old as the late patristic period [ending about 749 C.E.], but it was not the original discipline of penance." (The Roman Catholic Church) Additionally, in its article on penance the New Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges: "There is no scriptural evidence that the Apostles, other than St. Paul , exercised the power of forgiving sins."
But was this instance involving Paul a case of an apostle or priest hearing a confession and granting absolution? No. Rather, the case was about a congregation's expelling and later reinstating a man who had sinned. Writing from Ephesus , Paul advised the congregation of Corinth in Europe to expel or disfellowship a man practicing immorality. This case is an illustration of the application of Jesus' words at John 20:23. How so? Well, it was clear that the sins of that Corinthian man had to be viewed as "retained." The congregation could not look upon his sins as "forgiven," for the Bible made it plain that God would not forgive an unrepentant sinner. (1 Cor. 5:1, 9-13; Isa. 1:16-18; 55:7) However, later, evidently after the man repented, Paul wrote again and urged the congregation to "turn to forgive and comfort him." (2 Cor. 2:7, CB) We see in this case, too, there is no mention of any auricular confession to a priest or an apostle.
The Bible, though, does urge: "Confess your sins to one another." (Jas. 5:16, CB) What does that mean? Note the context.
James wrote that if one were spiritually sick, as committing serious sins would indicate, "let hi m c all the elders of the church, and let them pray over him." (The Corinthian man should have done that instead of unrepentantly continuing to practice the sin.) God does not authorize the elders themselves to forgive sins; that is something He does. (1 John 1:9) But when one has confessed to God, not "covering over" his sins, the spiritually qualified elders can pray with him as well as counsel and help him.-Prov. 28:13; Gal. 6:1.
can result from such confession? James adds: "The Lord will raise him up;
and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven."-Jas. 5:14, 15, CB.
The Watchtower, April 15, 1969 Issue, Pages 255-256:
Questions from Readers
. Does John 20:23 mean that some humans are authorized to forgive sins?-F. M., U.S.A.
It is to be noted at the outset that what we are considering are sins against God or a breaking of one of God's laws such as by stealing, lying or committing sexual immorality. Occasionally someone may "sin" against a Christian by acting rudely, gossiping about him or in some other way personally transgress against the Christian. The Bible urges us to be forgiving in such cases. (Eph. 4:32; 1 Pet. 4:8) But what about serious sins against God in heaven?
The occasion of the statement at John 20:23 was an appearance of Christ to "the disciples" following his resurrection. After telling them that he was sending them forth, and indicating that they would soon receive holy spirit, Jesus said: "If you forgive the sins of any persons, they stand forgiven to them; if you retain those of any persons, they stand retained."-John 20:21-23.
While this verse alone might seem to be saying that the apostles could forgive sins, we cannot ignore the testimony of the rest of the Bible. We need to be like the noble-minded Beroeans in "carefully examining the Scriptures" to see what is so.-Acts 17:11.
When King David sinned, from whom did he seek forgiveness? In his time there were God-ordained Jewish priests serving at the tabernacle. Still, David wrote: "I said: 'I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.' And you yourself [God] pardoned the error of my sins." (Ps. 32:5) Did Jesus change this when he came? No, for he taught us to pray: "Our Father in the heavens, . . . forgive us our debts [or trespasses]." (Matt. 6:9, 12) And that is how Jesus' disciples understood the matter. They knew that it was not some man, but God, who could 'forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.'-1 John 1:9.
How, then, were the disciples to whom Jesus addressed the words at John 20:23 involved in the matter of forgiveness? A comment Christ made earlier sheds light on this. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus explained what one should do if his spiritual brother sinned against him. The final step was for the matter to be heard by the spiritually older men of the congregation. (Jas. 5:14, 15) If the sinner refused to repent of his serious sin, he was to be expelled from the congregation. Was it a matter of some men deciding to forgive or retain his sins? No, they would simply be acting in accord with what they could conclude would already have been done in heaven. How would they know this? By what God has revealed in his Word on such matters.-2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
This is evident from Jesus' next words: "Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." (Matt. 18:18, New American Standard Bible; see also NW, Ro, The New Testament by C. B. Williams) Though some Bible versions render this verse in a way that suggests that the heavenly action occurs after the earthly decision, noted Bible translator Robert Young said that it literally should be: "shall be that which has been bound (already)."
Hence, if a Christian was lying, for example, and when the older men of the congregation met with him about it he refused to repent of his dishonest course, God's view, as revealed in his Word, would already be known. If a sinner would repent, God would forgive him. (Isa. 55:7) And Jehovah would forgive one who sinned unintentionally. But he would not forgive an intentional, unrepentant sinner. (Num. 15:22-31) Knowing this, the representatives of the congregation could decide from the facts and the sinner's attitude how to deal with him. And since they know from the Bible what God's view is, their decision about whether to expel from the congregation one who had sinned should be what God had already decided in heaven.
That the above is how Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 were understood by first-century Christians is plain from 1 Corinthians, chapter five. There was a willful, unrepentant sinner in the Corinthian congregation. Could the older men of that congregation or even the apostle Paul personally 'forgive the sins of that person' or 'retain the sins of that person'? No, but because they knew God's estimation of such an unrepentant sinner, they were obliged to expel him from the congregation, demonstrating to all that evidently his sins were being "retained" on him by God and not forgiven.
While Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 may have been spoken directly to the apostles, it is clear from what Paul wrote the Corinthians that the spiritually older men in each congregation were to apply Jesus' words. This can also be seen in the messages to the congregations in Pergamum and Thyatira. (Rev. 2:12-16, 20-24) Christ held it against those congregations that they did not expel wrongdoers, thus binding on earth what was already bound in heaven.
when a sinner does repent, those acting for the congregation can allow him to
continue in the congregation, or accept him back in if he had been disfellowshiped.
Apparently this is what later happened in Corinth
. Knowing that God
would forgive such a one, Paul urged the Christians to accept him back into
the congregation. (2 Cor. 2:6-8) They would not themselves be forgiving
his sins; Jehovah alone could do that. But by acting in accord with the principles
in God's Word they could conclude that his sins were forgiven by God in heaven.
Thus, John 20:23 would be true: "If you forgive the sins of any persons,
they stand forgiven to them."
The Watchtower, May 15, 1968 Issue, Page 319:
addition to making confession to God, the Bible also counsels the one who has
seriously sinned to take another step. This is set out at James 5:13-16, which
says: "Let hi m
c all the older
men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him . . . Also,
if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him. Therefore openly confess
your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed."
In each congregation of Jehovah's witnesses today there is a committee of three
such mature Christians who are charged with the responsibility of aiding sincerely
repentant sinners, or of acting to expel anyone who is a threat to the moral
purity of the congregation through practicing sins and not having God's forgiveness
because of lack of repentance.
The Watchtower, February 15, 1967 Issue, Page 127:
In the case of a serious sin, one that brings deep reproach on Jehovah's name and on the Christian congregation, the healthful course is to confess one's wrongdoing to responsible brothers in the congregation. (Jas. 5:14-16) But how should one view these servants in God's organization? As fearsome judges? Far from it! The congregation committee is there to bear the weaknesses of others, to build up and to encourage.-Rom. 15:1, 2.
'RESTORING . . . IN A SPIRIT OF MILDNESS'
The overseers and ministerial servants in the Christian congregation should be, and usually are, approachable. This approachability itself should discourage weaker members of the flock from trying to "save face." If someone in the congregation has a problem he should go immediately to the overseer or other mature brothers, and not to some emotional, immature person who will pamper him. The responsible brothers are the ones assigned as "gifts in men," to help all to grow to oneness of faith, "in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves." (Eph. 4:8, 13, 14) They are our "hiding place from the wind" in time of stormy trouble. (Isa. 32:2) The true overseer is ever watchful to help, and to build up, in line with Paul's advice: "Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness."-Gal. 6:1.
So, overseers and ministerial servants are charged, not to browbeat weak members of the flock, but to "restore" them, to build them up. When counseling, even where serious sins have been committed, these servants are never to scold or grow angry. Rather, they will be an example in displaying "the fruitage of the spirit," which includes "kindness, . . . mildness, self-control." (Gal. 5:22, 23) Those of the flock who realize this should be eager to go to these servants for help, rather than "save face" by absenting themselves from the Christian congregation.
In most cases it is the unrepentant who insist on 'practicing sin' that are expelled, disfellowshiped from God's organization. (1 John 3:4; 1 Cor. 5:11) 'A man who takes some false step before he is aware of it' does not fall into the class of such incorrigible sinners. However, there may be occasions, due to the seriousness of the sin, when the congregation committee finds it necessary to place a person on a probation of surveillance, as a helpful, corrective measure. Such probation is not to be viewed as some adverse judgment, something destructive of one's "honor," a penalty to be bucked against. Rather, it is a loving provision affording him opportunity to prove the sincerity of his repentance and at the same time to help the repentant sinner recover his spirituality and to make him strong again. Kindly counsel given during the probationary period will build the person up so that he will not make a 'practice' of sin. Rather than try to "save face" by protesting a probation, and getting others involved emotionally, one who has committed a sin should welcome this loving arrangement leading to his recovery.
dedicated Christians should place their complete confidence and trust in Jehovah.
It is Jehovah who says: "Those honoring me I shall honor, and those despising
me will be of little account." (1 Sam. 2:30) Those who honor Jehovah
will not seek self-honor among mortal men. In place of holding to lofty, 'face-saving'
thoughts of men, true Christians will seek out Jehovah's thoughts and be guided
by the principles he so clearly states in his Word.
The Watchtower, September 1, 1966 Issue, Pages 540-543:
THOSE EXPERIENCING DIFFICULTIES
At times a Christian may commit an act that plagues his conscience. It may not have been premeditated, but he may have been overcome by temptation. When such difficulty occurs, he will want to talk to a mature brother in the congregation, and this is in harmony with the Bible's counsel: "Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted. Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ."-Gal. 6:1, 2.
So it is a good thing for a person who has a serious problem to approach a mature brother, one who has spiritual qualifications, and seek his help. That mature brother could be the congregation overseer or one of the other members of the committee. Additionally, in some places, there are other men of comparable maturity in the congregation, and they too may be approached with confidence when one is in need of help. This does not mean one is obligated to go regularly to another person in the congregation and confess every little mistake he makes. All are imperfect and fall short of God's standard of righteousness. As the apostle Paul stated it: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23 ) That is why Jesus, in teaching his followers how to pray, told them to include in their petition to God this thought: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."-Matt. 6:12.
However, when more serious difficulties arise, then it is time to seek the counsel of a mature brother. Jehovah God, who knows our weaknesses, has for this reason lovingly arranged for us to have help from our brothers when we need it the most. Note what James 5:14-16 states in connection with this: "Is there anyone [spiritually] sick among you? Let hi m c all the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him. Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed. A righteous man's supplication, when it is at work, has much force."
The assistance mature men can render is a provision that Jehovah has made for our good, and not just an arrangement whereby certain ones are appointed to check up on what everyone else does. Obviously, when a person commits grievous sins it is evidence of spiritual weakness. A person in this position needs help to overcome his difficulties, and is wise if he asks for that help.
There is grave dan ger in not asking for assistance. If a person in difficulty fails to do so, he may just find that he will become habituated in a course of sin until he becomes irreformable or, even if he does not repeat the wrong, he may draw away from association with Jehovah's organization for fear that someone may learn of his wrong act. How much better for the erring one to acknowledge humbly that there are times when we need help and so avail himself of the loving provision Jehovah has made.
Remember what is recorded at Proverbs 28:13: "He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy." So if someone has fallen into sinful conduct and is really sorry about it, he shows that, not by covering over his transgression, but by confessing it, seeking help, and thereafter carefully avoiding the circumstances that might lead to a repetition of the wrong.
NOTIFYING THE COMMITTEE
Is it necessary, where an erring one seeks the counsel of a mature individual, to inform the entire committee of every case of wrongdoing? In this regard it is good to keep in mind that the members of the committee are not assigned to check up on everything we do. They simply want to help our brothers walk in the way that merits Jehovah's smile of approval.
So if a brother or a sister in the congregation approaches a brother who he feels will be able to assist him spiritually, that brother will usually be glad he can be of help. If he is really a brother with "spiritual qualifications," of course, he is not simply going to tell the wrongdoer to forget about his unchristian deeds. He will look for evidence that the wrongdoer is sincerely and humbly repentant and will help him take whatever steps are necessary to make amends for the wrong committed. In some such cases the brother may feel that the counsel he is able to offer from God's Word satisfies the needs of the case and is sufficient to "restore such a man." If so, the matter can be kept between just the two of them. There is no need to take it farther.
Of course, if it should come to light, in the course of such discussion, that a wrong of the type mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:11 has been committed repeatedly, it ought to be brought to the attention of the congregation committee. Such repeated sin is a serious matter, but if the wrongdoer himself has voluntarily confessed and sincerely wants to do what is right in Jehovah's eyes, it may be that he can be helped.
Certain other cases that may not involve repetition of a sin should also be brought to the attention of the committee, and this is true even though needed counsel and aid toward spiritual restoration has been provided. These include cases of sexual immorality involving other persons, whether committed by adults or dedicated and baptized minors, and other serious wrongdoing that has become public knowledge or that may readily become a matter of discussion in the congregation.
But when serious matters are taken to the congregation committee, does this necessarily mean that a person can then expect to be excommunicated from the Christian congregation? No, it does not mean that at all. The committee is there to help those who want to serve Jehovah. Let us not forget that James chapter five states that anyone who is spiritually sick should call the older men of the congregation to help him. With what results? Were they going to whip him? No, they would apply to him the beneficial counsel of God's Word. They would pray over him. And if he had committed sins and was truly repentant, why, the scripture said that these would be forgiven him.
However, if these representative members of the congregation are going to extend mercy to one who has committed a serious sin, they have to do so in harmony with God's written Word. It is not simply a matter of showing him mercy because they feel sorry for him. They must ascertain that there is a basis for mercy, that the individual is truly repentant. If the wrongdoer is sorry only because someone found out about his wrong, and not sorry over the wrongdoing itself, or if he is indifferent or seeks to justify himself, then, of course, he is not truly repentant and God will not forgive him. The committee would not be authorized by God's Word to extend mercy to such an unforgiven person.
The action taken by the committee, which must be determined after prayerful consideration, depends greatly on the circumstances. It may be that in some cases good Scriptural counsel will suffice. On the other hand, if the wrong committed was serious, it probably would be wise not to have that person on the platform to instruct others in the congregation, at least for a suitable period of time. This gives the wrongdoer opportunity to supply proof of his repentance over a period of time and also affords the mature brothers opportunity to strengthen him spiritually.
If the wrong committed was not a public scandal, but serious enough to require discipline, then the erring one can be placed on a probation that is not announced to the congregation. During this time, usually one year, he should be given regular spiritual assistance to overcome his difficulty. Then the probation is lifted, again without announcement to the congregation. What a loving provision of God for truly repentant ones who fall into serious wrongdoing!
If the sin was grievous and a public scandal, then where mercy is shown, a probation period is again imposed, but this time it is announced to the congregation. Yet in this case, as in an unannounced probation, there is a loving effort to help the erring one.
However, there are some people who have come into Jehovah's clean organization and have been baptized who prove in course of time that they are not really Christians. They like the association of Jehovah's witnesses because they find them to be a very trusting people, and they take advantage of this for evil ends. Concerning people of that sort the disciple Jude wrote, in verse 4 of his letter: "Certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to this judgment, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ."
When a person manifests that he is of that type, a deliberate wrongdoer, whether he has committed a serious wrong once or repeatedly, then he has no business in the theocratic organization. He ought to be exposed, and it is the responsibility of the congregation committee to disfellowship him.-1 Cor. 5:11, 13.
From all the various types of problems that may come to the attention of the congregation committee, it is evident that they occupy a place of great responsibility, one that takes spiritual strength. But it is also a great privilege to be able to serve their brothers, and "there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving," Jesus said. (Acts 20:35 ) How true this is when helpful counsel assists erring ones to see their responsibilities to Jehovah more correctly and to carry them out!
persons are aided to do the will of God correctly and come to realize the marvelous
arrangement Jehovah has made to give them uplift and comfort through the congregation,
they will agree that such "gifts in men" are indeed "a hiding
place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams
of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted
land."-Eph. 4:8, 11, 12; Isa. 32:1, 2.
The Watchtower, February 15, 1964 Issue, Pages 125-126:
If any today find themselves practicing what is bad, or if they practiced badness some time after their dedication, they should not automatically look to rebaptism to correct the situation. The way to set oneself straight with Jehovah is to confess the wrongdoing to Jehovah in prayer and also to the judicial committee of the congregation, who will prayerfully and Scripturally handle the matter. (1 John 1:9; Jas. 5:16) Whatever correction is administered will work toward the good of the one who has confessed his wrongdoing, as well as toward the good of the entire congregation.
However, it is a different matter when a person was committing serious wrongdoing at the time of his "dedication" and baptism and even thereafter. If one was habitually sinning, practicing a grievous wrong during this time, even though ceasing from it some time after his baptism and making advancement in the service of Jehovah, he was in an unclean state before God at the time of his baptism. Such a baptism, since it did not follow a true dedication, would be invalid. If such a person has now forsaken that practice of sin, repented and made a sincere dedication of himself to Jehovah God, he should be rebaptized.
if any individual who wants to be a baptized Christian is living a life that,
if he were already dedicated, would result in his being cut off or disfellowshiped
from the Christian congregation, he is not ready for baptism. First he must
clean up his life in harmony with God's righteous requirements before presenting
himself to the Most High for dedication and baptism.-1 Cor. 6:9-11.
The Watchtower, August 1, 1963 Issue, Pages 473-474:
When the Christian considers the Scriptural aspects of disfellowshiping it should make him keenly aware of the displeasure God expresses toward persistent wrongdoing. It should make him realize just how serious a thing it is to practice sin. It should make him reaffirm his determination never to pursue a course of wrongdoing. How disastrous it is to be disfellowshiped! What great reproach is brought upon God, upon God's congregation, upon the individual concerned and upon his family members!
With such grave consequences involved, a few who have fallen into sin might be tempted to reason this way: 'Well, I know I have done wrong, but I also know that if I tell anyone about it I might be disfellowshiped. I've learned how terrible this can be, and I don't want to go through that. I had better not tell anyone about this. Nobody will ever know, and all that shame will be avoided.'
Such reasoning ignores many things. One is God's quality of mercy. Another is the benefit that comes from being disciplined by Jehovah. The heart attitude of such a person is wrong. His reasoning is fallacious and dan gerous to himself. In the first place he does not appreciate that this will begin to sear his conscience and open the way for more wrongdoing. Since he "got away" with it once, it will be easier to do again. The fallacy is that his sin is not against just another person, or against just God's congregation. His sin is against Jehovah! While it might be possible to hide a course of wickedness from other people for a while, it is not possible to hide it from Jehovah!
Jehovah observes what men do. "Jehovah is in his holy temple. Jehovah-in the heavens is his throne. His own eyes behold, his own beaming eyes examine the sons of men. Jehovah himself examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one." (Ps. 11:4, 5) "The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, keeping watch upon the bad ones and the good ones." (Prov. 15:3) "For my eyes are upon all their ways. They have not been concealed from before me, neither has their error been hid from in front of my eyes." (Jer. 16:17) "As for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is."-1 Sam. 16:7.
From this it is evident that a person overtaken in serious violations of Jehovah's laws should not try to "get away" with sin and think he will be free from Jehovah's discipline. "God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones." (Jas. 4:6) Jehovah will oppose any who sin grievously and who then try to remain in his clean organization without confessing their error to the visible authorities in the Christian congregation. The person who falls into sin, but who wants to do what is right, should go to the overseer of the congregation and make an honest confession of his transgression. Said the Bible writer James: "Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed."-Jas. 5:16.
If this openness, humility and willingness to confess are not manifested, then this person will be plagued by a guilty conscience whenever he hears or reads counsel regarding such matters in the future. If he hardens himself, he will eventually be taken out of God's congregation by the angels. Jesus warned: "The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness." (Matt. 13:41) Jehovah withdraws his spirit from such an individual, as in the case of King Saul. (1 Sam. 16:14) With this powerful force for protection gone, the person may be led to complete debauchery and control by demonic forces.-1 Cor. 5:5.
The honest-hearted person should not lose sight of Jehovah's marvelous quality of mercy when he considers seeking out the overseer for confession and correction. If someone is overtaken and breaks God's law, but quickly confesses, it may be that in Jehovah's undeserved kindness he will not be cut off from the congregation. Instead, other disciplinary measures may be taken. However, this is for the congregation committee to decide in harmony with Jehovah's just requirements balanced by His mercy and forgiveness.
if a Christian knows definitely of a grievous sin that was committed by another
in the congregation? Is he under obligation to bring it to the attention of
the congregation? If the sin is the kind that would bring reproach upon God
and upon His congregation, especially if it could lead to disfellowshiping,
then the Christian is obligated to go to the congregation committee and tell
them what he knows of this. One who fails to do this fails to show love for
God and the congregation, because he allows uncleanness to remain in it.
The Watchtower, March 15, 1959 Issue, Pages 171-172:
There are other sins besides fornication for which disfellowshiping is the need.
Paul wrote the congregation: "I am writing you to quit mixing in company
with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater
or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.
. . . Remove the wicked man from among yourselves." (1 Cor.
5:11, 13) If anyone commits sin deserving of disfellowshiping but wakes up to
the baseness of his wrongdoing and how far he has displeased God, what should
be his heart condition? A grieved one; he should be painfully grieved and should
repent. He should confess his sin not only to God, who already knows of it from
observation, but also to God's visible organization through its local theocratically
appointed servants. It is a critical time to seek reconciliation with God and
his people through Christ, appealing for mercy. In harmony with this, the Scriptural
advice is: "Is there anyone [spiritually] sick among you? Let hi m
c all the older
men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, rubbing him with
oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed
one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also if he has committed sins, it will
be forgiven him. Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray
for one another, that you may get healed." (Jas. 5:14-16) This course of
self-humiliation and confession of spiritual need assists the sinner to reconciliation
with God. It helps him to keep strict watch thereafter on how he walks before
The Watchtower, August 15, 1958 Issue, Page 511:
Dilemma of the Confessional
SUPPOSE you had a dear friend who was soon to be hanged for a murder he was innocent of, convicted upon perjured and circumstantial evidence. Then suppose the murderer came to you and confessed his guilt. Would you not immediately notify the police so that your innocent friend would not need to die? Of course you would! But if you were a Roman Catholic priest, and this man had confessed to you, you would have to stand helplessly by as your dear friend died for a murder he did not commit. Fantastic? Not according to Catholic theologians.
Thus the Catholic Herald, London , England , May 9, 1952 , in its question column published the following: "Can the seal of confession be broken by a priest in the interests of justice, e.g., in such a grave matter as murder? No. Nothing whatever, except the consent of the penitent (which he can never be obliged to give), can release a priest from the seal. . . . even if the circumstances were such that the priest thought it the criminal's duty to give himself up-even to save an innocent life-the priest himself could never make use of knowledge which does not belong to him at all, but only to God."
Two actual incidents illustrate the foregoing: "Returns Bank Loot, Won't Bare Thief. Priest's Lips Sealed. . . . part of the money taken by a repentant bank robber has been returned by a Denver priest to whom he confessed, but authorities still don't know his identity. The Roman Catholic priest, with a 'sacred obligation' to reveal nothing heard in the confessional, yesterday returned to authorities $6,850 in bills he said was part of $7,780 taken in a daylight robbery here Feb. 17. . . . The United States attorney said the priest promised to relay a message that partial return of the money would not absolve the robber of 'criminal responsibility.' 'I hope now that he will decide to clear his conscience entirely by coming to the proper authorities,' said [attorney] Kelley."- Los Angeles Herald & Express, April 13, 1955 .
The second incident was reported by The Inland Register, a Spokane , Washington , Roman Catholic weekly, August 14, 1953 . It told of an item that appeared in the London Times regarding a priest to whom a certain convict, thinking he was dying, confessed as having committed the crime for which another man was serving a sentence. The convict recovered, but upon his death, a year later, the priest revealed his confession, causing the innocent man to be set free. It was pointed out that even death does not free a priest from his seal, and that if true, this was perhaps the first time in history in which a priest broke his seal and revealed what had been told him in a confession.
out: perhaps there may be some man that will carry you off as his prey through
the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according
to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.-Col. 2:8.
The Watchtower, December 15, 1957 Issue, Pages 744-747:
"Confess Your Sins"
THE inspired apostle John said: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity." (1 John 1:9, Dy) Do you confess your sins? Do you do it in the way God provided, the way he instructs in his Word? Millions throughout the world enter a confession box and make their confession to a priest. Millions more do not. Personal preference, traditional practice and the opinions of men should not be the factors that determine what we do. It is the Bible that guides a Christian in the path approved by God. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."-Ps. 119:105, AV.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains confession in this way: "The confession is made not in the secrecy of the penitent's heart nor to a layman as friend and advocate, nor to a representative of human authority, but to a duly ordained priest with requisite jurisdiction and with the 'power of the keys', i.e., the power to forgive sins which Christ granted to His Church." In answer to those who may contend that only God can forgive sins, this same encyclopedia quotes St. Pacian, bishop of Barcelona, as saying: "This (forgiving sins), you say, only God can do. Quite true: but what He does through His priests is the doing of His own power." And St. Augustine forcibly sets out the scope of that authority to forgive when he says: "Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God has power to forgive all sins."-Vol. XI, pages 619-621.
The Bible too is appealed to as authority for the practice of confession among the Catholic population. Did not Jesus say to Peter: "And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven"? (Matt. 16:19, Dy) And the footnote adds: "The loosing the bands of temporal punishments due to sins is called an indulgence; the power of which is here granted." By this procedure, we are assured, both the guilt of sin and the eternal punishment for mortal sin are remitted. Jesus' words to his disciples, in John 20:23, are also called upon: "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." (Dy) And so that none should miss the point being stressed by the church, the footnote in the Murphy Edition of the Catholic Douay Version states: "See here the commission, stamped by the broad seal of heaven, by virtue of which the pastors of Christ's church absolve repenting sinners upon their confession." That Christ could forgive sins is unmistakably shown in the Scriptures. (Mark 2:7-11) Does the foregoing evidence show that priests have like power to "absolve repenting sinners upon their confession"?
There are at least three factors on which the strength of the arguments presented in The Catholic Encyclopedia and in Catholic Bible footnotes depend. Are all sins forgivable? Is there temporal punishment after death for the soul of one sinning? Are Catholic priests the priests of God?
When St. Augustine said we should not listen to any who deny that the church has power to "forgive all sins" he spoke rashly, advising us not to listen to Christ. For Christ Jesus said, in Matthew 12:31, 32, as quoted from the Catholic Confraternity Bible: "Therefore I say to you, that every kind of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven to men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. . . . it will not be forgiven him, either in this world or in the world to come." Not all sin is forgivable.
While it is true that one may suffer both mentally and physically while one lives because of sins committed, that suffering ceases at death. "There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest." (Job 3:17, AV) But is not the soul yet alive? "The soul that sinneth, the same shall die." (Eze 18:4, Dy) Consequently, to man, the soul, apply the further texts: "For the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more." (Eccl. 9:5, Dy) "His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish." (Ps. 145:4, Dy) There is punishment for the wicked, yes. "These shall go into everlasting punishment." But that punishment, likened to being cast into a lake of fire, is death: this is "the second death."-Matt. 25:46; Apoc. 21:8, Dy.
In the confession box itself the procedure is not in accord with the counsel of Christ, and consequently not conducted by men who show by obedience that they are priests of God. When the penitent enters the confession box she says, "Bless me, father, for I have sinned." She has been instructed to begin in that way. To whom is she speaking? Ask any Catholic and he will assure you that the priest is being spoken to, of course. Yet Jesus showed that the practice is wrong. He said: "Call none your father upon earth: for one is your father, who is in heaven." (Matt. 23:9, Dy) Those who ignore his counsel do not act for him.
Where, then, did this practice of auricular ("in the ear") confession originate? Alexander Hislop shows that in ancient Babylon and Greece secret confession to a priest was required of all who were admitted to the Mysteries, with questions on morals being asked that are comparable to the ones asked in the confessional today. The pretense was that confession was needed to purge the conscience of guilt in order to avoid the wrath of the gods. The fact is that it gave great power to the pagan priesthood over the lives of those who came to them and were required to divulge their inmost thoughts. The doctrine of penance was reconfirmed in the Roman Catholic Church by the Council of Trent in 1551, and again it has served to give the clergy tremendous power over the lives of men.
The enforcing of auricular confession set a moral trap for priests under vows of celibacy. Young men, with the God-given desire for marriage throttled, were now called upon to inquire minutely into the morals of female penitents who came to them to confess. There was no proper outlet for their emotions permitted by marriage, yet the intimacies of sex relations were constantly forced upon their consciousness. Is it any wonder that the church had to bring into existence a body of legislation restricting improper use of the confessional? So widespread was priestly seduction in Spain that Pope Pius IV called on the Inquisition to prosecute the matter. When threatened with punishment if they would fail to report such acts, so many women in Seville alone filed complaints against the clergy that the matter had to be dropped.
But what about John 20:22 , 23, quoted earlier? Does it not authorize confession? No; it does not even mention it. If this referred to auricular confession and forgiveness of sins were dependent upon it, is it not strange that not a word regarding auricular confession do we read from Matthew 1:1 to Revelation 22:21?
Nor would it be proper to conclude from Matthew 16:19 that Christian ministers make decisions on forgiving sins that heaven is then called on to ratify. This text is speaking of the keys (or means of opening or unlocking knowledge) of the kingdom of the heavens and the opportunity to enter it. Peter used the first of these keys in unlocking this knowledge to the Jews at Pentecost. Three and a half years later he was directed by heavenly decision to unlock knowledge of this opportunity to the Gentile Cornelius and his household.-Acts, chapters 2, 10.
The pronoun "you" in the Greek text at Matthew 16:19 is singular, addressed to Peter, and the keys were used by him alone. Properly the New World Translation renders it in harmony with the Greek text and in accord with the Biblical principle of the supremacy of God, saying: "Whatever you may bind on earth will have been bound in the heavens, and whatever you may loose on earth will have been loosed in the heavens."
Matthew 18:18 contains a similar statement, but with the plural pronoun "you." Here the preceding verses show that the matter being discussed involves a decision on the part of the older men in the congregation on retaining in or expelling from the congregation an individual who has sinned against his brother. But here, too, the matter is already decided upon in heaven. How so?
Christian overseers are appointed by God's holy spirit, in that they are designated such by the organization on which God's spirit operates, in harmony with the inspired requirements for overseers found in the Bible and in view of the fact that their life gives evidence of the fruits of God's spirit. (Acts 20:28 ) It is this same holy spirit that makes possible the forgiveness of sins. (John 20:22, 23) The spirit-filled Christian overseer knows what decisions have been made in heaven on the matter of forgiveness, because these decisions are recorded in the Bible, and he knows that those righteous principles continue to apply and govern cases of wrongdoing today. (Matt. 18:15-17; Luke 24:27; Gal. 6:1) Consequently, he is called upon to apply the Bible principles to the case at hand, and whatever decision in accord with that written Word he may now make binding on the individuals concerned is the decision already bound in heaven.
This is in accord with the counsel found in James 5:14-16: "Is there anyone sick among you? Let hi m c all the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, rubbing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him. Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed." This in no wise describes Catholic auricular confession. It is sound counsel for Christians who become spiritually sick to seek the help of mature men of the congregation, openly confessing their sin. These older men are not authorized to inquire minutely into every aspect of the individual's private life.
The erring person has become so sick spiritually that he no longer feels that his prayer has effect. So the mature overseer, having faithfully applied the soothing oil of God's Word and strengthened with it the one seeking help, aids him by expressing for him his request to God for forgiveness. It is His forgiveness that counts. "I have acknowledged my sin to thee: and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord. And thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin." (Ps. 31:5, Dy) The overseer does not presume to take the role of God, nor to be the mediator between God and men. Rather, as a loving Christian brother, he approaches God in prayer along with the spiritually sick one, doing so through the one Mediator Christ Jesus, and faithfully pointing out Jehovah's loving provision for forgiveness. It is Jehovah who restores the truly repentant one.
you confess your sins? You should, but do it in the way the Bible instructs.
The Watchtower, December 1, 1953 Issue, Page 728:
Even though Paul was constantly active in Jehovah's service, he never took the
attitude that he had done enough so that he could now relax and slow down or
retire. He did not advocate a mere confession as the way to become reconciled
to God. Rather he pictured himself as pursuing and stretching forward toward
the goal that God sets up in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:13, 14) He realized his
imperfections and shortcomings and knew that it was only through Jehovah's mercy
that he had the wonderful privilege of knowing the truth and bearing witness
to God's purposes. He said: "For I am not conscious of anything against
me. Yet by this I do not stand vindicated, but he that examines me is Jehovah."
(1 Cor. 4:4, NW) While at times we can encourage and strengthen our brothers
by listening to their problems and giving them Scriptural counsel, we should
never think that a confession is going to change their standing before God.
It is the course of action that a person follows that counts, not mere words.
He must no longer be guided by the old-world standards, but must make his mind
over according to God's Word of truth. This is clearly shown in Hebrews 10:26-29
(NW): "For if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate
knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but
there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy
that is going to consume those in opposition. Any man that has disregarded the
law of Moses dies without compassion, upon the testimony of two or three. Of
how much more severe a punishment, do you think, will the man be counted worthy
who has trampled upon the Son of God and who has esteemed as of ordinary value
the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has outraged the
spirit of undeserved kindness with contempt?"
The Watchtower, May 1, 1951 Issue, Pages 268-271:
The Prayer of Faith During Sickness
THE disciple James speaks about the prayer of faith for the sick. Does he not contradict what has been said above? Let us examine his words on this: "Is there anyone suffering evil among you? Let hi m c arry on prayer. Is there anyone in good spirits? Let him sing psalms. Is there anyone sick among you? Let hi m c all the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, rubbing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him."-Jas. 5:13-15, NW.
2 The context makes it clear that James is here talking, not of physical, but of spiritual sickness. He first mentions suffering evil. That refers to "suffering evil for the good news according to the power of God". It means enduring some hardships for serving as a Christian witness of God and keeping one's integrity toward God. (2 Tim. 1:8, NW) So, if one is suffering thus, let hi m c arry on prayer so as to be helped to continue faithful, advises James. But, James, what if anyone is in good spirits? "Let him sing psalms." Doing so, he edifies himself and those hearing him. But what if anyone is not in good spirits? In other words, what if one is sick spiritually? The fact that James contrasts being sick with being in good spirits plainly indicates he is dealing with spiritual and not physical sickness. The course of treatment he now recommends also argues it is spiritual sickness. The older men of the congregation, who are full-grown in the faith and full of wisdom from above and acquainted with God's instructions, are the proper ones for the spiritually sick one to call in. If he were ailing physically, he would call in a doctor, if he could afford it, or would resort to some medicinal remedy.
3 What are the older men of the congregation to do with the one sick spiritually? They are to pray over him, so that he can hear what they pray and can show he agrees, with his "Amen!" He has fallen into such a spiritual state that he cannot properly pray on his own accord any more. Not able to ask in faith and with an unwavering mind, he has no confidence in his own prayer. (Jas. 1:6, 7) Something has brought on this spiritual illness. The older men must ascertain what this is. Paul, too, refers to this kind of sickness and tells one cause, the improper celebration of the Lord's evening meal or Memorial supper. "For he that eats and drinks eats and drinks judgment against himself if he does not discern the body. That is why many among you are weak and sickly and quite a few are sleeping in death. But if we would discern what we ourselves are, we would not be judged." (1 Cor. 11:29-31, NW) Those in this condition were not keeping unity with the Christian congregation, the body of Christ. So Paul as an older brother wrote them for their help and spiritual cure.
4 The older men of the congregation are not merely to pray with the spiritually sick. They must also rub him with oil in the name of Jehovah. Not literal oil, like the so-called "extreme unction" of Catholics, or like that described at Mark 6:13. The "oil" here is the soothing word of instruction from the Holy Scriptures and it restores the spiritually sick one to unity with the Christian congregation which is in God's favor. As it is written: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard; that came down upon the skirt of his garments." (Ps. 133:1, 2, AS) Speaking of oil to symbolize refreshment and soothing, Psalm 23:5 (Mo) says: "Thou hast poured oil upon my head, my cup is brimming over." The healthful effect of God's message is described at Proverbs 15:30 in this way: "Good tidings make the bones fat." (AS) And the correction which leads to spiritual health is described as soothing and curative by the psalmist when he says: "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be as oil upon the head; let not my head refuse it." (Ps. 141:5, AS) And that it denotes a means of healing is shown when the good Samaritan poured oil along with wine into the wounds of the man waylaid by robbers. (Luke 10:34) So the older men of the congregation are to rub the spiritually sick one with oil in the sense of stimulating him with the soothing, healing, comforting, corrective Word of God.
5 In the name of Jehovah they are to do this. That is to say, in faithfulness to Jehovah God and according to his purpose, so as to aid the spiritually ill one to recover and have a part anew in vindicating God's name and proving the Devil a false god and liar. Those older men must pray in faith, believing that God's Word is right and has power to help the sick one to see the error of his way and to recognize the right way. Such a united prayer of faith, together with the invigorating application of God's Word, will make the spiritually indisposed person well. It will build up his confidence in God's promise and in the rightness of God's Word and way, and will restore him to that way. Thus "Jehovah will raise him up", giving him strength to go in the way of truth and righteousness, and lifting him up out of his despondency and a feeling of being abandoned by God. His spiritual illness may have been due to getting into the bad habit of neglecting to meet with God's people or due to failing to feed regularly on God's Word and active service. Or he may have committed some serious sins for which he has been put out of favorable relationship with God and his organization. But now if he responds to the prayer offered unitedly by older men of faith and to their healthful stimulation of reproof, correction and exhortation from God's Word, and turns around and resumes the right way, what sins he has committed will then be forgiven him. This forgiveness is not on the basis of any self-righteousness in him, but is on the basis of Jesus' righteous sacrifice for sins.-1 John 1:7 to 2:2.
6 Hence, in direct contrast with the secret confessional carried on by some religious systems, James instructs us: "Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed. A righteous man's supplication when it is at work has much force." (Jas. 5:16, NW) Since the illness is connected with sins, it is apparent that the unhealth is spiritual, not physical. Otherwise, the sinners against God would all be in states of serious bodily disease or sickness. But such is not the case. Oftentimes worldly sinners are in far better physical health than faithful servants and witnesses of Jehovah God. To illustrate the powerfulness of prayers by the righteous man, not a sin-sick man, James calls to mind Elijah's prayer: "Elijah was a man with feelings like ours, and yet in prayer he prayed for it not to rain, and it did not rain upon the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the land put forth its fruit." (Jas. 5:17, 18, NW) The land of Israel was smitten with drought and famine because the nation was spiritually sick and out of harmony with Jehovah God. Elijah called for the fire test to demonstrate that Jehovah is God, and when the people at Mount Car mel acknowledged this and shouted, "Jehovah, he is God," and then turned the demonized prophets of Baal over to be executed, Elijah prayed for rain upon their land. It came. In un shaka ble faith he prayed seven times for this miracle of rain. Prayer works.
So by praying for those who are spiritually sick and who plain-spokenly confess
their sins to us and seek our spiritual aid they "may get healed",
spiritually so. This saves them from lapsing into spiritual death which would
end up in their destruction from all future life. In their case Almighty God
would destroy "both soul and body in Gehenna". (Matt. 10:28, NW) To
encourage us to thus help brothers who are spiritually ailing and in dan
ger of fearful consequences,
James ends up his letter with this powerful reminder: "My brothers, if
anyone among you is misled from the truth [this resulting in spiritual illness]
and another turns him back, know that he who turns a sinner back from the error
of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."
(Jas. 5:19, 20, NW) Those sins which the spiritually sick person confessed and
from which you prayed for him to be healed will be covered over. God will remember
them no more, but will renew his peaceful relations with the returned sinner.
It is by the sin-canceling blood of Jesus that the sins are thus covered over,
but your prayer helped to move the divine arrangement of things to such a result.
For such a privilege of lifesaving service you can be very thankful.
End of Quotes about Confessing Sins to Elders