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Public Confession of Sin

Recently in Adult Sunday School the following question was raised: “When a public sin has been committed, does the church have the biblical right to demand a public confession?”

Although the question did not get answered, the discussion seemed to favor that a public confession should be voluntary in order to have real meaning. Please comment.

Herman Vander Vos

Bozeman, MT

Response:

The article of the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches which speaks to your question is Article 75, “The reconciliation of all such sins as are of their nature of a public character, or have become public because the admonition of the church was despised, shall take place (upon sufficient evidence of repentance) in such a manner as the consistory shall deem conducive to the edification of each church. Whether in particular cases this shall take place in public, shall, when there is a difference of opinion about it in the consistory, be considered with the advice of two neighboring churches or of the classis.”

The answer to your question is, yes, the consistory has the right to demand a public confession, if it deems this to be conducive to the edification of the church. The breach caused by the sin must be removed in the most edifying way for the congregation and the repentant sinner involved. If the repentant sinner is willing to confess his/her sin before the consistory, but is unwilling to make public confession of the sin, he/she would have the right to appeal the consistory’s decision to the broader assemblies (classis, synod) of the denomination.

In any event, public confession which is not voluntary is meaningless. Unwillingness to make a public confession on the part of someone who has committed a public sin may very well indicate to a consistory that there is “insufficient evidence of repentance.”

– Editorial Committee