Before God and one another: United Methodists and confession
Sin is a constant struggle. The Bible tells us that we all sin, and John Wesley noted in a sermon how Christians continue to struggle with sin even after their conversion. In “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” Wesley writes,
How naturally do those who experience such a change imagine that all sin is gone; that it is utterly rooted out of their heart, and has no more any place therein!... But it is seldom long before they are undeceived, finding sin was only suspended, not destroyed. Temptations return, and sin revives; showing it was but stunned before, not dead.
Many of us can relate. Sin is a persistent force in our lives.The good news is that when we confess our sin, God promises to forgive us (1 John 1:9).
When we gather for worship, United Methodists often pray a prayer of confession together. Through a prayer from The United Methodist Hymnal, The United Methodist Book of Worship, or another source, and a time of silent prayer, we confess our sinfulness before God.
The confession should be followed by declaration of pardon, which may be as simple as, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!” Confession and pardon together remind us that we are sinners saved by grace.
Of course, we need not wait until the next worship service to confess our sin. We can go to God in prayer at any time to acknowledge our failures and struggles, and ask for God’s forgiveness.
Rules of the Band Society
In his instructions for how to hold a band meeting, John Wesley said every member should be asked these questions at each weekly meeting:
- What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
- What temptations have you met with?
- How was [sic] you delivered?
- What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
- Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?
John Wesley, “Rules of the Band Societies” The Works of John Wesley Vol 9 p 78
Before one another
Many United Methodists also gather in small groups to confess their sin to one another for support and spiritual growth. People in our lives who pray for us, cheer us on, and ask how things are going are a source of strength as we confront temptation.
These types of small groups have their roots in the earliest days of the Methodist movement. John Wesley recommended that Methodists meet weekly with approximately five people in a small group called a band, where they would confess their sins to one another.
The purpose of the bands, according to Wesley, was “to obey that command of God, ‘confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another that ye may be healed’ [James 5:16]” (John Wesley, “Rules of the Band Societies” Works 78).
There is little evidence that bands were ever very popular in a formal sense. Through the years though, many Christians have found strength in being held accountable to their vows to live as Christ would have us live.
Dead to sin; alive to God
In worship, small groups, and anytime we choose, United Methodists confess our sins before God and one another. When we do, God forgives us and we receive strength to be, in the words of Wesley, “more and more dead to sin, [and] more and more alive to God” (from “The Scripture Way of Salvation”).