Why go to Confession?

John Twisleton’s précis of his 1978 Church Literature Association booklet

Why go to Confession? Catholic Christianity answers ‘because the church says so’ even if Anglocatholics have to admit the existence of the Anglican rule ‘all may, none must, some should’ implied within the Book of Common Prayer.

Why go to Confession?

In my booklet published by the Church Union I give three reasons: ‘to deal with my sins, to deal with my feelings of guilt and to renew my membership of God’s family’. I also deal in the booklet with the old chestnuts: ‘Do I need a priest to put me right with God?’ ‘Surely Confession is only for serious sins?’ ‘I never thought confession was Church of England.’ ‘I’d be too embarrassed to go’ and ‘Isn’t it good enough to join in the general confession on Sunday?’

Why did you start going to Confession?

If you ask people that question their answer is a lot less theological and often more to do with the catching of a Catholic vision of holiness. In my own case it came about through my choosing to worship at St. Mary Magdalene, Oxford as a student. There seemed to be a powerful sense of God’s presence about the Catholic worship and also about the parish priest. Evangelisation was very gentle in those days. No one pushed to get me signed up as a full church member. Eventually I was invited to tea at the Vicarage. Fr. John looked across the tea table – this was a man who could talk about God anywhere – and asked ‘John, have you ever thought about going to Confession?’ It was hard to say no to someone with such a force of holiness. It was really the last thing I would have chosen to do in some ways but eventually I did it and have done it again and again ever since.

Pascal said ‘holiness is the church’s most powerful influence’. People respond most generously when they catch a vision of something worth going out of their way for. Kneeling before God and giving him your heart is going out of your way in the fullest sense. Many of us were first brought to our knees in this way by such a joyful encounter with Christ in holy people. Others came more dutifully as in the best preparation for Confirmation and First Holy Communion.

Going to confession is always a combination of duty and joy. Despite having such a joyful, visionary start I have nevertheless found myself going many a time out of blind trust in the church’s wisdom to call us regularly to account in this way.

Why go to Confession?

To be part of a continual stripping and reclothing essential to the living out of our baptism. This is a stripping away of things like unbelief, indifference, selfishness and wastefulness unspectacular and taken for granted in the eyes of the world but hateful to God. The devil is expert at making sin lurid and confession hypocritical but anyone who draws close to God knows otherwise.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life Romans 6:3-4

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God Colossians 3:1,3

Confession is a doing to death of the sinful nature and a fresh welcoming of the new nature given to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Rightly the emphasis should be upon this welcoming, which is why talk of ‘going to Confession’ has given way somewhat to talk of ‘welcoming the sacrament of reconciliation’. This makes the important point that, as with all sacraments, the emphasis is properly made more upon what God gives in forgiveness than upon our own action of confession, costly and important as that is.

For Anglican Catholics there remains an element of choice about using this Sacrament. It is not the sort of choice you take lightly. It is hard for committed Christians to ignore such an invitation to welcome Christ into their lives. Michael Ramsey once said of our church: The Anglican Church is committed not to a vague position wherein the Evangelical and the Catholic views are alternatives, but to the Scriptural faith wherein both elements are one. Ramsey himself used and commended Sacramental Confession as a practice fully in harmony with scripture which combines the Catholic and Evangelical elements integral to the Gospel.

I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you…’ ‘Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found! Luke 15:18,22,23