A Community of Un-devout Sinners
By John Havens
February 6, 2006
"The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and devout people, they do not have fellowship as the un-devout, as sinners." – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel.
Some of the greatest breakthroughs in our church occur when we are challenged by the pastor to write down a sin that we are dealing with and nail it to the cross. To some this is unheard of—being open about our failures—but open confession is often a giant step in developing true community.
Raw honesty is a hard-core discipline within community. It’s natural to hide our struggles so we don’t have to face them. Sometimes we think that we're the only ones who struggle with certain sins, so we keep them to ourselves. For some it's further than that: We hide our sin from ourselves, in denial, thinking that we don't even have a problem.
And then there's the worst killer to confession: Sometimes we believe that God overlooks our sin. Or we don’t deal with our shortcomings because we feel like we have to be perfectly put-together to come to God.
When I read the Scriptures, I see people everywhere being incredibly honest with God, so much that our "rational" way of thinking is, "How can they approach God so honestly?” It seems that they're insulting His integrity by asking these things and by demanding things from Him. Moses, David, Paul and countless others had some real issues that they didn't hold back from God. There was a sense of authenticity mixed with reverence in the way they approached God.
This kind of relationship with God seems so out-of-reach for most of us. It’s a natural reaction to hide our sin: from others, from ourselves and from God—believing that we can never be honest and open with anyone. Because, heaven forbid, someone may see us for who we really are. And because of this community is lost and complacency settles in.
God wants us to ask hard questions, to deal with our heart-issues directly with Him. He'd prefer us be real and insult Him instead of fake—which is actually more insulting.
Confessing to others is another struggle in the journey of vulnerability. It really only seems to happen in small groups and even that takes time before we can "bare all.” But when it comes to church all of our sins are hidden. We smile, shake hands, worship God and then leave. It's a perfect world at church isn't it? When we gather, it seems we enter a new world. And so, as I've heard many times before, the church becomes a museum—or a cemetery—rather than an outpost for God’s mission.
Do you view church this way? Is it a place where only "good people" are welcomed? Is it a place where goodness and glory and honor are maintained? Or is it a place to be real, to worship in raw intimacy and to speak the truth—even when it’s painful to say?
Why do we keep secrets from one another? Why do we feel compelled to present ourselves as pure—we’ve got it all together—when, of course, we don’t have it all together. The truth is we're lost, broken and hurting people who need repair, and God has chosen community to be the context of healing and growth.
So, what would happen if we left the paper unfolded when we nailed it to the cross? What would happen if you had to say aloud what you were about to nail to the greatest symbol of renewal and regeneration? Would this result in brokenness? Would we see honesty? I believe we would see what God intends for the church.
Is this even possible? Can this happen in our churches? Can we learn to acknowledge our struggles publicly? I don't know. I can't even fathom the brokenness that regular confession like this would bring; when our masks are removed. Confession drives us to be authentic, transparent people, only when we learn this will we be, as Manning put it brilliantly, "the fellowship of un-devout sinners."