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General Confession

This week's Baptist Times has published a couple of letters in repsonse to the Apology for Slavery issued by BUGB.  Whilst they raise valid issues, I find myself irritated by them, because they feel as if somehow there is a holier-than-thou mood about them.  I'm sure this isn't what was intended, I'm sure it's just me.  I'm trying to grow in grace!

One comment was on Baptist ways of doing things - essentially that Council didn't have the right to issue this without it going to Assembly first.  The letter points to the way we (theoretically) conduct church business and reads across.  It makes sense but... surely this was a moment when delay was unhelpful.  Also, if we take seriously our history, the old Assemblies which did make bold statements on issue have in real terms been superceded by Council.  I fear we are putting protocol in where it suits us, and happliy ingnoring it where it doesn't.

Another comment seemed to pick up something about tokenism - but which way I wasn't sure.  If we are giong to apologise over slavery, it asserted, what else?  There could be an endless list - indeed there could.  If the point was, as I'm sure it was, that we must beware tokenism, it was a valid one.  However, isn't it good if we've finally recognised the need for confession and apology and taken a step to be different from now on?  I think it is.

I recognise that we cna't be forever issuing apologies on this, that or the next thing, and lots of the 'sins of the parents' we do not know about.  But the wonderful General Confession prayer which is printed inside the cover of such delights as BPW or BHB offers us a good model for approaching this... 

Father eternal, giver of light and grace,
we have sinned against you and against our neighbour,
in what we have thought,
in what we have said and done,
through ignorance, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We have wounded your love
and marred your image in us.
We are sorry and ashamed,
and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died for us,
forgive us all that is past;
and lead us out from darkness
to walk as children of light.

(This version, B33 Common Worship)

If we, as Baptist Christians could truly pray this prayer, truly live its outworking, wow, what a difference that would make to this battered world of ours.

In so far as it is in my gift, I am sorry for the evil perpetrated by those from whom I am descended genetically, nationally or spirtually, and pray that the God who forgives, will give me grace to live in penitence and faith.


  • Confession is good for the soul. I like that as Presbyterians, we say together some confession of sin nearly every Sunday. Whether we mean it or not is a different story. But, at least we say it.

  • I haven't read the letters so shouldn't comment... but here goes.

    I don't understand the suggestion (if such a one was made) that because we haven't apologised for everything we can't apologise for anything (no matter how serious and far-reaching the original offence).

    The language of apology has come in for criticism in the public arena in recent years, as nobody seems really sure what such apologies signify. Spin? Or does it imply a change of behaviour will follow (and is that too much to expect of such a diverse body as the Baptist family)? I guess some may feel that apology lies within the private sphere rather than the public for that reason.

    But insofar as it is able, Council has signalled its public intent to amend corporate Baptist actions in line with a change of heart on an important issue and to use its influence accordingly. That seems to be an act of grace. Christian people, "against such things there is no law".

    Sorry, counter-kneejerk over.

  • Andy - I think we are agreeing on this, so I don't think the knee jerk is counter, but hey, who's worried?!

    I saw the apology as a good thing, and am sad others are not covinced (but the poll on Glens site show's they weren't).

  • I'm intrigued by a thought in John's first letter - namely, that if we confess our sins God will forgive us our sins AND cleanse us from all unrighteousness. To me that seems to say that there is a balance here: we confess the sins we are aware of, and as long as we have that honest, open attitude, God deals with the rest. There may be things we are unaware of marked "unfinished business" or "to be dealt with later" but it seems to be another aspect of grace, namely, that God deals with us gently and slowly, pointing out the areas that need change in a measured way so that they can be addressed properly, not overwhelming us with everything at once. (The things which we know about and where we are resisting the Spirit's nudging and the clear teaching of Scripture are another matter entirely!)

    Perhaps we could extrapolate from this to say: sometimes a "big" confession / apology for some wrong may be necessary and helpful (and the 200th anniversary around the abolition of slavery certainly focuses the mind on that specific subject); nevertheless, that is not the same as poring over our own lives or those of our forebears to see what was wrong fifty or a hundred and fifty years ago ...

    Do we need to confess the sins of previous generations? At one level, no, because sin is an individual responsibility. But at another level, yes, because sin can also be endemic, institutional and ingrained, and all of us are shaped by our background and our history, probably more than we realise or care to admit. The sins which were overt and socially accepted a hundred years ago may still shape our attitudes and our society today. Confessing those things may help us to be more aware of their continuing impact and address some of our cultural blindness; if that helps us to be changed and to change the world in this generation and for the next, then this too can be beneficial.

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