Communal confession

I heard last Sunday from a preaching pastor[1] that the plurals in the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” indicate that “confession is done in community.”

Let’s examine this idea — not because I disagree with the conclusion, but because I challenge the way this well-meaning man reached  the conclusion.

The plurals he spoke of are these:

  • Our  Father”
  • “Give us  this day . . .”
  • “Forgive us  our debts, as we forgive . . .”
  • “Do not lead us  into temptation, but deliver us  from evil”

First:  there is no confession per se included in this prayer (not as the pastor was using the term, anyway).  The “forgive” request in this prayer is not specific, and there is no obviously personal aspect.  Surely Jesus and the Father do want us to confess personally, but that desire doesn’t really appear in this “model prayer.”

Second, and more significant:  this model prayer is found within a specific literary context.  I haven’t spent as much time with this gospel as with Mark or John, but I do know that, in Matthew, a sectional structure — including so-called “teaching blocks” — plays a major role in how the gospel is laid out.  Considering this particular teaching block, one would want to know something about a) how chapters 5-7 fit into the whole, and b) how this prayer fits into the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” (not a biblical label).

One might also inquire into such aspects as

  • how Matthew treats prayer from a Jewish, and then a new-Kingdom, perspective
  • what significance there might be in the concepts of forgiveness, debts, “kingdom,” end-time matters
  • how the Father is understood in this text
  • the relationship of this prayer to the one recorded in Luke 11
  • immediate contextual matters (alms, hypocritical religion, etc.)

Other questions:

Did this amount to new garments on a traditional body for prayer?

Or was Jesus providing the disciples with a framework for a completely new kind of prayer that should now become typical for them?

Could Jesus have been acknowledging Jewish synagogue custom of public prayer here, using it as a basis, in the time period before Pentecost?  (A follow-up here might involve whether the kingdom is generally seen, in Matthew, as having begun already, during the time before Jesus’ crucifixion.)

Could Jesus have been using the royal “we” and “us”? Or perhaps he was not implying a grouped, public sort of praying, but was speaking plurally to his hearers who were assumed to be individuals when engaged in the actual act of prayer?

What about the history of the evangelical “altar call” or “invitation” might come into play?confession

Is an innate evangelical reaction to the Roman “confessional” at work here?  In other words, do the rest of us believers naturally assume the confessing-to-one-cleric thing is off-base, and therefore lean toward the opposite extreme — assuming the whole gathered church should hear a confession?

~ ~ ~

Again:  I heard it said that the plurals in the “Lord’s Prayer” indicate that “confession is done in community.”

I have not raised questions here because I think confessing sin to some group is a bad idea.  I, too, tend to gravitate toward a small group, or to one sibling, for some “confession.”  I think confessing to one another is a good  idea, in many cases.

But I question whether the confession-to-the-whole-community conclusion may rightly be drawn from the “Lord’s Prayer,” and I think it is important to be circumspect and careful with biblical texts.


[1] I specify “preaching pastor” because, biblically speaking, pastors would not be assumed to be public teachers/preachers.  Today’s pastor role — while it may make sense in some scenaria — is not, by and large, a scripturally supported role.


One thought on “Communal confession

  1. Brian Casey 09/29/2014 / 3:35 pm

    A friend wrote (privately and tongue-in-cheek, so I guess I won’t share his name!),

    Surely you know that God neither hears our confession or forgives our sin unless we have walked the walk of shame to the front of the auditorium and confessed to the preacher or the elder who “runs” the church, but has yet to actually meet you.

    It is this walk of shame that actually cleanses us.


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