A minister calls for his fellow evangelicals to recover the disciplines of Lent and the practice of confession, which we Lutherans have but also often neglect.
In his article for the Religious News Service, An American Lent: It’s time for evangelicalism to embrace the act of confession, Skye Jethani says that while evangelicals, of course, do believe in asking God for forgiveness, this is mostly relegated to conversion, to first becoming a Christian. They might ask God for forgiveness in their private prayers, but doing so corporately, or before other Christians, isn’t something that usually happens.
Corporate worship, he says, must be “positive.” He cites the advice he was given at the beginning of his ministry:
A mentor with decades of experience in a similar setting [a white, suburban congregation] warned me against focusing on sin, confession or any other “negative” topics. When I reminded him the Bible is full of “Thou shalt not…” commands, he advised me to “preach positive” instead.
This meant inverting the command against adultery into a message about the beauty of monogamy, flipping warnings about greed into the goodness of generosity and avoiding anything about judgment altogether.
Lest we Lutherans fall into self-congratulation at being different from this, I must report that a former pastor of mine told me that he heard the very same admonition to “be positive” rather than preaching about sin at a church-growth conference the district made him go to!
Rev. Jethani says that this mindset is at the root of many of the church’s problems and the spiritual dysfunction of many Christians:
When self-examination isn’t valued and cultivated, it’s all too easy to see Christian faith as a battle between external agents of good and evil rather than an internal struggle against my own sin. Without self-awareness the great threat to the faith is always from those on the outside, never the existence of the transgressions of those on the inside.
I would add that a low awareness of one’s own sinfulness contributes to a low awareness of the grace of God in Christ. We need the Law for the sake of the Gospel, which itself also is often relegated to the past–to the time of the evangelical’s conversion–rather than as an ongoing reality we must continually come back to.
Lent, which begins today with Ash Wednesday, is a time for that to happen.