The law governing confession


Confession and repentance are linked. Talking to the elders of the church (see D&C 58: 1), the Lord said, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58: 42-43.)

This means that unless a man confesses his sin, he hasn’t truly repented of it, even if he forsook (stopped doing) the sin. The sin must be confessed before repentance is complete and before it is blotted out and forgotten by the Lord. This brings us to the all important question:

To whom are we to confess?

There are three classes of people to whom we are to confess, depending on the circumstances. There is the Offended Party, the offended party and also the non-offended party.

Confession to the Offended Party (God)

The first class is God himself.

If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her. (D&C 42: 92)

But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord. (D&C 59: 12)

Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death. (D&C 64: 7)

All sins offend God and thus we are required to confess all sins to him in prayer. Sometimes, only God is the Offended Party, no other person being involved in the sin. Such “private sins” require only confession to God in order to obtain forgiveness.

Confession to the offended party (man)

Other sins, however, offend or hurt or cause damage to other people and we must also confess these sins to these people in order to obtain forgiveness from the Lord.

But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord. (D&C 59: 12)

If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her. (D&C 42: 92)

Reconciliation

If a man has sinned only against God and repents (confesses to God and forsakes the sin), God almost always forgives him.

There are those among you who have sinned; but verily I say, for this once, for mine own glory, and for the salvation of souls, I have forgiven you your sins. I will be merciful unto you, for I have given unto you the kingdom. And the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom shall not be taken from my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., through the means I have appointed, while he liveth, inasmuch as he obeyeth mine ordinances. There are those who have sought occasion against him without cause; nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death. (D&C 64: 3-7)

If a man has sinned against another man and repents (confesses to God and to the offended man and forsakes the sin), God almost always forgives him but the offended man is required to always forgive him.

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64: 10)

And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled. (D&C 42: 88 )

For all the non-death sins (see D&C 64: 7), the sinner becomes reconciled to God and to the offended party when confession to both parties takes place.

Confession to be done privately (in secret)

Whether confessing to God in private, personal prayer or confessing to an offended mortal party, all confessions are to be done in secret (privately.) Only the repentant sinner and the offended parties are to hear the confession.

And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled. (D&C 42: 88 )

If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her. (D&C 42: 92)

Even when confession takes place among un-offended parties (ecclesiastical authorities, which I’ll address in a moment), it is to be done privately, not publicly.

And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world. (D&C 42: 89)

Not forgiving confessed sin brings condemnation

The offended party is required to forgive the sinner who confesses his sin and asks forgiveness, no matter how many times this occurs.

And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled. (D&C 42: 88 )

If reconciliation does not occur after a genuine confession, the offending party commits sin and requires repentance (confessing the sin to the unforgiven sinner.) This law applies equally whether the unforgiven sinner is LDS

My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds. (D&C 64: 8-11)

or whether he is non-LDS

And again, verily I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy—and so on unto the second and third time; and as oft as thine enemy repenteth of the trespass wherewith he has trespassed against thee, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven. (D&C 98: 39-40)

As long as an offended party remains unrepentant of his unwillingness to forgive the repentant offender, his sins remain unforgiven by the Lord.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, my servants, that inasmuch as you have forgiven one another your trespasses, even so I, the Lord, forgive you. (D&C 82: 1)

Confession to un-offended parties (ecclesiastical authorities)

Only when a sinner refuses to repent, offering no confession of guilt to the party offended, are the ecclesiastical authorities to be informed of the sin.

And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation. And this ye shall do that God may be glorified—not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver—verily I say, for this cause ye shall do these things. (D&C 64: 12-14)

And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled. And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world. (D&C 42: 88-89)

The purpose of reporting is two-fold: 1) to help the sinner repent of the sin by confessing to the offended parties (D&C 42: 92) and 2) to keep the church free from unrepentant sinners.

And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation. And this ye shall do that God may be glorified—not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver—verily I say, for this cause ye shall do these things. (D&C 64: 12-14)

As the church is composed of repentant sinners (justified people), in order for it to remain justified the sinners that compose it must remain repentant. If the church ever becomes composed of unrepentant sinners (unjustified people), the church itself becomes unjustified.

A process, then, of cleaning house has been set up by the Lord. The unrepentant sinners are brought to the ecclesiastical authorities and if they repent by confessing and forsaking their sins, no judgment is pronounced upon them. If, however, they refuse to repent, they are cast out of the church (excommunicated), thereby keeping the church justified.

The law of witnesses

Although a man may be accused by someone of committing an unrepentant sin and may be reported to his ecclesiastical authority, he is always innocent until proven guilty. He need not respond to the accusations. Even if a bishop asks him point blank, “Did you or did you not commit such and such a sin?” he is under no obligation to respond to such questioning, whether he be innocent or guilty.

The onus is on the testimonies of the two or more witnesses. And these must be bona fide witnesses, having personal knowledge that a) he committed the sin and b) he did not repent of it by appropriate confession to the offended parties and by forsaking it. Hearsay testimony does not constitute a witness.

The ecclesiastical authority obtains jurisdiction as a judge only when there are two or more witnesses. Since the ecclesiastical authority is not an offended party and does not have personal knowledge of the unrepentant sins in question, he must rely upon at least two LDS witnesses who are shown to be trustworthy, otherwise no judgment can happen.

And it came to pass that Alma did not know concerning them; but there were many witnesses against them; yea, the people stood and testified of their iniquity in abundance. (Mosiah 26: 9)

The only reason LDS should be reported to the ecclesiastical authority is because they do not repent. Merely having knowledge of a sin is not enough. A witness must have knowledge that the sin has not been confessed to the offending parties and forsaken.

And he said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes. (Mosiah 26: 11)

One witness is insufficient to convict (or condemn) because it is merely one man’s word against another’s. But two or more LDS witnesses empower a bishop or other ecclesiastical authority to pass judgment.

Confession to a bishop without witnesses or inquiry is non-scriptural

There isn’t a single passage of scripture that states or even hints that to receive forgiveness a LDS must seek out his bishop and confess to him a sin he has committed if there are no witnesses testifying of his impenitence or if there are no inquiries regarding his spiritual state. Forgiveness of sin is granted by the Lord alone and hinges upon a person’s repentance (confession to the offended parties and forsaking of the sin) and whether the sin is a “sin unto death.”

Confession during trials

After a trial is set up and two witnesses testify and condemn the man, if he confesses, the judgment must be stayed. He is to be forgiven and all parties reconciled. This is the law.

Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also. Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me. And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation. • • • And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church; (Mosiah 26: 29-31, 35)

Only when he still refuses to confess, even in the face of witnesses, is his name to be blotted out.

Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward. • • • And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out. (Mosiah 26: 32, 36)

The special sin of adultery

Adultery, like other sins, requires confession to God and to the offended parties, in order to be forgiven. It does not require automatic confession to the ecclesiastical authority.

Only in cases of unrepentant adultery, where witnesses give irrefutable evidence of both the sin and the unrepentant state of the sinner, is the case to be brought to the ecclesiastical authority for judgment. This is the first time spoken in the scriptures. But if the adulterer or adulteress confesses, he or she is to be forgiven.

Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also. Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me. And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation. • • • And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church; (Mosiah 26: 29-31, 35)

But he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive; (D&C 42: 25)

However, if the man or woman is again taken in adultery, with witnesses testifying of both the sin and the unrepentant nature (lack of confession) and is brought to his or her ecclesiastical authority for judgment a second time, regardless of the second time confession, he or she is to be cast out.

But he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive; but if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out. (D&C 42: 25-26)

This is the two strikes and you’re out rule of adultery. It does not apply to those who commit adultery and then confess to the offended parties, never being brought by witnesses to trial. The rule applies only to adulterers and adulteresses who are dragged by witnesses to the ecclesiastical authority to be judged for their unrepentant nature and lack of confession TWICE. The first time, if they then confess, they are forgiven, but the second time, even if they confess, they are to be cast out.

When inquiries are made

Inquiries are made when people are desirous to be baptized, as to whether they have committed and repented of their sins. This is entirely scriptural.

Behold, verily I say unto you, that whatever persons among you, having put away their companions for the cause of fornication, or in other words, if they shall testify before you in all lowliness of heart that this is the case, ye shall not cast them out from among you; but if ye shall find that any persons have left their companions for the sake of adultery, and they themselves are the offenders, and their companions are living, they shall be cast out from among you. And again, I say unto you, that ye shall be watchful and careful, with all inquiry, that ye receive none such among you if they are married; and if they are not married, they shall repent of all their sins or ye shall not receive them. (D&C 42: 74-77)

Inquiries are also made for temple recommends and priesthood ordination. A simple “yes” or “no” to each question is a sufficient response. No elaboration is required.

Silence is also your right, should you decide to use it. Silence does not indicate that you are guilty, only of your unwillingness to answer the question. Both Alma and Amulek employed such a tactic (see Alma 14: 17) as well as the Lord himself, when he was questioned by the ecclesiastical authorities of the church of his time (see Matthew 26: 62-63; Mark 15: 3; etc.)

As all accused are innocent until proven guilty and the burden of proof is upon the witnesses and judge, no one in the church has to prove his or her innocence. So, when faced with false accusations, it is within the right of every LDS to shut their mouths and remain silent.

Witch hunts: the danger of non-scriptural confessions

Witch hunts can and do happen in this day and age, even in the church. People in authority are naturally disposed to abuse it.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121: 39)

Because of this, the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical authorities was designed by the Lord to be established by two or more witnesses. If a bishop, a police officer or a Child Protection Services agent is anonymously tipped off that you are doing something sinful or illegal, the natural tendency is to view you with suspicion and to engage in a witch hunt and inquiry to get you to blab and reveal some dirt that can and will be used against you. Such people will use the garb of authority to intrude on your life and invade your privacy. This particular brand of tyranny is especially bad when ecclesiastical authorities engage in this practice because they are using their priesthood illegitimately.

The modern trend of ecclesiastical authorities is to obtain jurisdiction over members through voluntary confession of sins. The members are taught by their leaders that certain sins are bad enough to warrant a talk and perhaps discipline from church leaders and cannot be forgiven by the Lord unless the sins are first voluntarily confessed to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority.

It is understandable why leaders follow this practice. Obtaining witnesses is a hard, often futile process. Nevertheless, it is also the only scriptural way to obtain the jurisdiction to judge a member’s spiritual standing in the church. When the law of witnesses is circumvented, the ecclesiastical authorities set themselves up as both witness, judge, jury and executioner, as the sinner’s confession to them is thought to both establish jurisdiction and to convict (condemn.) This sets up a conflict of interest (the loss of impartiality) and puts an enormous amount of power in the hands of one man, power that was never meant to be there. It also conflicts with established scriptural order, as once someone confesses to a sin and shows remorse, they are to be forgiven, and thus no discipline could or should ever take place.

By obeying the proper protocols of repentance and confession and exercising one’s right to silence, as explained in the Lord’s scripture, such tyranny is nipped in the bud and all attempts at usurpation of priesthood authority will be quashed.

Previous Repentance article: Are we commanded to confess to ecclesiastical authorities without witnesses?

Complete List of Articles authored by LDS Anarchist

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12 Comments

  1. [...] for Grace post The law governing confession Which sins do you confess to the bishop Confession Possibly related posts: (automatically [...]

  2. From Boyd Packer’s most recent Gen Conf address:
    The priesthood holds consummate power. It can protect you from the plague of pornography—and it is a plague—if you are succumbing to its influence. If one is obedient, the priesthood can show how to break a habit and even erase an addiction. Holders of the priesthood have that authority and should employ it to combat evil influences.

    Here is an example of baiting for confessions. Viewing pornography does not break the law of chastity — yet Boyd is attempting to guilt men or women who have to seek out an ecclesiastical leader as the only one with authority to combat its evil influence.

  3. Pornography is a topic that I had always intended to address on this blog. At some point, though, I lost interest in writing about it. If you or any of the other blog authors want to take it up, be my guest.

  4. If no one opposes, I’d volunteer to write that sometime next week.

  5. [...] way of full disclosure, I volunteered to write this post because I have personal experience with the topic.  I’ve viewed online [...]

  6. Fascinating post LDSA. I’m glad you provided a link to it.

  7. This is an extremely helpful piece. Thanks for doing the legwork on this.

    In my youth I slogged through “The Miracle of Forgiveness” as a part of what I thought was an essential part of my forgiveness. What a waste of time. I’ve since learned that the Lord’s forgiveness is instantaneous; it’s the church leaders who required way too much from me.

  8. Well said Rock! I hope young people in particular will come across this post, the comments and that they will recognize the wisdom in your words.

  9. So, if I had a husband right now, and he committed adultery, confessed to me, vowing to never do it again, not only should I forgive him, but he would have no need to go to a bishop about it? Strangely enough, this sounds right and true.

    Justin, just reading your Oct 11, 2010 quote (without knowing the rest of the talk), my inclination was to think that Elder Packer was saying a man could call upon the power of the priesthood he held to help him overcome – or that priesthood blessings could be given to both men and women to help them overcome. I saw nothing that said to me one must talk to an ecclesiastical leader about it.

  10. Toni:

    I agree with your first paragraph.

    In re: to

    my inclination was to think that Elder Packer was saying a man could call upon the power of the priesthood he held to help him overcome – or that priesthood blessings could be given to both men and women to help them overcome. I saw nothing that said to me one must talk to an ecclesiastical leader about it.

    I took Boyd’s quote in the context of what “The Priesthood” means among the current church leaders.
    [Articulating in a tongue-and-cheek manner by Daymon Smith here]

    In other words, from Boyd’s world-view “the priesthood” that holds consummate power — are the key-holders who are placed in charge over the porn addict.

    More from Boyd’s address:

    Priesthood holders carry with them the antidote to remove the terrible images of pornography and to wash away guilt. The priesthood has the power to unlock the influence of our habits, even to unchain from addiction, however tight the grip. It can heal over the scars of past mistakes.
    I know of no more beautiful and consoling words in all of revelation than these: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
    Sometimes, even after confession and paying penalties, the most difficult part of repentance is to forgive one’s self. You must come to know that forgiveness means forgiveness.
    Emphasis mine

    He equates “priesthood holders” who “carry with them the antidote” as the bishops who sinners confess to and who give out the necessary “penalties” for the “repentance process” to be “complete”.

    Though I like your personal-level understanding of his statement, I can’t bring myself to think that Boyd’s point was that priesthood holders who are habitually viewing pornography ought not go to ecclesiastical leaders about it — but use their own access to God’s power personally in their own life to fix the addiction. I’d imagine the response to that being something along the lines of, “How can a priesthood holder have power to do anything when he’s weighed down with the sin of pornography?” Etc.

  11. True, I wasn’t even thinking of “the priesthood” as meaning “the hierarchy”. I think of “the priesthood” as meaning the brotherhood of the priesthood. My perceptions are changing as I read things like Daymon Smith’s dissertation, among many other things (web sites like this one, for example). But, as you helped me see, my change in perception doesn’t mean others’ perceptions have changed.

  12. Directly under the heading “When Inquiries are made” it says:
    “Inquiries are made when people are desirous to be baptized, as to whether they have committed and repented of their sins. This is entirely scriptural.”

    I feel the scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants that is quoted after that statement doesn’t seem to necessarily support the idea of a baptism interview but rather a church membership interview.

    Scriptures in the Bible and Book of Mormon don’t seem to indicate the need for an inquiry before baptism. Faith and repentance seem to be left up the individual and god in these matters.

    For membership in the Church however it would seem prudent to have such an enquiry especially considering matters of sexual nature in order to protect the members from potential sexual predators.

    I could be off base on this but just a thought.


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