In the Christian understanding, all are sinners (Rom. 3:23; Gal. 3:22); consequently, in order that all may be forgiven, repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel. A key element of repentance is confession: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). Accordingly, confession is one of the five steps of repentance outlined by Spencer W. Kimball: (1) conviction of and sorrow for sin, (2) abandonment of sin, (3) confession of sin, (4) restitution for sin, (5) doing the will of the Lord.Confession is not a mechanical requirement, nor is it an ordinance, like baptism. Undertaken in obedience to commandment, confession either to a bishop, to God, or to offended parties is a concomitant of the change of heart that constitutes true repentance and results in reconciliation with God. Pride and fear prevent confession, but if one has truly repented and received the Spirit of the Lord, pride and fear will be overcome.
While this requirement that a person acknowledge guilt seems at first simple and straightforward, in fact it poses many questions. The obligation to confess is basic doctrine, but the scriptures prove silent or ambiguous when the question shifts to what, when, where, to whom, and even why to confess. This article examines current and past Latter-day Saint doctrine and practice, the reasons why Latter-day Saints confess, the scriptural background, and confession in other Christian churches. While the accompanying summaries and descriptions of authoritative Church statements, instructions, and various comments about this vital religious practice constitute the opinions of this author, hopefully this information will be useful to lawyers, counselors, other professionals, scholars, and Latter-day Saints in general.
Current LDS Doctrine and Practice
A look at the LDS practice of confession identifies certain variations over time, principally in the decline of public confession and the institutionalization of confession to one’s bishop. But these variations have always been consistent with the basic commandment to confess one’s sins.
To Whom Is Confession Made?
Today in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, penitents confess to God in prayer (for example, Ps. 32:5–6; Dan. 9:3–6, 20–23; Alma 17:4; D&C 64:7), to individuals they have hurt,and to their ward bishop. The last of these is the primary focus of this study. Statements about confession do not always specify which mode of confession is intended, but it is clear that several forms may be involved. The scriptures say, “I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness” (D&C 64:7). They also instruct that a Sabbath-day obligation is to “offer . . . thy sacraments . . . confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord” (D&C 59:12). Therefore a duty exists to confess not only to God in all events, but also in certain circumstances to the Church, the organization that God has established for the welfare of his children. The modern Latter-day Saint application of the latter obligation is that “confession to a church official (in most cases the bishop) is necessary whenever one’s transgression is of a nature for which the Church might impose loss of membership or other disciplinary action.”
While bishops and branch presidents are the principal recipients of confidential confessions, their priesthood leaders—stake presidents and General Authorities—may on occasion also receive such confessions.If a bishop’s counselors come to know while interviewing that there is something to be confessed, they refer the matter to the bishop. A stake president’s counselors, on the other hand, are not quite so restricted, depending on their charge from their stake president. The taking of confessions is a responsibility of priesthood leadership in line authority over the confessor.
In rare instances, after private confession the bishop may require public confession for the well-being of the Church or interpersonal confession to facilitate resolution of hard feelings among the affected parties. The bishop may require a public confession because, in addition to the responsibility he has toward the individual seeking forgiveness, he has a responsibility to protect the good name of the Church,to quell unsettling rumors, and to promote peace.
Unlike the Catholic tradition of making confession in a confessional boothand using formulaic words, the LDS tradition is wholly informal and face-to-face with the bishop. The confession is conducted in a private setting so that discussion can be confidential.
What Needs To Be Confessed?
Latter-day Saints are free to confess to their bishop any kind of misdeed that weighs upon their souls,but what needs to be confessed to him varies with the circumstances. Specific guidelines come into effect mainly in connection with preparations to receive priesthood ordinances.
For Baptism. At the time of baptism, at least a general confession is required:
All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church. (D&C 20:37; see also Alma 32:16)
This passage is not taken to mean that a public profession of faith and confession of sins is required before baptism. Rather candidates are interviewed privately—children of members by their bishop and converts by a mission leader—about their commitment to the gospel generally and about certain external indications of resolve: meeting attendance, tithing, and the Word of Wisdom. They are not asked to detail all their past wrongful conduct. However, adult candidates are to be asked expressly about three things that are considered sufficiently serious to call for extra assurance that Church standards are understood and accepted. The three are commission of serious crime, involvement with abortion, and homosexual acts. Assuming repentance, none of these is in itself disqualifying, with the possible exception of murder, but they do call for an interview with the mission president and, in some circumstances, with higher authorities.
For Baptized Members. A baptized member must, as a matter of formal Church teaching, confess to God all failings, admit to other individuals the ways in which the member’s conduct has injured them,and reveal spontaneously or disclose voluntarily to the bishop anything that might justify Church discipline. Currently, the last category is further described as including any sexual relations outside marriage, involvement with abortions (subject to some exceptions ), and any deliberate and major offense against the law (such as murder, burglary, theft or fraud, sale of drugs, and serious bodily harm to another—particularly physical or sexual abuse of spouse or child). Other acts may, under their own circumstances, be just as serious. Failures to live up to some of the commitments made at baptism such as paying tithing, attending meetings, paying debts, avoiding contention, or obeying the Word of Wisdom are normally not matters that call for formal Church discipline, but confession may still be encouraged. Confession has been urged if someone even contemplates serious wrongdoing: “If someone has . . . even considered abusing or offending a child [sexually], may he, this day, confess and repent and forsake such evil thoughts or actions.”
For Ordination or Temple Recommend Renewal. One who desires to receive priesthood ordination or to participate in temple ordinances must meet a set of high religious standards. For Aaronic Priesthood ordination, interviews with boys twelve to sixteen are likely to be less pointed than are those with adults, although the standards are nominally the same. In interviewing adults for temple recommends, the bishop or stake leader asks a set of detailed questionsabout matters of faith, loyalty, and obedience. The bishop is instructed to use great care in interviewing so that no unworthy person is given a recommend. Dishonestly answering the questions asked by the bishop, who stands as a representative of God, and entering the temple unworthily are grievous sins compounding the original sin. In addition to the serious sins listed above that might call for Church discipline, the temple interview questions are also concerned with whether a candidate is presently living the general standards of the Church. Thus, if a person has not previously confessed and resolved any significant religious transgressions or moral failings, the questions asked in these interviews are designed to prompt the person to confess those sins.
Indeed, in such interviews, people also frequently tell the bishop voluntarily about matters he does not need to hear about and possibly would prefer not to hear about.Partly because there is some uncertainty about just what should and should not be confessed, some confess more, others less; a person with a scrupulous conscience tends to err on the side of saying too much rather than too little. Also, there is little publicity concerning even the guidelines that are clear, perhaps out of concern that such might appear too legalistic and that identifying some sins as not serious enough to require confession to the bishop might be understood as labeling them inconsequential.
For Missionary Service. Those being considered for a missionary calling must meet additional criteria.Generally, once something has been properly resolved with priesthood authorities, it need never be mentioned again; but in the interview with prospective missionaries, a few matters are considered so significant that, even if previously confessed and resolved, they are the subject of further inquiry to ascertain that confession and repentance has been complete. These include adultery, fornication, heavy petting, homosexual activities, or other sexual immoralities; drug misuse; or a serious violation of the civil law.
When Should Confessions Be Made?
Anyone with personal concerns is always free to arrange a time to meet privately with the bishop, but there are many other opportunities for confession. Some, such as tithing settlement and temple recommend interviews, normally occur at the initiative of the member. But other occasions are initiated by the bishop or his counselors, such as callings to Church positions or priesthood offices and periodic youth interviews (ideally once or twice a year for each young person). All these provide recurring private opportunities to talk.If the bishop has reason to believe there is a problem, he may, of course, request an otherwise unscheduled interview for the specific purpose of discussing the perceived problem.
The ideal is for confessions to be spontaneous, motivated by conscience alone. But often they come when triggered by an interview initiated by the bishopor by encouragement or pressure from family members or friends who are aware of a problem. Confessions may also occur during an investigative inquiry or in a Church disciplinary proceeding after formal accusation.
When asked about improper conduct, a person who is at fault can confess, lie, or refuse to answer. But since a refusal to answer would be perceived as an indirect admission, that option is rarely chosen unless the person is at the point of withdrawal from the Church.Consequently, the real choices are to tell the truth or to lie, and to lie is itself compounding the sin. A believer is thus under great moral and personal pressure to confess whenever a priesthood leader asks directly about misconduct.
Who Grants Forgiveness?
Christ gave his apostles power to bind or loose on earth, and told them, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). This power included authority to remit or retain sins on earth, and they would be remitted or retained in heaven (John 20:23). Latter-day Saints understand that in New Testament times Christ granted to his apostles more than a power merely to recommend forgiveness;Christ vested a present spiritual power in the apostles and in their successors and assigns that is itself efficacious. In the restoration of the gospel, God gave the same powers to the Prophet Joseph Smith and to his successor prophets and those to whom the prophets may delegate the power of absolution. The power to forgive on behalf of the Lord has not, however, been delegated to stake presidents or bishops. They may waive penalties that the Church is entitled to exact, but they are not empowered to absolve. Those who can forgive or remit sins are extremely few in this world:
The bishop, and others in comparable positions, can forgive in the sense of waiving the [Church] penalties. In our loose connotation we sometimes call this forgiveness, but it is not forgiveness in the sense of ‘wiping out’ or absolution. . . . It is the Lord . . . who forgives sin. . . . Let it be said in emphasis that even the First Presidency and the apostles do not make a practice of absolving sins.
What Confessions Are Confidential?
It appears that confidentiality is more a matter of Church policy and practice than of doctrine, although a general religious obligation exists to keep all sacred things private to an appropriate extent (Matt. 7:6). A bishop is generally expected to maintain strict secrecy,not voluntarily to disclose anything told to him, without the confessor’s consent, even if the matter confessed is a crime. However, the LDS bishop is expected normally to conform to the compulsion of law, if it requires divulgence of confidential matter.
Frequently a person confesses without stating any reservations and with no specific expectations about confidentiality, simply trusting the bishop to do whatever ought be done. Such a confessor may be willing, in pursuit of forgiveness, to do whatever is asked—submit to excommunication, make public confession, report to the police, or offer restitution.
But sometimes the confessor has spoken only reluctantly and is unable, at that time, to accept the full consequences of confession. The bishop then is free to encourage openness but not to insist on it. A common occurrence is for young people to confide in the bishop but to balk initially at his urging that they disclose their conduct to their parents. If the confessor refuses to let the bishop divulge the confession, it cannot be used, even in an internal Church disciplinary council.In that situation, it is not clear whether the bishop can properly divulge the information even to his administrative superior, the stake president. Such a bishop might well feel a need to seek advice on how to proceed, but that normally can be obtained without identifying the person involved. The difficulty is compounded when the bishop has not asked permission and thus has not been formally forbidden by the confessor to discuss the case.
The insistence of the confessor that the bishop tell no one (or no one outside the Church disciplinary mechanism) does not ordinarily create any legal problems for the bishop, since the law does not impose on citizens any general duty to report a crime to the police, no matter how serious.
Child abuse, however, is a major legal exception. As of 1995, fifteen states made it a misdemeanor for any person, including clergy, to fail to report information received about physical or sexual abuse of a child.If, for example, the bishop is told by a confessor that he or she sexually abused a child, the law in those states requires the bishop to report that fact to public authorities, if the confessor will not. In another ten states, the bishop need not report the confession itself, but he must report information about abuse if it comes to him from some other source, such as the offender’s spouse or child. And in the remaining half of the states, the bishop has no legal obligation to report and generally does not, because of his ecclesiastical obligation of confidentiality.
A few of the states that make it a crime to fail to report child abuse also threaten civil liability for any further injury to the child victim that would not have occurred if the required report had been made. So many uncertainties are involved in such cases that clergy have so far generally escaped civil liability,but the prospect of litigation itself creates another pressure to breach confidentiality and report the abuse.
When faced with the question of reporting crime, presumably even with respect to people dangerous to themselves or others, the LDS bishop is advised to maintain silence if the law allows.In order to do this, if called as a witness to testify in court, he would first invoke the confessor’s priest-penitent privilege to maintain the secrecy of confessions; and second, the bishop could assert his own constitutional right to the “free exercise of religion” on the grounds that he is under Church obligation to keep confidences secret.
However, if the legal demand to report or testify is determined to be constitutional, it is then logical for the bishop to comply with the law, even though this violates the confessor’s expectations and runs counter to the bishop’s normal practice.If the bishop knows in advance that he will be legally obligated to breach confidentiality, he is advised to inform the member of that duty as soon as the bishop becomes alerted to this possibility by the direction of the conversation.
The issues just discussed do not exhaust the moral or ethical problems. There may be highly unusual circumstances, aside from legal compulsion or the confessor’s consent, in which a bishop might feel bound to breach confidentiality. Sometimes the expectation of confidentiality is unreasonable. For example, one who makes a statement to the bishop as a neighbor (rather than as bishop) or makes a statement in defiance rather than in confession might be entitled to no protective secrecy.Or the confessor may threaten future harm of such gravity as to tip the balance. If he or she were to confess the serious contemplation of suicide, the inability to resist hurting someone, an intention to commit an abortion, or a plan to marry without disclosing to the marriage partner a sexually transmissible disease, the balance may favor the bishop’s disclosure, even at the cost of decreasing some people’s trust in the bishop as one who will maintain strict confidence.
Functions of Confession, Sincere and Insincere
Confession serves several functions. Sincere confession effects change as part of the repentance process, reconciles and supports, relieves psychic tension, and is an important factor in determining Church sanctions. Occasionally, insincere confession is used to deceive and manipulate.
Aid to Change
The scriptures repeatedly command confession of failures to obey God’s mandates: “I command you again to repent . . . and . . . confess your sins” (D&C 19:20). However, people approach confession with a wide range of attitudes: some confess out of fear of Church penalties or God’s wrath; others confess in mechanical obedience to commandment or in search of help to overcome temptation or out of a desire to please God. When confession is understood to be an element of repentance and thus a prelude to God’s forgiveness, the person who can overcome fears of the possible earthly consequences will confess in order to obtain the spiritual benefit.
Confession to one’s bishop does sometimes avoid penalties and does please God, but its greater importance may be in its capacity to aid change. Such confession helps bring about the humility and submission that is part of harmonizing human will with God’s will.Confession helps break down pride, since one cannot easily admit error and remain proud. Humbling is especially likely if one admits weakness to a bishop whose regard the confessor values. Public confession would involve additional social humbling. Confession reminds people of their own weaknesses and God’s strength, the acknowledgment of which is itself commanded.
Articulation of fault strengthens resolve to change. It gives a name to the enemy.As a marker of commitment, it reinforces a determination not to slip back. It indicates acceptance of responsibility for one’s conduct. It helps to assure the contrite that they have really repented and are ready to move on. Even reluctant or partial confession opens the door. It gives the bishop an opportunity to persuade the confessing party of the desirability of full confession and repentance.
Though most people probably err on the side of too little self-disclosure, some cannot feel satisfied, and they confess repeatedly, wondering compulsively whether their confession was adequate, legalistically cataloging every failing, unable to trust in the principle of forgiveness.
Reconciliation and Support
A person confessing offense against another will ordinarilybe instructed by the bishop to seek out the offended person, acknowledge fault spontaneously, and ask forgiveness. Such action opens a door to reconciliation, which lies near the heart of the Christian gospel. Christ prayed fervently for the unity of believers (John 17:20–22).
People called to teach may sometimes use their own past or present weaknesses for illustrative purposes. Confession of this sort can teach humility by example and demonstrate both that good people are flawed and that flawed people can become good.Such openness may lead to discussion that benefits class members who may have been discouraged because they perceive everyone else as perfect or who may have interpreted Church members’ reluctance to admit to failings as hypocrisy.
Confession to a receptive, sympathetic individual or group can have the effect of mobilizing support, both psychic and personal.A secular analog is seen in Alcoholics Anonymous and the many programs patterned after AA, where group help is available to those who admit their need.
But openness is not without risk. Hearing public confession of others in Church could lead to rationalizing sin: “No one is perfect! I can go through a rebellious time and still turn out all right.” Furthermore, there is tension between the idea that adopting the appearance of good leads one to do good and the idea that appearing good when one is not constitutes hypocrisy.
One who seeks to abandon sin may feel a need to pay for the wrong done, and confession is one means of expiation through suffering humiliation by the exposure of one’s shame. By confessing, such a person may feel that he or she has personally paid off some cosmic debt. On the other hand, when one realizes that the debt is beyond one’s ability to pay (Mosiah 2:23–24; 4:19), he or she may experience relief through understanding that godly sorrow and confession open one up to divine forgiveness through Christ’s atonement.That forgiveness is symbolized in the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.
Confession can bring great psychological relief, just as exposure of a sore to air and light generally helps in the healing,although excess can do harm. Sometimes full revelation of oneself is not therapeutic. Brigham Young said:
Confess your faults . . . not on the house tops. . . . If persons lose confidence in themselves, it takes away the strength, faith and confidence that others have in them; it leaves a space that we call weakness. . . . The enemy . . . would . . . say, ‘Here is your wickedness made manifest,’ and would overcome you and destroy all the confidence you have in yourselves and in your God.
Pursuit of human counseling may be one result of confession.The bishop can, through pastoral counseling, help a person change from sinful to righteous living. Although the bishop may lack professional training, he can draw on his personal and practical experience to console and advise, and he also has access to inspiration. To a person who believes the bishop’s calling is divinely recognized, the bishop’s advice carries extra authority. The bishop may also properly refer the confessor to professional counselors.
A Consideration in Church Discipline
Confession to the bishop has a special relationship to Church discipline, since the sins one must disclose to the bishop may well result in institutional discipline. The bishop, as a common judge in Israel, has the responsibility to make a decision about consequences appropriate to the sin confessed or reported to him. The ordeal of real repentance and confession may itself be enough, but the bishop may feel it appropriate for the person to also be placed on informal probation. If that is not enough, the bishop may refer the matter to a ward or stake disciplinary council (formerly called a bishop’s court or a high council court), which has authority to impose three sanctions: formal probation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication.
After formal sanction, a member’s restoration to full status may require substantial time and activity in the way of restitution and proof of sincerity. Conditions of probation may include self-reporting of criminal conduct to the police but usually not public confession.
Sanctions imposed may depend on the degree of repentance the bishop perceives, which perception in turn might be influenced by the spontaneity of confession or willingness to confess when asked. Spontaneous confession is a very strong indication of repentance. “Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble” (Alma 32:16). But confession in a disciplinary proceeding, especially if made only after extensive questioning or confrontation with evidence, may not reflect a sincere desire to repent. Conversely, where there is abundant evidence of a member’s repentance before confession, conduct that might otherwise have called for a severe sanction may be treated more gently.
When the purpose of confession or discipline has been served, Church sanctions end, and eventually full status may be restored. The bishop may say he believes God has forgiven the transgressor, but the bishop does not himself extend absolution. If he says that he forgives, he can mean only that he waives penalties that the Church is entitled to exact; forgiveness belongs to God.
Not all confession is sincere. For example, when people have been accused of wrongdoing, they may confess in mere pretense of repentance, or they may make a partial confession to prevent revelation of the whole truth.Their sin having been discovered, they may see confession as a device to persuade others that repentance has taken place, thus avoiding discipline or other consequences.
Confession in Scriptures
We turn now to the history and practice of confession in various dispensations of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Modern Latter-day Saints have been reared to see the need for confession to one’s bishop as almost self-evident, but the scriptural and historical records paint a more varied picture. The present LDS practice of confession to one’s bishop relies primarily on the authority of tradition and modern-day inspiration, rather than on a specific instruction found in the standard works.
Of the several kinds of confession—to God (in prayer), to a person offended (seeking reconciliation), to the Church congregation (either confessing specific acts or making only a general acknowledgment of wrongdoing), and to the bishop (seeking consolation, advice, and/or forgiveness)—the first three are referred to repeatedly in the scriptures. But private confession to a bishop or analogous Church officer is not ever clearly commanded, although there are several passages describing what could be private confession. The silence in the scriptures is ambiguous. It can mean that there was no regular practice of private confession, that the practice of private confession was so common as to be unremarkable, or that the practice came into use so gradually that no one thought to comment on it.
The Old Testament features various forms of confession.The most prominent cases involve collective acknowledgments of sin or guilt by the assemblies of Israel. Sometimes the priest or prophet acted as voice for all. For example, once each year during the Day of Atonement ceremonies, the high priest was required to lay his hands on the head of a live goat and “confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins” (Lev. 16:21), in particular their “premeditated, intentional sins.” Confession transformed brazen sins “into inadvertancies,” thus making them the kind of transgression that could be expiated by sacrifice. Other times the people themselves admitted their wrongdoings. Upon their return from Babylon, the Jews assembled together. Ezra “confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God,” and the people answered, “We have trespassed against our God” (Ezra 10:1–2; see also Neh. 9:2; Lev. 26:40).
There are also frequent references in the Old Testament to the confession of sins in prayer. In making these confessions, the penitent was encouraged to hold back nothing from the Lord. David sings, “I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5).
In addition, the Old Testament refers to individual confession in connection with sacrifice. Leviticus says of the penitent, “When he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin . . . and the priest shall make an atonement for him [by sacrifice]” (Lev. 5:5–6; see also Num. 5:7–8).Commentaries emphasize the importance of verbalizing such confessions, saying, “A guilt-offering requires the laying on of hands [by the sinner], as do all private animal sacrifices. . . . He confesses over it the sin of which he is guilty. . . . The guilt-offering requires a particular (expressed) intention that it shall atone for the sin on account of which it is offered.”
An obvious connection existed between confession and sacrifice, but a personal connection did not necessarily exist between confession and the Israelite priest. If the confession were spoken aloud, the priest undoubtedly heard it, as might others attending the sacrifice, but the Old Testament does not indicate that the confession was made to the priest as such or to the public. Since the priest was concerned with the sacrifice and apparently had no counseling role with respect to the confessed information, it appears that the confession was directed solely to God,not only in the form of an admission of guilt, but also in praise of God. The English word confession has several meanings, religious, legal, and social, but the Hebrew word yadah has an even broader range of meanings. While it often means to confess sin, its root concept is to acknowledge, such as to recognize one’s human nature, to confess or extol God’s character, to praise or to give thanks.
The later Rabbinic tradition held that “public confession of sin was frowned upon as displaying a lack of shame except when the transgressions were committed publicly.”In Judaism, generally, “confession, whether collective or individual, is always made directly to God and never through an intermediary,” unless a required confession to an injured party is rejected by that person, in which case the confession may be made to “a quorum of ten, and God would then forgive.”
There are also biblical incidents of involuntary confession in response to accusation. Joshua singled out Achan, who had disobediently hidden spoils from the conquest of Jericho, and said, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me” (Josh. 7:19). Thus challenged, Achan confessed his wrong and was consequently executed (Josh. 7:16–25). Similarly, in the face of accusation, Saul made confession to the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 15:24), and David confessed to the prophet Nathan (2 Sam. 12:13).In whatever manner, sins must be brought to light and purged. The wisdom of Proverbs admonishes: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
In the New Testament, the most common meanings of the word exomologeo, “to confess openly,” are to make a solemn statement of faith, to confess Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:11), to testify, to agree, to admit, or to praise God (Rom. 15:7–13).The word also means to confess sin, without implying when or how. James admonished the Saints, “Confess your faults one to another” (James 5:16), apparently calling for public confession, either general or specific, within the Church setting. People who went to the river to be baptized by John the Baptist confessed their sins (Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:5), whether privately, publicly, or silently we are not told. Elsewhere in the New Testament there are indications of communal acknowledgment of sin, individual reconciling with a brother whom one has offended, and also public confession, but there is no commandment to make private confession to a priestly officer. However, the lack of a commandment in the New Testament does not mean private confession did not occur, considering that today private confession is the norm without any direct command from the scriptures.
Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon teaches general confession—acknowledging wrongdoing without necessarily giving specifics. For example, when the multitude to whom King Benjamin preached comprehended their nothingness, they made general confession: “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins” (Mosiah 4:2). Christ commanded reconciliation, which may involve the sinner confessing to those offended: “[If thou] rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you” (3 Ne. 12:23–24; see also Matt. 5:23–24). Moroni described general confession to the Church: “Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins” (Moro. 6:2).
A passage strongly suggesting private confession to a Church leader tells that when the preaching of Samuel the Lamanite brought people to repentance, “they confessed unto [Nephi] their sins” as a prelude to receiving baptism (Hel. 16:1, 5).While the passage does not specify that the confession was private and particular, it could well have been.
Confessions were also to be made to Alma in order to avoid excommunication (Mosiah 26:29, 35). Bruce R. McConkie generalizes from this text a duty of private confession,but the specific context is a case involving only people who had been taken in iniquity and stood publicly accused. Their confession before Alma may well have been made in public (see Moro. 6:7), inasmuch as the public confessions of the sons of Mosiah were part of their effort to repair the injuries to the Church caused by their earlier public conduct (Mosiah 27:35). In any event, none of the relevant passages undertake to define what should be the practice universally; they primarily describe what did happen on those occasions. That which has been approved on one occasion is generally permissible on another, but not necessarily required.
Doctrine and Covenants
In the Doctrine and Covenants, most passages are general statements of the importance of confession,but some relate specifically to confession to God, to persons offended (D&C 42:88–92 and 64:12), and to “thy brethren” (D&C 59:12). None appear to call for confession to a Church officer in so many words, although again that may be implied.
The phrase “confessing thy sins unto thy brethren” in section 59 has been interpreted doctrinally as referring to confession to a bishop,but historically it appears to be speaking of public confession, that is, confession to other Church members, such as evidently occurred in early testimony meetings. Confession was listed as a Sabbath activity for when the Saints met together. Furthermore, in 1831, when the revelation in section 59 was received, Edward Partridge was the only bishop in the Church, having been called a few months earlier with responsibility to be concerned about the temporal affairs of the whole Church, not to minister to the spiritual needs of individuals (D&C 41:9). The various organized branches of the Church were under the direction of a presiding elder, analogous in function to the modern bishop, but nowhere is the responsibility of receiving private confession formally given to the presiding elder, either. If private confession occurred, it was a matter of unrecorded practice.
There is no mention of confession in the Pearl of Great Price.
Confession in LDS Church History
The precise LDS understanding and practice of confession in the early years of the Church are not easily established.Nor were they necessarily uniform. Understanding of doctrine, organizational structure, and practice changed over time as experience, new revelations, and growth necessitated adapting previous perceptions.
Early Mormon journals refer to confession at baptism. Sometimes apparently what was meant is simply being repentant or perhaps it is acknowledging in a general open way one’s sinfulness and expressing a desire to live righteously and make a commitment to God in baptism. The descriptions of early missionary activity seem to indicate that baptism followed belief and desire but not private confession.There is a sense of drawing in believers, not of screening out the unworthy. If people, however sinful in the past, heard and accepted the gospel and wished to undertake the covenant of baptism in this small, unpopular, even persecuted sect, that was evidence enough of repentance without detailing their preconversion sins to anyone but God. As with current instructions, which only a few kinds of previous misconduct need be disclosed by the person applying for baptism, early Church practice apparently did not involve rehearsing to one person prior to one’s baptism a list of sinful acts.
Wards were first designated in Nauvoo in 1839. The bishops of those wards were to look out for the physical welfare of people in their area, particularly the poor. They did not conduct worship services or have primary responsibility for spiritual matters; they were almost exclusively temporal officers.Bishops left spiritual matters to the high priests. Worship services were held not by wards, but by groups meeting in private homes, by priesthood quorums, or by the whole community.
While there is no clear documentary indication in early practice that confessing sin privately to the presiding elder of a branch was expected,numerous indications exist of public confession—either of individuals before the congregation or of small groups in mutual confessions—as an exercise in piety or reconciliation. The Doctrine and Covenants reference to the Sabbath day as a time for “confessing thy sins before thy brethren” could apply to either or both. Various occasions for confession can be documented—apologizing to persons offended, working out of interpersonal relations, responding to demands of Church discipline, and preparing to partake of the sacrament.
People who had been found guilty by a Church court were often asked to make public confession. For example, in 1840 the Kirtland elders quorum “voted [Charles Wood’s] Licence be taken from him and withheld untill he make satisfaction by confession to the Church.”Similarly, in 1841 Hyland Davis “come before the meetting and made confession and on the sabbath following went before the congregation and made his acknowledgment and was forgiven and the hand of fellowship was restored.” And the same year, “it was voted that Brother Kerr was out of order on the last Sabauth and that he make a publick confesion of the Same.” The same practice is reflected in the Far West Record. In each case, the confession responded to an accusation, and sometimes, at least, the council voted on whether the acknowledgment was satisfactory. On occasion, the confession was found to be inadequate.
Voluntary mutual confession (not required or in response to accusation) also occurred in the Kirtland elders quorum. Joseph Smith, on January 23, 1836, recorded, “Elder Alma Beaman had been tempted to doubt the things [spiritual experiences] which we received the evenings before, and he made an humble confession, and asked forgiveness of the school, which was joyfully accorded him, and he said he would try to resist Satan in the future.”And the next day, the Prophet recorded that he “called upon the High Council of Kirtland to proceed and confess their sins, as they might be directed by the Spirit, and they occupied the first part of the day, and confessed and exhorted as the Spirit led.”
We do not know how explicit these confessions were. Responses to accusations are in their nature specific, but spontaneous confessions may be more general. The only wholly voluntary confession whose content was reported in the Far West Record is Heber C. Kimball’s statement that “wherein he had been out of the way, in any manner, he ment to mend in that thing.”However, on one occasion William Smith and several others made public confession that they had wrongly believed Joseph was in transgression. And when called to be in the high council across the river from Nauvoo, Ephraim Owens apparently declined, confessing publicly that he had disobeyed the Word of Wisdom. Similarly, Luke Johnson asked to be excused from sitting on a council “because he had been previously tempted on some matters, and that he had sinned, and wished to make a more public confession than he could make here.” At a meeting on the plains, Orson Hyde “preached his celebrated bogus sermon, denouncing all bogus makers, counterfeiters thieves &c & commanding all such & all who knew of any such to come forth with and tell him & also absolved them from all former acts and covenants to keep secrets. This made quite a stir & caused some to ‘confess their sins.’”
Early Pioneer Period
Although before and during the Nauvoo period, bishops were mainly temporal officers, concerned with Church properties and caring for the poor, in Winter Quarters during the move westward, the bishop’s role began to change. Five hundred men had left to serve in the Mormon Battalion, leaving many families behind who needed attention. In establishing Winter Quarters, the city council, under direction of Brigham Young, organized the city first into thirteen wardsand then into twenty-two, each with a bishop to “see that none suffer” and “to have meetings in their several Wards for the men women & children once a week also to . . . have schools in their Wards.”
In Utah the spiritual responsibility of bishops continued to increase.Salt Lake City had five wards in 1847, which increased to nineteen in 1849, and the bishops began to assume religious leadership in the community, holding weekly meetings and a monthly testimony meeting. In that context, there came to be a mix of public and private confession.
The “Mormon Reformation”
During the powerful revival of 1856–57, commonly called by historians the Mormon Reformation,great emphasis was placed on a spiritual housecleaning. Early in that revivalist movement spearheaded by President Jedediah M. Grant, there were some overzealous expectations of public confession, but public confession was soon replaced with private confession to a bishop or block teacher. Richard Ballantine reported during early December of 1856:
During the week we met the people of each block in private houses each day at ten o’clock. We had power given us to melt the hearts of the people. . . . Many confessed their sins in part and resolved to work righteousness. We had power in some meetings to tell each one by name of their condition and of their besetting sins. Afterward we blessed them.
Although bishops were sometimes involved, the person normally assigned in the Reformation to question ward members and to receive such confession was the teacher,who went from house to house with a printed list, asking twenty-seven questions. Thirteen questions dealt with various forms of dishonesty (not paying debts, using others’ water, oppressing employees, branding strays, and the like); the remainder asked about murder, betrayal, adultery, swearing, coveting, intoxication, tithing, teaching one’s family the gospel, disloyalty to the Church and its teachings, praying, Sabbath observance, attendance at meetings, being a good parent, and bathing.
In 1860, Brigham Young reflected concern for the possible negative effects of detailed public confession:
Were I to relate here to you my private faults from day to day, it would . . . not strengthen either the speaker or the hearer, and would give the enemy more power. Thus far, I would say, we are justified in what some call dissembling. . . . Many of the brethren chew tobacco . . . If you must use tobacco, put a small portion in your mouth when no person sees you. . . .
But if you have stolen your neighbour’s cattle, own it, and restore the property, with fourfold if it is requested. . . . I believe in coming out and being plain and honest with that which should be made public, and in keeping to yourselves that which should be kept. If you have your weaknesses, keep them hid from your brethren as much as you can. . . . Confess your secret sins to your God, and forsake them, and he will forgive them; confess to your brethren your sins against them, and make all right, and they will forgive, and all will be right.
Keep your follies that do not concern others to yourselves.
He thought it better for people to try to live up to their public image than to admit their faults in public and thus confirm their secret weaknesses.Still, some degree of public confession persisted. For instance, in 1883 small group confession was practiced among the Twelve and in the School of the Prophets. The same year, John Taylor referred to an expectation of public confession of adultery or fornication. In connection with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in April 1893, the First Presidency called for universal public confession. Members were asked to meet together March 25, 1893, confess their sins, and forgive one another before they went to the temple dedication.
The Diminishing Role of Public Confession
While diminishing in use, the practice of public confession continued well into the twentieth century. For example, instructions in 1913 said that public confession was not necessary in all cases for those whose offenses were not generally known.Public confession was most often expected for matters of public knowledge. Accordingly, the instructions in 1921 indicated that no records should be made of minor transgressions of young people, and when a transgression was known to the perpetrator only, the confession to the bishop should not be made public or recorded unless a court was held. But publicly known wrongs were confessed or dealt with at the regular weekly priesthood meeting, keeping the confession as limited as possible. The 1934 Handbook of Instructions stated that in a case of public knowledge that a young couple had been immoral but had married, they still should make public confession, but it could be simply to “express the desire to repent and obtain forgiveness for any wrong that they may have done.”
In 1956 instructions allowed for privately imposed probation for either single or married people involved in sexual sin who were repentant,except in the case of public scandal, when the man involved might be asked to stand before a Melchizedek Priesthood meeting and, without divulging the details of the transgression, confess to having violated the rules of the Church, express repentance, and ask forgiveness. Confessions of women might be reported by the bishop in the Melchizedek Priesthood meeting of the ward with such explanation as necessary.
In 1976 excommunications and disfellowshipments were to be announced only to the Melchizedek Priesthood of the ward, without specifying detail unless there was need to warn against apostate teaching.Since 1976 public confession has not been expected as part of Church discipline, and knowledge of disciplinary action has been limited to those who need to know. Knowledge of such disciplinary actions is to be disclosed only to appropriate men and women leaders, except for instances of predatory action, teaching false doctrine, or flagrant transgressions—things about which the whole congregation knows or needs to be aware.
Spontaneous public confession is still considered a desirable practice if handled sensitively and discretely. It comports with the description of the Sabbath as a time for “confessing thy sins unto thy brethren” (D&C 59:12). Of confession in testimony meeting, Spencer W. Kimball said:
We do not hear it so much anymore. The Lord so instructed us that we might seek forgiveness of our sins by having confessed them humbly, acknowledging them before the people and the Lord. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” (Prov. 28:13)
However, his advice in 1948 was to make such confession in general terms:
[Members may] bear testimony, with a “broken heart and a contrite spirit,” with thanksgiving and a cheerful heart, confessing. . . . This, of course, does not mean that the people must detail their major sins . . . but . . . say something like this: “I recognize my weaknesses and imperfections and I am striving constantly to overcome them and ask you, my brothers and sisters, to overlook my frailties and errors.”
Involvement of Bishops in Receiving Private Confessions
In 1860, Brigham Young began to emphasize a spiritual oversight role for bishops, to “see that all [members of their wards] lived as they should, walking humbly with their God, attending to their prayers, observing the Sabbath-day to keep it holy, and ceasing to swear and steal. There would not be a person in his Ward that he does not know, and he would be acquainted with their circumstances, conduct, and feelings.”In 1862, President Young stated, “My Bishop has just as good a right to come to my house and demand of me my Tithing, as he has to demand it of any other person in his ward, also to inquire into the state of my family, whether I attend to my prayers, whether I have contention with my neighbours, &c., in his capacity as a Bishop.” In fulfilling these duties, bishops undoubtedly heard many confessions or expressions of concern about all kinds of personal or collective problems.
The calling of bishop continued, as at first, to be concerned with temporal affairs of the kingdom—care of the poor, buildings, tithing, economic development, community political leadership, education, and judging disputes— but in Utah, weekly ward meetings under direction of the bishop became well established, and spiritual counseling became an important part of his responsibilities. Through 1912, the Circular of Instructions, predecessor of the General Handbook of Instructions, gave bishops guidelines only with respect to tithes and business matters. Then in 1913, for the first time in that series of official written instructions, the bishop was specifically identified as having spiritual as well as temporal responsibilities and having a duty to maintain confidentiality of confessions (except as to matters of public notoriety). The 1913 instructions assume an already well-established practice of confessing to the bishop or bishopric, noting that public confession is not always required when offenses are not generally known.
The bishop, who was first administrator and judge and then community leader, had become a person to whom one could and should go with personal or spiritual problems. He still looked after the poor and held Church courts for serious or resistant sinners, but he also now provided (as a listed part of his duty) a fatherly listening ear for the troubled soul.
Development of Standards for
Institutional Discipline and Forgiveness
for Baptized Members
As the bishop’s modern role in receiving confessions became settled, a need arose to identify which, out of the broad range of undesirable behaviors, needed to be confessed. The matter became quasi-jurisdictional in the sense that private confession is expected for conduct for which possible affirmative sanctions are stipulated. If the behavior is serious enough to warrant Church discipline, the member has the responsibility of confessing to the bishop. Connecting private confession to Church discipline is a way of advising the member when conduct has been such that there is an obligation to report it to the bishop.Because the bishop has to make decisions about a Church member’s conduct, the relationship between a Church member and the bishop may become adversarial if that member is accused of wrongdoing and has not confessed. Members are encouraged to accept any resulting sanctions as a means of reconciliation with the institution that bears the God-given responsibility for their spiritual welfare.
The matters serious enough to warrant consideration by a bishop’s court have varied. In the early pioneer era, they included not only crimes and sexual misconduct, but also breaches of loyalty to an embattled community. For example, during one period, patronizing gentile merchants could result in Church discipline.
Certain standards for discipline, and by implication for confession, came to be regularized by inclusion in printed instructions given to bishops.In 1928 the instructions stated that the following transgressions would ordinarily justify holding a bishop’s court: infractions of the moral law (such as fornication and adultery); liquor drinking and bootlegging; criminal acts such as thievery, burglary, or murder; and apostasy or opposition to the Church.
In 1934 the instructions added drunkenness, cruelty to wives or children, and promoting polygamy.Subsequent changes were mostly in terminology, although in 1968 homosexual acts were added to the list of sexual sins.
In 1976 grounds for discipline were put under two general categories: (1) deliberate disobedience to Church regulations and (2) moral transgressions, with all the previous offenses listedand incest, child molesting, embezzling Church funds, and “unchristianlike conduct” added. In an undated supplement to the 1976 instructions, the list no longer included intemperance but now specified abortion (subject to exceptions). In 1985 transsexual operations were added to the list.
The 1989 instructions adopted a different format and gave as grounds for discipline a long list of illustrative felonies plus a number of items that would be misdemeanors or noncriminal acts (adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, sex-change operation, spouse abuse, abandonment of family responsibilities, drug misuse, abortion, and apostasy). The only deletion of a major item found in previous instructions was the offense of unchristianlike conduct.
Over the years, although two items have been dropped—intemperance in 1976(now seen more as illness or weakness than as serious evil, despite strong Church commitment to the Word of Wisdom) and unchristianlike conduct in 1989 (probably seen as too vague to be applied evenly)—the tendency has been to include more items. The listed sins only illustrate the grounds on which confession is expected of all compliant members. Unspecified offenses of comparable gravity are not excluded from this obligation.
To be worthy for priesthood ordinations or temple recommends, members must meet standards of conduct and belief higher than those listed above. Ordination and recommend interviews have also seen a few modifications over the years,but the questions asked by the bishop in these situations relate mainly to present obedience and thus do not call for any confession that is not already expected of all baptized members. However, in these interviews, members are always free to discuss any spiritual concerns.
Confession in Other Christian Churches
Private confession of serious sinswas not part of early Christian practice, so far as that practice is described in the New Testament. That is the understanding of nearly all Roman Catholic historians, who describe the norm in early Christianity as public confession of sins and severe penance. The Novatianist schism resulted from disagreement about whether any confession of and penance for serious sin after baptism could be efficacious for those who had through such sin broken their covenant with Christ.
Private confession came into use only gradually.There is near consensus that the practice began in the Middle Ages among Celtic and Anglo-Saxon monastics, then was extended to lay Catholics, and finally spread throughout Europe.
Private confession was first criticized,then regulated, and over centuries became the accepted practice. As private confession grew in usage and frequency, public confession and penance essentially disappeared. In 1215 private confession of mortal sins received codification in canon law. The Fourth Lateran Council required that, as part of the Sacrament of Penance, all Catholics past the age of reason make private confession to a priest at least once a year in preparation for Easter. The Council of Trent, responding in the mid-sixteenth century to the Protestant Reformation and its rejection of private confession, reinforced the doctrine of private confession by asserting that Christ had instituted it when he said to his apostles after the resurrection, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.” Catholic doctrine remains essentially the same today.
Among most Protestants, private confession is considered optional. Luther taught that people have no essential need for a priest and that going to a priest might sometimes even interfere with the primary relationship between God and believer. He thought that private confession and penance, as he saw them in Catholicism, contributed to works righteousness, an erroneous belief that man can of himself do something about sins, whereas, he believed, only God’s grace matters.The Catholic practice was also seen as conducive to abuses, as in the inappropriate sale of indulgences.
However, the Lutheran 1529 catechism, still in use today, recognizes a place for private confession. If penitents find it helpful, they are permitted, even encouraged, to confess to a priest, although it is not doctrinally required and not commonly practiced.Instead, group confession of sinfulness and the general proclamation of absolution is part of the liturgy used in preparing for communion.
Calvin had a still more skeptical attitude toward confession as a sacrament, although he, too, valued voluntary private confession.In the view of Luther and Calvin, when a priest pronounced absolution, he was merely describing what would occur even without the pronouncement, because, if the penitent had faith, God’s forgiveness would come through grace without any priestly intervention.
For a generation or more after Henry VIII assumed the headship of the Catholic Church in England, the obligation of private confession continued. The 1549 prayer book admonished those who used private confession and those who did not to be tolerant of one another. When the text of the prayer book was finally settled in 1662, such confession was only optional.Later, those who urged private confession came under condemnation for reversion to Catholicism. Modern Anglicans/Episcopalians may be High Church (closer to Roman Catholicism) or Low Church (closer to Reformation sentiments), but even among High Church members, private confession is rare today. Anglican confession essentially followed Luther’s view, and the pronouncement of absolution was only a relief from church sanction, “not the imparting of a Divine forgiveness.”
None of the largest Protestant groups require private confession, as Catholics do, although Lutherans and Anglicans make formal provision for optional private confession.Most Protestants expect believers to make confession only to God, to the public in a general confession forming part of the liturgy, and to people one has injured.
Early in U.S. history, a few groups such as the Lutheran Pietists and Methodists practiced specific public confession of sins—unto the “brethren,” as the text reads in D&C 59:12.That practice continues among other groups, such as Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren, as a means to avoid being shunned or excommunicated.
A continuing appeal of public confession is illustrated by the fact that in 1995 students in many evangelical colleges engaged in lengthy revival meetings at which they felt impelled to confess sins such as cheating, racism, apathy, and pornography.
From the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, confession has been an element of the fundamental doctrine of repentance. Secret confession to God is always required; when individuals are harmed, forgiveness must be sought from them; and serious sins are the subject of either public or private confession. Which sins need to be confessed, to whom, and the degree of publicity given confessions have changed from time to time.
Public confession had a long history in Christianity. During the revivals of the early 1800s, it was not uncommon to expect repentant souls to confess their sins to other believers, thus to confess “in public.”The confession might be in general terms, but members truly convinced of their guilt would not hold back. The Restoration occurred in this milieu, and in the Restoration’s early days, public confession was practiced extensively.
However, with the creation of the ward as a small ecclesiastical unit and with the entrustment of the spiritual welfare of ward members to the ward bishop, the instructions from Church leaders have identified the normal pattern of repentance for serious sins as requiring private confession to one’s bishop. As “a judge in Israel” and one of those set “to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church,” he is given the gift and the responsibility to assess, through the gift of discernment, the genuineness of people’s profession of spiritual gifts (D&C 46:27). Consistent with that is his responsibility to judge the genuineness of repentance.
Many Christian groups emphasize man’s innate sinfulness and focus on his nature more than on his individual sins, whereas LDS doctrine stresses man’s original innocence and perfectibility, with focus on his individual shortcomings. But over time, the understanding and practice of confession in the LDS Church came to be similar in some respects to Roman Catholicism.Both moved from using public confession to encouraging private confession and from harsh penance to lighter sanctions as they became less a persecuted people apart (“a community of saints”) and more a group with variable commitment (“a training-ground for sinners”). Both Catholics and Latter-day Saints require private confession of any serious misconduct to a spiritual counselor as an earthly representative of God. Both groups also believe that Christ gave his apostles power to forgive sin. The Catholics believe the authority was passed down to the Catholic priests, and the Latter-day Saints believe it was given to the modern Apostles (but not to the ward bishops). Thus, the Catholic priest pronounces absolution, whereas the LDS bishop merely waives penalties that might be imposed through Church discipline, leaving absolution to God.
After hearing a confession, the LDS bishop decides whether to exempt a person from Church discipline on the grounds that repentance is judged to be sincere and no independent justification for discipline appears. Other options are to invoke the jurisdiction of the bishop’s disciplinary councilor refer the matter to the stake president for a stake disciplinary council.
This century has seen steady escalation in specifying the standards of behavior expected of members of the LDS Church. With respect to the grounds for discipline, the lists of misconduct that call for Church disciplinary council action and hence confession to the bishop have become longer.
Making private, particularized confession is easier than public disclosure of one’s sins. A willingness to make public confession requires great conviction, humility, and courage. Perhaps in the earlier years, when all Church members were converts, there was among them a greater fervor, a greater sense of interdependent community with more informality, frankness, humility, and tolerance for confrontation than in more recent years. Sometimes now there may be greater distance between members, more formality, and a more complex structure within the LDS wards and communities than existed in pioneer settlements.
If sin is conceived not only as an offense against God, but also against the community of believers, then confession to that community is consistent with the basic requirement of confession to those who have been hurt.As the community grows larger, sin tends to become popularly viewed less an offense against the group and more an individual matter. At one time, LDS Church discipline was fairly open, with public announcement of disfellowshipment or excommunication and public confession at least sometimes called for. Now, confession to the bishop generally suffices to reconcile the transgressor with the Church, as well as to facilitate forgiveness by God. As little publicity as possible is given to confession and discipline, with only those who have a need to know being notified. This practice seems responsive to the heightened sense of individualism, privacy, and legal liability that exists today.
The practice of confession has shifted with changing circumstances, but the basic doctrine of confession has not changed.Confession remains one of the essential steps to repentance, and repentance is one of the first principles of salvation.