Troubled Water

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.

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