I must thank you for the wonderful work you are doing to help the churches of Christ.
I have an issue that I would like you to help me with. I fornicated with a lady in church, and she is pregnant. We spoke to church elders about our intentions to marry because we were dating already. They asked that we confess before the church about what happened. The lady went to confess and stated she committed fornication, asked for forgiveness, and a prayer was said for her. A week later, I also went to confess, but I didn't state that I committed fornication. I only stated that I sinned against the Lord and asked for forgiveness.
Later, the church leaders called to inform us that we need to go and confess before the church again because what we did earlier wasn't a proper confession, that we need to be specific about the sin and that we need to probably confess together.
This is worrying to me, and I am tempted to ignore this second confession.
Please any advice for me from Scripture?
The purpose of confession is to face the fact that we sinned -- that we are not going to hide from that fact. Unacknowledged sin destroys us internally. "When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalms 32:3-5). Confession is made to the ones we harmed by our sins. Since all sins are against God, the first and most important confession we need to make is to Him.
"This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don't tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven't sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (I John 1:5-10).
Often the one in sin realizes how badly his sin affected his relationship with God and so he desires the support of his fellow Christians in approaching God. You can see this with Simon.
"Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power, that whoever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn't right before God. Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity." Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me"" (Acts 8:18-24).
This is why we read in James: "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16). That is why we allow opportunities for people to come before the congregation. It is so others can pray on behalf of the sinner that God will forgive them.
Notice that confession to the congregation is not for the forgiveness of sin. Only God can forgive a sinner.
Most sins are not isolated to just yourself. When we sin, we realize that our actions impact other people. When our actions harm someone else, we should approach them to admit our wrong and ask for their forgiveness. The goal always is to get a person to turn from their sins. Once the person repents, the matter is dropped to minimize the embarrassment caused by sin. That is why you see in Matthew 18:15-17 that a problem between two Christians is not immediately brought before the church. Attempts are made to work out the problem with the minimal number of people involved as possible. It is only when the matter is not resolved that it is taken before the church.
In your case, though you are a Christian, you have not been acting as a Christian ought to act. Sins don't usually stay hidden. "For our transgressions are multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them" (Isaiah 59:12). In your case, your acts of fornication got your girlfriend pregnant. It, thus, becomes clear to everyone that your girlfriend was involved in sexual sins and that you are the prime suspect of being her partner in sin.
One of the things I can't determine from your note is how you view what you have done. You admit that you committed fornication, but you appear to only admit it because it can't be hidden any longer. You mention that you plan to marry her, which is good, but I'm not certain whether you are stating this as a way to "soften" your sin or whether you are saying this because you are taking responsibility for your sin. Even though a confession of sin is not required before a congregation, I'm left wondering why you waited an extra week to admit that you sinned and that you didn't want to say what you had done. I can't answer my questions, but I want you to see the impression you are giving to other people.
When it becomes known to your fellow Christians that you have sinned, they should be concerned about your salvation. They will want to talk to you about changing your ways and to offer help in staying out of sin. You could talk to each person as they approach you and your girlfriend about what obviously happened, but often it is easier to tell everyone at once that you realized you did wrong by having sex when you weren't married, that you have changed, and that you plan to marry the young woman soon so that you can be a proper husband to her and a father to your child. Such will eliminate gossip and cut down repetitive inquiries into the state of your soul. It is for this reason that congregations give opportunities for people to confess that they have changed before the brethren. Again, it is not required by God, but it does make life easier.
At times I hear it claimed that a publically known sin brings a reproach on the church and, therefore, the church needs to forgive the sinner for the embarrassment he caused to the church. It seems to me that people are looking at this wrong. Sin causes disappointment and disapproval to be expressed to the sinner. As David cried to God, "Deliver me from all my transgressions; do not make me the reproach of the foolish" (Psalms 39:8). If a church accepted sin in its midst, then it would rightly be a cause of disappointment to other people. But when matters are being addressed properly, then there is no disapproval of the church that seeks to bring a sinner back out of his sins. In other words, in this case, your sexual sins did not damage the reputation of the church because the church took action to restore you when it found out the danger you were in. They don't need to forgive you because you did not harm them, you harmed yourself. "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (I Corinthians 6:18).
Thanks for the information and advice.
Let me state this a bit clearer. When we realized we had sinned, we asked God for forgiveness and repented. However, when the pregnancy came up, then we informed the church leaders of the situation, and they asked that we confess our sin before the church. We confessed that we had sinned and the church prayed for us.
A week later, the leaders called again saying that we didn't state we had committed fornication together, so we need to come and confess our specific sin.
I hope to hear from you soon.
I'm glad that you've changed and are no longer having sex with your girlfriend and that you are taking steps to make sure that it doesn't happen again. But I don't know what else you are looking for from me. I already explained that God doesn't require confession of sin before a church. That the group there is stating that what you did isn't good enough for something that God did not command just indicates that they are following a tradition and have not examined the Scriptures in this particular matter. You can insist that the confession is unnecessary and cause an uproar in the congregation, or you can look at it as something unnecessary but do it to keep peace and then study with the congregation about what really should be done when someone sins.