So… I’m in a band meeting now. What, you may ask, is a band meeting? It’s a form of spiritual discipline where groups of men or women come together to confess their sins, pray for one another, and hold one another accountable. My wife has been in a band for a long time, and after I read The Band Meeting by Kevin Watson and Scott Kisker, I knew this was something I needed to do. The band meeting was an important part of early Methodism, but as we got historically farther away from the Wesleys, membership requirements among Methodists became increasingly relaxed.
Did I really want to be in a band meeting? Well… no. Don’t get me wrong. I love my fellow band members. They’re great guys. But confessing all the things I’ve done wrong in a given week isn’t particularly appealing to me. Oh, sure, I can listen to other people confess all day long. I can be as understanding as you please. But confessing my own sins? I’m sorry… What were you saying?
There were several reasons I invited a few people to come together in this band. The most important is that I know that I need accountability. I’m a human being, and human beings are broken creatures, which means I’m a broken creature. Yes, Christ has redeemed me. Yes, the Holy Spirit is sanctifying me. But all Christians stand in that difficult tension between sin and salvation, and I know of no better way to overcome the temptation to sin than by the regular process of Christian accountability.
We Wesleyan types don’t have a rite of confession the way that Roman Catholics do. Rather, we have the band meeting. This is our rite of confession. We believe that we do not need a priest to pronounce absolution over us. Rather, as part of the priesthood of all believers we pronounce absolution over one another. Another way of putting this is to say that we remind one another of what Christ has already done on our behalf.
There are seven capital sins: pride (or vainglory), greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. They are called “capital sins” because they are thought to be the source of all other vices. Sometimes these are called the seven “deadly” sins, but Christian theology holds that all sin is in some sense deadly, so I find “capital” a more helpful term. As Christians, we are not immune to any of these. We are, in fact, faced with these temptations all the time.
Of the deadly sins, lust gets the most attention, though probably not as much as it should. Though we are loath to talk about it, pornography is a widespread problem in the church, even among the clergy. Marital infidelity among Western Christians is statistically not much different than among the wider culture. The recent #metoo hashtag should give all of us pause. Sexual misconduct and abuse are not sins that only happen in Hollywood and Washington D.C. They happen in churches, too, probably more often than most of us realize. How many such cases could have been prevented had Christian men had stronger systems of accountability? No, not all could have been prevented, but some could have. And some might be in the future if we can reinstate disciplines of accountability in our churches.
Occasionally, one will hear a sermon on greed or pride, though the emergence of Western prosperity teaching and internet celebrity have led many to consider these sins to be virtues. Wrath, when we talk about it, is normally cast as a sin—except when people really deserve it, and then it’s okay. Gluttony? Sloth? Forget it. Western Christianity has all but given up on confronting these, or even naming them as sin.
Unless we confess the ways in which we have fallen short of God’s goals for our lives, we will have little chance of walking consistently along the road to sanctification and holiness. Confessing to ourselves, moreover, or simply confession in prayer is not enough. When John Wesley made the statement that there is no holiness but social holiness, what he meant was that we only become holier people in community with other people who are earnestly seeking after God. Thus we are called to care for one another’s souls, to inquire how the souls of others prosper, and, yes, to hold one another accountable. Until we get back to a strong sense of social holiness, we may well have the form of religion, but we will not have its power.