Question:It is with great difficulty that I find myself writing to you with this question.
I have been married for about several months now. Shortly before the wedding, we made a grievous error and fell into sexual sins. A child was conceived from this sin. We are overjoyed over the child, but do admit that it was improper of us to have had relations before the wedding. Since then, we have discussed the situation with the elders, asking if we should go before the church to explain that we know we behaved improperly, we have asked God for forgiveness and we would like the church's blessing.
Our eldership stated that they felt doing so was unnecessary, that talking to them was sufficient. We accepted what they wished and chose to move on with our lives.
Since then, however, we have been informed that one of the women in our church believes that the eldership was mistaken in their decision, and that we should go in front of the church to set a better example for the young people in the congregation (my wife and I are both in our 20s). This woman in our church has gone to two of our friends to attempt to convince us to do as she feels is correct. Both friends let us know what was said.
At this point, I am curious what your advice would be on the situation. The elders gave their advice (in conjunction with the evangelist), but I am afraid that if we go along with that, our sin may cause others to stumble (both through gossip, and as a bad example to the children and teenagers).
There are several problems here which need to be addressed.
First, put your thinking cap on and tell me where in the Scriptures is confession restricted to standing before a congregation to admit your wrongs? It is a way in which confession can be accomplished, but I know of no passage which states it is the only way.
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 the behalf of the sinner that God will forgive them.
But along with that 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.
Thus, what the elder told you was correct. You had sinned, realized it and admitted it. You and your wife prayed about it, the elders prayed for you as well. That ought to have taken care of the matter. "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). Covering sin doesn't mean hiding them because the person repented of their sins. What it means is that repented sins are covered over, they are buried and left behind.
The problem though is that you have a sinner in your congregation -- a gossip who is not acting out of love. I can say this without reservation because she did not approach you or your wife about any concern that you were still in your sin. Instead she talked to your friends -- thus demonstrating that she is trying to undermine your friendship with other Christians. By her words, she knows you repented of your sins, but since a public spectacle wasn't made of it, she feels cheated and insists that it was handled wrongly. But again, she doesn't say this to you, your wife, or the elders; she vents to third parties who were not involved.
What she is doing is harming you, your wife, and the eldership with her malicious gossip. She is in sin, and since you are involved, it falls on your shoulders to attempt to rescue her from those sins. Since the elders are involved, I suggest going to them and asking them to join you in approaching this woman about her gossiping. It needs to be handled quickly because such a person can split a church by turning brother against brother. Very likely she is going to try to turn the tables and say it is your fault. The response should be that you know you sinned and repented of it. She obviously knows about that as well. Since she has refused to forgive a repented Christian, she stands condemned. "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15). I'm sure the elders will be able to clearly explain to her that there is no passage which requires public confession of a sin before a congregation before that sin is considered forgiven. I hope the elders also inform her that she is to only take perceived problems directly to those with the problem and not to involve anyone else unless the matter cannot be settled.
Your sin won't cause others to stumble because people know you've repented of those sins. That is the important part.