I don’t know about you but the idea of confessing sins in church and doing so in a formal liturgical reading along with verses of assurance wasn’t exactly like my experience in church growing up. Confession was something that was done at the end of a service after a the pastor preached his sermon. In each and every service there was a time for people to respond to the gospel. People who had not yet received Christ as their Lord and Savior were asked to come down front and pray with the pastor. After a verse or two the pastor would ask the musicians to play softer as he then called to those of us who were already saved yet needed to re-commit our lives to Christ to come and pray with him. I would sit wondering if I should go forward. Certainly, it would mean others seeing that I really must have some serious sin in my life to get up and walk all the way down to re-dedicate my life to Jesus. Confession began to be associated with moments where after I couldn’t bear it any longer I needed to walk down the aisle and confess my sin. Altar calls and confession were a place of great emotional turmoil. It wasn’t exactly comfortable to sit wondering if there was anything that I needed to confess. Had I really lived like Jesus this week? Was there anything that was getting the way of my relationship with Jesus? Then there was the added fear of what my friends would think of me. What did he do? Or course there were other times where altar calls were just one more thing to endure till I could go home and have lunch or go outside and play with my friends.
As I began to be serious about my faith in High School, confession was connected to my personal walk with Jesus. Confession was an individual thing. Only in college did I realize that there were churches where confession wasn’t just about me and part of a altar call or response to an evangelistic sermon. It wasn’t just what I did with a pastor after building up a whole list of sins to confess. I found that a worship service could be a place where the gospel would be for all of us and not just the un-saved people. Confession in the context of church was a part of a bigger event.
A Definition of Confession
Robert Webber defines confession, in the context of worship, this way.
“A confession of sin is an act of repentance, motivated by faith and characterized by the expectation of forgiveness.
Protestant traditions have rooted the confession of sin in the experience of Isaiah. When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on the throne (Isa. 6:1–7), his response was ‘Woe to me! I am ruined!’ In the presence of God we see ourselves as sinners, confess our sin, and hear the Word of forgiveness. Thus the purpose of the confession is to rehearse our relationship to God.”
In worship we are all rehearsing our relationship with God. We are preaching the gospel to ourselves. So the worship service and times of confession are teaching me what I do all the time. I don’t wait till the altar call to confess. I have a savior who has already granted me forgiveness. This act of repenting is ongoing. It is motivated by faith where I expect forgiveness. Our worship together trains us to carry these truths into our hearts each and every day. Confession isn’t something I do with my pastor. Confession isn’t even something for Sunday service. Confession is part of the ongoing dialogue with Jesus.
Confession together is still somewhat an unusual thing to consider. I am still learning of what its benefits are to us. I can see why it is important to confess my sins to Jesus. I can also see how it is important to confess to others when I have sinned against them. But what benefits are their to our confessing together in worship?
Here is an example of a written corporate confession:
Merciful God,we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
When we confess this or prayers like this, I honestly have trouble entering in to this part of worship with the same urgency I might feel in silent confession. The words used in this confessional reading are pretty generic actually. It would be easy to generally say, Yes I have not been loving my “neighbor” without actually taking time to ask myself, “who is my neighbor?” Confessing for others means that I have to actually engage my mind and heart to consider who “We” are. I have to think about how “We” are part of not only a church but the world in which we live. Would we think differently, act differently, speak differently if we were to think about St Paul’s as a whole?
I believe that if the body of Christ would humbly come to our Lord with a confessing, humble and contrite heart, we would provide a glimpse into the very gospel we profess. The foreigner in our midst, the forgotten, the scorned, and the dismissed of our community might find that the gospel changes whole groups of people. The Church would be known as a place where Jesus is changing our whole culture.
Worship brings us together to align ourselves to God and to one another. We certainly need to take time to prepare and ask God to reveal our individual sin. We also need to consider that the act of confessing corporately changes us as well. We learn that we need to repent as a body as well as individuals.