This is the next in a series of articles exploring the scriptural roots of the various parts of our Sunday morning worship service. The aim is to increase our knowledge of why we do the things we do with a view to increasing both personal and corporate intimacy in worship. Jesus calls us to worship in Spirit and truth and we hope this aids in the keeping of this command. Last month we considered the Call to Worship and the role it plays in our public gathering for worship. This month we are focusing on the Corporate Call to Confession.
Corporate Confession of Sin
1 John 1:9 is a familiar verse for many of us. I remember memorizing this wonderful truth very early in my Christian life.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Confession of sin is at the heart of our relationship with God. Without recognizing and confessing our sins there can be no forgiveness. Just before verse 9 John makes a bold and necessary statement about the consequences of not confessing our sin in verse 8 when he declares:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Scripture also speaks to believers who need to be reminded of the importance of consistent confession of sin.
Following the affair with Bathsheba David needed to be confronted by the Prophet Nathan regarding confession of the sin. We read his words in Psalm 51:1-4:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
The results of a failure to consistently confess our sin is given in Psalm 32:3, 4:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
David doesn’t stop there. He goes on to describe in verse 5 what follows when we finally ‘come to our senses’ by the grace of God:
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
With these and the many other passages in Scripture that detail the necessity of confession of sin, it’s easy to see why we include this as part of our worship service. But is there a scriptural support to include confession of sin in public worship?
There are many examples of corporate confession in the Old Testament. One of the more notable occurrences is recorded for us in Ezra 10. Following the Exile the Israelites had married foreign women and thus had disobeyed the Lord. Ezra called them to confess and repent which they did. We read this in Ezra 10:1 that the people wept bitterly over their sin as they gathered as a congregation in front of the Temple. Verse 2 continues:
Then Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: "We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.
Many churches today have set aside the Corporate Confession of Sin for various reasons yet this aspect of public worship has deep and longstanding roots in church history.
One writer describes the benefit of Corporate Confession this way:
For most it makes the time of worship more authentic and joyful for it strikes a blow against self-righteousness and humbles us before God as we say what we know to be true of ourselves and the only Lord who saves us. It reminds us that we are not better than others and that it is only grace (an alien righteousness) which makes us what we are. God remembers, in the covenant in Christ's blood, not to treat us as our sins deserve. In it we pray for personal sin, for the sins of our local church, our local community, our nation and world.
Corporate Confession alone would only bring despair if not followed by the reminder of the Assurance of Pardon, they go hand in hand for the elect. See 1 John 1:9 above.
Here is a sample Corporate prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, we acknowledge and confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed; we have not loved you with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. Deepen within us our sorrow for the wrong we have done, and the good we have left undone. Lord, you are full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy; there is always forgiveness with you! Restore to us the joy of your salvation; bind up that which is broken, give light to our minds, strength to our wills, and rest to our souls. Speak to each of us, and let your word abide with us until it has wrought in us your holy will. Amen.