I love my church and I love gathering with God’s people to worship together in our particular church. However, I also love the opportunity that vacations afford for visiting other churches. Observing how they worship, experiencing church as a visitor, sitting under someone else’s preaching, and not thinking about a service that I am responsible for has, many times, challenged, encouraged, and even refreshed me.
However, having said this, I often miss an element of the service when visiting other churches that I have come to love more and more. It is an element that has a long history in the worship of the church. It is pastorally sensitive, encourages the believer, exhorts the unbeliever, and is entirely biblical. Yet, for all that, I find that it has become “a spin of the roulette wheel” as to whether the church I am visiting will have it in their service or not. I have worshipped at Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, and Independent churches that don’t have it, while I have been to others that do. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the church has a traditional, liturgical, blended, or contemporary service–some will have it and some won’t. I would suggest that no matter what Evangelical Christian church we attend, whether Baptist or Presbyterian, traditional or contemporary, we should expect to see it. What is it? A confession of sin and an assurance of pardoning grace that accompanies it.
I wouldn’t expect to find a confession of sin in the order of worship at Joel Osteen’s church. I wouldn’t expect to find it in a Unitarian church. In those places everyone is “alright.” Sin is that negative thing that fundamentalists are always harping about. But I do expect to find it in the average gospel-proclaiming Christian church. Why should it be in our services? Because we love the gospel, we want to remind ourselves of it, and we want to encourage joyful worship.
We love the gospel, so there is an odd sense in which we should relish confessing our sins. We don’t wallow in our sin, enjoy it, or are proud of it—just the opposite. It is something we want to be far from. It is our enemy and grieves us. But we relish confessing it, because we love the gospel. The gospel is good news, because we are sinners. No sin, no gospel. Not recognizing our sin while worshipping a holy God, at the very least, takes away from the proclamation of the gospel.
We should also want to confess our sins weekly in corporate worship, because it is a good reminder. We need to be reminded weekly that not only were we sinners, but we still are sinners. We not only needed the gospel when we were dead in our sins (Eph. 2), but still need the gospel now. A church that recognizes the depth of its sin is a church that is wading into the deep end of the Gospel of grace. An individual worshipper who approaches a holy God by confessing their sin is engaging in biblical worship (i.e. Isaiah 6, Rev. 1, etc.). I need it weekly and so do you! This doesn’t mean that it has to look the same way week-in and week-out. We could sing our confession (i.e. Psalm 51), read a psalm responsively, recite the Ten Commandments, silently confess after each, join our heart with the pastor’s voice as he leads in corporate confession, include it in the pastoral prayer, or have a directed confession of sin. The form can vary, but the element should be there.
We also want to confess our sins weekly in corporate worship, because when we don’t we miss out on one of the most powerful encouragements and joyful moments of gathering together: the assurance of God’s pardoning grace. If we aren’t confessing sin, then there is no place for the assurance of pardon in our services. And, oh, how we rob ourselves if it isn’t present! What joy ought to erupt from the hearts of God’s people when we hear the words of assurance; How lively it should make our praise in song! I need the reminder each and every week, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are read like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18), “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
We are Gospel people, so we are a confessing people–quick to recognize our sin and quick to receive the assurance of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. We need it not only in our closets, but also in our gatherings. We need it not only in the past, but also in the present. We need it not only sporadically, but weekly. We all need it. The flippant Christian needs to be reminded each week. The sluggard needs to be exhorted each week. The weary one needs to be comforted each week. The doubting soul needs to be assured each week. The unrepentant heart needs to be confronted each week. I need it each week. The people under our care need it each week. We need it together. Whether our service is Presbyterian, Baptist, or Independent, traditional, contemporary, or blended, it should have this element. For Christian worship, a confession of sin with its accompanying assurance of pardon is elemental.