by Ray Van Neste
“I never have enough time.”
This is a common statement today, but it came out of the blue from my eight-year-old in a conversation around the dinner table a few months ago. I asked what he meant, and he said, “You know, at church when we have that time for confessing our sins- I never have enough time to confess them all.” This brought some snickers from his siblings, who no doubt were not surprised that such an endeavor might take a while. However, while I was surprised, I was greatly encouraged that this element of the service was not lost on him, that he was aware in this way of his need to confess his sins. I didn’t know if he was paying attention at all, but this regular, weekly practice- hearing Scripture read, then being directed to confess your sins privately and then hearing a pastor model such prayer of confession concluding with the gospel promises of forgiveness- was shaping my son.
A guided time of corporate confession has been a staple for Christian worship through the ages though it has fallen out of use in many churches today. A basic idea behind the practice is that in order to draw near to God we must confess our sins (Psalm 66:18; Hebrews 10:22; 1 John 1:9). This reminds us again of the holiness of God, our sinfulness and the pardon available in the gospel. Without this, we too easily tend to drift into worship taking God lightly. In such confession together we experience the gospel afresh, facing our sins and receiving the cleansing forgiveness which Jesus provides. This gracious pardon is the central reason driving our worship. Even if we bring many other sorrows and burdens with us, being reminded that our greatest problem--the wrath of God because of our sins--has been dealt with will enable us to praise God.
In addition, our forebears thought of our corporate worship as training us for daily life. Thus, singing gospel truths was not a “Sunday thing” but gave us songs to sing throughout the week in order to shape our hearts and minds. The proclamation of the Word gave us truth to contemplate and apply throughout the week as well as training us to study the Bible ourselves. And the prayers modeled for us the way to pray. Thus, corporate confession of sin helped shape us into a people marked by regularly acknowledging our sins and seeking forgiveness. I am grateful that our church follows this practice for many reasons, including the fact that it is shaping me and my children. That comment from my son was an early indication that God was at work showing him his need for forgiveness. About a month after the dinner table conversation, I had the privilege of baptizing him as he had come to trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins.