Friday, February 20, 2009

Corporate Confession of Sins: Part One

Lately, I've been reading Liturgies of the Western Church. The corporate confessions of sins in the litugies coming out of the Reformation were phenomenal. It seems to me we need to recover the corporate confession of sins where we really have a confession that is meaningful. What I often find is that the confession of sins these days is very trite and far from thorough. So I thought it might be helpful to consider some of these liturgical confessions as part of a series.

The first corporate confession of sins comes from the Strassburg Liturgy from 1539 written by Martin Bucer. This particular confession is based on the Ten Commandments.

I poor sinner confess to you, O Almighty, eternal, merciful God and Father, that I have sinned in manifold ways against you and your commandments.

I confess that I have not believed in you, my one God and Father, but have put my faith and trust more in creatures than in you, my God and Creator, because I have feared them more than you. And for their benefit and pleasure, I have done and left undone many things in disobedience to you and your commandments.

I confess that I have taken your holy Name in vain, that I have often sworn falsely and lighty by the same, that I have not always professed it nor kept it holy as I ought; but even more, I have slandered it often and grossly with all my life, words and deeds.

I confess that I have not kept your Sabbath holy, that I have not heard your holy Word with earnestness nor lived according to the same; moreover that I have not yielded myself fully to your divine hand, nor rejoiced in your work done in me and in others, but have often grumbled against it stoutly and have been impatient.

I confess that I have not honored my father and mother, that I have been diobedient to all whom I justly owe obedience, such as father and mother, my superiors, and all who have tried to guide and teach me faithfully.

I confess that I have taken life: that I have offended my neighbor often and grossly by word and deed, caused him harm, grown angry over him, borne envy and hatred toward him, deprived him of his honor and the like.

I confess that I have been unchaste. I acknowledge all my sins of the flesh and all the excess and extravagance of my whole life in eating, drinking, clothing and other things; my intermperance in seeing, hearing, speaking, etc., and in all my life; yea, even fornication, adultery and such.

I confess that I have stolen. I acknowledge my greed. I admit that in the use of my worldly goods I have set myself against you and your holy laws. Greedily and against charity have I grasped them. And scarcely, if at all, have I given them when the need of my neighbor required it.

I confess that I have born false witness, that I have been untrue and unfaithful toward my neighbor. I have lied to him, I have told lies about him, and I have failed to defend his honor and reputation as my own.

And finally I confess that I have coveted the possessions and spouses of others. I acknowledge in summary that my whole life is nothing else than sin and transgression of your holy commandments and an inclination tward all evil.

Wherefore I beseech you, O heavenly Father, that, you would graciously forgive me these and all my sins. Keep and preserve me henceforth that I may walk only in your way and live according to your will; and all of this through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, our Savior. Amen.

In contrast, here was a recent corporate confession at the church I attend:

Father in heaven, as we approach another celebration of the birth of your Son, we acknowledge and confess our short-sighted rejoicing. As we just sang, may our joy for "things" be overwhelmed by the truth that Jesus' birth has opened heaven's door . . . that Jesus Christ was born to save . . . that now we need not fear the grave! Replace our short-sightedness with the blinding truths of the incarnation. Amen.

Now while I acknowledge that we often love "things" more than we love our Lord, is this confession broad enough? Will it really lead people to confess the sins they have committed during the week, not to mention the original sin which still clings to them? These are the sorts of things we need to consider in our corporate confession of sins.

J. Gresham Machen once wrote: "A new and more powerful proclamation of law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law." One place to begin this proclamation of the law is in our worship services and corporate confession of sins. It might be time for many churches to consider the role of the liturgy in discipleship, which can teach the people of Christ to mourn over their sins that they might be comforted by the gospel.

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