Liturgy Literacy at Central
Q: Why does God call us to confess our sins?
A: Since God’s primary purpose in the worship service is to renew his covenant relationship with the church, the beginning portion of the service includes an opportunity to clear away the barriers to relationship created by our sins. When the worship leader calls us to confess our sins, it is God who is taking the initiative to pursue us with grace and to deal with the obstacles of guilt, alienation, and shame that inhibit us from knowing and responding to God. He wants to forgive us, and he knows that we need assurance of his love and willingness to forgive in order to come to him freely with our confession. Therefore, the biblical texts through which God invites us to confession (e.g., 1 John 1:8-9; Ps. 51:17; Isa. 55:6-7; Prov. 28:13; Heb. 4:14-16) not only command us to confess our sins and repent but also promise God’s forgiveness to all who acknowledge their sins and turn away from them to seek God’s mercy.
Q: Why do we confess our sin?
A: Whenever God renews his special relationship with his people (his covenant), he begins by forgiving our sins, which removes the barriers that create distance between us and God. In the Old Testament, when God renewed his covenant with Israel in worship at the temple, the main part of the service began with a purification or sin offering, a sacrifice that was both a confession of sin and also a cleansing and purification of sin by the death of animals that represented the worshippers (Lev. 9; 2 Chron. 29). This practice taught that the way to be restored to right relationship with God was through the sacrifice of a substitute who receives the penalty of sin’s guilt in our place. This practice is fulfilled in the death of Jesus on the cross, which was the ultimate and final sin offering (Rom. 8:3) to cleanse us from sin (1 Pet. 2:24). Since the church is God’s new temple (Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16), and since Jesus is both our sacrifice and our new high priest leading us in worship, we still follow the pattern established in the Old Testament but in a new way: we begin the main part of the service by confessing our sins to God in order to receive anew his forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s atoning death for us (1 John 1:7-9).
Q: How do we confess our sin? Why do we confess our sin together many types of sin including some sins that not everyone has committed?
A: Following model prayers in the Bible (e.g., Ps. 32; 51; 130; Ezra 9-10; Neh. 9), we confess by naming our sins with clarity and honesty. This is followed by an appeal to God for forgiveness and a new ability to love and obey the Lord by the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power. We also demonstrate humility with the posture of our bodies by lowering ourselves to sit or kneel while we pray.
We confess our sin together in unison to express our unity as one people before God. Because Christians share a deep spiritual bond and common identity as the family of God, the body of Jesus Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit, we enact that solidarity by confessing together the sins of the whole church and not merely our own individual sins, which we confess silently. (See Psalm 51, Daniel 9, and Nehemiah 9 for biblical examples of confessions of sin that assume and express this corporate identity and responsibility.) Therefore, our prayers of confession address many categories and types of sin found in the church and in the various cultures in which we live.
Q: Why does God’s declaration of forgiveness follow our confession of sins?
A: God promises to forgive the sins of everyone who turns away from their sins (repents) and confesses them to God seeking his mercy (e.g. Ps. 32:5; 103:8, 10-12; 130:1-4; 1 John 1:8-9). We change our posture at this point from sitting in humility before God to standing and looking up to receive the Lord’s merciful answer to our prayer with confident hope. This shift in posture helps us recognize that the worship leader’s declaration is not the conclusion of our prayer of confession to God but rather God’s own response to our confession in which he grants us fresh forgiveness and cleansing and raises us up to join in the worship of all heaven and earth before his throne with a clear conscience (Heb. 4:14-16; 10:19-23, 12:18-29; Rev. 4-5).
Q: Why do we greet one another with the peace of Christ?
A: The passing of the peace of Christ is more than a “meet-and-greet” moment. Belief in Christ brings us the peace of reconciled relationship with God, but it also brings us into peaceful relationship with God’s people, some of whom we otherwise might not have anything to do with. By greeting one another in worship, or even saying to one another “the Lord be with you” or “the peace of Christ be with you,” we are celebrating that our union with Christ also unifies us with each other, thereby creating a community characterized by forgiveness and bearing with each other—a community of gospel-peace.