Let me start by confessing my own sin. All the years in which I served as a Senior Pastor, I never instituted a weekly confession of sins during the worship services. That is not to say that I never led the congregation in prayer, in which we also confessed that we had sinned and appealed to God for mercy. I would, on occasion, quote 1 John 1:9, giving the assurance to all who confessed their sins in Jesus name, that forgiveness was to be found. But I never instituted a confession of sin as a necessary part of the Sunday worship experience.
Since leaving congregational pastoral ministry, I have had time to reflect on a great many of my practices. More than ever, I have reaffirmed my commitment to expositional preaching. I am gladdened, that I have spent 35 years, not expressing my opinions or topics, but rather the ones I found in the pages of sacred scripture. I simply followed the Bible through, verse by verse, seeking to make application to our day. I am also gladdened that I have been a part of a worship experience where we tried to sing songs that were both rich in theology, but also singable. I have been a part of singing congregations, not a part of congregations where the singers sing on stage, and the congregation stands and watches them.
But I am saddened that I did not make both confession of sin, and confession of our historic faith a part of worship. I began to re-evaluate this, as I would, on occasion, visit St. John’s Anglican Church in Vancouver. St. John’s is an evangelical Anglican church. While the rest of the Anglican communion was jettisoning biblical authority, St. John’s remained a Bible teaching, soul-winning, gospel-preaching church. It was the church where the late J.I. Packer attended.
I was struck by the confession of sins that were a part of corporate worship. The church corporately reads the confession together. The first time I participated in this practice, I found myself overwhelmed. Emotions were flooding through me, and I felt I was going to weep. When we were done, and the congregation moved to a time of sharing the Lord’s Table, I felt I had never been so ready to celebrate.
As I began to research the matter of communal confession, I found that it is an ancient practice in the church. It is found in the “Didache”, an early Christian document dating back to the early 2nd century. But the reformers were also eager to maintain this practice. Calvin thought it should happen, immediately after the call to worship. Thomas Cranmer in England put it right before the Lord’s Table. The Westminster divines thought it should be a part of the pastoral prayer in the congregation.
What then has transpired? Why did I have no history of this practice, and why did I neglect so important of an element in my weekly ministry? I have regularly taught that we should make the confession of sins a regular part of our prayer life. After all, David, in Psalm 32:3 does tell us that when he kept silent in regards to his sin, his bones wasted away. Why then, have most evangelicals simply neglected this vital part of worship?
Perhaps it is time to revisit our practices and recover what ancient, and many modern-day Christians have continued to practice.