Sunday, May 16, 2010

I'm Confessing . . . Again

When the word “confession” comes up in a conversation about Christian worship, it usually is taken to mean confession of sin. Although it happens that some are wary of using that term, perhaps because it smacks of laying on a guilt trip. One good alternative I’ve seen is “Prayer for Reconciliation.” The common, and more straightforward term, however, is “Confession of Sin.”

There is also another kind of confession that takes place on Sunday morning—or at least it should. It goes by the name of “Confession of Faith.”

The Confession of Sin and the Confession of Faith appear at different places in the order of worship. Confession of Sin usually comes shortly before the reading of Scripture and proclamation of the Word in sermon. The Confession of Faith most often appears closely following the Scripture and sermon. The two confessions are like bookends surrounding and supporting the Liturgy of the Word, which leads one to deduce that there is some inherent relationship between them.

The Confession of Sin is the major part of the preparation for hearing the Word. Without confession, we would be inclined to approach the proclamation of the Word with our ears plugged up. The Reformers understood that public confession deflated spiritual cockiness and put worshippers in touch with their spiritual need. Facing up to the truth of sin within us, we desire healing for what is broken in our lives, reconciliation with God and those around us, and the new life that is offered in the Word who is Jesus Christ.

Following the proclamation of the Word in Scripture and sermon, the people stand and speak the Confession of Faith. This confession, however, travels under a variety of aliases. The Book of Common Worship (1993) refers to it as “Affirmation of Faith.” The rubrics, however, include a number of alternate terms:
Creed – specifically referring to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds;
Affirmation – drawn from scripture;
Confession – as in Book of Confessions;
Declaration – excerpted from “A Declaration of Faith”;
Profession – by one being baptized;
Reaffirmation – when the congregation reaffirms the baptismal covenant.
Essentially they all mean the same thing applied in different settings. I choose to stay with the term Confession of Faith as a way of keeping it linked to Confession of Sin.

The Confession of Faith is really the flip side of the Confession of Sin. In confessing sin, we acknowledge not just our sins, those things we’ve done wrong, but our Sin, that is the brokenness of our relationship with God. God’s forgiveness is not completed in the Declaration of Forgiveness after the Prayer of Confession. It is only when we hear the Word and then believe our God that we are reconciled. Then we accept the healing of the breach by stating our belief and trust in God by standing to affirm, confess, declare, profess, or reaffirm our faith, or say a creed (credo=I believe).

The Confession of Faith and the Confession of Sin make up a matched set. They belong together in a service. Leave one out, and the omission leaves a huge theological gap in the people’s worship.

I’ve been in churches where there is no Confession of Sin, by any name. I always wonder why. Is it because the people (or pastors) recognize no need for reconciliation with God because that’s a given? I heard it directly from the mouth of a fundamentalist Christian expressed this way, “When you’re saved, you are forgiven for all your sins in advance.” No kidding. That’s not only lacking humility, it’s downright scary.

Leaving out the Confession of Faith may not be as scary, but it’s just as troublesome. When I started in ministry, the church I served had no Confession of Faith under any name or in any form. The resistance I encountered when introducing such an outrageous innovation could be described as hostile indifference. It took a process of close to two years to have anything akin to a Confession of Faith. (In the interests of full disclosure, they weren’t keen on the Confession of Sin either.) Why did they resist? Maybe they didn’t like having to state belief in someone else’s words, or so some told me. I think it went deeper than that.

The lack of a Confession of Faith results in a lack of commitment. Public declaration of what we believe, and Who we believe, is a standard to which we hold ourselves accountable. Just as confessing sin is a way in worship to acknowledge and reject sinfulness, confessing faith is a liturgical way of making a personal commitment to God.

Confessing faith during worship is also a way that we align ourselves with the church throughout history. The words may not be ones we would chose, but when we use historical affirmations like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds we place ourselves in the tradition of the people of God. Similarly using portions of the faith statements from the Book of Confessions or other historical documents link us with believers in other times and places. In the end, a Confession of Faith is never a personal statement, but a proclamation of the church in which you and I join.

Do you use both a Confession of Sin and Confession of Faith in your congregation’s worship? What do you call them? If you omit one or both, what is your rationale?

1 comment:

  1. We don't have a Confession of Sin before Scripture, rather I include the confession of our common shortcomings - our failure to love - in the Pastoral Prayer which does precede the commentary and Scripture.

    I agree with you that humility is a good path to hearing God's message for us in the moment. When it comes to spiritual openness, it's hard to beat the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous. One of their handy acronyms is "HOW," which stands for Humble, Open, and Willing. For me, this is not only the "how" of recovery from addiction, but also the "how" of faith and discipleship.


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