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confessing-sinIt is puzzling to see one of the defining marks of a Christian’s identity quietly disappear from a church’s worship.

I’m speaking, of course, about confession – a time when the church comes together as a repentant people, and asks God to forgive and cleanse, to renew and restore, to inflame our cold hearts and fill us with overflowing love.

Confession is one of the defining marks of a Christian because it is linked to repentance and faith. When we confess our sins to God, we are agreeing with God that our sin is something that needs to be forgiven. We are recognizing that our sin hurts us, hurts others, and most importantly, hurts the heart of God.

Confession is the expression of repentance in which we name our sin for what it is, turn away from sin, and turn toward a merciful God. The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not that the non-Christian sins and the Christian does not, but that the Christian sins and repents, while the unbeliever hardens their heart toward God – either by refusing to admit the sin or by trying to deal with the sin in some other way.

As a part of corporate worship, confession has historically been near the beginning of a service. Once we have been summoned to worship God, and once we have seen and begun to experience His presence, we are like Isaiah – falling on our knees before a majestic and holy God, amazed when seeing the brightness of His glory, ashamed when seeing our sin for what it is. Before we can move forward in worship, or move outward in mission, we fall down in repentance.

Scripture never requires a time of confession near the beginning of a service. The Lord’s Prayer leads us to ask for forgiveness near the end, not the beginning. Making confession a requirement in every worship service could give the impression that God is constantly angry with us and we can only approach Him after doing penance. This would lead us back to the medieval image of a God whose favor we must somehow earn, rather than the God of grace whose favor is freely received through the merits of Christ and His righteousness.

Today, however, the more pressing problem is not the idea of a God who is perpetually angry, but a shriveled god who is shallow and nice. If we don’t see God taking sin seriously, we won’t take it seriously either. And once we stop taking sin seriously, repentance loses its power. No surprise, then, that confession falls away, and the one thing for which all Christians should be known – repentant faith – is something we no longer express together in public.

My hope is that the practice of corporate confession will make a comeback – whether in a time of silent prayer, corporate confession, or songs that plead for mercy. After all, we are not in a posture to receive God’s Word until we have first renounced our sin.

A confession of sin renounces any attempt to justify the sin; we humble acknowledge our sin and its sentence. At the same time, we humbly place ourselves in the hands of a mighty and merciful Savior. He is the One who grants repentance, and He is the One in whom we trust.

Note: I wrote this blog post as part of a series for Keith and Kristyn Getty’s email newsletter. They have done great work in providing the Church with songs of confession. Here are a few free downloads.

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27 thoughts on “The Mark of Christianity That is Disappearing from Our Worship”

  1. Curt Day says:

    If it makes you feel any better, confession is noticeable part of the two churches I attend. I attend two churches because I have one for when I am home and another for when I visit the daughter.

  2. Melody says:

    I’ve literally never been to a church that had a time of confession. I’ve sometimes been to special services where that happened or conferences. But not a Sunday morning service.

  3. Nell Parker says:

    Almost all liturgical churches had a time of confession in the service.

  4. Jeremy Weart says:

    I agree with the article. However, repentance is not just confessing our sin but confessing the parts of our lives that are not in step with God’s rhythms. There are many ammoral parts of our days that need adjusting by the Spirit, too.

  5. Katey says:

    Just this morning I had been noticing how few hymns of confession/ repentance are to be found in our Baptist hymnal. Interesting to consider that lack as part of a wider phenomenon. Thank you.

  6. Kyle says:

    Our church practices confession both in our prayers and the singing of Psalms–which provides the Church with even better songs of confession than the Gettys.

  7. Andrew says:

    Be Catholic! Everything Protestants tell me they “Miss” is always something the (C)atholic Church has always done. We didn’t let Martin Luther and Calvin take away the beauty of our faith. It’s nice to see people (500) years later start to realize what they’re missing and trying to find it. Come home, we’ve been waiting.

    1. Kate says:

      In all the mainstream protestant churches that I have attended, we have always confessed our sin in the liturgy – early in the service so that we may enter the holy presence of God, cleansed and made new. Its not a good idea to generalise with such subjective comments as this post begins with. You are not speaking for all of us at all.

    2. tdl says:

      i go to an evangelical Presbyterian church andwe have corporate confession of sin andcommunion every Sunday without the legalism Mary worship and other errors of the Roman church

    3. Amelia says:

      I know you probably meant to be encouraging and welcoming, but that came off as extremely condescending and not at all welcoming. We are home, because we are hidden with Christ on high – but thank you.

    4. Leah says:

      Lutherans include confession as a regular part of worship. What Luther objected to was “buying” forgiveness through the sale of indulgences or “earning” forgiveness through penance. Forgiveness is a freely-given gift through God’s grace and mercy.

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  9. Mark says:

    The fact that churches ever had community confession, and many other practices is that it wasn’t practiced in the home. History, especially old testament doctrine, knew rge Lord was very distant from their heart, hence, a priest or leader of sorts was their mediator to “forgive” them. If one truly follows God from their heart today, these practices are daily, even instantaneous! Worship, singing, praying, asking forgiveness praising, holding back the tongue, giving to those in need… when in one accord with God, becomes your passion every moment of living. When Gods Holy Spirit truly lives and breathes within us, what need is there for a church/minister to remind us what we need to do? Gid tells us we are ALL priests once we believe…Step it up people of God!

  10. tdlockwood says:

    I was embittered at the Church and fell away for 20 plus years God used a good friend to bring me back to himself through Jesus I went to several churches here in Lincoln NE Led by the Spirit to make a PCA Presbyterian Church of America church my church home We have communion and corporate confession of sin every Sunday I wish we would always have it right before comingto the LORD’S Table but they sometimes have it earlier to prevent it becoming too routine or ritualized I think it is the responsibility of each worshiper not to let anything become routine in their hearts and minds but I feel blessed to have corporate confession and communion very week so not having confession just before communion every week does not bother me very much This was a great article and one the Church as awhole needs to read and think about

  11. John says:

    Can you back up your argument with scripture? Surely this is coming from the bible and not catholic tradition if you are making that bold of a statement.

  12. Dan says:

    Trevin, I kindly but strongly disagree, even though you shared some wonderful Biblical truths about repentance, especially for anyone who is struggling with a sinful life. I think one of the root problems is we compare ourselves to others and we judge our lives by how we have failed rather than what Jesus has accomplished “in” us as Christians and judged us righteous in his sight.

    Your belief system will ALWAYS determine the way you live your life. If you believe your saved by grace but you are still a sinner then you will continue to struggle and submit to your sinful nature, spending your whole life trying but never succeeding to live completely free from yourself.

    Or, If you believe that the blood of Jesus was enough to completely cleanse you and redeem you back as an original son or daughter as if you had never sinned (like Adam & Eve before the fall). And that your Father God ALWAYS sees you as blameless, pure, and holy in his sight, then you will live accordingly in the truth of what He says about you. You will continue to embrace daily in the immense freedom of His love and joy, while enjoying the true intimacy with Him that you were always created to live in, it’s the abundant life!

    Should you stumble, then of course you repent, God forgives you and your conscious is clean, then you rejoice of how beautiful & outrageous His never ending love is toward you!!! He is such a good Father!!!

    I’m not saying Christians who believe contrary to what I shared cannot experience the intimacy and the love that I spoke about. God doesn’t wait until we get it right, He died in order to get into our lives and transform us any way possible. I just believe they can’t sustain it, because that perspective won’t allow you to. It keeps you focused on “you’re just a sinner saved by grace.” You were a sinner saved by grace but now you’re a saint. Paul didn’t write to the sinners of Ephesus, to the sinners of Philippi, but to the saints! The issue is we misinterpret scripture with the bent toward our struggle’s in life.

    The problem, is not that we need to keep a continual attitude of repentance but that we need to keep the continual attitude and perspective that we have been washed and made clean and forgiven and God sees me as pure and holy and blameless in his sight because of the blood of Jesus and then we live accordingly to that. It’s the perspective and the truth of how God sees us in our true identity in Christ. Dwelling “continually” on that truth creates the incredible thankfulness that draws us into his heart, into his goodness and into the freedom from ourselves we so desire. The problem with most of the church is that she doesn’t believe this or preach this therefore many keep struggling with their sin.

    We’re waiting for God to change us, he’s waiting for us to believe in what he’s already done for us! It’s time to believe!

    1. Ruth Green says:

      Too true, thank goodness someone gets it. We are already righteous in God’s sight, because Jesus did it all on the cross. Trying to establish our own righteousness by keeping the law is how we fall from grace. Even then our legal standing is not changed, but we try to live in the wrong kingdom.

  13. As some have said, confession occurs in the liturgical churches. The problem with it being liturgical, in my experience, is that it just becomes another thing in the liturgy that you eventually say from memory, pay partial attention to, and never truly internalize.

    There are times of corporate worship in the Bible, particularly in the OT, where God’s people gathered and expressed corporate sorrow for their collective sin, confessed it, and received forgiveness. This needs to happen corporately, and it also needs to happen individually. It doesn’t need to turn into a works-justification like the Roman Catholics. But I agree that genuine confession and repentance is part of a recognition of the fullness of God’s character and glory.

  14. “Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, 2 teaching about ritual washings,[a] laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And we will do this if God permits.”

    From Hebrews 6….

  15. Charlie says:

    Just curious: on what basis (data) do you say that confession is “quietly disappear(ing) from a church’s worship.”?

  16. Tony Biancardi says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. However, you central point, “the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not that the non-Christian sins and the Christian does not, but that the Christian sins and repents, while the unbeliever hardens their heart toward God – either by refusing to admit the sin or by trying to deal with the sin in some other way,” is not backed up by Scripture. We are in the dispensation of salvation by grace, not works.

  17. Jarrod says:

    One contributing factor is that the vast majority of churches and pastors today rarely if ever preach on sin. Not only that, but teaching on holiness have disapeared.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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