Liturgy is a loaded word. Liturgy can communicate a myriad of things to different people. For some, it conjures images of dusty pews, stuffy worship, and archaic language. For others, it brings comfort, knowing the order and structure pertaining to the worship gathering. For those coming to the church that I pastor (Coram Deo), many are confused or unaware of why we do various things in our worship services. In this short series, I want to break down the various parts of our liturgy, explain why we do them, why we do them in a particular order, and what the biblical grounds are for each liturgical component. This week we will focus on the second aspect of our liturgy: confession of sin.
What is the Confession of Sin?
Since we planted Coram Deo in 2019, confession of sin is the number one liturgical element that we receive feedback about. Many people joining Coram Deo are coming from non-denominational and Baptist backgrounds where by and large there is no confession of sin in their worship service, at least not in a formal sense. These people are simply unfamiliar with a moment of confession but once they have tasted it, they love it. So what exactly is the confession of sin in our worship service?
Each week, a reader will proclaim God’s word as a means to invite the congregation to confess their sins. We do this because we recognize that our lives are in sync with the ancient hymn-writer more than we want to recognize: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” Each and every week, we have committed sins of commission and omission—sins in which we deliberately disobeyed and actions that we left undone. Perhaps for some, we backslid into an old habit, for others, we looked down in pride on our neighbors. All have gone their own way and forsaken God sometime in the week.
Pastor and author Bobby Griffith writes helpfully, “Confession is an admission of guilt, an acknowledgment, or profession. In worship, Christians have, historically, incorporated confession off in as a liturgical practice to invoke the reality that God’s people must recognize their need for his grace in their lives. Confession are a statement that, though God’s people are redeemed, they still sin, individually and corporately.”
Corporate worship is like a covenantal renewal ceremony, where we get to confess the ways in which we have broken our covenant relationship with God. In our service, we often do multiple aspects of confession to address how we have broken the covenant with God. In some services, we do a private confession of sin where each person is invited to confession silently. In other services, we do a public confession of sin where we confession our sins corporately, we read a corporate psalm, or we pray a corporate liturgy. Regardless of how we confession, it is important to note that confession is always a part of our liturgy on Sunday.
Why do we confess our sins each week?
We do a corporate confession of sin every week because we recognize that each and every one of us have sinned against God in some way this past week. We all need to have the moment where we return to God when we disobey. There is no better place to confess than in the worship service which is done under the instruction of the preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments. We confession because we agree with 1 John 1:8, that we cannot say we have no sin otherwise we would be deceiving ourselves.
Even if your church does not practice a formal confessional moment, the reality is that most churches do have moments of confession that are either informal or unintentional. Growing up in Baptist churches, the moment of confession actually came before partaking in the Lord’s Supper. We were summoned to remember our sin and the death of Jesus, and thus, to confess the ways in which we contributed to the death of the Son of God. While I think it is important to examine oneself before taking communion (1 Corinthians 11), I believe it is unwise to place confession right before the Lord’s Supper because the meal is intended to be a feast—a celebration of God’s covenantal renewal towards us (I will address this more thoroughly later on). Nevertheless, even if there is no formal aspect of confession, many churches still have moments of confession in their service.
Because God is the one who calls us to worship him, it is only right that we approach him with fear, reverence, and confession. We confess our sins because we recognize that God is holy and righteous. Our inability to love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as our self, is sufficient reason to confess our sins every week. And the most beautiful aspect of all in the moment of confession: God is inviting us to confess. He is our loving Father who beckons his children to come home, and the way to do that is by the means of confession. We come to the moment of confession not because God is going to judge us but because he has already judged Jesus in our place and therefore he says to us, “I love you so much—we have a few things we need to talk about.” Confession is our moment to come home back to God, who welcomes us with open arms.
Examples of Confession of Sin
“ Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
Agnus Dei, the oldest known Christian prayer.
“Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us.
Jesus, Bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.
Jesus, Redeemer of the world, grant us peace.
Adapted from Psalm 5
All: Hear our words and our groaning O Lord. Give attention to our cry for mercy.
Minister: You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; You hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; You abhor the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
All: But, O Lord, we are evildoers. We are boastful, deceitful and bloodthirsty.
Minister: By your mercy alone, by the abundance of Your steadfast love may we enter your house.
All: Because of Your son, O Lord, let us find refuge in You. Take away our sins and let us sing for joy. Cover us with Your favor as with a shield. For the sake of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.