This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that we must hold onto and live out more fully so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
I have some ability to be flexible in worship. Note that I said “some.” I don’t want to overstate this. But the one practice that I can’t do without is corporate confession of sin. When worship doesn’t have confession, or when the confession is completely upbeat, it just doesn’t feel like worship to me.
I serve a primarily progressive congregation and there are many people in the pews who would love it if I ditched the Prayer of Confession. “It’s depressing.” “It makes me feel like a sinner.” “I don’t like it.”
In my most pastoral voice, I respond, “good. That’s what it is supposed to do. Isn’t it a gift? I love confession!!!”
I am such an evangelist for Confession that I would even suggest that the decline of the mainline church did not come about because Christendom came to an end, or because we got too liberal and started welcoming people who don’t take Leviticus literally (ahem). I suggest here that the mainline church went into decline when we abandoned language of “sin” to our more conservative brothers and sisters. (But perhaps that is a story for another day.)
Here are a few of the reasons I love Confession.
The Body of Christ: It is hard to live together. We make mistakes. We hurt each other. We don’t listen. The list goes on. There is great power in worship when the Body of Christ can come together, corporately, and acknowledge those times we have failed each other. There is also great power in hearing the voices of our brothers and sisters speaking out loud the ways we have sinned, failed each other, and failed to live as God commands. When we hear voices joined together in confession we are reminded that we are not alone in our brokenness!
In confession, we come before God with our personal confessions, but also trusting that God can seek restoration for the sins of the church universal.
Confession is a gift: To be able to be honest about who we are and whose we are is a gift in a world where it seems that everyone has it all together. A study recently showed that students get depressed when they look at Facebook updates. “When the students responded, a large majority of them overestimated how good their friends’ lives are and how much fun they appear to have while underestimating the amount of negative experiences their friends were actually having.” 1 The act of corporate confession is a gift to counter the false narrative of “everyone else’s perfect lives”. In Confession, we can come together, honest about our lives.
Confession keeps our faith experience from being a list of behaviors: There is a trend right now in both faith and politics to create lists. If you are x, y, and z then you are allowed to be in our group. Churches do it, determining that these particular behaviors are worse than those particular behaviors. A priest in Maryland recently refused communion at a funeral to the daughter of the deceased because she was a Lesbian. A Republican Party in SC tried (and failed) to create a purity pledge for the candidates that included 28 different items. Candidates would have had to promise that they had not had pre-marital sex, that they would no longer look at porn, would support gun rights, American sovereignty, etc.
Here’s the connection to confession. When you reduce faith or civic involvement to a list of behaviors, you remove the need for grace. “If I can keep this list, I will be faithful.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not so good at the list keeping. And I refuse to limit my faith to some idea that Jesus will love me as long as I keep this list. When we gather together for worship and confess our sins, we acknowledge that our faith, our lives, are more than lists. We try. We fail. We try again. We have compassion for those next to us who have also tried, failed, and will try again.
And let’s just say we could keep the magic lists. What about other behaviors? Did the priest at the funeral deny communion to the person who had stolen money from the poor, or who wasn’t tithing to the church? Did the priest ask everyone there if they had honored their mother and father or if anyone had violated the Sabbath? How did being a Lesbian become the only thing to keep you from God?
If we want to become list keepers again, I suggest we return to the Old Testament and see how well that turned out. We can make really long lists. And we never quite get there.
Ultimately, of course, Confession is a reminder of our need for Grace. The Assurance of Pardon washes over us each week, cleansing us and reminding us of the baptismal waters that claimed us in the first place. “Here the Good News! Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation! The old life has gone. A new life has begun! Know that you are forgiven and be at peace.”
Marci Auld Glass: Marci is the Pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho and blogs here. She and her husband, Justin, have two sons, Alden and Elliott. Marci is a labyrinth walking soccer mom, lapsed cellist, probably a future “cat lady”, and voluntarily listens to opera.