One aspect of Roots’ worship services that will be new to some people is the corporate confession. What do we mean by corporate confession? This is an act whereby the whole church reads a written confession in unity. For our purposes, this will either be a confession of sin (see example below) or a confession of faith (such as the Apostles Creed).
While corporate confession was not something that I grew up with, as I’ve encountered this practice in various churches I’ve found it to be incredibly beneficial. Here are five benefits I see in the weekly habit of corporate confessions.
- It teaches us appropriate ways to approach God. As Luther famously wrote in his 95 theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Regularly confessing and repenting of sin, joined with regularly encountering God’s grace and forgiveness for sin, keeps us rightly dependent on and thankful for God’s grace.
- It forces us to allow truth to guide feelings, and not the other way around. Our culture often equates spontaneity with authenticity. In the church, this displays itself in a devaluing of written prayers and confessions. While we must constantly be on guard against mere repetition that doesn’t engage the heart, there is an equal danger of allowing the heart and momentary emotions to interpret truth, rather than God’s Word.
- It gives us a vocabulary with which to approach God. As alluded to in #2, the argument is often made that written prayers and confessions will become rote disengaged from the heart. But as anyone who’s ever prayed consistently knows, even our spontaneous prayers tend to reuse the same words and phrases over and over again, and can also become rote. Encountering the written prayers of others teaches us new and appropriate language with which to speak to God.
- It allows us to benefit from the wisdom and piety of Christians throughout the ages. Christians began writing confessions and creeds from the earliest years of the church. Many of these originated from the collective wisdom of church leaders (Nicene Creed, etc.), or from the passionate devotion of godly individuals (the puritan prayers compiled in The Valley of Vision). While something is not better, or even valuable, for being older, it is foolish to for us to ignore the wisdom and insights of 2,000 years of Christian witness and devotion. Just as with many old hymns still sung today, there is something to be said of the enduring nature of many of the confessions and creeds produced throughout church history.
- It counteracts the rampant false gospels of self-help. James K.A. Smith says that when we fail to regularly confess our sin, “We lose an important…aspect of the gospel that pushes back on secular liturgies of self-confidence that, all week long, are implicitly teaching you to ‘believe in yourself’—false gospels of self-assertion that refuse grace” (You Are What You Love, pg. 97). Because we are continually encountering messages of self-help and self-confidence, the very idea of regular confession can seem odd to us. This should concern us, because without confession, the gospel of God’s grace gets severely distorted.
Here’s an example of a confession from the Anglican (Church of England) Book of Common Prayer:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as our selves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.