In a previous pastorate, a lady expressed her concern after a Sunday morning service. It seemed that the exposition of Scripture and its application had gotten a little too close for comfort. She admitted that she no longer enjoyed coming to church.
This lady was no occasional attender either, but the wife of one of our best deacons and active at every service. She never complained or caused trouble, so her comment unsettled me for the moment. Then she added, “I want to feel good about myself when I leave church. But that’s no longer happening.”
Her confession—for that’s what it was at heart—exposed the root issue. She had a gross misunderstanding of public worship, Christian doctrine, corporate gatherings, gospel application, and sanctification. For her, church appeared to be more about self-admiration than humbly living by the grace of God in light of the cross of Christ. Growing in holiness as a follower of Christ had taken a backseat to Christianity as a means to personal satisfaction.
I imagine that similar sentiments might be echoed in other churches. The “it’s-all-about-me” focus of the present generation tends to run from anything that exposes sin and the need to rely upon Christ alone.
In a helpful essay on church discipline, Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted this movement away from personal responsibility regarding sin. He explained,
Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation—redefined as a mere voluntary association—has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members. Consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and congregational engineering, most churches leave moral matters to the domain of the individual conscience [“Church Discipline: The Missing Mark,” in John Armstrong, ed., The Compromised Church: The Present Evangelical Crisis (Crossway, 1998), 173].
While Mohler identifies the neglect of church discipline, his statement exposes the broader matter of concern. How can congregations confront “even the most public sins of their member,” if there is no regular exposure of the multiplicity of sins among the members? In other words, if churches neglect corporate confession of sin, it may seem arbitrary to suddenly call out one person for his or her specific sins. Congregations meeting each week with an aim toward personal satisfaction will find great difficulty at growth in holiness and at corrective discipline. So how do we correct this faulty attitude?
Obviously, regular exposition of Scripture with solid applications must be foundational. But along with that I want to recommend regular corporate confession of sin. Our congregation began this practice in our Sunday morning worship a number of years ago, and has found it to have a leavening effect upon us. For several years we utilized the soul-searching prayers from The Valley of Vision. Most recently, we write our corporate confession as a response to the Scriptural call to worship chosen for the week. I will close with an example from this past Sunday’s worship and the reading of Psalm 133. May the Lord help us to recognize our sins, confess them together, and rely upon the blood of Christ to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!
O Lord God, as the Triune God,
You display perfect unity as
three distinct persons in one divine being.
While Your Tri-Unity
staggers the imagination,
the fact of it sets the example
of what You created us to be:
a people living in unity in You.
But the fall shattered that unity among us.
We see the effects of it everywhere—
in businesses, politics, academia, friendships, and families.
The world seems characterized by disunity
in about seven billion ways.
We’re ashamed of how we have contributed to it.
We realize that sin stands at the point of disunity:
pride, jealousy, bitterness, impurity, and much more,
breaks what should be a sweet communion with others.
How thankful we are for the cross of Christ
that has taken disunity and its roots out of the way!
You have redeemed us and called us together as the church,
so that as Christ’s body, we might display the unity found in You.
We grieve over disunity in the church!
We grieve over our own part in causing it and making it persist,
staining the pure witness of Your body to the world.
Forgive us, we plead.
Change us, we ask, so that we might display,
“How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”