Grace and Peace from Our Lord Jesus Christ!
In this edition of “Pastor’s Green Pastures” we are continuing our way through the order of worship. We have heard the call to come up the invisible Mount Zion. We have ascended that holy hill through the Prayer of Adoration. Now we come to the gates of heaven. It is through the liturgy of confession that we enter into this most holy place to sit with Jesus. This is a time for the church to rehearse our infidelity to God and hear the gospel message of forgiveness of our sins in Jesus’ name. A basic outline often includes a call to confession, prayer of confession, the pronouncement of pardon in Jesus’ name, and sometimes the reading of the law as a guide to grateful living and the passing of the peace.
The exercises we do during this part of worship serve to shape your desire for God, encourage you to long for the new heavens and earth, remind you who you are, mold your habits to increasingly choose the right and reject the evil without having to think, and invite you to practice being an eschatological (end-times, ultimate things) community.1 James K.A. Smith gives us some insight into how this works for individuals. Smith says, “the key to directing and increasing one’s desire for God is the acquisition of the virtues” and he defines virtues as “non-cognitive ‘dispositions’ acquired through practices” like confession. Moreover, through the weekly pattern of corporate and personal confession and pardon, your imagination learns to yearn for the day when you will be unable to sin and reside fully in the coming kingdom not tainted by sin.2 Like a pronouncement of marriage for a man and woman, the pronouncement of pardon reminds you, as Jim Belcher discovered, that Christians are not defined by the law but by their relationship with Jesus. Repentance even gives you what Belcher calls “psychological distance” from your sin so that you learn that you need to repent of your sin but it is not who you are.3 Similar observations could be made concerning the way hearing the law molds your habits, as does the whole confession liturgy, and concerning the way passing the peace is reconciliation practice for heaven-bound forgiven people.
There is a popular religion today pretending to be Christian but in that religion the liturgy of confession is pointless. Those practicing this popular religion believe that the Deity wants everyone to be nice and do good.4 However, they do not appreciate the seriousness of sin in the eyes of the true and living God, nor demand His standard of perfection. Ultimately, whether they realize it or not, they do not see their need for Christ and His death on the cross. The problem is that sin creates a chasm between all human beings and God that no person can jump by being nice and doing good things—we all need Jesus! Drew Dyck shares the example of Jenny, whose religion sounds more like this other religion than Christianity. Jenny normally turned to God only whenever she had a problem, she viewed the purpose and goal of life as “self-actualization,” and when she used drugs she did not feel guilty about seeking satisfaction in something other than God but instead felt bad because “she was wasting her potential.” Here is a daughter of the church who badly needs, as Dyck says, to be challenged “to make a complete and lasting commitment to Christ.”5 The loving thing for the church to do is to challenge Jenny to repent and find her identity in Jesus alone. Thus visualizing yourself in Christ you now can enter the Temple where you will hear the word, respond to it, and hopefully see it.
1. On the corporate dimension cf., Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem,
Revised edition, Kindle edition (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2002), location 1010ff.
2. James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, p.71, 176-179; Garber, Visions of Vocation, p.201.
3. Belcher, In Search of Deep Faith, p.82-83.
4. Dyck, Generation Ex-Christian, locations 1998-1999.
5. Ibid., locations 2007-2013, 2036-2037.