Elements of Worship: Confession and Assurance

By Kent French
September 14, 2017 - 9:04am

Earlier this decade, a journalist name Kathryn Schulz wrote an intriguing and engaging book called, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. You can see her 18-minute TED talk here. Her main assumption is that we all mess up, we all make mistakes, we all misinterpret the signs around us. Her argument is that we like being right and that we have a big emotional investment in believing we are right. We hate the feeling when we realize we are wrong. And yet, she writes, it is when we realize that we are wrong that we have the best opportunity to learn.

Since first encountering her book and its central premise, I have thought a lot about how it links up with our Christian understanding of sin, confession, assurance, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Sin is a tricky subject to talk about among progressive-minded Christians. We're uncomfortable with the judgment, blame and shame that comes with acknowledging sin, whether our own or others'. Traditionally, sin has been used as a spiritual cudgel to help us feel bad about ourselves. Jonathan Edwards became popular in the 18th century preaching a sermon called, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and countless preachers have used that approach ever since. Many of us have been the victims of that approach.

In light of Schulz's work, sin is a matter of simply getting it wrong. And all of us get it wrong. Again and again. We snap at those most beloved to us. We continue bad habits. We fall into addictions. We tell small or even big lies. Some of us go onto the "bigger", classic sins listed in the Ten Commandments: covetness, stealing, adultery, murder. Often these missteps, whether big or small, come out of fear, anxiety, discomfort or lack of self-control. Sometimes they come out of ignorance.

And in human societies and governments, we continually neglect the poorest and most vulnerable among us. We continue to oppress others. We continue to go to war. All of this is sin.

My approach is that we accept sin as a central, if unpleasant, aspect of our human character, of the way God created us. And our job, our spiritual task, our most basic vocation is to try to get closer and more in tune with God -- to do the things that God wants, the things that God desires, the ways that God would like us to live our lives, to follow the example that Jesus gave us. And it is essential in all of this that we remember, no matter what, that God loves us. Unconditionally. 

That is just one of the reasons that I believe confession and assurance are so central to our worship. This Sunday, we will continue holding up individual elements of our worship and look at Confession and Assurance and why they are so central to our faith and our worship life together. We will reflect on the First Letter of John (1:1-2:5).

It's not going to be a downer. It's going to be a reality check AND a reassurance. We will remember together that "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy," that there is "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," that there is a "Fount of Every Blessing." I look forward to being with you.