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The Confession of Sins

Ever wonder why we Lutherans use the form of worship we do? In this series we examine the depth and meaning of the various elements of our worship service, beginning with the history of Christian worship itself.

When I first started attending my bride’s Lutheran church fifty-four years ago, I told her that I very much liked the Bible classes and the sermons, but I did not care for all the standing and sitting and reciting words of a ritual. Besides that, the traditional hymns were difficult for me.

That opinion is, I think, how many non-Lutheran Christians view our worship services. However, as I came to understand what was going on in the worship service, I increasingly realized that our liturgy is actually an elegant expression of theology— truth derived from God’s Word!—rather than, as it is often misunderstood, mere ceremonial formality that’s a residue of the Roman Catholic Church from which Martin Luther broke.

This “Our Liturgical Legacy” series is intended to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the beauty and especially of the biblical faithfulness of the liturgy with which God has abundantly blessed our church. As Craig A. Parton noted specifically about the Lutheran liturgy in his book The Defense Never Rests,“I . . . found Christ at the center of all of it and the reason for all of it.” This month’s article focuses on the Confession of Sins, a part of every one of our worship services.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The question, then, is “How are we to deal with that fact?” Our “old Adam” tries to either deny or justify our sins: “Everybody does that, how can it be sinful?” “Yes, I did that, but (enter here the supposed mitigating circumstances).” Neither of those inane excuses is truly a solution to the problem of our sin. In fact, they worsen the problem rather than solve it. Moreover, our sin is not just a matter of some deed we have done or failed to do— it is a part of our very nature. We will not be entirely free from it in this life.

The only solution to our “sin problem” is confession and forgiveness. Here again, the centrality of the Gospel is shown in our Lutheran liturgy. How, after all, can we really approach the holy God, how can we worship Him, how can we be received as His children and expect His blessings, unless we admit our true nature and then cling to the Gospel of Jesus Christ for forgiveness? We cannot. The Bible clearly tells us,“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8-10) That is why the Confession of Sins is right at the beginning of our worship services, following immediately after the very short Trinitarian Invocation. Confession of sins is essential to rightly approaching the one true God. It is the prerequisite to the rest of our worship.

I once had a pastor who told me, “We can feed the sheep or we can entertain the goats, but in this church, we will feed sheep.” The Lutheran liturgy provides not just food, but actually a feast for us sheep, blessing us with what God promised:“‘I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,’ says the Lord GOD .” (Ezekiel 34:14-16) The Lutheran liturgy is rich food for Christ’s sheep; it will not entertain goats.

Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.