Confession, in one form or another, has always been part of the Christian life and church. In the days before the Reformation, confession took place privately: first one went to the confessional and then to Mass. When the Reformers began to study the prayers of Scripture and of the early church, they began a radical reform of public prayer. The Reformed Church of Strasbourg developed two core prayers for the worship service: The General Confession and the Prayer of Intercession. In Worship Hughes Old describes the prayer of confession as "a comprehensive prayer of confession and supplication. It has followed very closely the pattern we found in the Temple. First there is the lamentation and confession of sin, then a supplication for forgiveness, an assurance of pardon spoken by the minister, and finally a psalm sung by the congregation" (p. 98).
Why public rather than private confession? Again, Old: "When one studies the prayers in the book of Psalms one notices that it is not always clear whether the prayer is intended for individual use or for corporate use. There is good reason for this. The fact that one came to the Temple to pray meant that one was appealing to the whole community for support in one's prayer. It is a most natural thing for people facing very individual and personal problems to ask the support of others in their prayers. When as Christians today we assemble together for prayer, we appeal to the whole Christian community to support us in our prayer" (p. 91).
In Strasbourg and Geneva the elements of what are now often called a "Service of Confession" were placed near the beginning of the service. This Reformed contribution to liturgical structure is evident in most Christian communions—even the Roman Catholic Mass, which now includes a "Penitential Rite."
The service of confession on these pages, prepared by Roger Van Harn, pastor of Grace CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is especially appropriate for World Communion Sunday (and for the CRC All Nations Heritage service) when most of us confess that we have not lived the oneness we confess.
Service of Confession
Leader: But now in Christ Jesus
we who once were far away
have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
(People are seated.)
Leader: As a prisoner for the Lord, then,
I urge you to live a life
worthy of the calling you have received.
Be completely humble and gentle;
bearing with one another in love.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace.
People: There is one body and one Spirit—
just as we were called to one
hope when we were called—
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.
Leader: Let us pray.
People: God of Grace,
We grieve that the church which shares one Spirit,
one faith, one hope, and one calling,
has become a broken communion in a broken world.
The one body spans
all time, place, race, and language,
but in our fear
we have fled from and fought one another,
and in our pride
we have mistaken our part for the whole.
Yet we marvel that you gather the pieces to do your work,
that you bless us with joy,
and with signs of unity.
Forgive our sins as we commit ourselves
to seeking and showing
the unity of the body of Christ.
In his name, Amen.
Leader: In Christ we have the forgiveness of sins
and the riches of God's grace.
This grace was given to us:
to preach to the nations the
unsearchable riches of Christ,
and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery,
which for ages past was kept hidden in God,
who created all things.
People: His intent was that now,
through the church
the manifold wisdom of God
should be made known.
Leader: For this reason I kneel before the Father,
from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
I pray that out of his glorious riches
he may strengthen you with power
though his Spirit
in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts
And I pray that you,
being rooted and established in love,
may have power,
together with all the saints,
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep
is the love of Christ,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—
that you may be filled
to the measure of all the fullness of God.
People: Now to him who is able
to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations,
for ever and ever!
—From Ephesians 1:7, 3:8-21, 4:1-6