Lead Us Back to You

How to Confess the Church’s Sins

In the local church where I serve as pastor for worship, we love to rehearse the gospel together each week in our services. The regular rhythm of our Sunday family gatherings has four parts:

  1. Seeing God rightly displayed (Isaiah 6:1–4).
  2. Acknowledging our sin and turning to him in repentance (Isaiah 6:5).
  3. Celebrating reconciliation to God through the sacrifice of Christ (Isaiah 6:6–7).
  4. And committing to our mission as his people (Isaiah 6:8).

Our time of corporate confession each week is particularly meaningful for our church. We freely, even joyfully, confess our sins, knowing that Jesus has paid it all and that full forgiveness in him is ours. One of our regular songs of confession has a few lines that recently got me thinking:

Lord, we fall upon our knees, we have shunned the weak and poor.

We’ve become a talent show.

You have caused the blind to see, we have blinded him again . . . eager, ready to condemn.

We’re a valley of dry bones. Lead us back to life in you.

What I found interesting was that I am not sure each of those lines is necessarily true of each individual in our particular church. Certainly, we are far from perfect, and we each have many areas where we need to become more like Christ. But, in general, our people care for those in need well, are not terribly impressed by talent or power, and are generally very forgiving.

So, what do we do when we are singing lyrics that confess other people’s sins? Should we sing lines like these?

Confessing Family Sins

Parts of this song (and other songs like it) call out what might be identified as cultural sins of the evangelical church — trends within the broader church (in America, or the West, or in the world) that are broken and need to be corrected. Certainly, no trend or sin is a pervasive problem for every church. But a cursory glance around the broader Christian landscape in our culture reveals temptations towards power and politics, flashy entertainment-based worship, and legalism.

“Every church, and every individual believer, is ultimately responsible before God for its own sins.”

The reason why this matters for us and for our churches, who may or may not particularly identify with the broader sins of evangelicalism, is because we are all joined in Christ. When we are united to him, we become members of his body (Ephesians 5:29–30), a universal family bound together over time and space (Hebrews 12:1), and expressed both locally in individual churches and worldwide as the church universal (1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 4:4–7).

This relationship means that it is good for smaller families (i.e., local churches) to take stock of our larger family (i.e., the universal church), and identify trends and sins that need to be named and spoken against.

So, when we sing lines like, “We’ve become a talent show,” or, “We have shunned the weak and poor,” not only are we confessing the sinful inclinations of our own fallen hearts, but the sins of the broader church to which we all belong. These sins affect us all, because they grieve the Spirit and diminish the unique, countercultural beauty of Christ’s body. What’s more, not only do they hurt our witness to a watching world, but also the overall health of our Christian family. Indeed, when one member hurts in the body of Christ, we all hurt (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Lead Us Back to You

This is not to say that we are able to repent on behalf of one another. Every church — and every individual believer — is ultimately responsible before God for its own sins (Revelation 2–3; Acts 3:19). Nevertheless, because we are all joined together as one family, it is good to occasionally look around, identify disturbing trends within our local and worldwide families, and turn to the Lord for help. To plead with him for change.

“We are part of a work of God that is not confined to our person, our church, or our city.”

With this in mind, when we sing songs of corporate confession, the “we” changes from a local church to a worldwide family, and we are caught up into something bigger than our narrow selves. We acknowledge that we are part of a work of God that is not confined to our person, our church, or our city. And we feel not only the joys and triumphs of the larger family, but our weaknesses and trials as well.

Therefore, as a worldwide family, we come before God and say together, “We’re a valley of dry bones. Lead us back to life in you.”