A Corporate Confession on Grumbling

Photo by Ismael Paramo on Unsplash

My church is currently 25 sermons into a series on Exodus. It’s been amazing.

Each week we’ve been reminded what a mighty deliverer God is for his people. No situation, however dire, comes close to challenging his ability to rescue.

Enslaved by the most powerful ruler in the world? No problem.
Fearing the angel of death? Just put some blood on your doorpost.
Trapped between an approaching army and a shoreline? Watch God work.
Uncertain about what path to take? God’s got a cloud and a pillar of fire.

Every step of the way God’s people saw that God was powerful, caring, and faithful.

That is, until the end of Exodus 15, when the Israelites arrived at a place called Marah, or “bitter.” The only water they found was undrinkable. And they assumed God had met his match.

So rather than trusting in God’s steadfast love and waiting on the Lord to provide for them,

The people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” (Ex. 15:24)

Are you kidding me? Were they sleeping up to that point? Were they deaf, dumb, and blind to God’s mercy? Hadn’t they seen God take care of their every need?

Apparently not.

Just Like Us

As my pastor C.J. preached this passage, he pointed out how much like the Israelites we can be. Evidence of God’s lavish faithfulness and mercy abounds in our lives, but we fail to notice.

We withhold trust in God pending evidence from God. Instead of realizing that God tests us to show us what we’ve learned (or not), we assume difficulties prove God doesn’t care. Rather than seeing God is testing us, we test him.

As I experienced conviction that morning, it struck me that most of the church probably felt something similar. That’s when I thought about writing a corporate confession for the following week.

I typically build the first half of a Sunday liturgy around what we heard the previous week. Our tendency to complain was a lesson that was too important to hear about one Sunday and then move on.

So the following week, the call to worship was Lamentations 3:22-23:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

We then sang Our Song From Age to Age,  which speaks of God’s faithfulness, and A Christian’s Daily Prayer, a song that reminds us of our dependence on God.

Acknowledging Sin Together

At that point, one of our pastors, Jeff Purswell, introduced and led us in a time of confession. Here’s what we said together:

Father, we gladly acknowledge
That you are the giver of every good and perfect gift.
When you open your hand,
You satisfy the desire of every living thing.
You are righteous in all Your ways and kind in all Your works.

But too often we fail to acknowledge your abundant goodness,
Lavish generosity, and loving faithfulness.
Instead of being grateful, we grumble.
Instead of thanking you, we test you.
We confess we have sinned in all our complaining and selfishness.

Jesus, thank you that your entire life on earth was one of gratefulness.
Thank you for bearing our sins,
Receiving our punishment on the cross,
And paying the debt we owed to a holy God.
Because of you, we can now walk in forgiveness and freedom.

Holy Spirit, enable us by your power to live lives of thanksgiving.
May we be humbled by all the riches we’ve received in Christ.
And may our lives be increasingly marked

By trust, awe, and gratefulness for the mercy we’ve received.
We pray in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

What’s the Purpose

We use a confession like this about twice a year. As I’m writing this, I’m motivated to do it more often.

In Psalm 32, God details numerous ways confession serves our souls.

  • We experience God being our hiding place. (v. 7)
  • God preserves us from further trouble. (v. 7)
  • He surrounds us with shouts of deliverance. (v. 7)
  • He teaches us his ways. (v. 8)
  • He surrounds us with his steadfast love. (v. 19)
  • He gives us joy! (v. 11)

And who wouldn’t want all those benefits?

Writing Your Own Confession

While a number of effective confessions already exist, it can be helpful to use one that’s specific to your church. Here are some thoughts to consider if you write your own:

  • Be honest. Don’t have people confess to sins they haven’t committed. “Lord, I have never thought of others more highly than myself.” “My worship of you has never been sincere.” “I don’t ever think of the poor.”
  • Be specific. Vague confessions produce vague experiences of forgiveness. “We confess we’ve been proud,” isn’t as helpful as, “We confess that at times we compare ourselves to others and demean them in our hearts.”
  • Be biblical. Root your prayer in Scriptural phrases, terms, and truths. We pray with greater faith when we pray God’s words, warnings, and promises back to him.
  • Be gospel-minded. Give people words to say that enable them to see how Jesus fully paid for our sins through his substitutionary death and didn’t leave us with vague feelings of forgiveness. Also, don’t let people think that confession purchases our forgiveness. It only allows us to experience it more fully.
  • Be Trinitarian. A corporate confession is one way we can remind the church that the one God we worship is three persons, each of whom is involved in our justification, sanctification, and glorification.
  • Be faith-filled. Clear confession and a fresh awareness of our forgiveness in Christ should make us want to live holy lives (2 Pet. 1:9). We have hope for change because of the cross and God’s Spirit!

If you’ve experienced the benefits of corporate confession in your church, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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6 Responses to A Corporate Confession on Grumbling

  1. Jesse Morgan March 14, 2019 at 4:35 PM #

    Hi Bob, love your thoughts here, and thanks for posting your whole confession for us to mull over. I was encouraged by your teaching last summer to incorporate some element of confession into the service, whether it’s a responsive reading, a prayer though a Psalm of confession, a scripture that calls us to confess, or a song (Lord Have Mercy has been great!). It was different for our congregation at first, but I believe people have really seen the purpose behind it, as our liturgies will shape them for better or worse! Since people particularly ask for the responsive readings, I’ve been posting our liturgies on my blog each week to get people prepped for the Sunday.

    Thanks for constantly bringing this need of corporate confession to light, it’s definitely a neglected element in our churches. Question about your above confession, was it responsive at all or was the whole thing read by the congregation out loud? Do you have thoughts on either?

    • Bob Kauflin March 14, 2019 at 6:05 PM #

      Thanks, Jesse! We read this together, but I like responsive readings as well. Depends on the confession. Responsive is probably a little easier if the church isn’t used to reading together.

  2. Janice Lewis March 18, 2019 at 9:47 AM #

    At my church we have a corporate confession each Sunday written by our Worship Pastor. It is a wonderful segment in our service as we all read the confession aloud, in unison, and then sing a song of affirmation and assurance of forgiveness in Christ. I’m in an Acts 29 Church on the outskirts of Memphis, and prior to moving to this area I spent many years at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville.

  3. Glenn Ebersole March 10, 2021 at 8:27 PM #

    Is there a more easily understood term than “corporate” confession when it comes to the entire congregation doing a confession? The term corporate conjures up a business structure as opposed to a church body Looking for more appropriate terminology.

    • Bob Kauflin March 12, 2021 at 11:06 PM #

      Glenn, great question. I think you could call it “congregational confession.”

  4. Glenn Ebersole March 13, 2021 at 7:28 AM #

    Thank you for your response regarding my thought if congregational confession rather than corporate confession.
    Glenn Ebersole

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