The True Worship of God:
The Confessing Community

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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Christians disagree as to whether it is appropriate to use creeds or confessions of faith (such as the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed) as part of formal worship. However, whether they are used or not, the Christian community must be a confessing community if it is to be faithful to God. This may include the use of creeds or confessions of faith, but it is not dependent upon them. Christian worship is, by its very nature and by the nature of the commitment God asks of us, an act of confession before God, other Christians, and the world.

Some Christians, of course, must worship in secret due to persecution. Most of us are aware of the history of the catacombs, and the need for early Christians, as well as for Christians in Communist China and other places today, to protect their safety by worshipping in secret. Even then, however, true Christian worship has a public component in that it is a confession made before other Christians as well as before God. This is one of the reasons that private, personal worship cannot be substituted for worship as part of a local fellowship of Christians. Private worship has its place, to be sure (Matthew 6:5-6). But while we are saved as individuals, we are also saved to be part of a community. The failure to recognize this changes the nature of our faith and undermines God's plan for His people in this age (I Peter 2:4-10).

The confession made by Christians before other Christians and before the world has two sides. There is a negative confession, the confession of our need, which is the confession of our dependence as creatures upon our Creator. This includes our sinfulness and our need of a Savior. This is a uniquely Jewish concept in that it involves the God of the Jews (John 4:22); a God who is personal, who is too pure to tolerate sin, but whose love motivates Him to be the Redeemer of those who love Him and humble themselves before Him.

Jesus underscored the need for humble dependence when He spoke of two men with entirely different characters: one who was filled with pride, and another who said, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:9-14). The Jews of Jesus' time called all Gentiles "sinners." As a tax-gatherer and a hated representative of the pagan Roman empire, this man would most likely have been referred to as "the sinner" by those who acted like the proud man in Jesus' parable. Here, Jesus lauds the tax-gatherer for acknowledging that, in himself, he is unworthy of God. This same attitude of humble dependence upon God's mercy, Jesus teaches, is the attitude that his critics should adopt (I John 1:10).

The way to God is entirely different from the way to acceptance in the world. The world seeks out those who seem to be self-sufficient in all things. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The world seeks out those for whom life is a continual party. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn." The entrance point into relationship with God is a humble recognition of one's deep need of God's provision and grace. John draws attention to the importance of this in his first epistle (I John 1:8-10). Paul demonstrates this attitude in I Timothy 1:15-16.

A Christian's public confession of the need for personal salvation does not necessarily involve the public confession of specific sins. The best rule-of-thumb in that the confession of a specific sin generally needs to be no more public than the sin itself, the confession being made only to those who are involved (have been trespassed against), with private sins confessed only to God Himself (Matthew 18:15-17). One exception is when the public acknowledgment of a sin helps someone else recognize or overcome that sin. Surely another is when restitution cannot be made or the effect of the sin cannot be nullified unless the sin is made known to others. But we should be careful of making sin the center of attention, of becoming more famous for past sin than for present righteousness, or of competing to have been saved from the worst sins so we can have the "best" testimony! While private confession of known sin to God is essential, what is most needful in public worship is a public acknowledgment of our need of God's anointed Savior, Jesus Christ, and our dependence upon God's saving grace through Christ.

The positive side of confession is declaring our faith in God and Jesus Christ and the sufficiency of His saving grace in all its glory. This witness is greatly diminished unless preceded by a confession of our need. The confession of our need leads naturally to what Peter calls proclaiming "the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Peter 2:9). Jesus taught that our love of God is determined by how deeply we recognize the deep need God has met on our behalf (Luke 7:36-50). All of the exhortations of Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews to righteous living are predicated upon our recognition of the deep need that has been met by the redemptive work of God through Christ.

The confession of faith that Christians are to make before the world is given in the way they live their daily lives. Previously we have seen that service to God rendered through obedience to His Word, demonstrated in the way we live our daily lives, is strongly related to worship - so much so that the Greek words in the Scriptures that we translate into the English word "worship" are generally closely related to the concept of "service given to a master." In exactly the same manner, our confession of faith in Jesus Christ is demonstrated by the way that we speak and live. This is made clear throughout the Scriptures. I John 2:3-6 is one of many passages that emphasize this truth. Scriptural concepts of "confession" and "witness" are very closely related.

But it is also true, just as with the concept of service, that confession in daily life does not replace confession made through corporate worship - those times when the Body of Christ comes together before the Lord in a local congregation to declare a common Lord and a common faith. We see this modeled in the fourth and fifth chapters of The Revelation to John, where a heavenly congregation meets together in worship. Philippians 2:10-11 forecasts the time when all who have ever lived will acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The local congregation meets to do this now, in this age, to celebrate that they are already part of this future age in Jesus Christ their Lord. Confession is the entrance point into the community of faith (Matthew 16:13-18, Romans 10:8ff.). This is not just a confession of faith in Christ as Messiah, although that is a central part of it. It is a confession of faith in God's truth as revealed through the holy prophets and apostles upon whom our faith is built. In other words, a confession of faith in what God reveals to us through the Holy Scriptures. Paul gives an example of such a confession in Acts 24:14-16.

This is another reason for the Word of God to have a prominent place in Christian worship. The great truths of our faith, revealed to us by God through His Word, the Holy Scriptures, call for human response. This is another important reason why the unregenerate (those who do not know Christ) cannot properly determine what takes place in Christian worship. Only Christians can appropriately confess, and thus witness to their faith, in a manner pleasing to God.

No individual, no personality or celebrity, no matter how knowledgeable, skilled, or eloquent, can make a confession that is more important than the confession made corporately by the Body of Christ; the common confession of those tied to Jesus Christ by common submission to His Lordship and Word. Individual confession is important as it adds to this witness, but should never lead us away from the common confession of faith on the part of the people of God. The confession made by the Body of Christ is made by some who are celebrities to be sure (the apostle Paul was one in his day), but is made by all who come to the meet together to honor their Lord. The beauty of God's rich saving grace is that it reaches out to all people, whosoever they may be. The congregation need not be a large one necessarily, but it must be a congregation.

Each Sunday morning, the first day of the week, prompted by the weekly anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the first day of the week, Christians travel to a central place to declare their faith before God, each other, and ultimately the world. Our neighbors are watching us as we surrender the comforts of home to spend time with other Christians in the presence of God. Our manner must assure them that we do this not because we hate them, but because we have a special love for God and a desire to be with others who also love Him. As we do this week after week, we drive home the importance of Christ in our lives. Further, as we meet together, we are encouraged by the faith of others, and we encourage them in their faith (Hebrews 10:25, Romans 1:12).

Formal worship is the one time of the week when the Christian faith is declared clearly and unambiguously. It is the opportunity for the people of God to remind themselves of the great truths of their faith by confession before they go out into the world to live by them for another week. In the process, they teach these truths to others. Christianity is not just witnessing the Gospel, or the preaching the great truths of our faith, it is also teaching, instruction.

The ceremonies Christ commissioned for His people to observe also have a confessional aspect. Baptism is an "an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 3:21, Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12). So in baptism we both confess our need of purification by God's saving grace, and we also declare our faith in the resurrection of the crucified Christ and in the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Likewise, in the Lord's Supper we confess our need for grace through Christ in anticipation of His return, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (I Corinthians 11:26). And for all this God's servants must be present, so that the witness comes from the entire community of faith, the confessing community.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume IV, Part 11, November 1996.

Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.