At Cities Church, we worship Jesus. We believe that worship is the heartbeat of the church. It’s what pumps life and blood to all of the church’s activities. We believe it’s essential that we honor God in our worship and that worship shape and mold who we are as the people of God. As a result, we have adopted a simple, but consistent order of service, or liturgy, that takes us through the gospel each week. We call it the Five C’s: Call to Worship, Confession of Sin, Consecration, Communion, and Commission. God invites us into his presence. We confess our sins and receive his forgiveness through Christ. God sets us apart for his service. God then shares a meal of communion with us. And then God sends us out into the world to make disciples. A few weeks ago, Pastor Nick preached an entire sermon outlining our liturgy, and I’d direct you there for a fuller explanation. For now, I want to say a little more about this portion of the service: the Confession of Sin.
The Confession of Sin includes three things: a five or six minute exhortation (which I’m giving now), a time of confession, and an assurance of pardon. The goal of the exhortation is twofold. On the one hand, we want to admonish and exhort each other. We want to spur one another on to love and good deeds in very concrete ways. At the same time, these exhortations are a reminder of how far we fall short. They are a reminder of our sin and our need to confess.
And so, in a moment, we’ll have a time of corporate confession, followed by a moment of silence for private confession. But we can’t leave it at confession of sin. We are, after all, gospel people, the People of the Good News. And so at the end of our confession, we want to remind ourselves of God’s mercy and faithfulness to forgive us our sins. And so the second step is capped by the Assurance of Pardon. That Assurance will culminate each week in the following statement:
Leader: By the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Congregation: Thanks be to God!
Let me draw your attention to three things. First, we call this the Assurance of Pardon. Neither I nor any other pastor can forgive your sins. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” All I can do is to assure and announce and declare what God does in response to your repentance. If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive your sins. Just as, in a moment, Pastor Jonathan will preach God’s word, here at this portion of the service, I will announce and declare God’s pardon and forgiveness.
Second, the pastor declares this assurance and announces this pardon “as a minister of Christ’s gospel.” Now in one sense, every Christian is a minister of the gospel. Every Christian represents Christ. But, for the sake of good order in the church, God has established pastors as representatives and overseers of the people. Our responsibility and privilege is to shepherd the flock of God, especially by guarding the doctrine and the worship of the church. The pastors have been set apart by the Holy Spirit through the congregation for this work, and this means that we are the lead comforters and announcers of God’s forgiveness in Christ.
Third, everything in that declaration is bracketed by the authority of the risen Lord Jesus and God’s triune name. In this service, no pastor speaks on his own authority. Not in the exhortation, not in the assurance of pardon, not in the sermon. What we say is true only if it agrees with the living and abiding word of God. I am not magic. I have no special powers. But I have the promises of God in his authoritative word, and that’s more than enough.
And we struggle to believe his word and obey his word and trust his word. And this reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let us go before him together now.
Confession of Sin
Our Father and God, you are seeking worshipers to worship you in Spirit and in truth. But we are prone to wander. We worship other things. We exchange your glory for created things and your truth for a lie. We seek to find our deepest satisfaction and security in them rather than you. We are a men and women of unclean lips and we dwell among a people of unclean lips. And so often we honor you with our lips while our hearts are far from you. We confess that this is a great evil. Your mercy and love are unchanging and unending, but our response is so weak and numb and pathetic. And so we seek your forgiveness for our slowness of heart, our hardness of heart, our dullness of heart.
We know, Father, that if we in the Church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual. And so we confess our individual sins to you now. . . .
Father, we thank you for the shed blood of Jesus. He is the propitiation for our sins. Because of him, we have an everlasting advocate before your throne. We ask that you would pour out your Spirit upon your church so that we might hallow your name together and be changed from one degree of glory to another. Through Christ we pray, Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Christ was pierced for your transgressions. Christ was crushed for your iniquities. He alone is your foundation. He alone is your refuge. He alone is your living hope. You have confessed your sins. You have acknowledged your iniquity. Therefore, by the authority of Jesus Christ, and as a minister of his gospel, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Congregation: Thanks be to God!