I became a Christian at the age of 15.
When I began to go to church, we used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and prayed the prayers from it each Sunday.
Here’s what we said:
A general Confession to be said of the whole Congregation after the Minister, all kneeling.
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
(From The Order for Morning Prayer, Daily Throughout the Year, BCP, 1662. Thomas Cranmer was the man responsible for collating the original 1552 prayer book, and authored most of the prayers. See Tony Payne’s comments on the same prayer.)
Here are three observations:
- We prayed this every week, except for when we had the Lord’s supper, in which case, we prayed this:
ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- In every church I have been part of since those days, we’ve remained committed, in theory and often in practice, to the ideas behind these prayers.
- Nowadays, however, we don’t pray this prayer, nor anything like it. Most of the time, we don’t even confess our sins, except in the briefest and most perfunctory way. When we do, it is usually as one request amongst many.
So why do you think we’ve stopped confessing our sins publicly? My own theory, for what it is worth, is that there is a part of us that can’t really believe that we’re as bad as the Bible says we are (Dan 9:9-10).
This means that when we prayer leaders receive the email giving us the list of things to pray about in church on Sunday, and confession is one of about a dozen important things on that list (for some others, see 1 Timothy 2:1-7), we just forget.
That’s not so good, is it? And if my theory is right, it means that, like Cranmer, we ought to reinstate public confession as the first thing we do in our church meetings, right after and in response to the reading of the word of God. For:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
Amen to that.