A corporate act of confession on the Lord’s Day is, historically, a no-brainer. Back in the day when the body of Christ was understood as a body, not a conglomerate of individuals having an emotional moment, it was common place for Christians to kneel together and with a communal voice confess their sin together. Why?
In corporate confession we do not primarily come to confess our individual sins, that is something you do in your private prayer before God. When the body of Christ gathers, confession corporately is an admission that we (as a redeemed body) have left Egypt and gathered before the Lord by His mercy alone. We kneel together as the baptized body admitting the fact of our sin, not necessarily the particularities of our sins. It is as though we say this when we kneel, “Good and gracious God, we have lived in Egypt all week and our fortitude has crumbled, our desires have been for our old gods and slavemasters, and we are unworthy of Your rule and mercy.” It is all “we.”
We confirm at the summons of God that we are in fact sinners. This needs to be done. Our day is full of Pelagianism (people are not really so bad and we should not talk about sin), and humanism (worship is to make the individual feel good), and the ever present cognitive ability of self-deception (thinking you are better than you are).
Having a time of corporate confession, when the called out people of God get on their knees and prostrate themselves before the Holy One, puts us in our place. Corporate confession symbolically lays us in the grave under the judgment of God and if we do not hear the proclamation of Good News, we could never stand up. On our aching knees, with our heads bowed, praying together of the fact of our sinfulness, the grace of God proclaimed by the minister is the hand of the Father raising us out of our own depravity. All week we succumb in various ways and degrees to sin and death, it takes an act of divine mercy and resurrection to raise us up.
Without a corporate confession the call to “lift up your hearts!” could not be done. Why do we lift them? How can we lift them? Where are we lifting them to? We lift them up because God has granted us forgiveness in the death of Christ and new life in the Holy Spirit. We lift them because God raises us up from the dead. We lift them because we are spiritually called into the throne room of heaven to worship the God of heaven and earth. When we confess our sin and we receive God’s forgiveness we are granted permission to worship the Triune God with the hosts of heaven. We are clean, forgiven, glorified, and we lift up our hearts.
If we never get on our knees before the face of God, our understanding of His grace will never grow.