Confessing Our Sins

We have a meeting in our house during the week. I don’t know whether to call it a “Bible Study/Prayer Meeting” (formal) or a homegroup (cuddly). Anyway, we meet, talk, study the Bible, pray. Simple.

We don’t usually do topical studies, but we are in a break between books of the Bible. Last night we looked at prayer. I decided to use Shorter Catechism question 98:

Q.98. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is offering our desires to God in the name of Christ for things that agree with His will, confessing our sins, and thankfully recognising His mercies.

This gives us three components to prayer. (Test: to find them, look for the participles!) This gave me a structure to lead people through various Bible passages that teach what prayer is.

We had a great time. We learned things, were motivated, went deeper than I expected we would, especially on “confessing”.

I was encouraged by something in particular, but first some background. One of the things we do in Sunday worship is have an extended period of confession of sin. I have moved in my convictions on this. I used to be happy to utter a simple “Father, forgive us our sins” in the midst of the opening prayer. However, I had a growing unease about this while I was an intern at a church in Derby. It seemed the grace of God was too easily glossed over.

Here is what we do now, after the prayer of invocation:

  • read a passage of Scripture that reminds us of the holiness of God
  • a set prayer of confession sometimes said together, sometimes I will lead
  • a period of silence for private confession of particular sins
  • I lead in a prayer of thanksgiving forgiveness through Christ
  • read a verse which assures the hearer of forgiveness e.g. 1 Jo 1:9
  • an exhortation to receive the words in faith and to be assured of forgiveness.

This gives plenty of time for confession and reflection on the fact that God is merciful to sinners

At the meeting last night, Susan, my wife, commented on this part of our service. Until we came to SPC, she had never experienced this extended element of worship in a service before and found it strange at first. (She is not the only one. Some others who have been used to the hymn/prayer sandwich have found it a bit ‘Anglican’! I prefer the term ‘Reformed’.) However, Susan had found that as she has got used to it she has been reflecting more deeply on the grace of God in Christ during the service. She is able to go further than a general confession of sin, further than superficial sins (e.g. words that should not have been said), to to deeper idolatries. Susan has even found herself confessing sinful attitudes from years ago which had idolatry at the root, but which at the time seemed innocuous.

To me this was such an encouragement. It is when we get to these deeper levels that we see God’s Spirit at work.

God blessed us last night.

Confessing Our Sins

Federal Vision Study

In May 2006 I wrote a dissertation for a final year Independent Study module at WEST. The title was rather lengthy and perhaps a bit grand: A Critical Evaluation of “Federal Vision Theology” Arising in North American Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in the Last 30 Years.

The reason for choosing this subject was that during my time at WEST, the whole Federal Vision thing blew up in the US in 2002 and I wanted to study it a bit more. Unfortunately, because of my coursework, I could never seem to get to it. So when the opportunity came up to have pretty much a free choice of subject in the IS module, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone.

Now, I find I get a regular trickle of requests for the document so I have decided to post it here. Feel free to download it.

You get what you pay for! It is a student assignment, so it has stylistic quirks, and some limitations. I have learned a great deal since and would want to develop some areas. It was written before various important denominational study reports were published and some book-length treatments so I am not claiming anything great. So, it is what it is.

I would welcome feedback, of course.

Federal Vision Study

Murky Coffee

This book was read as part of the NavPress blogger review programme:

Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life
by Ed Czyewski
NavPress, 2008, 231pp
ISBN-13   9781600062773

Ed Cycewski is concerned that in doing theology we admit to our own cultural conditioning. We each have a perspective that we bring to the table. That much I agree with. However, I am going to be pretty critical of this book.

At best this book argues that we need other Christians from other perspectives to help us realise our own blinkers. At worst this book suggests that though there may be truth intended by God in inspired Scripture, it is essentially unknowable, and we are merely bobbing around at the mercy of the swift-moving current of culture.

In the end I felt like I was reading the recipe of a liberal on how to “just get along”. It reminded me of these awful Lent study groups that I have participated in where people are more interested in their own opinions than in what God the Spirit has given us in the text of Scripture. But “it’s lovely that we’re meeting together”. There is much practical advice about accessing resources in this book but little discernment about what is good.

And there is the rub. The issue is not really that everyone has their own perspective. It is whether we really believe that when God spoke in Scripture he really meant what he was saying and that he meant us to understand it. There may be many perspectives, but we must believe that God was single minded in authoring Scripture. I have met too many Christians in study groups where they seem incapable of examining the text before them. I understand from missionaries that this is a common problem amongst Christians in other cultures. There is much talk of the Lord speaking and leading, but little interaction with the text before them.

Unfortunately, this book does not help. It is muddled in its fundamental premise. Hence it is of extremely limited value to the believer eager to know God.

Murky Coffee