Bonhoeffer comments in his book Life Together,
“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”
I have always loved this quote from Bonhoeffer, because I often come to the corporate gathering of worship as one uncertain. I come keenly aware of my need for Christ, but uncertain of his favor for me; more ready to pray with the Psalmist “My soul clings to the dust!” than to rejoice with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” I don’t think I am alone in this feeling, either. Bonhoeffer’s insight is true--the Christian needs his brother “again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged.” So how do we bring our uncertainty and discouragement as Christians to the corporate gathering of worship? Does it have a place?
I think that the place for this in corporate worship is in the confession of sin and the assurance of pardon. In the confession of sin, we come face to face with the fact that we come to worship empty-handed. We are made aware that, though we would never say it with our lips, we often proclaim in our hearts that “there is no God”, living our lives in a haze of functional atheism, and sinning against God and our neighbor. The confession of sin puts us in the dust before God, but does so in an expectant way--praying with the Psalmist not only, “my soul clings to the dust”; but also as he continues, “give me life according to your word!” Confession stirs up in us to hear from and receive from God the life that comes from his Word.
The assurance of pardon comes into the stillness that follows confession. The uncertain Christian comes to worship and hears the indictment of his sin and puts himself down in the dust. Into this moment, the words of pardon are spoken from the pulpit by a brother Christian. We hear then that though we have indeed come to the church starving and penniless, our God sets a table of favor for us. He offers a feast of rich food and well-aged wine, and offers it “without money and without price.” From the dust we are called to look up to the right hand of God where stands a lamb who was slain, and yet lives and stands as the eternal advocate for all those who repent and trust in him. This is the good news of the gospel, offered again and again to the Christian each time that he gathers with the church for worship.
So, Christian, bring your uncertainty and discouragement to the corporate gathering. Confess your sins with the rest of the flock and let your heart be made firm and steadfast by the proclamation of the sure hope you have in Christ.