This section of Desiring the Kingdom gets at the heart of why I wanted to return to a liturgical church. We actually used the Book of Common Prayer's confession prayer as our "memory" work last semester - I needed to remember it! I think that James does a good job of showing why these parts of the liturgy aren't always included in more "loose" liturgies (for lack of a better term). They go against the cultural grain and call us to submit and repent. But, then you also are reminded that you are forgiven, loved and redeemed. There is an answer to your questions and it is Jesus.
Smith talks about the Law as the part of the service that reminds us of "God's Will for Our Lives" and it received in one of two ways
In traditions that emphasize the announcemnet of the law as that which convicts us of our own sinfulness and need for confession, the reading of the law precedes and induces confession and assurance. In other traditions, the law is seen as God's invitation to live a life of obedience out of gratitude; that is, God's law is not a stern restriction of our will but an invitation to find peace, and rest in what Augustine would call the "right ordering" of our will.As we have been talking about at church, the Ten Commandments are given to help a long time enslaved people know how to act now that they are free. It is to teach them how to be a people set apart for him. James puts it this way
It is an invitation to find the good life by welcoming the boundaries of law that guide us into the grooves that constitute the grain of the universe and are conducive to flourishing.This ties in with Beauty in the Word where Caldecott reminds us that
Such rules (manners, courtesy, discipline) are not there primarily for the sake of social order, tradition or convention; they exist for the sake of the order of the soul, its spiritual development and happiness.Yes these laws are for our own good. James highlights that the law also "signals that our good is not something that we determine or choose for ourselves." He rightly claims that
Such a conception of autonomous freedom of choice - freedom to construct our own ends and to invent our own visions of the good life - chafes against the very notion of a law outside ourselves. The announcement of "the law" is a scandal to those who are primarily formed by modern secular liturgies.Unfortunately, I think it is also a scandal in some churches as well.
Confession and Pardon
James shows us three areas that confession should cover, our inability to rightly bear God's image, to develop and steward our culture and corruption of nature is a result of our sin. I think this is a pretty full view of what we are confessing. It is also done in community which points to the fact that as the whole body of Christ we fall short - not just as individuals.
The point that he makes that is so key is that ONLY IN CHRIST - in church - is a right answer to these failures found. We all know we fail. James correctly identifies two ways our culture typically responds, either by encouraging positive thinking or by pointing out failures and providing solutions (mostly self help or "buy this"). Truly, it is only in Christ that pardon is found.
As Christians we look forward to the pardon, but if you do not have faith in Christ you can only see condemnation when these issues are addressed. In one of our Bible studies we talked about an older man who talked about repentance as his "old friend" and that is the type of idea that James is encouraging. We should see repentance as a way to enter back into relationship because of what Jesus has done - to get into right relationship with all of these disordered things.
I am getting a much bigger view of what conviction and confession have to do with right ordering. I am glad to be part of a community that does it weekly and am trying to find ways to meaningfully incorporate it daily.