Truth Matters Newsletter – June 2006 – Vol. 11 Issue 6 – – Robert S. Liichow
Discernment Ministries International
Why I like to Kneel In Church
Today, many congregations and denominations are quickly jettisoning almost everything that could remotely be construed as “Traditional.” Some congregations have done completely away with singing the classic hymns and have replaced them with simple pietistic refrains that are repeated over and over. (1) Other church leaders have taken crosses out of their sanctuaries lest it offend the seeker they are attempting to reach with, I assume, the message of the very cross they have removed.
Many Evangelical and Protestant groups no longer recite the Lord’s Prayer and fewer still ever declare the Nicene or Apostles creed in their services. Part of the philosophy behind striping away the elements of historic orthodox Christianity is because they are seen as an impediment to the targeted demographic. (2) These aspects of our common faith are viewed as being non relevant in today’s “have it your way culture.”
What the Church Growth Movement (aka “Seeker Sensitive”) does not comprehend is that worship service is about Jesus and not our comfort or making us feel good about ourselves. (3)
Another ancient practice that will not be found in this contemporary form of Christianity is that of Kneeling before The Ancient of Days and whole on our knees confessing our sins in unison. For twenty years in various church/denominational settings my wife and family never knelt and confessed our sins as part of the worship service. I am glad to be a part of a congregation that has not lost any of our historic Evangelical practices, including kneeling for confession, prayer and kneeling during the reception of the Holy Supper.
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. Psalm 95:6
And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven. Kings 8: 54
There is something that strikes me at a deep spiritual level when I kneel before the transcendent God of all creation. It reminds me that I am the creature, and He is the Creator. It is a posture of submission and humility. It is an attitude of supplication and an acknowledgment that I am poor in spirit and I am in continual need of God’s grace.
Perhaps some churches don’t kneel because it smacks of “Roman Catholicism” in their thinking. Possibly they think that they don’t have to kneel, after all God sees the heart so our posture is unimportant. Let me address these two misconceptions right now before we continue. First, the Church knelt before the Lord long before Roman Catholicism existed. Secondly, yes God does see our heart and if we could see it as He does we’d be on our faces and not just our knees!
When people encountered Jesus during His earthly ministry they often knelt before Him when making their requests:
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. Matthew 17:14-15.
And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: Luke 8:41.
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed. Luke 22:41.
Kneeling before the Lord is the Biblical pattern. There are few examples of people simply walking up to Jesus and looking Him face-to-face petitioned Him for something. We see this pattern of humility in prayer modeled by both the Apostle Peter and Paul of Acts:
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes; and when she saw Peter, she sat up. Acts 9:40
And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. Acts 20:36
Even throughout the Old Testament people usually knelt in prayer to God.
When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:3
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. Daniel 6:10
So when I kneel I sense a deep connection to al the ancient people of God upon whose shoulders we all stand. If people knelt in prayer before the advent of Christ, then knelt to Him during, His earthly ministry, how much more so should we kneel today now that He has ascended back to the right hand of God the Father Almighty in all His glory?
Some might argue that kneeling can become a form of pietistic pride “see I kneel, so I am truly humble.” If that is anyone’s attitude then they are simply wasting their time. Any spiritual practice can be abused and turned into a form of works righteousness, but this need not be the case if one truly understands the reason behind what is being done or practiced.
One thing that can keep people away from feeling sanctimonious is the purpose behind our kneeling. In our congregation’s worship service we kneel initially to confess our sins before our Holy God. The pastor begins by inviting God’s people to kneel and confess our sins to God (the pastor kneels as well, knowing himself to be a sinner in need of God’s grace too). Here is what we confess as a people in unison:
Silence for reflection on God’s Word and for self-examination.
Pastor: Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.
Congregation: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen. (4)
Certainly this confession can become just so many words habitually spoken without any impact in some people’s lives, but as we would all agree, God knows our hearts. He knows who is sincere in their repentance and who is just going through the motions. People can be just as hypocritical standing a kneeling.
Trust me when I say after years of charismatic indiscrimination it was initially hard to verbally say out loud that I am by nature “sinful and unclean.” I had been wrongly taught and had taught others that yes once we were sinners, but now we are the very righteousness of God in Christ! Just try to get a Word of Faith cultist to confess they are sinners (good luck!). So, actually verbalizing those words brought some initial cognitive dissonance within me. However, I did confess that negative confession because it was true. The following quotation is an answer to this very issue of saying we are poor miserable sinners:
You are certainly correct in affirming the scriptural truth that believers are set free from sin through Christ and are no longer slaves to sin, and consequently are also free from its penalty, death. As St. Paul plainly says in Romans 6, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). Yet this same apostle in the very next chapter of Romans writes of his struggle as a sinner/saint: “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched [the Greek word here means “miserable, wretched,” “distressed”–A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 9881 man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (7:23-25). On the basis of Paul’s teaching in Romans 7 Luther spoke of Christians as paradoxically at one and the same time “saint and sinner” (simul iustus et peccator). He wrote, “The saints in being righteous are at the same time sinners; they are righteous because they believe in Christ whose righteousness covers them and is imputed to them, but they are sinners because they do not fulfill the law and are not without sinful desires. They are like sick people in the care of a physician: they are really sick, but healthy only in the hope and insofar as they begin to be better, healed, i.e. they will become health. Nothing can harm them so much as the presumption that they are in fact healthy, for it will cause a bad relapse.” It is altogether proper and fitting, therefore, for Christians to confess that they are poor miserable sinners, and with full seriousness, while at the same time they rejoice in the forgiving love of Christ who has taken away their guilt-the love which is announced and imparted to them in the absolution. (5)
Then once we have made our confession of sin something amazing (and greatly misunderstood by many people) happens in the service! The Pastor stands up and says:
Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Chirst, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. [John 20:19-23]. (6)
We are forgiven all of our sins! We are “absolved” of them based totally on the mercy of God and merit of Christ Jesus on the cross for us. What confuses some Christians is that they mistakenly think that The Evangelical Church believes that it is the pastor who upon hearing our confession of sin forgives our sins. This is simply not the case. Roman Catholicism believes that their priests have the authority to actually forgive sins, but that is not what the Bible or The Evangelical Church believes. To absolve simply means to set free from sin. By virtue of his office and in the name and stead of Christ a pastor absolves those who have confessed their sins. (7) So when we hear the words “I forgive you all your sins” in reality it is not the pastor speaking per se, it is no less than Jesus Christ Himself, for those are His words. Glad tidings indeed!! As long as we are on the subject of confession and absolution, one need not be a pastor to forgive another their sins —
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availed much. James 5:16
Every Christian is called upon (see Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13) to do this two-fold work: (1) confess their sins and (2) to forgive those who sin against them. In our formal worship setting we do this as a body together, but it can be done privately, and if you are anything like me, I am throughout the day asking my Lord’s forgiveness when I stray in word, thought or deed.
We also kneel at the altar rail to receive the body and blood of our Lord in communion. As we approach the altar we bow, then the pastor invites us to come forward, upon doing so we kneel and the elements are distributed. After everyone has partaken the pastor pronounces a blessing over us and we return to our seats. During this time hymns appropriate to the Lord’s Supper (an audible gasp is heard from a seeker Christian who surreptitiously sneaks a read of your issue) are sung by the congregation. After communion is received my family chooses to kneel again in thanks for the gift the father has given us in His Son and for the strength of joy granted to us by His Spirit.
Let me close by reiterating that I, Bob Liichow, enjoy kneeling before our Lord. This practice is seen from Genesis to The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It does not make me more spiritual to kneel nor does it make Christians who do not kneel less spiritual. It is simply part of our ancient Christian tradition (there I said that word again) and it is a tradition I fully appreciate. ♦
Copyright © 2006 Robert S. Liichow
1. I am not against contemporary Christian music. Based on over twenty years of singing “contemporary” songs I can unequivocally state that they lack the solid theological content of the traditional hymns of the Church. Admittedly the new music has a beat, you can clap and dance to it but that misses the point of the singing which is to focus on Christ, lift Him up and glorify Him.
2. Church Growth gurus believe that the major reason people do not attemd church is because it is too traditional, is not relevant to their daily lives, demands too much of its members. CGM gurus thus came up with a wide variety of marketing techniques to lure in the un-churched. They use everything from jugglers to clowns, stadium seating, tone down the message so it is no longer convicting and thus not a true presentation of the Gospel.
3. Naturally I am not saying that worship service does not meet our needs or that they are to be boring. The focus is to always be Christ centered and not man-centered.
4. Obtained from http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/Worship/DS2.pdf
5. Obtained from http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=2624
7. Concordia, The Lutheran Confessions, Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, p. 684.