What About… Confession & Absolution
Luther put matters well when he wrote, “It would be far too great for any human heart to dare to desire if God Himself had not commanded us to ask for it. But because He is God, He claims the honor of giving far more abundantly and liberally than anyone can comprehend like an eternal, inexhaustible fountain which, the more it gushes forth and overflows, the more it continues to give. He desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of Him; and, on the contrary, He is angered if we do not ask and demand confidently.” (Large Catechism).
What do you believe according to the promise of God?
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ to deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
Burned and weighed down by sin, we are able to go to our pas-tor and confess our sins, knowing that by virtue of his office, he has been called to speak the word of Christ to us and in the stead of Christ to forgive our sins. Through the Christian congregation, Jesus Christ calls men to the office of the ministry He has given to His church, the office of the keys. Thus, our pastors carry out this office publicly, on behalf of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the Christian congregation. Also, all Christians extend the forgiveness of Christ to one another privately as they console fellow Christians sorrowing over sin.
At times, our pastors, with considerable sorrow, may have to tell a person not to attend the Lord’s Supper until he or she has repented of sin. If the situation continues without repentance, the pastor may have to declare to the person, on behalf of the congregation that has made this decision, that he or she is excluded from the church until there is repentance.
Excommunication is a last resort to help a person recognize the extremely dangerous situation he has placed himself in because he will not repent of his sin. It is a final attempt to win someone back from Satan’s influence.
Is Confession and absolution a Sacrament?
Although Holy Absolution has no visible element, it definitely does have Christ’s institution. The Lutheran Confessions refer to Holy Absolution as a Sacrament (LC IV.74; Ap.XIII.4). The Lutheran confessions also wisely point out that “No intelligent person will quibble about the number of sacraments or terminology, so long as those things are kept which have God’s command and promis-es” (AP XIII.17).
Luther speaks often about Holy Absolution, connecting it with the oral proclamation of the Gospel and with the ongoing living out of Holy Baptism. While it is customary in Lutheranism to speak of two Sacraments—Baptism and Holy Communion—we do well to keep in mind this important truth: “God is surpassingly rich in his grace: First, through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin is preached to the whole world; second, through Baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” (SA III.4.1).
What is private absolution and what is its benefit?
Our Lutheran Confessions say, “It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained in the churches and not be allowed to fall into disuse” (AC XI). The founding father of the Missouri Synod, C.F.W.Walther, said that a pastor, in an evangelical way, through careful instruction and encouragement, and through praising private confession and absolution, should work toward the goal where private confession and absolution is used in addition to general confession and absolution.
Private confession and absolution is a very important tool in the practice of pastoral care. Pastors use confession and absolution in a variety of situations—for example, in the midst of marital and family difficulties — and in other such pastoral counseling situations. Private confession and absolution is used by pastors to bring forgiveness and healing into the lives of those who come to them with troubled and anxious hearts.
Our church’s hymnal, Lutheran Worship, contains a suggested order for private confession and absolution (pgs.110-111). This order may be used in the context of a visit with your pastor. The order of private confession and absolution suggest that specific sins be confessed, but certainly does not require it. Another important pint is that pastors are sworn at their ordinations never to reveal the sins confessed to them. As one Lutheran pastor put it, “The pastor’s ear is a tomb. What goes in, never comes out.”
Conclusion— Rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins, we pray that God gives us the strength to resist temptation and to live lives that glo-rify Him, seeking to please Him by what we do, in accordance with His holy and perfect will. And as we do, we always are aware of our sin and so we flee for refuge to His boundless mercy, seeking and imploring His forgiveness for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank God for the gift of confession and absolution!
Dr. A. L. Barry
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
What About… Confession & Absolution