Saturday, April 7, 2007

Roundtable 12: Confession

"Our churches teach that private absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession. For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible. "Who can discern his error?" (Psalm 19:12)." (-- AC Latin; Concordia edition, 36-37).

By the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the practice of private absolution had been in place for well over 1,000 years. The Augsburg Confession is very brief and is intent simply on affirming that Lutherans continue the practice, but rejected any suggestion that all of one's sins must be enumerated. The article's purpose is twofold: to reject the false accusation that the Lutherans had rejected private absolution, to put distance between themselves and who had rejected it, and to reject the abuse of Rome that demanded that the penitent enumerate every sin he possibly could, or else he would not be certain of forgiveness. Sadly, over the course of time in Lutheranism, the practice of private confession and absolution fell out of practice.


Paul T. McCain said...

Here is the significant portion of a sermon Luther preached on Confession and the Lord's Supper. It was reprinted eight times between 1524-1525 and offers context to the brief remarks on Confession made in the AC. It is not insignificant that AC XI speaks of "Private Absolution" rather than "private confession."

Confession and the Lord's Supper


1. Although I have often preached and written on the Lord's Supper and Confession, yet annually the time appointed for the consideration of these subjects, for the sake of those who desire to commune, returns, and so we must review them in a summary and speak of them once more.

2. In the first place, I have often enough said that Christians are not obliged to commune on this particular festive day, but that they have the right and authority to come whenever they desire; for God established the office of the ministers for the purpose that they might at all times serve the people and provide them with God's Word and the Sacraments. Therefore it is unchristian to force people under pain of committing mortal sin to commune just at this time; as has been done heretofore, and is still done in many places. For it is not and can not be in keeping with the Lord's Supper to force or compel any one to partake of it; on the contrary, it is intended only for a hungry soul that compels itself and rejoices in being permitted to come; those who must be driven are not desired.

3. Therefore, until the present the devil has ruled with unrestrained power and authority through the pope, compelling him to drive and force the whole world to commune; and in fact, everybody did come running, like swine, because of the pope's command. In this way so much dishonor and shame have been brought upon the Lord's Supper, and the world has been so filled with sin that one is moved with compassion to think of it. But since we know these things we ought to let no command bind us, but to hold fast the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. I say this for the sake of those will not commune except at this time of the year, and who come only because of the custom and the common practice. There is, to be sure, no harm in coming at this Easter-festival, if only the conscience be free and not bound to the time, and is properly prepared to receive the Lord's Supper.

Page 195 ---------------------------


4. In the second place, we must say the same thing concerning Confession. First of all we know that the Scriptures speak of three kinds of confession. The first is that which is made to God, of which the prophet David speaks in Ps 32, 5: "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and my iniquity did I not hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." Likewise, in the preceding third verse David says: "When I kept silence, my bones wasted away as with the drought of summer;" that is, before God no one is able to stand unless he come with this confession, as Ps 130, 4 declares: "But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared;" that is, whoever would deal with thee must deal so that this confession proceeds from his heart, which says: Lord, if thou be not merciful all is lost, no matter how pious I may be. Every saint must make this confession, as again we read in the Psalm mentioned, verse 6, "For this let everyone that is godly pray unto thee."

Therefore, this kind of confession teaches us that we are all alike wicked and sinners, as the saying is, If one of us is good, all of us are good. If anyone have special grace, let him thank God and refrain from boasting. Has anyone fallen into sin, it is because of his flesh and blood; nor has any fallen so low but that another who now stands may fall even lower. Therefore, as far as we are concerned, there is no difference among us, the grace of God alone is dividing us.

5. This kind of confession is so highly necessary that it dare not cease for a moment, but must constitute the entire life of a Christian, so that without ceasing he praise the grace of God and reproach his own life in the eyes of God. Otherwise, if he dare to plead some good work or a good life before God, his judgment, which can tolerate nothing of the kind, would follow; and no one is able to stand before it. Therefore, this kind of confession must

Page 196 ---------------------------

be made, that you may condemn yourself as worthy of death and the fire of hell; thus you will anticipate God so that he will not be able to judge and condemn you, but must show you mercy. Concerning this kind of confession, however, we will not speak at this time.

6. The second kind of confession is that made to our neighbor, and is called the confession springing from love, as the other is called the confession springing from faith. Concerning this kind of confession we read in Ja 5, 16: "Confess therefore your sins one to another." In this confession, whenever we have wronged our neighbor, we are to acknowledge our fault to him, as Christ declares in Mt 5, 23-25: "If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way etc." God here requires of both parties that he who hath offended the other ask forgiveness, and that he who is asked grant it. This kind of confession, like the former, is necessary and commanded; for God will be merciful to no one, nor forgive his sins, unless he also forgive his neighbor. In like manner, faith cannot be true unless it produce this fruit, that you forgive your neighbor, and that you ask for forgiveness; otherwise a man dare not appear before God. If this fruit is absent, faith and the first kind of confession are not honest.

7. The third kind of confession is that ordered by the pope, which is privately spoken into the ears of the priest when sins are enumerated. This confession is not commanded by God; the pope, however, has forced the people to it and, in addition, has invented so many kinds and varieties of sin that no one is able to keep them in mind; thus consciences have been troubled and tortured in a manner that is pitiful and distressing. Concerning this, however, we will say that God does not force you

Page 197 ---------------------------

to confess by faith to him, or by love to your neighbor, when you have no desire to be saved and to receive his grace. Neither does he want you to make confession against your will and desire; on the contrary, he wants you to confess of your own accord, heartily, with love and pleasure. In like manner, he does not compel you to make a private confession to the priest when you have no desire of your own to do so, and do not long for absolution.

This the pope disregarded, and proceeded as though it were a part of the civil government requiring that force be employed; he did not inquire whether a person felt willing or not, but he simply issued the order, that whosoever does not confess at this time shall not have burial in the cemetery. But God cares not whether a thing is done or not, as long as it is not done with pleasure. It is better, therefore, to postpone a duty than to perform it unwillingly. For no one can come to God unless he come gladly and of his own free will; hence, no one can compel you to come. If you come because of the command and in order to show obedience to the pope, you do wrong. Yet it is the custom in the whole world that everybody runs to the Lord's Supper solely because it is commanded; hence this is very properly called the week of torture, since in it the consciences of the people are tortured and tormented so that they are really to be pitied, besides the injury and destruction of souls. Moreover, Christ himself is also tortured far more shamefully than when he hung upon the cross. Therefore, we may well lift up our hands and thank God for giving us such light. For although we do not bear much fruit and amend, still we have the right knowledge. Hence, it is much better to stay away from confession and communion than to go unwillingly: then at least our consciences remain untortured.

8. Hence we say of private confession, that no one is compelled to observe it. Still it is for this reason a commendable and good thing. Wherever and whenever

Page 198 ---------------------------

you are able to hear God's Word you ought not to despise it, but receive it with heartfelt desire. Now, God has caused his Word to go forth through all the world, so that it fills every nook and corner, and wherever you go you find God's Word. If I preach the forgiveness of sins, I preach the true Gospel. For the sum of the Gospel is: Whosoever believeth in Christ shall receive the forgiveness of his sins. Thus a Christian preacher cannot open his mouth unless he pronounces an absolution. Christ also does the same in the Gospel lesson when he says, "Pax vobiscum," Peace be unto you. That is, I proclaim unto you, as of God, that you have peace and forgiveness of sins; this is even the Gospel itself, and absolution. So also the words of the Lord's Supper, "This is my body which is given for you; this is my blood which is shed for you for the remission of sins etc." If I were to say, I will not go to confession because I have the Word in the Lord's Supper, I will be like him who declares, Neither am I going to hear the preaching. The Gospel must ring and echo without ceasing in every Christian's mouth. Therefore we are to accept it with joy wherever and whenever we can hear it, lift up our hands, and thank God that we can hear it everywhere.

9. Therefore, when you go to private confession give more heed to the priest's word than to your own confessing; and make this distinction, What you say is one thing, and what he says who hears you is another. Do not place much value on what you do, but give heed to what he says, to wit, that in God's stead he proclaims to you the forgiveness of sins. It makes no difference whatever whether he be a priest, called to preach, or merely a Christian. The word which he speaks is not his, but God's Word; and God will keep it as surely as if he had spoken it. This is the way he has placed his holy Word into every corner of the world. Since, therefore, we find it everywhere, we ought to receive it with great thankfulness, and not cast it to the winds.

Page 199 ---------------------------

10. For in Confession as in the Lord's Supper you have the additional advantage, that the Word is applied to your person alone. For in preaching it flies out into the whole congregation, and although it strikes you also, yet you are not so sure of it; but here it does not apply to anyone except to you. Ought it not to fill your heart with joy to know a place where God is ready to speak to you personally? Yea, if we had a chance to hear an angel speak we would surely run to the ends of the earth. Are we not then foolish, wretched and ungrateful people not to listen to what is told us? Here the Scriptures stand, and testify that God speaks through us, and that this is as valid as though he were to speak it with his own mouth; even as Christ declares in Mt 18, 20, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them;" again in Jn 20,23, "Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." Here God himself pronounces the absolution, just as he himself baptizes the child; and do you say we don't need Confession? For although you hear the same thing in the Lord's Supper you ought not on that account to reject it, especially since it applies to you, as already stated, personally.

11. Besides this you have another advantage, in Confession you are enabled to disclose all your failings, and to obtain counsel regarding them. And if there were no other reason, and God did not himself speak in Confession, I would not willingly give it up for this one reason, that here I am permitted to open my heart to my brother and tell him what troubles me. For it is a deplorable thing to have the conscience burdened and prostrate with fear, and to know neither counsel nor consolation.

This is why it is such an excellent and comforting thing for two to come together, and the one to offer advice, help and consolation to the other, proceeding in a fine brotherly and affectionate manner. The one reveals his ailment; whereupon the other heals his wounds. There-

Page 200 ---------------------------

fore I would not give Confession up for all the treasure of the world. Still it dare not be made a command, lest it be turned into a matter of conscience, as though a person would not dare to commune without first making confession; nevertheless, we ought never to despise Confession, you cannot hear God's Word too frequently, nor impress it so deeply upon your heart that it could not be done still better.

12. Therefore I said that confession and absolution must be carefully distinguished from each other, that you give attention chiefly to the absolution, and that you attend confession not because of the command, or in order to do a good work by your confessing, thinking that because of this good work your sins are forgiven; on the contrary, we are to go only because we there hear God's Word and by it receive consolation. To this incline your ears, and be persuaded that God speaks through men and forgives you your sins; this, of course, requires faith.

Hitherto the manner of our Confession was as follows: when people were absolved so many works were required of them as to render satisfaction for their sins. This was called absolving, whereas in truth it meant binding worse than ever. Sins ought to be completely removed by the absolution; but they first imposed the task of rendering satisfaction for them, and thus force people away from faith and absolution, and induce them to rely upon their own works.

They should be taught thus, Behold, this word which I speak to you in God's stead you must embrace in true faith. If you have not this faith postpone your confession; yet this does not mean that when your faith is too weak you are not to come and demand consolation and strength. If you cannot believe, tell the brother to whom you would confess of it, and say to him, I do indeed feel that I have need of confession and absolution, but I find I am too cold and too weak in faith. For to whom are you going to confide your weakness if not to God? And where can

Page 201 ---------------------------

you find him except in your brother? He can strengthen and help you by his words. This is confessing in the right way; and would to God the whole world were brought far enough at least for everyone to confess that he cannot believe.

13. Let it be said now concerning Confession that everything ought to be free, so that each person attends without constraint, of his own accord. But what ought one to confess? Here is where our preachers in the past have pounded a great deal into us by means of the five senses, the seven deadly sins, the ten commandments, etc., thereby perplexing our consciences. But it should be, that you first of all feel that which weighs you down, and the sins that pain you most and burden your conscience you ought to declare and confess to your brother. Then you need not search long nor seek all kinds of sins; just take the ones that come to your mind, and say, This is how frail I am and how I have fallen; this is where I crave consolation and counsel. For confession ought to be brief. If you recall something that you have forgotten, it is not to trouble you; for you confessed not in order to do a good work, or because you were compelled, but in order to be comforted by the word of absolution. Moreover, you can easily confess to God in secret what was forgotten, or you can hear the absolution for it during the communion service.

We are therefore not to worry even if sins have been forgotten; though forgotten they are still forgiven; for God looks, not to the excellence or completeness of your confession, but to his Word and how you believe it. So also the absolution does not state that some sins are forgiven and others not; on the contrary, it is a free proclamation declaring that God is merciful to you. But it God is merciful to you all your sins must be blotted out. Therefore, hold fast to the absolution alone and not to your confession; whether or not you have forgotten anything makes no difference; as much as you believe so

Page 202 ---------------------------

much are you forgiven. This is the way we must ever trust in God's Word in spite of sin and an evil conscience.


A sermon by Martin Luther published in 1524 and reprinted eight times between 1524-1525.

[The following sermon is taken from volume II:193-214 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in English by Lutherans in All Lands Press (Minneapolis, MN), as The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. The original title of this sermon appears below. The pagination from the Baker edition has been maintained for referencing. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]

Jim Roemke said...

I really like the idea of private confession and absolution. But, I must admit, I am more comfortable with the idea of being the confessor rather than the confessee. It takes a lot of trust and confidence in the confessor for this to work effectively.

Paul E. Schaum said...

I must admit that I have to go along with Jim Roemke. There are those who I believe would not break the seal of the confessional while some ... you just have doubts about.

wm cwirla said...

No one should ever attempt to be a confessor unless he is first a penitent confessing his sin to another.

Regarding the seal of the confessional: It is an even greater spiritual discipline to confess your sins to a confessor whom you do not trust fully, lest your lack of trust become an excuse for not confessing your sins. The old Adam has a million excuses not to repent. (I learned this from the sainted Ft. Korby.)

Besides, sin having been washed away by the blood of Christ, what power does the secret have anyway? And should someone "find out" who wasn't supposed to know and we suffer temporal consequences, then we should receive it as the fatherly discipline of God who chastises the children whom He loves.

wm cwirla said...

Holy Absolution goes to the very heart of the Reformation. You might say that the Reformation was a "crisis of the confessional." Luther began to work through the faith implications of the Gospel in the confessional guided by his father-confessor Staupitz.

There were three issues on the table: 1) the requirement that the faithful make annual confession (Omnis utriusque); 2) the necessity for enumeration of sins known to the penitent; and 3) the assignment of works of satisfaction to ward off God's temporal punishments, including those in purgatory.

Melanchthon deals with the first two in Apology XI, in response to the Confutation which raises these two issues. The third, he will deal with at length in the next article.

The Roman way of contrition, confession, and satisfaction was reformed to confession and absolution. We speak God's sentence to us under the Law; we hear the absolution from the confessor as God's Word of forgiveness to us.

The danger is that notion of "transaction" is always lurking in the background. This is especially true when one considers the enumeration of sins (you are forgiven only that which you confess) and the works of satisfaction, which did not earn forgiveness but were intended to ward off temporal punishments.

It is jumping the gun a bit, but Melanchthon's comment in Apology XII is pertinent here:

"We also keep Confession, expecially because of the Absolution. Absolution is God's Word which, by divine authority, the Power of the Keys pronounces upon individuals. Therefore, it would be wicked to remove private Absolution from the Church. If anyone despises private Absolution, he does not understand what the forgiveness of sins or the Power of the Keys is." (Apology XII.99-101)

I recall Fr. Korby's statement on this vividly: "If it is wicked to removed private Absolution from the Church, it is equally wicked not to restored private Absolution to the Church where it has been removed."

Jim Roemke said...

Pr. Cwirla,
Very good point. I admit that it is my own sinfulness that keeps me from seeking out regular confession. I have done it before, but it is not an easy thing to do. I will certainly work on this.

William Weedon said...

Amen to William. It is such a great gift, a veritable grace of God upon our earthly pilgrimage.

People always are afraid of what the pastor will think of them if "he knows" - well, I always tell them, you can't shock me because I always think the worst about you to begin with. How could I not? I have the exact same corrupted nature that you do. I can honestly say that I've never been shocked in Confession. Satan always sell people on the notion that their sins are big and bad and uglier than anyone else's. It's just one of his old tricks to keep you locked up with your sin. And, paraphrasing Bonhoeffer, there is no man so lonely as the man left alone with his sin.

There is great joy, Baptismal joy, Paschal joy, in laying that sin out in the open, naming it, and receiving God's glorious absolution targeted right at it. Fear not, my friends, for such fear is just a ruse of Satan.

Let us confess that with joy we may hear and receive God's gracious absolution upon our lives:

The words which absolution give
Are His who died that we might live;
The minister whom Christ has sent
Is but His humble instrument.

When ministers lay on their hands
Absolved by Christ the sinner stands;
He who by grace the Word believes
The purchase of His blood receives.

All praise to You, O Christ, shall be
For absolution full and free,
In which You show Your richest grace;
From false indulgence guard our race!

wm cwirla said...

On a personal note, this gift is sorely neglected among the clergy. Our bureaucratic approach to church and the protection of the institution has robbed pastors of father-confessors. Circuit counselors (of which I am one) are largely useless for the task, since the institution has made it quite clear that we are deputee enforcers of the synod's "zero-tolerance" policies. Institutional fear of litigation has taken over from the spiritual needs of our pastors.

I long for the solution our Roman Catholic brothers have where certain monastic priests are designated as father-confessors for their fellow priests. These have no ties to the diocese or the bishop, so that the seal of the confessional can be assured. Among us, it is every man for himself in terms of finding a father-confessor.

I thank God that I encountered the sainted Dr. Korby in a summer intensive course on Holy Absolution at the St. Louis seminary a year before I was ordained. I cannot fathom how anyone can handle the holy things without availing himself of this wonderful sacrament of cleansing with the Word. We invest in all sorts of psychobabble and chicanery in the name of "ministerial health," but no one seems interested in providing a simple, uncompromised, unconditional word of
Absolution for the Church's pastors.

Sorry for the rant, but this article and the related ones always stir me up.

William Weedon said...


I remember the story Korby told about his first confession to his Circuit Counselor!!! Kyrie eleison.

If forgiveness is what defeats sin, then our pastors are committing spiritual suicide in having fear lock them away from this gift. I love the article that Dave Petersen had in Gottesdienst last time: just DO it.

As for finding the person to hear confession, again remembering Korby, he said we may have to teach them how to hear our confession. So be it. Let's find someone willing to be taught and begin.

I have no idea if there are other pastors reading this blog, but if so, I would beg you not to neglect this most potent weapon in the Christian's arsenal: the joy of the holy absolution spoken to you, the real sinner struggling with the real sins in your life. I know that for years I waited to hear confessions in the parish and no one ever came. God kept them away - because I was not confessing myself. Once I began to confess, the penitents began to come, and that's the way it should be. FWIW.

Paul T. McCain said...

I really wish "we" could get over the silly squabbles we have over whether, or not, Holy Absolution is a "sacrament." Melanchthon refers to it as a sacrament in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology. Luther does, at some points in his writings, but in others, such as the Large Catechism, refers to our "two sacraments": Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

I grow quite weary over the silly arguments we hear and experience over nomenclature.

My opinion is stop trying to box it into a neat and nice dogmatic terminological category and just enjoy the gift and refer to it as Absolution!

What a beautiful word that is.

I'm enjoying our two experienced pastors' observations about the blessing of private absolution.

Paul T. McCain said...

Question for our pastors:

If a pastor can not find a confessor close by, would telephone or even e-mail do?

William Weedon said...

I confess that I have absolved over both, but it is by no means anything like the experience of face and face, and feeling the weight of the hands upon your head, and the word sounding in your ear: "be it done for you as you believe..." Like the difference between listening to a homily over the radio or on TV and actually being in the assembly.

Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor Juhl has unearthed a jewel from Father Martin on the blessings of Holy Absolution:

It is a great and excellent thing for the mouth of every honest minister and preacher to be Christ's mouth, and his word and forgiveness to be Christ's word and forgiveness. If you sin and confess it, believing on Christ, then your minister and preacher will forgive you the same sin in Christ's place, and the words which he speaks on God's behalf you ought to accept as if Christ himself had spoken them to you. Therefore, it is right to call the word of the minister and preacher which he preaches God's word, for the office is not the minister's and the preacher's, but God's; and the word that he preaches is likewise not the minister's and preacher's, but God's.

---First House Postil for the Mass of Quasimodigeniti, A.D. 1534

wm cwirla said...

This business about there being two or three "sacraments" is another creative way Lutherans waste time in needless logomachia. Even the Large Catechism, which uses the Augustinian "Word + element" formula (to emphasize the Word), calls Absolution the "third sacrament" (LC IV.74). The Small Catechism also locates Absolution in its proper sacramental place as a return to Baptism.

Speaking of the Catechism, I find it noteworthy that the Small Catechism doesn't have much to say about Absolution (the commonly memorized portions are later additions to the SC). Instead Luther gives a simple form of confession and some simple instruction on self-examination in light of the commandments. Confession and Absolution is something one learns by doing. In my experience, the more you try to intellectually and theologically slice and dice it, the less likely you are to use it.

Paul T. McCain said...

Bill, yes, precisely. The manner in which it is discussed in the Small Catechism makes it obvious that Luther is not commenting about a theory or an abstraction, but commenting on what was simply happening and how it should be the Gospel-gift that it is.

wm cwirla said...

A further thought on this topic.

I think it was one of the great errors of the past generations of Lutherans, especially in America, who allowed private confession to fall into utter obscurity and disuse. (Schmucker won the day on this one!) Absolution is the doctrine of justification put into action. Anyone who claims that forensic justification is simply a "legal fiction" or some sort of word game has not been to personal absolution where forgiveness is pronounced over the shameful reality of your own personal sinfulness.

I fail to understand how our forefathers could have let this happen. Is our Protestantism that strong? Once the pastor is no longer a confessor, it is much easier to make him an employee, a CEO, a coach, and equipper, a whatever. I trace the demise of Lutheranism and particularly the demise of the pastoral office within Lutheranism to the loss of this vital instrument of pastoral care.

ptmccain said...

I believe that the argument that a decline in understanding the purpose and meaning of the pastoral office can be tied directly to a decline in the use of Private Absolution is quite true.

C.F.W. Walther was an absolute champion of private confession and absolution and consistely insisted that it be continued, maintained and reinstituted wherever it had fallen out of use.

Perhaps the problem came in making to close a connection between private confession and absolution and Holy Communion; thus, making it seem as though one was impossible without the other.

William Weedon said...

You can trace the demise of the sacrament of absolution by studying the various editions of the "Synodical" Catechism as they come out. If you've not explored this, it is a rather sad survey. The current version is the weakest yet. A return to the practice confessed in the Symbols is what is needed. And a pastor equipped with a single key is a pastor not equipped to administer the office of the keyS.

wm cwirla said...

The history is indeed disturbing. The most egregious example, in my estimation, is the elimination of the short order of confession and the instruction for self-examination from the 1943 synodical catechism. Instead we get the 1531 addendum, which is not part of the Book of Concord. At least the 1986 version restored the Vth chief part, though it still refuses to recognize the Office of the Keys as an Office.

Impatience is our greatest pastoral enemy, in my opinion, as we attempt a recovery. This took several generations to happen, and it will take several more to recover what was lost. I have heard rather overzealous exhortations regarding Holy Absolution and its and benefits, especially to the exclusion of other forms of the Gospel. This does more harm than ultimate good, driving people to Confession out of fear or transaction, rather than the joy of salvation.

Luther's little comment at the end of his exhortation to Confession in the Large Catechism is helpful:

"If you were a Christian then you ought to be happy to run more than a hundred miles to Confession and not let yourself be urged to come. You should rather come and compel us to give you the opportunity. For in this matter the compusion must be the other way around: we must act under orders, you must come into freedom. We pressure no one, but we let ourselves be pressured, just as we let people compel us and administer the Sacrament." (LC V.30-31)

William Weedon said...


Agreed about the impatience. Having had it in the last two hymnals (and the WS of 69) is an important step along the way. And unless I am sorely mistaken, it appears that there are more pastors offering it and people using it than was the case 20 years ago.


Steven G. said...

It kind of seems that the majority of Lutherans think that it was fine for people back then, but we have no need of it.

Christ is risen,

Paul T. McCain said...

A friend sent me this sermon by Rev. Brent Kuhlmann, who preached last summer (Aug. 9, 2006) in loving memory of Dr. Kenneth Korby. It is very relevant for our conversation on Private Absolution.

The disciples are behind locked doors. Afraid. Fear full. "They murdered
Jesus. What will they do to us who followed Him? What will Jesus do to us?
Peter, you denied Him. The rest of us abandoned Him. Double check the locks
Peter! Are they secure? Good! Is anyone outside? Take a peek! No one? Whew!"

What fear on that first Easter evening. Like Adam and Eve hiding in the
bushes. Sinners. Hunkered down in their fear. Afraid to face anyone.
Especially the Lord Jesus. After all, their sin is immense. Denial.
Abandonment. But the big sin is that they wouldn't trust a suffering,
beaten, crucified and grave yard dead Jesus. What will happen to them now?
Punishment? A one way ticket to hell? Let's see.

Jesus shows up. Comes right into the middle of that room full of fear filled
sinners. Doesn't even knock. Doesn't ask for permission to enter. The Good
Shepherd Lamb stands smack dab in their midst. AND HIS GOOD FRIDAY WOUNDS

The first words out of His mouth: "Peace be with you." Peace? Yes, peace.
They are forgiven. Holds no grudge. Not their enemy. Not out to get them.
He's their Savior. His Good Friday wounds have won the peace.
Reconciliation. "Peace be with you." Their sins are forgiven. He's put away
their sin. Buried it all in the black hole of His tomb. Why? Why would Jesus
forgive them? They don't deserve it. They haven't earned it. He forgives
because He died for them. "He showed them His hands and His side." His death
on the Cross hands and side.

He comes to them. His wounds are showing. Freshly risen from the dead. Gives
them a holy gift: forgiveness won for them in His bloody Good Friday death.
"Peace." Holy Absolution. And His words do what they say. They give what
they say. Forgiveness. Peace. They are forgiven. Absolved. For everything.
For all that's gone wrong. Peter's denying. Their running away. Their not
trusting Him as He suffers and dies.

With the absolution spoken by the living voice of Christ - there comes fruit
of the Spirit: joy. "They were glad when they saw the Lord." No wonder.
Because they are forgiven. Absolved. The Lord Jesus Himself said so. They
heard His voice: "Peace." He's not their enemy. He's not at war with them.
There is peace. For He died. He rose. And He's given them the benefits of
His work in the speaking of Holy Absolution. His voice. His words. His gift.

Of what are you afraid? Whom do you fear? From what are you hiding? From
whom are you hiding? "Nothing Reverend. Everything's fine Reverend. Don't
worry about me Reverend. Now, here's a fifty. Be a good boy and play a round
at Quarry Oaks on me. I'm just fine." I know. I know. I hear that all the
time (except the gift of the fifty). But I know that's not true. Because
you're no different from the full of fear -- locked behind closed doors --
disciples. Sinners, who when push comes to shove, deny the Lord Jesus.
Sinners, when the rubber hits the road, run away as fast as they can.
Sinners, who can't take the chance to trust Jesus with their lives, their
sin, or with their death. Sinners locked in fear. Believing falsely that
Jesus is woundless. And that He will crush in your heads if He finds out
what you've done. So you hide.
"Reverend, I just got done telling you nothin's wrong. Everything's fine!"
Oh, I heard you the first time. And you know what? That's just your way of
staying behind locked doors. Hiding your nakedness from the Lord with flimsy
excuses. Afraid to trust Him with everything. Especially your sins. You act
as if Jesus is your bitterest enemy. No wonder there's no joy in your life.
No wonder you're scared to death.

But right into your midst comes Jesus. The crucified and risen One! The
Savior. Not your enemy. Not your foe.

He comes and speaks a Word that's full of the life giving Holy Spirit. The
Word is the absolution. "So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the
Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed
on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins
of any they are forgiven them.'"

Pastors are commanded by the Lord Jesus to speak absolution. To absolve
sinners who struggle with sin. Who lead locked up and fear filled lives. "I
forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit," the pastor says.

When you hear those words you're hearing the living voice of Jesus Himself.
There's only one forgiver. And that's Jesus who died and rose. Absolution is
His. And He speaks it through the pastors He sends to serve in His Church.

You are to receive the absolution from the pastor as from Christ Himself.
Believing, trusting, that your sins are forgiven. Totally. Completely. That
His Word of Absolution does and gives to you what it says.

On Sunday mornings we confess our sin in general and all together as a
congregation. And Christ's living voice is heard in the Holy Spirit filled
absolution spoken by the sent pastor.

You also have the freedom to confess specific sins that bother you to your
pastor in private before the altar in full confidentiality. You're free to
go to him and confess sins that oppress your conscience. Sins that won't let
you rest. Sins that lock you in fear and cause you to hide from Jesus.

What's that? You say you don't have any sins that bother you? Really? Then
your sin situation is much more of a problem than you believe. You need
Jesus more than ever. Examine your place in life according to the Ten
Commandments. They are God's CAT SCAN machine. And soon you will see just
how big of a sinner you are. You'll be shocked. Amazed. The poison of sin
goes very deep.

And yet there's something even more shocking. Quite amazing. Jesus forgives
you. That your sins are not too big for Him. In private confession with your
pastor you have the privilege as the died-for people of God to hear the
living voice of Christ in the absolution. As one sent by the Lord I am
available on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 8:00-9:00 a.m.
or by appointment. I will hear your confession and speak the absolution to
comfort you and strengthen your faith in Jesus who died for you.
If you want to see what this looks like with the pastor in private, check
out page 310 in the hymnal. Or look over the fifth chief part of the Small
Catechism entitled "Confession" and "The Office of the Keys."

What will the Lord do with you there? He'll forgive you. Holy Absolution.
The living voice of Christ. His wounds are showing. Right in your very
midst. His Good Friday wounds that supply the peace. His wounds that create
and give great joy and wonderful freedom. What a Savior! What a superb gift
from Him.

Thank you Jesus. Thank you for your forgiveness.

In the Name of Jesus.