An Aversion to Private Confession and Absolution and the Forgiveness Spoken to Us by Every Christian
To ponder…from a book that if you don’t have, you simply must have.
"Many upright Lutherans have an aversion to private confession and absolution. This is because, first of all, they regard its institution partly as something new and partly as a return to papal institutions. But this is not true. Private confession was in use long before the rise of the papacy, and until the 18th century, it existed in all Lutheran congregations in all countries. Only a few enthusiasts openly rejected it, and only after the Rationalists (that is, the preachers of reason of the new age) had increased in the Lutheran churches was private confession abolished and the general confession introduced in its place.
"A second reason why so many inveigh against private confession derives from their belief that the Christian Church does not have the power to forgive sins on earth. These individuals have become just like the Pharisees, who, after hearing of One who forgives sin, thought, “This Man is blaspheming!” (Matthew 9:3), for “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Either such people do not believe in God’s Word or they do not consider that forgiving sins in their own name and in the name of God are two different things. In His own name, of course, only Christ could speak the absolution, for only to Him did God say, “Sit at My right hand” (Psalm 110:1), but in God’s and Christ’s name, the servants of the Church also loose and bind, for Christ Himself has commanded them to do so. Therefore, Saint Paul offers the words of today’s text. What further proof does one need?
"A third reason why so many fail to recognize the special comfort that lies in private absolution is that they do not vividly recognize their sins. They may say: “I have no need of this. I can sufficiently comfort myself with the general absolution.” However, is it not possible that a true Christian would not at times be so weighed down by his sins that from his heart he would gladly hear the voice, “your sins are forgiven you”? Or are there today Christians with the kind of strong faith that people sought in vain at the time of the Reformation? Indeed, is there anything more lacking today than strong faith? Everyone who wants to be sufficiently comforted should examine himself closely to see if this contentment has arisen from the strength of his faith or if it has resulted from his own disregard for his sins. It is no wonder that thoughtless Christians do not desire private absolution. The wounds of their sins do not burn them, and thus they do not desire the soothing balm.
"A fourth reason why so many do not want to use private confession is because it was not generally introduced into the contemporary Church. Instead, private absolution was granted mostly to gross sinners who returned penitent. “Therefore,” one may say, “is not every Christian free to use or not to use the human institution of seeking private absolution before every use of the Holy Supper?” This is truly a part of Christian freedom. Therefore, no Christian should and can be compelled. But we might well ask ourselves if that which a person can do is also godly.
"A fifth and final reason why so many oppose the use of private absolution is because they suppose that it must be preceded by a detailed confession of their sins. “How,” they say, “should I uncover to a man the secrets of my heart, in whose experience or honesty I perhaps have no confidence at all? Must I not fear that a dishonest father confessor would misuse my confession?” There is no demand that the special absolution be preceded by a special confession of sin. Does not Christ absolve the paralytic without such a confession? Was it not enough for Him that the paralytic came to Him as a poor sinner with a believing heart? In the same way, an enumeration of sins is never demanded by a right-believing servant of Christ. Indeed, it is forbidden, as the words of the 25th article of the Augsburg Confession make clear: “And it is taught about confession, that one should not compel anyone to specify the sins.”
"It is not appropriate for a person to fold his hands in his lap and say, “Now then, if the absolution was so richly poured out for us, if the whole world is full of it, we have nothing else to do but to enjoy this and to hope for heaven.” That is not so! What would it help a prisoner if he heard that he is pardoned but then refused to leave the prison and exercise his freedom? It would not help him at all. So it is with the forgiveness of sins, which can be spoken to us both by every preacher of the Gospel and by every Christian. If we want to use this forgiveness rightly, we must depart from the prison of our sins. We do this by heartily accepting our absolution, by comforting our self in it. In other words, it is by maintaining a firm and certain faith. If we hear the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, let us believe that this preaching is God’s forgiveness for us. If we hear a Christian comforting us with the forgiveness of sins, let us accept this as God’s comfort. If a servant of the Gospel speaks forgiveness to us, let us receive this as a word from God Himself."
God Grant It
CPH: 2006, p. 787-789, 792-293