Sunday, August 10, 2014
A Pastoral Concern -- Private Confession and Absolution
When Lutherans (at least in my corner of Christendom) hear someone speak of Private Confession and Absolution, the response is usually a knee-jerk, "That's Roman Catholic!" Though that may be a common perception, the perception is because either it was taught wrongly or understood wrongly. Consider what the Lutheran Confessions teach about Private Confession and Absolution.
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 errors?" (Psalm 19:12) -- Augsburg Confession, Article XI
What is Confession?
Answer: Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven by this.
What sins should we confess?
Answer: Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those that we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess only those sins that we know and feel in our hearts. -- Luther's Small Catechism, Part V
These are basic confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. They are catholic, insofar as they are Christian. But they are not Roman, insofar as the penitent is not obligated to orally confess every sin in order to be forgiven of it and insofar as one's forgiveness is not dependent upon some action on the part of the penitent. The forgiveness is based on Jesus' sufferings and death for the penitent who has been baptized into his name.
Since the practice of Private Confession and Absolution is a Lutheran practice, it would be good for Lutherans to practice it. It is good for the penitent who is grieved by a particular sin to confess it so that he can hear Christ say through the mouth of his minister: "I forgive you." It would be good for the one who is burdened to be relieved of his burden by Holy Absolution. It would be good for this practice, though foreign to many in my corner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to be restored. And so it will be.
Private Confession and Absolution has always been available to all members by appointment. (I am guessing that has been a pretty good secret.) In order for this practice to be restored and perhaps put to better use, there will be dates on the calendar set aside for anyone who would like to drop in and make use of this means of grace. These will be set up about 4 times per year. Private Confession and Absolution will still be available by appointment in addition to these scheduled times.
It is anticipated that Private Confession and Absolution will roughly follow this regular schedule.
The Saturday before or on Epiphany (Epiphany is always January 6)
The Saturday before Palm Sunday
The Saturday after Labor Day weekend
The Saturday after Thanksgiving weekend (should coincide with the 1st Saturday in Advent)
The next scheduled date and time for Private Confession and Absolution will be Saturday, September 13, 9:00-11:00 AM. Appointments are not necessary. You need only drop in. All participation is voluntary, as Absolution cannot be forced upon anyone.
Of course, this will be new to pretty much any member who decides to make use of it. If you happen to come in, the pastor will walk through the rite with you and explain the various parts of it, especially including the "private" part, namely, that this confession is to Christ and, therefore, remains his business alone. The pastor will not report any confession or even the names of those who come for confession. Finally, the point of this is not for a pastor to learn everyone's dirty, little secrets. (His life is easier if he remains ignorant. But God's people do not call a pastor to be ignorant; they call him to absolve in the name of Jesus.) The point is for the guilty and the grieved to find relief and receive forgiveness, or absolution.