January 27, 2021

How the Confession of My Sins Kept Me in the Church Part II

Today’s post is by Pat Kyle of New Reformation Press

Back in March of 2009 I put up Part 1 of this post and talked a bit about corporate confession and absolution and how its regular practice helped anchor me in the church. There is a second part to this story and it deals with private confession and absolution.

This will probably come as a shock to many of our readers, but the Lutherans retained the use of private confession, (as in “going to confession” in front of a priest or Pastor) and many faithful pastors still regularly hear the confessions of their flock and pronounce Christ’s forgiveness in absolution. Article XI of the Augsburg Confession says:

Article XI: Of Confession.

1] Of Confession they teach that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession 2] an enumeration of all sins is not necessary. For it is impossible according to the Psalm: Who can understand his errors? Ps. 19:10.

In Article XI of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession it says:

It is well known that we have so elucidated and extolled [that we have preached, written, and taught in a, manner so Christian, correct, and pure] the benefit of absolution and the power of the keys that many distressed consciences have derived consolation from our doctrine; after they heard that it is the command of God, nay, rather the very voice of the Gospel, that we should believe the absolution, and regard it as certain that the remission of sins is freely granted us for Christ’s sake; and that we should believe that by this faith we are truly reconciled to God [as though we heard a voice from heaven]. This belief has encouraged many godly minds,…”

The enumeration of sins is done away with (the idea that only the sins you confess are forgiven) and likewise the assigning of works of penance is also excluded. The Lutherans have preserved a very Gospel centered version, stripped of any vestige of works righteousness.

Individual confession and absolution has almost entirely disappeared in modern protestantism and is unheard of in Evangelicalism. But is the individual confession of sins really so shocking?

Type the word “confession” into any search engine and see how many sites come up where people can confess all the bad things they have done, often without any reference to Christ or even God. The confession of sins seems to be almost a basic need for anyone with a conscience.

Our forefathers in the faith wisely understood this and sought to preserve a venue where the Gospel could be applied to individual sinners and their sin. During the Reformation, and for some time after, no one could partake of the Lord’s Supper unless they went to Confession first and were absolved. Things aren’t near so strict today, but most Lutheran Pastors will offer private confession if asked.

Many years ago, long after I had become a Christian, and years after I had joined the Lutheran Church, I suffered some major life setbacks and loss that I did not see coming and was ill prepared for. I never thought I would find myself in that position, and my reaction was, putting it delicately, not constructive. I fought to hold on to my faith and my reason, but just ended up watching them slip away.

What was a young man who found himself single,and without family close by, living near the beach in Southern California to do? To embrace the types of dissipation common to young men in my situation and geographical area was the answer I settled on. I call these the ‘Dark Years.’ (Doesn’t scripture say something about what your hand finds to do, do it with all your might?) Things went from really bad to a lot worse

I was attending church sporadically, and my pastor was teaching on the subject of individual Confession. I was hesitant to go. Another friend who is a pastor urged me to go, and when I protested that my sin was really bad, he rebuked me for having such pride in my sin, thinking that it was too great to be forgiven, and thinking that my Pastor hadn’t heard equal or worse many times before.

I salved my tortured conscience for awhile with the idea that I didn’t need any man to hear my sins, but could confess to God. That didn’t work too well. For one thing my conscience was on fire, and my feeble pleas for forgiveness did nothing to quench those flames. Furthermore, I had lost the ability to ‘control’ my sins, so even when I begged for forgiveness, it seemed that my prayers were bouncing off a stone wall. Many times I would pray for forgiveness and get up off my knees to immediately rush headlong into my favorite sins. The whole mess was taking a toll.

Finally, I gave in and showed up at the Church on a Saturday during the hours my Pastor had scheduled to hear confession.

He was all business. He had me turn to page 310 in Lutheran Worship (also known as the Blue Hymnal) and we followed the service for individual confession. He didn’t seem shocked at my sins. I regurgitated all my sins and hatefulness and at the end of it all he placed his hands on my head and said “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgive you all of your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.” For the first time in a long while a flicker of hope appeared.

I would like to be able to say that all my sins immediately went away and that Confession worked like magic. But that is not what happened. Actually, things got worse before they got better. I went to Confession two or three times a month, sometimes more. I tried to attend church more regularly, and since we have communion every week, partook of the Lord’s Supper every time I went. I would try to attend Evening Prayer on Wednesday nights.

At one point I had missed both worship and confession for a couple weeks. Pastor asked me where I had been and I told him I had not been in any kind of condition to be in church. He looked me right in the eye and said “If you can drive safely, come. You need to be here.” That was some of the most godly advice I have ever received. (I took him up on those words a couple of times. You should have seen the look on the faces of the ushers and those in the back pews. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was beyond caring what anyone thought.)

As the oil of forgiveness and hope soaked into my wounds, some of my sins fell away quickly, others faded away over weeks and months, and some still remain. The weekly rhythm of confession and absolution, the application of the Gospel to me, in my sin, slowly started to rebuild my faith and hope. To see and hear the Gospel incarnated every week in my Pastor literally gave me my life back. If I had not been able to hear God’s forgiveness for me week after week, month after month, I would have given up attending worship and taking the Lord’s Supper a long time ago. The discouragement and defeat would have been too much to bear.

Those days were a long time ago. Looking back, it almost seems like another life. Man, those were some hard days. Thank God for the gift of His Word and faithful pastors who can bring it.

I know many people will scoff at the idea of confessing your sins to a pastor, and even more people vehemently reject the idea that a man can speak forgiveness to people in the stead and by the command of Jesus. Hey, even many Lutherans reject these teachings. (Shows they don’t even know their own doctrine and heritage.) That’s unfortunate.

Romans 2:4 says that its God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, and I think the Church and the world could use some strongly focused Gospel these days. There are lots of people that are aching to hear God’s forgiveness in Christ. Confession is a great tool for pastoral ministry and a magnificent gift from Christ to His bride. My advice to anyone who finds themselves trapped in a sin is to find a pastor that will hear your confession. It saved my life and faith, it can do the same for yours.


  1. I recall an Ash Wednesday service of confession and forgiveness in a Lutheran church years ago. Even though it didn’t involve directly verbalizing one’s sins to the minister, everyone came up and knelt at the altar and received forgiveness from the minister individually. He placed his hands on the head of the one kneeling and pronounced words of forgiveness—I found it a very powerful moment when I felt those hands touch me and heard those words. I don’t mean to make it sound too mystical and confound the experience with laying on of hands for healing that leads to being slain in the spirit or anything like that—-it just simply felt like God was really there in that moment.

    I wouldn’t say that confession is unheard of in Evangelicalism. But I believe it happens in the context of what’s referred to as “accountability”—having another person or small group that one agrees to be accountable to, including confession of sins and yielding to the others in times of difficulty. I think this is a not uncommon practice. The difference is that it’s at a lay level, rather than confession/absolution from ministers. I’m making no statement pro or con, just saying that it’s there.

  2. I loved your story and identify so much with the consistent love demonstrated by your pastor. The church background I come from doesn’t practice confessional, but I can certainly understand the value of it. Thanks so much for sharing. I pray it gives hope to some and challenges others to demonstrate the same love and forgiveness even without the formality of confession.

  3. Another friend who is a pastor urged me to go, and when I protested that my sin was really bad, he rebuked me for having such pride in my sin, thinking that it was too great to be forgiven, and thinking that my Pastor hadn’t heard equal or worse many times before.

    It’s funny, as a person in ministry, I wouldn’t be shocked or anything no matter what sin was brought before me in a confession or counciling situation. I’d minister the gospel without a second thought as to what the sins were. However, as a sinner, I usually don’t trust ministers to do the same as I would. I.e. the idea of private individual confession scares the beans out of me. And yeah, it’s definitely an issue of having “such priced in my sin.”

    • This reminds me of the story that Fr. John Corapi, SOLT, tells about his return to the Church and first confession after. He thought he’d give the priest a coronary when, after confessing all his sins, he told him he also thought he was called to be a priest, but when he finished, the priest gave the absolution, and said, “Ah, Yes. Three o’clock. The Hour of Mercy.” (3PM is called such as that was the hour that the Lord died on the cross.).

  4. Jonathan Brumley says

    Jesus certainly gave the apostles authority to forgive sins. Does a Lutheran pastor have that same authority?

    • he gave not only the apostles but the whole church this authority, and not only the authority but the command to use it indiscriminately.

      The true church is a forgiveness factory. There is nothing else it offers. It is not minding its own business when it thinks it is qualfied or authorized by Christ to offer anything beyond that.

      God has sent pastors. Within their office as pastor the speak for God and the church God has placed them to watch over. Just as judges, within their office have the authority AND duty to say “by the power invested in my by the state of california, I (!) now declare you innocent of all charges.” It is the same thing happening here.

    • All Christians have the authority to forgive sins.

    • Seems that would be a separate topic for an iMonk thread. Who has authority? What sins can who forgive? Where is it in the Bible? I’m sure we could argue that one for days in just our little group alone.

      • Indeed, who has authority and where does it reside? Slippery, slippery. When one begins to ponder the issue of authority deeply, he will soon be confronted by the Petrine question….and the entire basis of Protestantism will shake at its foundations.

        • Exploring the Petrine question deeply and honestly — and with both an obedient attitude toward scripture and a more critical eye toward church history and tradition (even early church history) — doesn’t necessarily bring everyone to the same conclusion. And, in that sense, it’s not just the basis of Protestantism that can be shaken at its foundations.
          But, for the sake of civil discourse in a mixed religious forum, I recommend that we not open that can of worms.

          • You are very correct, and I agree that civil discourse probably dictates extreme care with regard to this issue. I won’t cast aspersions on anyone’s answer on the other “side” of the question. Having said that, I think it would be very beneficial to all parties if we did just that very thing, civilly and with all due charity. However, I’m not sure that this venue is a suitable or proper forum. It would certainly take the iMonk blog down a road it might not want, and perhaps never intended, to go.

      • well. Christ said he was given all authority, and he then gave that to the church. to all believers. the authority given was accompanied by the command to use it indescriminately.. The word whosoever means that.

        But then the question is then the authority to do what exactly?

        Delegated authority is rarely if ever absolute authority is it?

        It is to forgive sins. beyond that the church has no authority whatsoever.

        further: the forgiveness of sins is that ONLY thing then that is “christian” and being forgiven is the only thing that makes one a christian.

        So the authority of christ and apostolic authority can only be this one thing. there is no can of worms here. there is only forgiveness recklessly and unfairly and unjustly just given away freely.

        Where the church is this is happening.

        where this is not happening the church is not

    • Could a more accurate statement be that the Lutheran pastor stated that his sins had already been forgive by Christ’s atoning sacrifice? Stating a past fact and affirming the person’s position before God.

      At my church we receive some law pointing us to Christ, a clear statement in the message that Christ died for me a sinner, and an explicit absolution of sins corporately. I can’t imagine living without this.

      • an absolution from someone who has the duty of office to deliver it is like a jury forman handing out a verdict, or a judge announcing a verdict.

        it is already true, but it doesnt do you any good if you dont know it.

        and some news we need to be told over and over and over and over to believe it can really be true and true for us. sorta like we would be if it was about being informed we had won the 3 million lottery.

        we would check that ticket over and over and over and over…..

  5. Confessing your sins to a pastor doesn’t seem so bad when you consider that the early Christians had to confess their sins to the entire congregation! I can’t imagine the shame that accompanied every other Christian knowing all your darkest sins and secrets. In comparison, I think we have it easy!

    • Just because the early Christians did something a certain way, doesn’t mean they were right.

    • I actually prefer congregational confession — but, then again, my congregation is only about 15 or so people who meet informally in our homes. I admit, however, that this preference has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve worked hard to foster a very open, relational, family-like fellowship in which honesty and transparency are strongly encouraged and the pretense of righteous appearances is strongly discouraged. But I can see your point that standing up and confessing your sins and failings before a large crowd of mostly stangers within the context of a formal service would be unsettling and even dangerous. So, in a larger, more formal church setting, I’d say that confessing to a pastor, priest, or even to a close Christian friend is probably the wiser policy.

  6. Pat, thanks for your open and heart-felt sharing of this story. I too have experienced the healing of individual confession. Talk about God’s grace in action!

    It is a shame that so many people take something as wonderful and powerful as individual confession and let it divide the universal church. While I would never advocate that the only route to forgiveness of sin is individual confession (even the Roman Catholics don’t promote this now), I definitely understand its power and would strongly recommend it to those who are having difficulty moving feeling God’s forgiveness.

    Thanks again!

    • “even the Roman Catholics don’t promote this now”

      Ummm ..not quite….

      From the CCC 1484
      “Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church. ”

      The key here is the phrase “ordinary means” – we RCCs believe this is the way that God ordained for us to have our sins (esp serious ones) forgiven since the incept of the Church – **however** – we do not place limits on God’s Mercy , Will or ability to forgive sin outside of the “ordinary means” He revealed to us through the Apostles.

      So for example the “ordinary means” of eating is through the mouth.
      Extraordinary means would be getting tube put in ones gut.

      • We certainly do promote it at the official level. Sometimes, though, where the rubber meets the road to the parish church, it doesn’t always happen as it should. Lack of priests doesn’t help it, nor does poor catechesis. That seems to be slowly changing, at least where I am. It’s certainly not lacking in my particular parish, which is not only an orthodox RCC, but also hosts an “Extraordinary Form” Latin Mass daily, courtesy of a priest of the FSSP.

        • Patrick Lynch says

          Same here. The lines for the confessional (4+ booths) are good and long right up until the procession around here. I’d never seen anything like it.

          • Not to sound like I’m trying to one-up you, but a few years ago, I went to Chicago on a biz trip, and visted St. John Cantius parish. I noted a sign that said “Confessions will be held up through the “Pater Noster.” I was just chatting with the pastor, who happens to be the Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Indy, about my trip to StJC, and mentioned the signs. After Christmas, which takes me away from my parish for a few weeks, I noticed that the confessional line kept going after Mass began. We have two priests, and one would take over the confessional about 15 minutes before the other’s Mass. I’ve seen the line go up thru the Homily. Before my tour of St.JC, confessions stopped about 10-15 minutes before Mass. Our parish, Holy Rosary, which sits right next to Eli Lilly’s national HQs, recently renovated, and added a second confessional identical to the first.

  7. I continue to be shocked at how much we have lost or rejected in modern evangelicalism.

    • The very premise of Protestantism rests upon a foundation of rejection; a rejection of the authority of the Roman Church (the Church of Peter and Paul). So, it should not be shocking that the entire history of Protestantism has been one of gradual liturgical, doctrinal, and ecclesiastic depreciation. Most Evangelicals have never even heard of the Nicene Creed…much less what’s in it. This is a foundational problem from which Protestantism will never recover because the movement was conceived in rejection and nurtured by the sinful acceptance of division as a plausible attribute of God.

      • RWVRNL,

        I’m not buying the uber- papist claptrap, never have… never will. Do your homework before you speak so confidently, and keep it on topic.

        • With all due respect (and with what I hope will appear more humble than your snipe at me), I’ve said nothing at all about a Pope. I merely refer to the authority of the Roman Church that even the Eastern Orthodox acknowledge (however tongue-in-cheek) was essential to the earliest days of Christianity. And, as far as I understand it, I AM on topic. My reply is fully within the scope of Austin’s statement about the degeneration of Evangelical Christianity.

          • Hey friends, I have news for you—we aren’t going to settle the RC/Protestant question in this comment thread.

            What I would like to see is people responding to the idea of confession and absolution from their own faith tradition perspective. Advocate for the good aspects you see in your tradition; state some things you like to see happen. But let’s not waste time trashing another tradition, even if you think it is substandard.

  8. Very provocative. The sentence that caught my eye was, “… and even more people vehemently reject the idea that a man can speak forgiveness to people in the stead and by the command of Jesus.”

    That forces me to ask a question. If Christians can claim the authority to cast out demons or pronounce blessings on others or miraculously heal people (abilities that would seem to limited to Christ alone), why is it that we cannot claim the authority to pronounce forgiveness for sins? It seems to me that having spiritual “powers” is nothing compared to the power of merely assuring a person through confession that Christ has brought them forgiveness. If I speak in the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not love …

    • According to the Scripture, while it is true that Christ granted His power to heal and cast out demons to the disciples He sent out, He granted the power to forgive exclusively to the Apostles (the Twelve) (see John 20:23) and sent them as He had been sent (with the power to forgive…a much greater power than that of healing or casting out demons).

      • IMO, in the passage to which you refer, John is presenting his version of the “Great Commission.” This power to forgive is not limited to the apostles, but to all who minister the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit (see the context of the verse in question). The power to forgive comes from the Gospel itself.

      • While I will meditate on John 20:23, seeking wisdom, I find that idea, as Chaplain MIke presents, that all ministers have the power to forgive is overwhelming in its potential. I wonder if more people would be willing to call their acts sin if they could receive absolution?

  9. I grew up in the Lutheran Church (LCMS) and yet never heard of individual confession. Thirty years after having left the Lutheran Church, I returned. As I was browsing through the LCMS website, I came across a mention of individual confession. I asked my pastor about it, and he said that although almost no one used it, it was definitely available. I was struggling with whether I was actually a Christian and whether God could forgive me for having deliberately rejected him. I knew I needed God’s forgiveness, but I was so uncertain of it. I met with my pastor for individual confession. I didn’t become any more forgiven from God’s point of view, but I became more able to believe in and experience that forgiveness. Individual confession isn’t required, perhaps it’s not even the best path for some people, but for others of us it’s an important part of how we know God. I wish it weren’t such an unknown practice.

  10. As a child I still remember going to confession one day on my own. I never felt as clean as I did that afternoon after doing it.

  11. Posts like this make me feel very grateful for the church community I found when I converted. I was taught early on that all Christians have the authority to forgive sins. I’ve never participated in a formal confession with my pastor, but as a small group leader and a member of the prayer team at my local church I have forgiven people for their sins more than a few times.

    I would agree that the evangelical equivalent of confession is accountability relationships. It’s very different though, because accountability relationships are more focused on behavior modification. In a good accountability relationship the forgiveness of sins happens, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.

    • Good point about accountability relationships. Confession is likely to happen, but the forgiveness part may be less likely—there’s not necessarily always a one-to-one correspondence.

    • You’re right about the behavior modification tendencies of modern accountability relationships. From what I saw and experienced of such things among small groups and fellowship among my fellow Christians in my teens and 20s, “accountability” meant telling one of your Christian friends that something they were doing was offensive to you and was probably sin in their life that needed to be addressed. Most of the time, these things weren’t even really sin (i.e., choosing to text someone about some minor detail instead of phoning them, having a drink responsibly at a New Year’s party, failing to help with a project where it wasn’t even known help was needed). The whole thing was a joke and was more likely to spark resentment and incredulity rather than forgiveness and healing. You have pretend sins and pretend “fixes.” What’s needed is acknowledgment of real sins by the sinner, and real forgiveness and grace offered by fellow believers.

    • Patrick Lynch says

      Jimmy, your talk of forgiving people’s sins sounds fascinating. As a Catholic, I find it somewhat mindboggling to hear that other people actually FORGIVE sins on behalf of God as a part of their faith practice, rather than just “taking it to God”-style self help or whatever.

      How does it happen? In the church service itself? Weekly? Is it ‘group therapy’-styled (where everbody sits in a circle and takes turns forgiving each other’s sins), or one-one-one (where you hear a bunch of confessions and pronounce the tellers’ sins absolved)? How did you learn how? What kind of prayers do you pray?

  12. Having a confessor and/or spiritual advisor is a laudable thing. Since we, although forgiven, are called to be Holy as God is Holy, we need to have some method of accountability. Catholics and Orthodox believe the priest was given that authority to forgive sins. When the priest gives absolution, he does not do it, but really it is the Lord that forgives us. The priest is merely the instrument, thru his ordination.

    Since Vat II, the priest-confessor absolved you of your sins using the following formula:

    “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

    Prior to that, it was done in Latin using the following formula (translated to English):

    “May our Lord Jesus Christ absolve you; and by His authority I absolve you from every bond of excommunication (suspension) and interdict, so far as my power allows and your needs require. [making the Sign of the Cross:] Thereupon, I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

  13. Thanks for sharing this Pat. I’m not from a background that does formal confession like this so its great to hear this perspective on a personal level.

    I have to wonder if this could work in the Evangelical world. Would a pastor be content to “minister the Gospel” upon confession of sins or would they feel the need to prescribe 7 steps to get you moving up to the “next level”? A little pessimistic, I know, but that’s just where my mind went.

  14. Too bad that so many evangelicals churches these days downplay the role of mutual accountability for sins.

    • Christiane says

      Don’t they handle accountability when they do something called ‘church discipline’ and difellowship members for ‘certain sins’? I have heard something about this, but only from a few evangelicals.

  15. I am totally in agreement with confession of sin [both privately and to others -though you must be wise in whom you speak to] but as for this whole absolution thing; what rubbish.

    Absurd to the utmost.

    • In the Lutheran book of worship, absolution occurs when the pastor says, “through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God forgives you all your sins.” I find nothing whatsoever absurd about that!

      • Either do I Mike – thanks for illuminating that to me, as I was not aware of that Lutheran practice.

        That statement seems fine aslong as it is not thrown around willy nilly. It must be used biblically.

    • Furthermore, Matthew, how do you understand the words of John 20:23—“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” Does this passage not say plainly that those who minister the Gospel may pronounce sins forgiven?

      • Chaplain,

        The entire passage of Scripture from John 14 through John 20 must, I believe, be taken as the seminal commission of a priestly class (on a ministerial level). I do not see how one can overlook the exclusivity with which Christ interacts with His hand-picked Apostles. He does not share the Last Supper with all of His disciples. There is a reason for this. He does not offer His Blood and His Body to all of the disciples, but only to the Twelve. In His timeless capacity as the Son of God and the Word itself, Christ is able to presciently and corporeally share His Body and Blood with the Apostles such that they actually participate in the Paschal Event along with Him (although, this fact would have totally escaped them at the time—except perhaps for John). This exclusivity is inescapable….and, as you know, it is the basis of Roman and Eastern teachings on the apostolic priesthood.

        • See my appeal above. I understand the RC position RWVNRAL. Now you’ve stated it, and that’s great. But you won’t be using this comment thread to try and persuade people here to accept it.

        • ConfessionIsGood says

          There is so much that can be said and argued and proven historically and theologically and Scripturally against this that it would and could take a book or two. It’s not a matter of overlooking things but of looking at things. But that’s not the point of this thread.

          Go in peace.

      • No. That would be rank RC absolution.

        “Two ways the apostles and ministers of Christ remit and retain sin, and both as having authority:-[1.] By sound doctrine. They are commissioned to tell the world that salvation is to be had upon gospel terms, and no other, and they shall find God will say Amen to it; so shall their doom be. [2.] By a strict discipline, applying the general rule of the gospel to particular persons. “Whom you admit into communion with you, according to the rules of the gospel, God will admit into communion with himself; and whom you cast out of communion as impenitent, and obstinate in scandalous and infectious sins, shall be bound over to the righteous judgment of God.” – Matthew Henry

        • Patrick Lynch says

          “You shall judge righteously. You shall not make a schism, but you shall pacify those that contend by bringing them together. You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.” Letter of Barnabas 19, A.D. 74.

          Barnabas > Matthew Henry + you


    • I think Matthew (and Matthew can correct me if I am wrong) is saying that when human agents on earth in the new covenant age act as those who can declare forgiveness for the repentant before the divine judgment bar. Yes, we are to confess our sins before our brothers and sisters in Christ, individually and corporately, but I agree that absolution is rubbish if it means that some priest/minister/pastor can declare forgiveness of our sins as before God’s judgment throne. (We only have one advocate, and that is Jesus Christ in heaven [1 John 2:1]).

      • Jesus, speaking to those whom He sent says

        “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:16

        Look closely again at John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

        Where have the sins been forgiven and retained? Luke 18:18 can help us with that question.

        “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

        Note that this is the famous Matthew 18 passage dealing with the forgiveness of those who sin against us.

        We never have any trouble with the flip side of this coin, namely excommunication, but when it comes to a man speaking forgiveness in Christ’s name, now there is a real stumbling block.

      • If someone’s notion of absolution is “This man can write me out a blank cheque for whatever sins I want to commit” then yes, it’s absurd.

        Absolution of sin is not a human ability, it is the declaration of God’s forgiveness to the truly penitent. If I go to confession and do not sincerely repent, or lie in confession, or deliberately omit grave sins not because I forget when I committed them but because I am too proud to admit to them, or have the intent to go on committing those sins – I am not repentant and contrite, and I am not absolved. You can’t fool God.

        As ever, I quote Dante on this 😉 “Inferno, Canto XXVII”: Guido has been promised absolution before giving his sinful counsel to Pope Boniface, but when he dies, the devil seizes his soul:

        ‘The moment I was dead, Francis came for me.
        But one of the dark Cherubim cried out:
        “No, wrong me not by bearing that one off.

        He must come down to serve among my minions
        because he gave that fraudulent advice.
        From then till now I’ve dogged his footsteps.

        One may not be absolved without repentance,
        nor repent and wish to sin concurrently —
        a simple contradiction not allowed.”

        ‘Oh, wretch that I am, how I shuddered
        when he seized me and said: “Perhaps
        you didn’t reckon I’d be versed in logic.”

        • No, it is not a “human” ability, and what you say about fooling God is 100% correct, but *Catholic belief* it is a power of Christ exercised through his Priests. When a Priest gives absolution, Christ, not Fr. Bob, is giving the absolution. We just hear it from Fr. Bob’s mouth. It’s why Priests are referred to as alter Christus (literally “another Christ”). Don’t be confused or scandalized by that Latin term, as it is not used to imply that the Priest is Christ or a “fake” Christ, but stands in the place of Christ as the implement used by Christ to perform the priestly functions: hear confession, confect the Eucharist, pronounce the Priestly blessings, etc., and be the shepherd of the local flock. Truly, when a Priest does these things, Catholics and Orthodox (if I understand Orthodoxy correctly) believe that Christ is really the actor, the man in the vestments is Christ’s implement to do that.

  16. To Chaplain Mike (and to RWVNRAL who commented earlier tonight): I went and read John 20 and not just the sentence from John 20:23 and it is clear that Jesus was talking to all his disciples when he told them to forgive sins. Because in the same chapter, there are also references to the “Twelve” as opposed to the “disciples” in general. So, I am agreeing with you, Chaplain Mike.

    And if I recall in the Gospels correctly, the religous authorities were more upset at Jesus saying to people, “Your sins are forgiven” than they were that he healed people. They felt Jesus was taking on something that was only for God to be able to do. So it is understandable that people today would get nervous when they hear a human being say to another human being, “Your sins are forgiven.” But they need to understand that it IS God that is actually doing the forgiving.

  17. And this idea of forgiveness of sins would be a good topic for the “Liturgical Gangstas” to take on.

  18. Here is an illustration that my pastor uses.

    When a preacher is preaching the Gospel its like hes throwing gold coins out to the congregation and sometime those coins bounce off the person or they feel unworthy of taking one of these gold coins for themselves. Confession and absolution is like the pastor personally pressing the gold coin into his hand and saying “This is for you”

    One of the best stories that I have every heard about C&A is about an LCMS pastor. This pastor was on a plane and the guy next to him started to talking to him. They got around to what the pastor did for a living the guy started to basically lay all of his sin out before the pastor. The pastor stood up placed his hands on him and said “ I forgive you all of your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.”after that the pastor handed him his business card and said “and if you ever start to doubt this call me” I just love the image of the pastor standing up on the plane and proclaiming forgiveness.

    • That ‘pastor’ is no pastor at all.

      What a heinous notion it is that a mere man can pronounce sins forgiven.

      • Why is it heinous? We have been given the power to do so by Christ.

        John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

        • Alexander,

          Do you really think that the Bible teaches that you, a mere man, dust, clay and sinful, [like us all] can actually forgive sin? Not “I forgive you” but rather “Your sins are forgiven you”?

          That is 100% unbiblical- infact did not the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day speak of this issue? And it pointed to Jesus’ diety; that He is God?

          God justifies, not sinful man.

          • Yes I do.

            . “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:18-20).

            10If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, (2 Cor 2)

            By the fact that we have the Spirit of God if we “forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if we withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (Jn 20:23).

            100% biblical…..

          • Patrick Lynch says

            I really think that the Bible teaches that mere men of dust and clay, sinful, can forgive sin.

          • Apparently, John 20:21-23 is lost on you.

            19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

            21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

            They were in a locked room, so apparently it was a small gathering, relatively speaking. Jesus “breathed on them” and told them they were sent as he was sent. This is significant, as since Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is often called “Breath of God. Then he more or less told them they had the power to forgive sins. If Jesus was sent for the forgiveness of sins, then naturally, this is what he meant when he said Verse 23, as the disciples were sent as He was sent. Whether that means by a sacrament thru a ministerial priest or by any ordinary Christian via the principle of our being a Priestly people is another question. It’s clear that the disciples were given the power.

          • WOW…. the readers have really turned it up a notch.

            Let me go simplier still incase I am putting forth something that is confusing.

            Let me get this right; you guys belive that a Christian can pardon, forgive, MAKE ATONEMENT

            please tell me that is not what you believe guys………

            [upon hearing the ‘big’ words, that are directly related to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, dont attempt to circumnavigate]

          • ConfessionIsGood says


            You’re not only mixing apples with oranges, you’re mixing apples with oranges, bananas, grapefruit, pineapple, bicycles, airplanes, screen doors, hot peppers, elephants, pickles, diamonds, warthogs and the ozone layer.

          • If “mere men” can cast out demons, raise the dead, and heal the sick in Jesus’ name, then yes, they can forgive sins in that same name. It is all of a piece, Matthew. It is all part of Christ’s ministry, passed on to us.

            In my own experience, the first thing I did after returning to active practice of my Catholic faith was to sit down with a guide to confession and literally write out a list of the previous three or so years. The poor priest, having to hear every last thing I could think of…but it was something I simply understood that I had to do. I had to make myself right with God, I had to say those things out, I had to hear and know myself forgiven.

          • Of course we don’t ‘Atone’, ‘Justify’ or ‘Propitiate’ anyone’s sins. Jesus did that. But He did tie the forgivness He worked on our behalf to the forgiveness of those He sent in certain situations.

            How does your church handle excommunications? What in fact is excommunication but retaining someone’s sins against them and denying them forgiveness until such time as they repent? In Matthew 18 Jesus flat out says that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven in regard to sin in the church.

            Let’s hear your interpretation of John 20:23. What does Jesus mean when he says that the sins we forgive are forgiven in heaven, and those we retain are retained in heaven?

  19. I don’t want to downplay the value and need for confessing our sins to each other (whether that’s to a priest, pastor, close Christian friend, or an entire church fellowship), but I think there is also real value in bringing and confessing our sins in prayer to the most excellent and eternal high priest we have been given — that,of course, being Jesus Christ. Many times praying alone in that invisible confession booth with Jesus, I have had a very real sense of being washed in His forgiveness and love. And, interestingly, it has often been in the context of personal confessional prayer that I have been given the conviction to take that confession to the next step and also confess before my brothers and sisters in Christ.
    I believe that Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins if we genuinely confess in prayer to Him, but sometimes I think it takes both private and public confession to break the power of a particular sin in our lives — particularly if that sin involves or affects other people. And hearing that we are indeed forgiven from a pastor, priest, Christian friend, or even the whole church can go a long way toward instilling faith and belief that we are truly forgiven.

  20. I, a Catholic, recently had a conversation with a Baptist pastor about this. He was telling me that the practice of confession is becoming more common in his congregation. He was explaining to me how good this practice was to become more honest in the faith. He did not seem to understand that this was common practice for many Christians.

    My only concern is that many of the privacy and confidentiality canons concerning confession are not going to be adequately followed. I would think that breaches in confidentiality could destroy people and congregations. Overall, I think this trend is wonderfully healing for individuals as well as interdenominational dialogue.

  21. Wait one moment while I wipe the triumphalist Catholic smirk off my gob…

    Okay, we’re ready.

    Whatever about anyone else, I needed the discipline of going to Confession. I still need it. Yes, it’s one thing to privately repent your sins and rely on the forgiveness of God, but that did not stop me falling back into my favourite sins.

    I’ve returned to the full practice of my faith recently and it’s only the prospect of “Okay, you want to do this? You’re going to have to say this next month to the priest. Still want to do it?” that reins me in.

    Because it does hit you, when every month, you’re telling the same sins. It hits you smack between the eyes about how sincere you really are about amending your way of life and trying to make progress.

    Confession is also the mercy of God. It’s been said by others, but it really is true: before you go, you’re putting it off as long as possible. After you go, you say to yourself, ‘Why did I wait so long?’


  22. I just blogged about the same topic of Confession. I attend both an EV Free Church with my husband and family on Sundays and a Reformed Episcopal Church on Friday mornngs with my kids.

    Here’s my post, if anyone is interested in reading: http://meditativemeanderings.blogspot.com/2010/01/confessional-prayer.html

    The value of confessional prayer bowls me over, whether they be the corporate confessions of the Book of Common Prayer or the private confessions with our Anglican priest. I need to confess. I need to hear that God has forgiven me. I need it. Desperately.

    I have a difficult time forgiving myself. And hearing a human voice, one that is in a place of authority over me, announce that my sins are indeed forgiven helps me to forgive myself. It’s a process of recovering from the perfectionism resulting from my 17 years (and continuing) in the evangelical church. And my own sinful personality that expects perfection from myself and beats myself up when I don’t achieve it. Doing all in my own strength is one of my most grievous sins, one that He is working on me to set aside. And hearing those words of absolution helps SO much.

    I wish that other evangelicals could experience the freedom in confessional prayer. Accountability groups are all right, but hearing words from someone representing God makes them more believable, to me at least.


  23. A few years ago a friend and prayer partner was battling bone cancer in his pelvis. He started over a period of a couple months confessing to me all sorts of stuff , not just major things but also what I thought were very minor things, such as when He thought unkindly towards someone who was actually giving him a hard time. At the time I thought He was probably going a bit overboard with this confession thing ( I was quite young in my faith at the time and didn’t do anything other than listen ) . Anyhow, after all treatments failed and the doctors said he had at the most a couple of months left , He had a miracle healing! ( the doctors freaked )

    To this day whenever he testifies of his healing he never thinks to mention the confession part , but I’ve come to realize recently that it played a big part in him receiving a healing

    Yes sincere confession is very important

  24. I have found that confession, real confession (not “accountability”, though there is nothing wrong with that) is immensely healing. It is also immensely frightening, largely because it doesn’t have the nuances of “self-help”, but rather requires me to lay my soul bare, as it were, and declare my own sinfulness. In front of someone else.


    But as a friend who is also a priest once warned me against the evils of self-absolution and I have taken this advice to heart. Too easy to miss what I really need forgiveness for, and when I don’t seek absolution outside myself, I miss out experiencing the beauty of external forgiveness and the love that extends it.

  25. Of very faint interest. It doesn’t seem that the writer even knew what it meant that the man was only a Eucharistic minister – i.e., not a priest. He wasn’t mediating anything, he wasn’t absolving anyone’s sins. He was praying with an seriously ill man and bringing him Communion. Are we not to even pray that someone be forgiven of sin?

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