January 22, 2021

The Evangelical Liturgy 12: The Assurance of Pardon

shepriestAnyone who sins has an advocate with God:
Jesus Christ, the righteous one.
By his life, death, and resurrection,
he has found the lost sheep and brings it back, rejoicing over one sinner that repents.
In Jesus, we are never beyond the reach of God’s love.
And so today, in the name of Jesus,
I proclaim to all of you who believe the Gospel: In Jesus your sins are forgiven!
Receive the Good News!

As a worship leader, I particularly enjoy the assurance of pardon. The announcement of God’s great forgiveness ought to bring joy to the heart of anyone who is able to pronounce it over God’s people.

Since evangelicals do not have a “confessional” tradition (as in confessing one’s sins to the clergy), the assurance of pardon comes as a bit of an awkward part of liturgy for some evangelicals. They may particularly struggle with the aspect of the worship leader announcing God’s forgiveness for two reasons.

1. They may feel it is in appropriate to assure someone of forgiveness when there is no way to know if that person has actually sought forgiveness from God or from others in genuine repentance. This may leave the impression of a “willy nilly” announcement that does not take repentance seriously.

2. Also, some may feel the assurance of pardon goes too far into a Catholic use of the priest as “another Christ,” since some believe no human being ever has the right to speak for God in the matter of forgiveness.

Both these objections are unnecessary. The assurance of pardon comes in the context of other elements of worship. We do not say, “We cannot sing, because someone might not mean what they are singing.” The assurance follows the congregational confession, which also deals with the people of God as a corporate body, but doing so in no way suggests that the individual claims of the Gospel are being “automatically” bestowed.

We cannot let individualism make corporate worship impossible!

Further, no evangelical believes the worship leader or pastor has been authorized in this capacity to grant actual forgiveness to those who hear the assurance. (In other capacities, pastors may, in some traditions, be doing that in some situations, but that is another subject.)

In evangelicalism, the one announcing the assurance of pardon is doing nothing substantially different than any preacher or evangelist does in speaking the Gospel or inviting persons to come to Christ. He/she does so in the authority of Christ and not as Christ. The Gospel’s call to repent and believe can be announced, but the announcement does not create a “special dispensation” for those present and hearing.

It is much like the use of the public invitation- which I do not endorse. The preacher is not “opening a window” that is not open otherwise, but is, as a proclaimer and servant of the Word is “pointing to the window” that is open. If a pastor claimed “come on this last verse or the opportunity to believe will be over,” that would be a clear abuse.

The assurance of pardon speaks the word that the Gospel speaks to the people of God. With so many sour, legalistic, moralistic churches in evangelicalism, what a wonderful thing it is to confess corporately, and then silently, but to hear the announcement of God’s forgiveness, personally applied, followed by joyful celebration in song. (We always sing the Gloria Patri.)

I enjoy the fact that the assurance can be “customized” in various ways as we use the lectionary and the Christian year. It’s also a great way for children to hear the promises of the Gospel over and over. And I need it. I’m sure you do as well.


  1. Love the alt text on the image at the top of the article. 🙂

    • I like that too, Bob.

      For anyone who does not know what we mean, move your mouse over the photo which begins this post and hover there for a second to see what shows up as a title, of sorts, for that photo.

  2. This sounds like a wonderful idea.

  3. I love that in many Presbyterian traditions, the confession—both corporate and silent—and the assurance of pardon (which is almost always delivered either directly from scripture or concurrently with an appropriate passage) are both part of the same prayer (usually, a unison “amen” follows the single voice of the worship leader giving the assurance). The whole experience of remembering together that 1) we live in a fallen state, unavoidably, and 2) we are assured of God’s grace through Jesus Christ on a weekly basis is one of my favorite parts of worship.

    Also, the “worship leader” gives the assurance, but in the churches where I grew up, this was almost always a lay leader and not the pastor.

    • By the way, this particular comment is not supposed to be a denominational commercial. I’m as much of a mutt as possible (not a point of pride . . . just a point of fact) and I’m currently leading worship in a church that has no particular liturgical tradition.

      In this case, I say “Presbyterian” because it’s the tradition where I have the most experience with liturgy. (Though–and this will help explain one piece of why I’m a mutt–I am confirmed Lutheran. I just never noticed that it was the pastor doing the assurance and not the lay leaders. And in any case, I don’t have a dog in this race; I love it no matter who does it.)

  4. Seems like appropriate timing for this installment, particularly because it follows yesterday’s common lectionary reading from James 5:13-20. As my pastor preached, although it is his privilege to announce this forgiveness, it is not exclusively his privilege. We are all called to announce this forgiveness to each other.

    I think there is a problem if this forgiveness becomes separated from the cross. God forgives all of our sins because of Jesus, once and for all; past, present, and future (Hebrews 10:12). I need to hear the words of assurance, not because I don’t believe that my sins are already atoned for by Jesus, but that the nearness of that sin looms so much larger than the cross in the distance of history. The assurance of forgiveness brings the cross to the forefront, placing the sin in proper perspective.

  5. Like Jeremy, it is usually a lay leader (me) who announces the absolution of sins, and the confession and absolution has become my favorite part of the liturgy. Our prayer of confession (Anglican) is all-encompassing, and the absolution (usually accompanied by 1 John, or 1 Timothy + 1 John) is marvelous.

    It’s the core of the Gospel: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and as we confess, God is faithful, and just, forgiving our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

    I can no longer imagine going to a church in which this isn’t proclaimed every time we gather. That’s just me, I guess, but it seems very central to what it means to be a church now.

  6. John 20:21-23 (ESV)
    Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” [22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [23] If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”

    To the Lutheran it is much more reassuring when the Pastor isn’t merely telling you, or assuring you that your sins are forgiven, but is bold enough to do what Christ asks of him, and actually forgives your sins in his Name. To us it is at the very heart of the pastors job to forgive sins. If we aren’t doing that we aren’t doing our job.

    • Bror:

      This is why I really cannot understand where you people are coming from.

      It has taken 6 comments for you to announce that others a “merely” and you are “really.”

      I’m going to skip the rest of what I’m going to say, because anyone to whom it makes a difference is already thinking it and the rest are thinking what you’re thinking.,

      The difference between “merely” and “really” is why no matter how much I admire some traditions, I still wonder if they finally get what it’s all supposed to be about.

      • “Further, no evangelical believes the worship leader or pastor has been authorized in this capacity to grant actual forgiveness to those who hear the assurance. (In other capacities, pastors may, in some traditions, be doing that in some situations, but that is another subject.)”

        And this is what I am getting at as the difference. We Lutherans do believe that the pastor has been authorized to grant actual forgiveness. That is why I put the “merely” and “really.”

        • Wouldn’t that mean that if the pastor had the ability to grant forgiveness, then shouldn’t he necessarily have the power to deny it? Doesn’t that give a man a little too much power over one’s soul and eternal destiny?

          • Miguel,
            The text says what the text says. It is our understanding of the pastoral office that though it is not exactly the same as that of Apostle, it does flow out of that office, and that it’s primary purpose for continuance is to carry out John 20, forgive, and yes, where necessary retain sins. We are very reticent to retain sins, and tend to believe if someone is confessing them they must be repentant of them.
            However, I’m not sure that I would take issue with Christ giving “too much” power over one’s soul and destiny. He has entrusted the gospel itself to men, to proclaim. It is the way in which people come to faith, men proclaim the gospel, other men hear it, believe it and are saved. If I am to believe that granting certain men set aside for this holy office the responsibility of forgiving and retaining sins is “too much power.” Then the same would be said of the gospel in all its forms. You yourself are exercising that same power over another’s soul when you clam up, shut up, and pass on an opportunity to share the gospel with a friend, coworker, family member, or complete stranger. How’s that for a guilt trip?
            However, it is a responsibility the pastor has in the care of souls to forgive, and where necessary, retain sins. The purpose though of retaining sins is always to bring a person to repentance so that you can then forgive that sin. Read 1 Corinthians, where Paul recommends that they hand the man over to Satan, to see how that is supposed to play out.

          • That’s what the passage cited above says: “.. if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” Yes, it’s giving a lot of power to men, but how else would you interpret what the Lord said?

          • Okay, I’m stepping into a minefield here, but you all know that saying about fools and angels 🙂

            “Wouldn’t that mean that if the pastor had the ability to grant forgiveness, then shouldn’t he necessarily have the power to deny it? Doesn’t that give a man a little too much power over one’s soul and eternal destiny?”

            In the Catholic tradition, it’s called the Office or Power of the Keys. Now, it’s a little complicated in that we have the Sacrament of Penance, whereby the individual goes to privately confess his sins in detail and to receive absolution, and this post is primarily about the General Confession and Declaration of Absolution in a service (liturgical or otherwise).

            The priest does not, of his own power or merit or knowledge or anything else. have the power to forgive sin. But neither does he simply announce in words the forgiveness of sin. It is God acting through the priest who forgives.

            We are bound by the sacraments, God is not. God’s grace can work through any channels. If someone is genuinely contrite and repentant, and is refused absolution, that does not bind God’s forgiveness.

            Being refused absolution is very rare. It’s only in cases where the priest can be sure that the person is making a bad confession (lying about or concealing serious sins, not genuinely contrite, not genuinely intending to amend and give up habitual sins, trying to get absolution before commiting the sin, etc.)

            The refusal of forgiveness, or more likely, the announcement of broken communion is much more likely to be in the cases of excommunication, where someone obstinately persists in gravely sinful behaviour against the teaching of the Church and the guidance of their bishop. In that case, they would be asked not to present themselves for the sacraments (particularly the Eucharist) until they had restored communion by making a valid confession and receiving absolution.

            The case I’m thinking of right now is Kathleen Sibelius, who has been asked by her bishop not to receive Communion in her home diocese because of her pro-choice stance.

            Yeah, that’s another setting of the cat amongst the pigeons with that topic right there 🙂

            Anyway, this is some of what the Catechism has to say on the matter:

            “1463 Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication, the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them. In danger of death any priest, even if deprived of faculties for hearing confessions, can absolve from every sin and excommunication.

            1464 Priests must encourage the faithful to come to the sacrament of Penance and must make themselves available to celebrate this sacrament each time Christians reasonably ask for it.

            1465 When he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him on his return, and of the just and impartial judge whose judgment is both just and merciful. the priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner.

            1466 The confessor is not the master of God’s forgiveness, but its servant. the minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ. He should have a proven knowledge of Christian behavior, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord’s mercy.”

          • The NIV translates Jesus as saying: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” If you take that at face value and don’t try to read anything extra into it, it’s like saying, “If you give someone an apple, then they have an apple. If you don’t give someone an apple, then they don’t have an apple.” If that is the case, then Jesus is only bestowing a positive authority to forgive sins — such as what Stephen exercised when he asked God to forgive those who were stoning him — and not the authority to retain a person’s sins to the point of hopeless damnation. In other words, Jesus is telling His disciples that if they ask God to forgive someone for some sin or another, then God will honor their request and grant that person forgiveness. But if they choose not to do this, then that person’s sin remains on the books (as it would otherwise) — which doesn’t mean that person couldn’t later come to Christ in repentance and have all their sins forgiven. That option sits a little better with me, since the idea that anyone in a clergyman’s robe can go around damning people to hell is somewhat unsettling.
            This passage by itself also leaves room for other uncertainties. Is Jesus passing the authority to forgive sins to His disciples only? Or does it apply to anyone thereafter in a church leadership position, or only to those at a certain level of leadership? Or does it apply to all believers? I would be very interested in reading a scriptural argument supporting one (or more) of these options.

  7. This is one of my favorite parts of the liturgy. At my church, the confessions and assurances are different week-to-week, but one of the assurances that’s used semi-regularly is this:

    Liturgist: “Hear the good news! Who is in a position to condemn?”
    Congregation: “Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.”
    Liturgist: “Know that you are forgiven and be at peace.”

    That really blew me away the first time I heard it, and it still gets me.

    • I understand the prayer in this way: not to be the judge of another person’s ‘sins’.
      I like the humility your liturgical prayer comes from:
      the recognition that we are foolish and arrogant judges of one another; and that the only One fit to judge is the One who said, ‘Learn of me, for I am humble . . . ‘
      People think ‘humility’ is weakness, and yet He, in his Humility, could calm the sea with a Word.
      Maybe there is more to humility that Christians have realized. He tried to teach us that. But we didn’t understand, and so we judge one another in our arrogance, and we judge them poorly in our weakened human condition.
      I like your liturgical prayer, Myron, it reflects Christ.

  8. >If a pastor claimed “come on this last verse or the opportunity to believe will be over,” that would be a clear abuse.<

    I have heard this implied. And, yes, it is abuse.

  9. We are not going to play “Our denomination really forgives sins, yours doesn’t.”

    The Evangelical Liturgy series actually isn’t here so non-evangelicals can pray “I thank you Lord that I am not as other men.” It’s for evangelicals to discuss the classic Protestant liturgy and for others to share how the elements are meaningful and helpful.

    Stop the denomination commercials. I’m patient with new people, but people that have been down this road on this blog multiple times have strained my patience. You know what the discussion rules say about this.

    • And the poor man is itchy and in pain! Play nice.

    • You should’ve probably prefaced your post with a warning that this is a prayer with no equivalent in Anglican, Lutheran or Catholics liturgies and explicitly reflects a Reformed understanding of forgiveness.

      The Anglican, Lutheran and Catholic prayer is a “supplication for pardon” (future) – the one you’re talking about is a “reminder of pardon” (past). They are substantially different even though they both follow the corporate confession.

      Interesting discussion though and much appreciated thoughts.

      • I beg to differ. What Michael is talking about is not a “reminder of pardon (past)”. It is a proclamation of forgiveness, ever present and ever new, flowing from the finished work of Christ. But like the gospel, we proclaim it, we don’t grant it.

        I’m not happy with calling the “catholic” absolution a “supplication”, either — that misses the point of the “catholic” understanding that it is within the power and authority of the priest to grant or withhold forgiveness. I would call it a pronouncement, a declaration.

        I admit that I don’t really understand how that plays with the John 20 passage, since other places in Scripture suggest that if I ask God (not a priest) to forgive me because of the finished work of Christ he will do so.

        • Wolf Paul,

          Would the image of the priest as a channel of water (grace) help? Generally they are useful for providing water to us, but there are other ways as well. Springs, floods, rain, lakes splashing up etc.

          But, water is always the same.

        • I say “reminder of pardon (past)” because, according to my understanding of Reformed theology, the believer has no need of further pardon (the pardon he now possesses is sufficient) but only that his pardon be declared to him for his own comfort and joy. Please correct me if I am erring.

          The Catholic prayer (in both the 1961 and 1969 missals with minor differences) is “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life”. The Anglican prayer is very similar, I think. There is nothing assured, absolved, granted, declared, proclaimed, pronounced, etc… It is just a supplication. And this prayer need not be said by a priest or even in a group. I pray it by myself at Compline, for instance. Perhaps you are thinking of the absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (which is an altogether different matter)?

        • Lutherans do not have the exact same understanding of this as Catholics. It is neither past nor future, but now for us. The pastor forgives sins in the stead and at the behest of Christ. He forgives them. He doesn’t just announce forgiveness or pray for forgiveness.
          Forgiveness, it seems from my reading of the Bible is given many different ways, none of which should be played off each other. If God wants to forgive my sins through the audible pronunciation of one of his servants, Who am I to argue? That is how the John 20 passage plays into it. Even if you can pray to God directly for forgiveness. I still like to hear it from my Father confessor.

    • I think you’re being a little hyper-sensitive here, although you might be moderating some comments we aren’t seeing.

      I felt that Bror above was just pointing out that some Evangelicals do believe that they have the authority to forgive as a correction to the part of your post he quoted. I chalk that up mostly to the word “Evangelical” having a rather fuzzy meaning to most people, or perhaps he didn’t realize you were limiting it to just Evangelicals. I didn’t think the discussion of John 20 overstepped any bounds either, although it was getting a little close perhaps. I thought it was worthwhile though. I didn’t feel that anyone was disparaging any other denominations.

      I can certainly see where this might not be the direction you would like the discussion to be going though.

    • I hope this will help and will not fit in the category of denominational comercial:

      it might be helpful to think here of the concept of office? for some strange reason christians have no problems with “office” in the secular world and they do in the church.

      When a judge acts in his officlal capacity. he usually says “I, by the power invested in me by the people of the state of ____ condemn/pronounce you man and wife.”

      no one has a problem here with the first person singular being used. Lutheran pastors use the first person singular in exactly and precisely this sense.

      Lutheran pastors say ” I, as a called and ordained servant of the word, forgive you all our sins, in the name of the father, son and holy spirit…..

    • by the way, you are so very right, the forgiveness of sins in christ is the same forgiveness of sins in whatever form it comes in. and it needs to be proclaimed unconditionally and not offered conditionally.

  10. I have always preferred to call this worship action the “Proclamation of Forgiveness.” I find the word assurance to be too weak, and a bit wishy washy. It is insufficiently active or powerful. I have suggested several times that we change the bulletin from “Assurance” to “Proclamation” to no avail. I chalk this up to some of the objections you listed to the whole endeavor. It seems as if the thought is that if we just use a soft enough word, then people won’t think it strange.
    I know from my point of view as a worship leader, when I proclaim in a very loud and certain voice, “By the Grace of Jesus Christ we are forgiven!” I detect an audible movement among the gathered congregation. There is a momentary brightening, a lifting of weight. It is a gospel moment, and we get to do it every Sunday. It’s awesome.
    I love Myron’s text. I will be adopting it.

  11. 1) If you believe these posts are singling out your denomination in some way, you’re either in an anti-liturgical church or you are wrong.

    2) I don’t know enough about the liturgical churches to write posts that imply anything about any of them.

    3) One more time: The commenting rules on this site are there to be followed. Those who have been around IM for any period of time know this is not the denominational free for all that goes on elsewhere. So forgive what sounds like irritation, but I expect long time readers to get it: Help me build up evangelicals with this post, not provide them with reasons to join your church.

    • Michael, thank you for explaining this.
      Is there any way you can alert new readers about your feeling so that they ‘get it’ up front?
      I think that would be a good idea, and save you and them a lot of grief.

  12. It was an interesting experience for me to read about pardon from an Evangelical perspective. Thanks for bringing me outside of the lens of my own (Anglican/Episcopal) tradition.

  13. It is interesting how the Hungarian Reformed Communion Service handles this.

    After the Confession of sin comes something unexpected – the Apostle’s Creed! The come four historic questions regarding what one truly “believes and confesses” (3) and finally in light of them what one “promises and resolves”.

    It is a unique form of “covenant renewal”.

    THEN, after these comes the declaration of pardon which is virtually Lutheran except instead of saying “I forgive you” it is usually in words such as “As an unworthy yet ordained minister of the Gospel I announce and declare…”

    • Do you have a more verbatim rendering of this, in English? I live next door to Hungary but the language is so different that I have no chance of understanding it even if I pick up a prayer book.

  14. We all need to be reminded of God’s mercy and forgiveness, whether we are liturgical or not. Obviously the various traditions differ on exactly how this works – but the fact that we can be freed from sin and its consequences is the heart of the Gospel. I’m glad anytime anyone proclaims it.

  15. An explanation why the Apostles Creed specifically proclaims the forgiveness of sins:

    “The Gnostics considered that what men needed was not forgiveness, but enlightenment. Ignorance, not sin, was the problem. Some of them, believing the body to be a snare and delusion, led lives of great asceticism. Others, believing the body to be quite separate from the soul, held that it did not matter what the body did, since it was completely foul anyway, and its actions had no effect on the soul. They accordingly led lives that were not ascetic at all. Either way, the notion of forgiveness was alien to them.”


  16. As a Protestant Evangelical NOS, I am, in recent times, finding myself craving a little bit of ceremony and even a little bit of liturgy.

    After recently reading “Ancient-Future Time” by the late Robert E. Webber, I have become even more aware of what I’ve been missing out on in post-episcopy evangelical churches that celebrate secular festivals like Valentines Day, Mothers Day and Fathers Day with vigorous glee, yet shun tradtional Christian calendar observances such as Advent, Epiphany and Lent.

    I plan to undertake an experimental jaunt into the Christian calendar and lectionary in 2009/10 and blog about my experiences:


    • Amen brother,

      I’d be hard pressed to say whether Easter or Mother’s Day was the biggest holiday in the church I grew up in. At least we had some build up before Easter though.

  17. Having grown up “low church”. I’ve enjoyed visiting other liturgical tradtions that have had confessional and absolution statements. I guess I have never thought I was needing the pastor/priest to say these words in order for it to “take effect” but thought that was occuring in my confession to God and that the words of absolution were a human voice affirming/proclaiming what Christ has already given to us.

    I like Eugene Peterson’s thought that the “priesthood of the believer” was not intended to primarily infer that we could be our own little “private” priests. This is too much of a western individualist mindset, rather, he states that we are all priests, but we are called to be priests for each other. Yes, some are ordained for this in full time service. But it is the Word of God spoken, whether ordained or lay, in corporate or one on one settings that we can continue this ministry for one another – tho this “confess your sins one to another…” is a whole other blog.

  18. Gentlepersons;

    This day being Yom Kippur, I feel compelled to add that the absolution given by the clergyman or lay leader in so many traditions is modeled after the blessing pronounced by the high priest in Jewish tradition. After he carries out the tasks of the day sprinkling the blood of the victims in the Holy of Holies, anointing the altar of incense with the blood, releasing the scapegoat and sprinkling the final blood of the day in the Holy of Holies, he pronounces a blessing to the people which assures them that they are forgiven and reconciled to God for another year.

    This is something which Jesus actually did Himself as our great High Priest, after He was slain, He entered into the veil of death, He presented Himself as the sacrifice to the Father, and returned to rise from death to proclaim, with the supreme authority of one whom God has raised from the dead, forgiveness to anyone who turns to Him with repentance.

    None of us no matter how well schooled, has this authority on our own. We do have this statement from Jesus (John 20) that “whatsoever sins ye forgive, etc.” This statement also has Old Testament roots in that it is similar to God telling the prophets, “if I tell you to warn a person and you don’t do it their blood is on your head, but if I tell you to warn a person and you do it their blood is on their own heads” (this is my paraphrase, but I think you know what I am referring to).
    Because of the similarity and the continuity of scripture old and new I believe that we as people who know Jesus are “Jesus” to others in the same way that Moses was “God” to the Hebrew people whenever he represented what God was saying to them.

    Therefore pronouncing the forgiveness which Christ freely gives to those who seek Him is a natural part of our ministry as kings and priests (that would be all of those who know Jesus). We quite literally are priests (God’s representatives to others) to those who do not know Him, and we fulfill the other priestly function when we intercede (the peoples representative before God) for these people with God. There is no hocus-pocus about it, it is or should be a daily part of our life in Christ.

    The travesty is that in some traditions this function is reserved for the ordained. I do not see this as a possibility, lots of people in the book of Acts did not have fancy titles, but clearly had ministries (many folks now days would say that Stephen and Philip were “only” deacons).

    It is time for those of you who know Jesus to realize who you are, (let the redeemed of the Lord say so). Those of you who know Him are the contact point for God to those around you who do not know Him. These liturgies are far less important than obedience to Him. Sit with Him, listen to Him and obey Him.
    Who knows you may end up giving absolution to someone yourself.

    I am from the Anglican tradition,
    but that does not mean that I love and treasure
    things which I understand to be problems.


    • Good stuff, Nathan. Thanks.
      Your comments on the ancient Jewish tradition give some added depth to the issue. And it’s interesting how things have cycled back around. The ancient Jews observed rituals (liturgies, if you like) that pointed forward prophetically to Christ, who then opened the doorway from prophetic ritual to the living spiritual realities these rituals pointed towards — and humankind was invited to pass through that doorway and come live in these spiritual realities in the course of everyday life (with God dwelling within us and working through us). I wonder sometimes if the church has in some ways stepped back out of that doorway and abandoned a living, breathing, Spirit-led life in Christ for another set of religious rituals — this time pointing backwards in time to Christ and the traditions that have developed within the church through the centuries.
      Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with rituals or liturgies that guide us to or help uphold us in a Spirit-led life, such as the one Michael has described in this post. What concerns me is when these rituals serve as substitutes or are mistaken for the Spirit-breathed realities of things like forgiveness, salvation, prayer, or worship as they were meant to be manifested in the day-to-day lives of God’s people — and not merely rationed out by religious professionals in appointed places during certain times of the week.

  19. Oddly enough, the commonly used Orthodox liturgy does not have an assurance of pardon as part of the Liturgy. There is a confession of sins, but that is a very late addition to the Liturgy. It was only added after the Reformation. The western side of Christendom did add a confession early in their history, but the eastern side never did.

    So, worship services that have no confession and no pronouncement of forgiveness reflect an order every bit as old as those that do!

  20. I think there is a difference between restoration and forgiveness. I think forgiveness points back to the cross. Restoration has a more present aspect and allows some discretion and liberty on the part of the church. The best example is the Diocletian controversy, where believers under duress avoided persecution by offering incense to the emperor, buying fake documents stating that they offered the incense when they didn’t, surrendering Bible text to persecutors, and selling out other believers to save themselves. Horrible stuff, according to the Donatists. But to their demise, the church chose to reinstate bishops who engaged in such cowardly, treacherous acts. The church exercised its office of the keys to restore the erring bishops. This caused the Donatists to split from the church, who wanted the guilty to be treated much more severely.

    I think the assurance of pardon should not be confused with restoration. Weird things happen where this occurs, resulting in forcing sinners to jump through hoops before they are brokered God’s forgiveness. I think Unrepentant sin is a different case, where church discipline and a restoration process is necessary, following the pattern Paul gave the Corinthian church.

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