19 January 2008

Confession on the Ascent

Here's a most interesting article on the comeback of saying, "I'm sorry" - that is, the comeback of Confession. The article quotes LCMS Ohio District President Rev. Terry Cripe on the value of Confession and Absolution: "There is such power in getting things off your chest. But that's only part of the equation. You must seek absolution. You can't do better than God's forgiveness." Great quote!

I rejoice at this now second article that I've seen on the reemergence/resurrection of Confession and Absolution, and both of them refer to the resolution from last summer's LCMS Synodical Convention commending the practice of Confession and Absolution. However, I also take it as a clarion call for greater teaching and improved practice regarding this soul-comforting and faith-strengthening Sacrament. When I ponder people "confessing" in an anonymous online venue, or in a shopping mall venue, or even turning to the likes of Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura (for all the good that they certain do for many), I must pray, "Lord, have mercy!" They're missing out on the greatest part of Confession: the Absolution!

So, thank God for the resurrection of Confession and Absolution, for both Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Thank God for this prime opportunity to return to the proper care of souls that occurs in Confession and Absolution. And I especially rejoice in what our Lutheran Confessions say on this Sacrament (and, yes, they even call it a Sacrament!):
It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse. However, in confession it is not necessary to enumerate all trespasses and sins, for this is impossible. Ps. 19:12, "Who can discern his errors?" (Augsburg Confession, XI)

It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God's will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith. For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith. (Augsburg Confession, XIII)

If we define sacraments as "rites which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added," we can easily determine which are sacraments in the strict sense.... The genuine sacraments, therefore, are Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and absolution (which is the sacrament of penitence), for these rites have the commandment of God and the promise of grace, which is the heart of the New Testament. When we are baptized, when we eat the Lord's body, when we are absolved, our hearts should firmly believe that God really forgives us for Christ's sake. Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart to believe and take hold of faith, as Paul says (Rom. 10:17), "Faith comes from what is heard." As the Word enters through the ears to strike the heart, so the rite itself enters through the eyes to move the heart. The Word and the rite have the same effect, as Augustine said so well when he called the sacrament "the visible Word," for the rite is received by the eyes and is a sort of picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect. (Apology, XIII:3-5)

Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the pope's command at any point, but you will compel yourself and beg me for the privilege of sharing in it. (Large Catechism, A Brief Exhortation to Confession, 28)

If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us to offer it. (Large Catechism, A Brief Exhortation to Confession, 30)

Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian. (Large Catechism, A Brief Exhortation to Confession, 32)

(All quotes from the Tappert edition of the Book of Concord. I'd love to quote from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, but for some strange reason, the editors decided to omit some of the key quotes on this subject! In AC XI, they go with the Latin and thus omit the phrase "and not allowed to fall into disuse." And in Luther's Large Catechism, they omit the whole section called "A Brief Exhortation to Confession," which follows the section on the Sacrament of the Altar.)


  1. Thanks, Paul,

    I didn't realize that the exhortation had been moved; I'll have to track it down. So, if it's not - technically? - part of the Book of Concord, then why is it included in other editions, such as Tappert and Kolb-Wengert (as I recall)?

    On the textual/translation issues, that's all well and good, however, I do think that such choices have a way of short-changing our folks, for whom "Concordia" is intended, after all. They really do need to hear AC XI when it says that C/A "should not be allowed to fall into disuse" for the simple reason that we Lutherans have most certainly let it fall into disuse. To keep that phrase out of the "Concordia" edition by some other textual consideration (rationale?) only perpetuates at least one of our many problems, imho.

  2. This resolution coming from the convention is good news. The question I have is: do we go to confession only when our sins trouble us greatly (which is what I hear) or do we go regularly as a discipline? It seems to me that if it is a sacrament that we would want to go on a regular basis.

    On the other hand, I think that many Lutherans might feel that they are not terribly troubled by their sins because they are often told of and believe in Christ's redemptive work on the cross and know that all their sins are completely covered.

    I personally want to make confession a regular part of my Christian life, but wonder, how we are to use this gift.

    Also, is confession only for sins of word and deed? Or can we confess our thoughts? I guess I am asking because I get the feeling that we are only to confess the really big stuff (so to speak) not the ordinary, garden variety sins such as our thoughts of pride or selfishness( not that these aren't big, but I think you probably get my meaning).
    Hope this makes sense.

  3. Pastor Asburry,

    Thank you. Your words have been very helpful.


  4. Pastor
    This is not one of my famous smart remarks, but a thirst for knowledge.

    The Catholics as you know also consider, marriage and ordination as sacraments. As you know my bible knowledge is growing but not as great as I'd like but didn't Christ exhort his apostles to go forth and spread the word.

    And I am certain there are references in the bible for men and women regarding marriage. My favorite (paraphrased) That a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh etc. is in several spots.

    I can see how this can be argued that they are sacraments, but I'm sure you can explain the flaws in my thinking.