Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Half Sacrament of Absolution. . .

Although Lutherans are hesitant to number the sacraments, Melancthon in the Augustana does rank the sacraments:  Baptism (AC IX), Sacrament of the Altar (AC X), Confession (AC XI), and Repentance (AC XII).  As to Luther's perspective, one might only note that if he did not actually call private confession and absolution a sacrament, he did certainly give it equal place and importance by putting it comfortably between Baptism and the Lord's Supper in the Catechism.  In the Large Catechism Luther defines the baptismal life by saying "Go to the confessional: this is what it looks like to drown the Old Adam and raise the New." (LC IV, 75)

The Apology (XI, 60-61; XII 40-41; XIII 4-5) attests to the Lutheran willingness to call private confession and absolution a sacrament.  This is far more than the mere refusal to abandon the practice as some Lutherans have suggested.  In fact, private confession is never treated as mere holdover from Roman theology or practice that eventually might disappear (FC SD XI, 37-38; SA III, IV, 1)

Kenneth Korby, commenting on AP XII, 2-6, said that if it is indeed wicked to remove private confession and absolution, then it is equally as wicked not to restore it where it has fallen into disuse.  If we think of sin but lightly, we also, by implication, think of Christ and His cross lightly.  One dare not forget that it is precisely the keys which Jesus gave to His apostles on the evening of that first day of His resurrection.

I grew up and was catechized at a time when even the official catechism of the LCMS omitted Luther's Brief Order for Private Confession.  A few questions remained but without a form to assist this from being mere theory or a blueprint to help teach actual practice.  For generations this was missing from our catechism and it became so alien to our people that to resurrect what had been an essential part of Lutheran piety was often seen as Romanizing.

The AP (XV, 40) insists that those who commune are first instructed (as to the Our Father, Creed, and Ten Commandments)  and absolved.  This only amplifies AC (XXV, 1) where we confess that the usual practice for us [Lutherans] is to commune those previously examined and absolved.  It is an interesting reference to First Communion practice in which private confession and absolution (the public and general confession and absolution being unknown at the time) was an essential component.

In other words, whether we have forgotten or not, we Lutherans confess that communicants undergo private confession and absolution prior to receiving the Sacrament of the Altar (at least first communion but the reference here implies every time one desires to receive the Sacrament).  Lutherans has then both a discipline of private confession (before communing) and a consolation form of private confession for the relief of the conscience so burdened.

Today it is like the kiss of death for a Lutheran Pastor to begin his ministry in a parish by addressing private confession.  Perhaps after some time of teaching and preaching the practice might be restored in form though it seldom becomes normal for Lutheran communicants.  How many of us Lutheran Pastors have sat for hours in the chancel awaiting the penitents who never came during the posted hours for private confession?  Nonetheless, we continue in the hope that some will come.  My own practice requires those who receive first communion to go through private confession and absolution -- at least once in their lives!

What is also interesting is that often those who object most to the occasion omission of the order or general confession and absolution from the Divine Service (as we do for baptisms) tend to be the most vehement against the reintroduction of private confession and absolution.  We have retained the discipline of confession prior to communion but it has become a generic form in which there is no personal address and in which we name no sins specifically (except perhaps in our hearts).

Some of this you can find in the excellent article by Jody Rinas in the current issue of Logia; the article is entitled The Sacramentality of Private Confession


Dixie said...

I wonder if it would help to start with the younger kids. For example, in our Orthodox Parish, every Lazarus Saturday (the Saturday before Palm Sunday) special time is set aside for the children to say confession with the priest. Plus, there is an icon of Christ before us and the priest makes it very clear we are confessing to Christ, not him.

As an adult it can be very difficult to open up for the first time and confess the secret sins of our heart, but if we start from our youth I think it can be an easier, more natural thing. I was brought up Roman Catholic so have been in the confessional since I was six years old, except for my sojourn as a Lutheran when I was free! ;)

Anonymous said...

I am truly at my wits' end with those who would seek to dismiss any historical/orthodox practice in the church with the mindless retort, "That's too [Roman] Catholic!" We know that Walther had a response for those who make such a statement, saying that if such is the case, we should also do away with singing, Scripture reading, etc. Sacrament or not (and I don't think historically we get that into numbering them, just defining them with Gospel clarity), I remind the people in my charge first that, as Robert Jenson once remarked (I know, I know, take that for what you will!), a General Confession is for GENERAL sins, i.e., such should really only be used in lieu of private Confession & Absolution when the COMMUNITY has communal/general sins to confess. Secondly, I remind my folks that the difference between Roman Catholic private confession and Lutheran private confession is that Romans go to confession to GET forgiveness, whereas Lutherans go to confession because in Christ we know we ARE forgiven. What good news, then, the words of Holy Absolution are for the genuinely troubled conscience! -- Peace!

Anonymous said...

Pr Peters, you wrote: What is also interesting is that often those who object most to the occasion omission of the order or general confession and absolution from the Divine Service (as we do for baptisms) tend to be the most vehement against the reintroduction of private confession and absolution.

Or even for Eastertide... perhaps obvious, but I have never thought of it this way... insightful and interesting. Harvey Mozolak

Anonymous said...

I kneel at the altar rail and confess, the pastor sits opposite me. In the stead and by the command, he lays both his hands on my head, "I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Through this, I receive the forgiveness of my sins, absolution for me. We parishioners demand this of our clergy (just as Luther said we would).

Steve Finnell said...


I believe every word of the Bible. I believe every verse of Scripture. I believe everything God says in His book.


I believed Jesus when He said, in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.


1. Jesus did not say, sprinkling water on infants, is Christian baptism.
2. Jesus did not say water baptism precedes believing in Him.
3. Jesus did not say, to baptize unbelieving babies or unbelieving adults and then teach them to have faith at a later date. ( If you can baptized non-believing babies, then why not baptize non-believing adults?)
4. Jesus did not say, infants who have been sprinkled are part of His body.
5. Jesus did not say, men are saved by "faith only."
6. Jesus did not say, men are saved by "grace alone."
7. Jesus did not say, men are saved before they are baptized in water.
8. Jesus did not say, water baptism is just a testimony of the believers faith and has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins.
9. Jesus did not say, God has selected a few men to be saved and has appointed all others to burn in hell.
10. Jesus did not say, men did not have to repent to have their sins forgiven.(Repentance means to make the commitment to turn from sin and turn toward God)
11. Jesus did not say, men do not have to confess Him, as the Son of God, in order to have their sins forgiven.
12. Jesus did not say that men do not have to confess Him as Lord and Savior in order to enter the kingdom of God.
13. Jesus did not say men do not have to believe in His death, His burial, and His resurrection from the grave in order to be saved.
14. Jesus did not say men will will be saved as long as they are sincere in what they believe.
15. Jesus did not say, I am just one of many ways to the Father.
16. Jesus did not say, there is not a literal hell where the lost will spend eternity.
17. Jesus did not say, you do not have to be born of water and Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God.
18. Jesus did not say, God will give, those He selects for salvation, the faith to believe, so they can be saved.
19. Jesus did not say, speaking in tongues is evidence that men have been saved.
20. Jesus did not say, if you were on on your death bed and wanted to believe, but died before you believed that He would saved you anyway.
21. Jesus did not say, if you believed, but died before you had time to be baptized in water, that you would sill be saved.
22. Jesus did not say, water baptism is not essential to have your sins forgiven.
23. Jesus did not say, you can be saved without faith.
24. Jesus did not say, you can be saved without confessing Him.
25. Jesus did not say, you can have your sins forgiven without repentance.
26 Jesus did not say, water baptism is just an act of obedience.
27. Jesus did not say, all men are guilty of Adam's sin.
28. Jesus did not say, everyone is guilty of original sin in the mothers womb.
29. Jesus did not say, infants are sinners.
30. Jesus did not say, we should pray to the Virgin Mary.
31. Jesus did not say, Peter was the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
32. Jesus did not say, when I return all the Jews and Gentiles who have rejected Me will get a second chance for salvation.




(Scripture quote from : NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)