Dear Protestants #1 — Reconciliation

Protestants, do you know why we Catholics go to reconciliation? Do you know why we confess our sins to a priest? I ask because lately I’ve been hearing a lot of complaint from you folks – mostly Evangelicals and Baptists – about “antiquated teaching”, “humiliation”, “unecessary guilt” and a whole lot of ruckus about some fellow named Jesus being the only mediator between God and man. Which is why I, the confessional’s most frequent visitor, have got some fightin’ words to throw down.

The first are from that Jesus man: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23)

Now for some of you, that verse might be enough to convince you of the legitimacy of Reconciliation. All I’d have to do is slap that down and give you a face that looks something like this:

Accept common sense or Chesterton will cry.

But for those scrappy types that don’t go down until the 9th inning*, let me explain:

Jesus gives the Apostles, human beings, the power to forgive sins. Now, you can look these Apostles in one of two ways:
1. They are either representative of every Christian OR
2. They had a unique, special and individual purpose within the new Church.
If you are of the latter bent, then Reconciliation makes perfect sense. After all, certain men were given the power to forgive sins then, just as certain men – priests – are given the power to forgive sins now. However, if you are inclined to the former explanation of the apostles, that Jesus’ gifts to them were to every Christian ever to live, well then you’ve got some explaining to do.

In case my logical thread was lost, I’ll boil it down: if Jesus Christ did not only give certain men the power to forgive sins, then He gave every man the power to forgive sins. So, Protestants, why do you not forgive one another’s sins? Why, when a brother commits an evil act do you not lay your hands on his head and tell him, “I forgive you, and therefore you are totally forgiven.” Granted, I’m glad that you don’t. There should remain some of the Jewish outrage that “only God has the power to forgive sins.”

So listen. My claim is that by your refusal to commit the blasphemy of claiming to forgive sins, you admit that it is a power reserved only for certain men. Do not blame Catholics, then, for going to confession. We have those certain men. They wear collars.

But, “Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man” (1 Timothy 2:5), no? Well yes, in the ultimate sense “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But that does not mean that no one can talk to the Father through anyone but Jesus. If you are praying for a friend, congratulations, you are being a mediator between God and another man. There is no mediator between God and man other than Christ because Christ filled the infinite gap between God and man in his death. But because of that death, we can now play  an intimate role within the Trinity, and are blessed to have a Church with the power to bind whatever it would have bound, loose whatever it would have loosed, and forgive whatever sins it would have forgiven, as made explicitly clear in Holy Scripture. Again, to boil it down, any mediation between God and man ultimately is through Jesus who brought the two together, but that in no way disallows others to use the powers clearly and explicitly given to the Church in John 20:23. That would just be contradiction, something the Lord just doesn’t do.

So. That explains why Reconciliation is legitimate, but why is it necessary? Why can’t you just ask God to forgive your sins and be forgiven? Well, believe it or not, the Church teaches that you can. Reconciliation is not the only way to be forgiven, Reconciliation is the only way to know you’re forgiven. I admire the Protestant who sins, works himself into a state of true sorrow for those sins, apologizes fully to God, feels His forgiveness, hears His word in his life, and resolves to make a change. But if we are honest with ourselves, that isn’t always very easy, or even possible. Sometimes it’s very difficult to realize why a sin is wrong, sometimes – and especially with habitual sin – sorrow becomes logical, not emotional, sometimes apologizing to God seems routine, sometimes we sin so often that it is a routine, sometimes we don’t feel forgiven, sometimes we can’t work ourselves up to the state required to realize we are reconciled with God. The Church knows this. The Church, in her wisdom, ritualizes this very divine experience of Reconciliation, so it can be achieved by anyone, no matter what state they are in, no matter what emotions they are feeling. Need to realize you’ve sinned? Well that’s the first part of the ritual, the Examination of Conscience. Need to feel sorry for your sins? Thats part of the ritual, The Act of Contrition. Need to admit? “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” Need to apologize? Obviously that’s an essential part of the whole Reconciliation thing. Need to hear God’s word in your life? That’s part of the ritual, the priest gives you the words you need to hear. Need to commit to a change? That’s your closing line, to “firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin.” Need to be forgiven? You are, by the same power invested in the apostles in John 20:23.

Also -and here’s what i really love – it’s important to realize that sin does not just affect you and God, but the whole Church. We are the Body of Christ, and just as our good works build up that body, our sins attack it. How important it is then, to admit your sins not only to God but to the Church, the Body of Christ? The priest represents the Church. The priest is a member of that Church. You are reconciled to God, to yourself and to your brothers and sisters in Christ in that confessional. And again, it’s all part of a beautiful ritual, a ritual that remains no matter how you happen to be feeling that day. To my Protestant friends: why DON’T you have confession? Too easy for you?

That was the first of a series of challenges I have for my Protestant brothers and sisters. Sorry if it was too heavy, and without any videos to distract, dear me. Feel free to direct any hard-thinking Protestors to this site for some discussion.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! I’m already stoked for advent, and so should you be. I will do almost anything for more people to listen to this band.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18324646035425689955 Brian Crane

    The KJV translates as "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; [and] whose soever [sins] ye retain, they are retained." When discussing reconciliation, I usually ask Protestants if they have the power to retain sins, rather than if they have the power to forgive sins. I think that is the more interesting question.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13250374019486548341 Isaac

    Haha! Indeed, that is a much more interesting question to ask. I just about laughed out loud, just thinking of the kind of reactions I'd get if I asked them that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12679230722483582032 Marc

    But my dear friends, I have come to the realization that Protestants do in fact exercise their powers! They have by and large forgiven the sin of artificial contraception. And they have retained our sins of being cannibalistic Mary-worshipers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16927557015714152252 Cassie Williams

    Another thing to add to the grace of confession is humility. Pride being a great sin must be dismissed in the confessional. It take extreme humility to not only admit your sins but to speak them aloud to another person. I think if I were to just speak my sins to God and assume I am forgiven wouldn't require the humility as going to confession, for me that is the greatest grace. I love this post and intend to pass it on to some of my protestant friends, you have explained confession far better than I ever could! Thanks!

  • enness

    Ever done face-to-face? That's intense stuff. Totally humiliating. That's why it was awesome. It feels like a hazing into the Society of Catholic Badasses.

  • Schmidtcaters

    short correction, “God became man so man could become God.” therefore Jesus filled the gap between God and man with his incarnation, not his death. He suffered to take our sins on himself and he died as for the price of those sins. But the gap was filled ultimately at the annunciation, recognized at the visitation, actualized at the nativity, validated at the presentation, and confirmed at (if you haven’t caught the trend yet) the finding in the temple.

  • http://indefinitecrisis.wordpress.com/ Michael H

    There is an order for Confession in the Lutheran Small Catechism. Modern Lutheranism has apparently hung up on that line of grace in and with the Body of Christ that is the Church. More’s the pity, seeing as Luther himself stated unequivocally that the practice of confession should not be lost in the Protestant church.

  • Abbie Beck

    This is very random and off topic, but I was wondering, if you see this and even have time to reply, if you could clear something up for me. A lot of protestants use the verse 1 timothy 4 where it says that “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” and though it doesn’t really trouble me, I have no answer, help would be much appreciated!
    In Christ,


  • elle

    Hi. Protestants have reconciliation too. It’s just not in a closet with one dude who you have to tell every. Last. Detail. To. Instead, we confess in front of one another that we have sinned, and we leave the grisly details between us and God or between us and someone we choose to discuss it with. It preserves the dignity of the human person, which Catholics love to talk about. I was a Catholic for thirty years, by the way, so I have been to confession many times.

    • elle

      I think it bears saying that Confession was so humiliating to me that I found it deeply difficult to go. The Catholic answer is that the trauma and humiliation are good for you. Growing up with this idea, that humiliation and nausea precede forgiveness, can help people grow up also predisposed to be in abusive or codependent relationships, because when someone says “I wouldn’t hurt you if I didn’t love you,” it sounds about right, because that is what we know of our God. I think it’s wrong to present God that way.

      • Dave

        Hi Elle. Confession is certainly not meant to be traumatic or humiliating. Granted that there can be a certain embarrassment attached to it, but remember that you’re not telling the priest anything he hasn’t heard.
        Most Catholics find confession to be a beautiful experience of peace and love. It’s too bad that your experience was different. You might consider seeking a different priest who’s more your style.
        Ultimately, of course, what matters about the doctrine is not how we feel about it, but how God feels about it. So I’m a sense, the objections need to be compartmentalized, but I can assure you from personal experience and from uncounted anecdotes that confession need not be traumatic.
        God bless.

      • Dave

        Hi Elle. Confession is certainly not meant to be traumatic or humiliating. Granted that there can be a certain embarrassment attached to it, but remember that you’re not telling the priest anything he hasn’t heard.
        Most Catholics find confession to be a beautiful experience of peace and love. It’s too bad that your experience was different. You might consider seeking a different priest who’s more your style.
        Ultimately, of course, what matters about the doctrine is not how we feel about it, but how God feels about it. So I’m a sense, the objections need to be compartmentalized, but I can assure you from personal experience and from uncounted anecdotes that confession need not be traumatic.
        God bless.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KDQFQTMD56CJAKMLXRFYUDNCPQ Montague

    AM DISTRACTED – and now I want confessional at (my protestant) Church…

    Because I know that the RC is Badass, doesn’t mean I think it is always right. Just a lot.

  • CPE Gaebler

    Two notes from a Protestant heretic:
    In my Presbyterian church, a corporate confession of sin and assurance of forgiveness is part of every worship service. Not the same as the Catholic version though.
    However, one church I’ve been to, and every student Christian group I’ve been to, has encouraged the formation of “accountability groups;” it is like Confession but with the Protestant notion of the “priesthood of all believers.” Although in both cases neither the pastor nor my accountability partners (who have always been friends of mine – that makes it a FUN experience!) say “your sins are forgiven because I totes say so,” they just point out that I am forgiven because Christ did so.

    Nevertheless, I have at least once felt this desire for the Catholic version. Oddly enough, the one time I visited a Catholic service to “see what it was like,” I felt a strong urge to participate in the Eucharist as well (though, not being Catholic, I didn’t). That makes three sacraments of the Catholic Church I’ve desired, even though outside it.

    (Go ahead, guess what the third one is. Hint: I am a single male. Other hint: it ain’t Holy Orders.)

  • Eric

    I am a Protestant only in the sense that I am not Catholic, and I just want to say this as respectfully as possible. First, I would just like to say that the Catholic argument of having a common authority in the church is a strong argument in favor of the Catholic viewpoint, and it is something that is a problem for Protestants. Any thinking Christian should at least consider this issue, because the Bible does say much about the handing down (greek ‘paradosis’) of the apostles’ teaching, as well as submission to the apostolic authority. However, I have problems with the Catholic view of the authority of tradition in the sense in which it is used in the Catholic church. I struggle with the view that the ongoing development of tradition is binding. I truly believe that the tradtion handed down by the apostles is binding on the Christian, but I believe that the tradition that was handed down by the apostles was recorded for us by the direction of the Holy Spirit, and has been recorded in Scripture. In terms of tradition recorded beyond the apostles, if you read only the writings of the apostolic fathers whose works heve never been disputed to be both authentic and unequivocally attributed to them (Polycarp, Clement of Rome, and Ignatius of Antioch), you find absolutely nothing in terms of tradition that was handed down that cannot be found in the Old or New Testaments.

    That being said, the argument in favor of apostolic authority alone to forgive sins is often connected to Matthew 18:18 “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” However, if you continue reading the verse in its context, and try to maintain the same interpretation that Jesus’ words here were only referring to the apostles, then the argument breaks down:

    19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

    In order to maintain that this only referred to apostlic authority, and to extend this authority to the hierarchy of the Catholic church, you would have to adapt confession to include at least two confessors having this authority agreeing on the absolution of the sins, in order for it to be binding.

    My belief is that what is clearly in view here, is that the Church is wherever two come together in Christ’s name, and where the Church exists, Jesus’ authority is operative, since He is the head and the authority of the Church. This is why I believe the Church is at the same time invisible (unity of believers through one Spirit, and one baptism, through faith in Jesus) and visible- since Christ’s authority is manifested wherever the Church is coming together.
    -With all love and respect.

  • Maria

    was a very thought provoking writer that can never be read in a hurry.
    The author of this article has some views about the protestants and
    their belief that are not necessarily true. He brings some truths to
    light but he also has plenty of error. He made a statement about the
    Catholic belief that is a heresy from what the Bible teaches and also
    then adds a bit of truth: “the priest is the Church” but then he also
    added that the priest is part of the Church. Neither Catholic not
    Protestants should put the tradition of the Church over the authority of
    the Bible (this was the error of the Pharisees). If we live our life
    according to the teaching of men we can easily stray from the truth of
    God’s Word. Forgiveness is a subject that would require a lot more time
    and effort in writing about than just a few attacks on the Protestants.
    Our ultimate forgiveness is from God through Jesus Christ only. We can
    ask forgiveness from the one we have offended and the Bible teaches
    about the proper steps for that situation. To have to go to another
    mediator for our forgiveness, I guess it may bring a certain relief, but
    it is not required by God. This author asking why don’t we have
    confession, is it too easy for us, is a direct attack on something he is
    not well informed on. There is confession and remorse over sin in a
    Protestant’s life in the personal prayer life. we try and live our life
    in a constant awareness of God’s presence, and that makes it a constant
    reminder of our sinfulness and how far we fall from the holiness of God
    and it prompts the confession prayer throughout the day.