This next section of Luther’s THE SMALL CATECHISM is controversial to non-Lutherans, though I wonder what they do with John 20:22-23. Confession and absolution is simply a personal application of the Gospel. It is very powerful in giving pastoral care to someone in need of God’s grace. Notice here the doctrine of vocation: in the pastor’s office, through which Christ is working, and in the consideration of what sins we should confess; namely, those we commit in and against our vocations. (Here I disagree with the translation: instead of “situation,” it should read “station,” a reference to how God places us in particular vocations as places of love and service to our neighbors.)
THE OFFICE OF THE KEYS AND CONFESSION
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is the special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth: to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners, but to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
The evangelist writes, John 20:22-23: “Jesus breathed on His disciples and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”
What is Confession?
Confession consists of two parts: one, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the pastor or confessor as from God himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.
What sins should we confess?
Before God we should acknowledge ourselves guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know about, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the pastor or confessor we should acknowledge those sins only which we know and feel in our hearts.
Which are these?
Here consider your own situation according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee; whether you have been disobedient, dishonest, lazy; whether you have injured anyone by word or deed; whether you have stolen, neglected, wasted anything, or done any harm.
I have heard some rather amazing accounts of the effects of personal confession and absolution, of people being delivered from tremendous guilt, tremendous sins, and even demonic affliction. Does anyone have any experiences like that? (Pastors, of course, can never reveal what was said in a confession.)