The readings in church last Sunday included this passage from John 20:
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
We get into a lot of good theological discussions on this blog. Some of them get heated–and I apologize when they cross the line of Christian charity–but I know I learn from them. I’d like to ask the non-Lutheran readers of this blog, what do you do with this passage? We Lutherans, as is our wont, take it literally: We see the office of disciple in the office of pastors today, so we believe that pastors, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, can forgive sins. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” This happens individually, in private confession and absolution, and also every Sunday in corporate confession and absolution. The whole congregation prays a prayer in which we confess our sins, and then the pastor says, “upon this your confession, as a called and ordained servant of the Lord, I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This often freaks out non-Lutheran visitors. But I’ve wondered, how do they get around this passage? One could have a different theology of the ministry and apply that ability to ALL Christians (actually, Lutherans do say that laity too can forgive sins), but surely this passage clearly gives human beings who have the Holy Spirit the power to forgive sins. This is as clear statement as I can imagine, and I can’t see how it could be interpreted any other way.
So I’m asking, what do you Reformed, Arminian, Baptist, Pentecostal, and adherents to other Protestant Bible-believing theologies do with this passage?