Our Scripture reading in church yesterday 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,[c] Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And 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.”
(1) We Lutherans believe that this passage teaches that Christ gives the Holy Spirit to the Church, which includes the authority to forgive sins. This is exercised in vocation–that is, God acting through human beings–when the called pastor gives absolution during individual or corporate confession (the latter of which is part of every worship service). After the individual or congregation admits their sins, the pastor says that as a called and ordained servant of the Lord, “I forgive you your sins.”
(2) But that authority is not just given to pastors, but to the whole congregation, which has called the pastor to exercise this gift on its behalf. But laypeople too can forgive sins and absolve those who confess their sins to them. Again, it is Christ who forgives, but He applies that forgiveness through individual Christians. (Isn’t that right? Perhaps someone can explain the parameters.)
(3) So when we forgive someone, according to this Scripture, that affects not only our feelings about the person who has wronged us. Rather, that actually does something to the person that is recognized in Heaven. (Right, Lutheran pastors?)
(4) I know this sounds outlandish to you non-Lutherans. But how else can you account for these verses (especially John 20:23)? Do you think that only the Disciples were given this power? Or what?