What Christians know about each other

Justin Taylor posts a startling quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together, about what a Christian “who lives beneath the cross of Jesus” knows about sin, himself, and other sinners.   And how this knowledge of the human heart, as revealed by the Cross, goes deeper than that of any psychologist. [Read more...]

Australian Anglicans repeal the seal of confession

The Anglican Church of Australia has voted to amend the canon on confession, which traditionally has required ministers to observe total confidentiality when people confess their sins.  Now, if penitents confess a crime, the pastor will be expected to rat them out to the police. [Read more...]

Lance Armstrong in Oprah’s confessional

We Lutherans believe in confession and absolution.  That happens in every Divine Service, and, when someone is particularly troubled with a sin, the individual confesses to a pastor, who brings Christ’s forgiveness.  This is an evangelical version of what Roman Catholics do (instead of requiring acts of penance, our pastors forgive sins in terms of the Gospel).  (See John 20:21-23.)  Anglicans and Orthodox also have something similar.

In our culture, though, Oprah Winfrey is our priest, or rather priestess.  She is the one who took charge of all of our religions to organize our national worship service in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. She has her index of books that we are to read. She teaches us our morality. And now she serves as confessor for one of our heroes who has fallen from grace, with champion cyclist Lance Armstrong confessing his sin of doping on her show. [Read more...]

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven”

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.”

via John 20 ESV – The Resurrection – Now on the first day – Bible Gateway.

(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?

The latest on confession and indulgences

Todd alerted me to this story from Reuters:

The Vatican has granted priests the right to forgive the sin of abortion when hearing the confessions of hundreds of thousands of young people attending a Roman Catholic youth festival in Spain this week.

The termination of pregnancy is a sin punishable by excommunication under Church law. The World Youth Day (WYD) pilgrims will attend a mass confession in the presence of Pope Benedict on Saturday in a central Madrid park.

“This (concession) is to make it easier for the faithful who attend the World Youth Day celebrations to obtain the fruits of divine grace,” the Madrid archdiocese said in a statement on its website.

Two hundred white portable confessional cabins have been erected in Madrid’s Retiro Park where hundreds of priests will take confessions in different languages from the pilgrims who have travelled to Spain from around the world.

The pontiff will sit in one of the booths on Saturday morning to hear confessions from three visitors, ahead of a mass with up to 6,000 seminarians.

The Vatican already announced on August 11 that it had authorized a plenary, or full indulgence, to all the young people attending the celebrations.

An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven and is traditionally granted to WYD pilgrims.

via Priests to forgive abortion in Pope youth festival – Yahoo! News.

First of all, could this be one of those many cases in which the reporter completely misunderstands a religious teaching?  Can it be true that in the Roman Catholic Church a woman who has had an abortion cannot normally repent, confess, and be absolved of that sin?  (Please, may a Catholic reader clear this up for us.)  If this is true, we see again the difficulty of finding full forgiveness under the Roman Catholic penitential system.  More certain, I suppose, is getting an indulgence.  Rome doesn’t sell them anymore, but gives them away for the good work of attending a youth rally!

If this is a correct account, it shows how Lutherans actually have a higher view of confession than Rome does. We also have a higher view of Baptism, which deals with all sin throughout one’s life, not just original sin, and the Lord’s Supper, which we receive for forgiveness, not having to already be pure in order to take it.

UPDATE:  Mollie Hemingway has confirmed with canon lawyers that priests cannot forgive the sin of abortion without special arrangement.  She gave me this quotation linked from a comment in her own discussion of World Youth Day:

“Elaine, I am a canon lawyer. The article is correct. Not all priests have the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion with its attendant automatic excommunication. If a person goes to Confession and confesses abortion, and the  priest does not have the faculty to absolve it, he will request the person come  back a few days later. In the meantime, he will notify the bishop and ask for  the faculty to absolve the sin and lift the excommunication. When the person comes back, then the confession is completed and absolution is given. Many dioceses (such as the one where I work) have granted all priests in the
diocese this faculty.”

So forgiveness comes from the bishop rather than the Word and the promises of the Gospel.

 

 

You have already been judged

Our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, is on vacation, so my son-in-law from Australia, Rev. Adam Hensley, preached the sermon last Sunday.  It was an amazing exposition of the Gospel.  His text was  Romans 8:28–39, focusing on  verse 3:

God for us. It is no overstatement to claim that these three little words make all the difference to everything! They change the very landscape of your life! Indeed, they allow St Paul to say just a few verses before, “for those who love God all things work together for goodFor, because of Christ, God our Father—the Judge and Creator of all–has already judged in our favor!

Already this morning you have heard Him speak his final judgment upon you, when you heard me declare to you in His stead and by His command: “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” You do not have to wait until Judgment Day to know His verdict—He has already given it: He has forgiven you for Christ’s sake! . . . .

Now a good judge prizes himself or herself on being neutral. A good judge shows no favoritism, but executes justice without regard for status, fame, prestige, wealth, or appearance. A good judge does not regard the face,but is fair and even, rewarding, justifyingthe righteous and punishing the wicked.

Here we may think of Lady Justice, that statue inspired by the Roman goddess Iustitia, as the epitome of this ideal. She stands blindfolded, indicating that she does not judge by appearances or what she sees. In one hand she holds a sword, symbolizing authority, and in the other a balanced scales, symbolizing equity and fairness. Indeed, Lady Justice is the ideal model for the office of judge in the courts; in God’s left hand Kingdom, as we say.

But Lady Justice is no model for our Eternal Judge, who judges us in Christ!

Our Judge is anything but neutral! He acquits the guilty! He cancels debts! He justifies sinners and transgressors!

He shows favoritism! He shows His favor to you for Christ’s sake. . . .

Now some people talk about the justice of God, or about God as Judge and for all intents and purposes leave Christ out of it. They get into discussions about God’s sovereign right to condemn some and save others in general. . . .But God does not deal with us in the abstract. He deals with us in Christ! He always points us to Christ, and says of Him, “Here is my justice for you! Here I justify you! . . .

God loving is still ―God punishing sin with death, but it is God Himself taking on our human flesh and bearing the punishment—our death sentence—for us.

And so justice is done. Sin and guilt are punished. God’s wrath is exhausted.

Not blindly though, but with both eyes open! For the Father knew what He was doing. The Son knew what He would endure and why: the Innocent would die for the guilty.

And yes, this is a miscarriage of justice to our way of thinking: Christ was no blasphemer as He was accused of being. But it is God’s miscarriage of justice. It was God’s plan that Christ, the Son of God, become the Blasphemer, the Murderer, the Adulterer, the Sinner. And we have become the “called,” “justified,” “glorified” children of the Heavenly Father.

And He who was born of a virgin, talking upon Himself our human flesh and all our sin and guilty, who then died and rose again… He now intercedes for you and me! Both His eyes are open, looking upon you with compassion; looking to the Heavenly Father and pleading the perfect plea for our forgiveness: His wounds that testify that all sin has been punished by death; all our debt paid in full.

So, the eternal Judge and the eternal Defense Attorney is for us! And not only that: He is also the one who chose to endure your sentence for you!


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