Because We Are A Bible-Believing Church II, Confession

A little over a month ago I wrote a little post, Because We Are A Bible Believing Church.  Webster’s two recent posts (here and here) and our poll (see sidebar) on the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka Confession) have generated plenty of comments from readers. In light of the fact that a good number of you may not be Catholic, I think it’s a good idea to let you know how I approached this Sacrament prior to my own conversion. And how my understanding of Scripture led me to accept the Church’s teaching on Confession.

For the record, I’m no expert apologist for the Faith or anything. The first notion I had was that Catholics (and the Orthodox) have it easy. Just sin all you want, hit the confession booth, and viola!—you’re free and clear to go sin again! Ain’t it grand? Just make it back in time to confess before your demise, and all will be well! Those crazy Catholics are on to something here!

But then I wondered to myself, how come if this deal is so good, nobody seems to be taking advantage of it? I never recall my wife going to Confession, that is, until I did. Of course, thinking this through I ran smack into the wall of wondering if maybe I was the one who had it easy. You know, sin all I want, say a quicky prayer for forgiveness and viola!—the all-clear signal.

Back in the days when I was going to prove how wrong Catholicism was, I figured this Sacrament would be an easy one to disprove. And then God stepped in and said, Take a look at what I said. Here is what I found (bold highlights are mine) with the words of Our Lord as a primary source.

And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins“—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings. (Matthew 9: 2-8)

Maybe this is just a wacky translation. But I don’t think so. Or maybe it only means Jesus was able to do this! Of course! He could, but what of that last sentence? Hmmm. What else is there? More from the Gospel of Matthew, and again Our Lord does the talking,

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:18)

What a long and involved process that is. Definitely includes the “church.” And I thought to myself, How many are in the Confessional? Two. And there are prayers for forgiveness. Not to be an intellectual or anything, but if I have any sort of Faith in God whatsoever, then it stands to reason that the standard of “wherever two or more are gathered in my name . . . it shall be granted to them” is being met here. This just makes sense. And notice no extensive disclaimer to the effect that one of the parties must be perfect, sinless, etc, etc. Sounds like a plan with real-world applicability to me.

After Christ was crucified, died, and buried, He rose again and appeared to the disciples. And what was one of the first things He told them? Take a look here in the words that St. John hands down to us about this event,

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23)

I started to see  the light because God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, said these words. I know this is a weak argument, because using God as a primary source should be sufficient, but I still had to follow this through. Shock will do that to someone who thought this was some man-made impediment. What did the rest of the New Testament say about this subject? First up, St. Paul:

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:17-20)

Reading this passage closely, I was left thinking that surely this does not mean that only the original Apostles alone were entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Isn’t it obvious? Paul is writing to the congregation in Corinth and calling them ambassadors for Christ. Throwing on my Anu Garg hat, ambassador is defined as,

1. A diplomatic official of the highest rank appointed and accredited as representative in residence by one government or sovereign to another, usually for a specific length of time.

2. A diplomatic official heading his or her country’s permanent mission to certain international organizations, such as the United Nations.

3. An authorized messenger or representative.

4. An unofficial representative: ambassadors of goodwill.

In which case, this definition works, if doubt about whom the priest represents (Christ, as we believe by tradition) is still a stumbling block. I’m just saying that to me, this again strengthened the argument from the above mentioned primary source. I kept looking and found this in the Letter of James:

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. (James 5:13-16)

And this passage also upholds the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick! Sheesh! A double-play! This idea of mine that the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be easy to disprove was only pointing to my own deep ignorance. And will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up doesn’t just mean the body will get well. Maybe it won’t. But the soul? For the last straw, another of the original Apostles weighs in on this, this time St. John:

I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God. And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours. If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly. We know that no one begotten by God sins; but the one begotten by God he protects, and the evil one cannot touch him. We know that we belong to God, and the whole world is under the power of the evil one. We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us discernment to know the one who is true. And we are in the one who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Children, be on your guard against idols. (1 John 5:13-21)

Reading this closely, again and again, I saw the highlighted passage above—right in the thick of statements that may lead you to think you can just pray for forgiveness yourself and that is sufficient. What do we do in that case of deadly sin, John? And what of my much cherished notion that sin=sin? Here, St. John is saying there is sin and there is SIN. Gulp!

Here is what I thought to myself: I don’t need to see the Catechism on this Sacrament for me to understand that it is correct. I decided to take St. John’s advice and be on my guard against idols. Myself, my own pride.

  • Warren Jewell

    Thoroughly off-topic, which I just may return to:Via Patrick Madrid, this list and linkages to wonderful free reading material via vivificat:http://vivificat1.blogspot.com/2010/02/plenty-of-good-reading-for-lent-at-your.html

  • http://www.livingaliturgy.blogspot.com Michelle

    I used to be very sensitive to sin in my life. I knew when a sin was creeping up on me. I was just much more aware. But a few years ago two things happened simultaneously that has changed that. My father took to some different beliefs and I started studying the Catholic faith – which drew us apart fundamentally. My father started telling me that certain things were sins, but I just wasn't so sure. Things like "to feel hurt is a sin", "to not obey my father without question is a sin", etc. I became really confused as to what actually was sin. This is another reason I longed for Confession, or even just an authority to ask "I did this, is it actually a sin?". I still don't feel I sinned before God as my Dad does – but couldn't I be deceived? I recognized, through this strange circumstance about sin, my need for an authority in my life – The Church. And you are probably wondering…Why isn't she Catholic? Me too. Me too. I am praying the Lord will bring me home soon.

  • Warren Jewell

    Michelle, you could just ask a priest about some act of yours and its potential for sinfulness. He is unlikely to ask you if you are Catholic, or even atheist. He'll just give you the best answer he can, though he may ask a question or two to make sure he understands what you are talking about.Here, too, may be an opportunity for you to answer a lot of your questions about Catholicism. *** Go ahead and buy our Catechism of the Catholic Church. *** Its index will guide you through issues about sin. However, it has a whole major section on prayer, too, which I relish reading over and over again. And, it just may provide you with some great 'maps' toward Home.

  • Warren Jewell

    It is clear to me that one advantage of being a cradle Catholic kid was never doubting the efficacy of Penance, the confessional and all that purchases mercy and hope. Maybe, sometimes it was "I don't want to go in there!", but I never doubted that it was my sinfulness that was in error, not Christ's Church and His confessional.When I read these ongoing views of the Sacrament of Penance, I have a loud version of Frank's 'Sheesh!' come to me. Maybe, because it is Sacrament and not just something not to want to do on a Saturday afternoon it was a high-value rite for me. As a child, I remember several mornings of "into the confessional, right into Mass, and at the communion rail" almost like a Gospel path.You know, maybe . . . hmmm. My first childhood parish had permanent 365/24 adoration and exposition of the Sacred Host on the altar – even during all Masses. The priests of Saint Peter Julian Eymard's Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament had an attached seminary to the parish, which they administered, and all 24-hour days found priests, Brothers and seminarians before our Lord on the altar. But, could such constant graces have made Penance in the confession seem like just one more Catholic thing to do? Not threatening, just "get in there and do it, son!"I know that I would love to have benediction before confession, with the celebrant leaving the monstrance on the altar to adore before and after confession. It surely must help make confessions better, and just may make them easier and less nervy.Maybe, we should each of us ask our pastors about the privilege and grace of benediction leading into confessions.

  • http://www.livingaliturgy.blogspot.com Michelle

    Thanks for the advice Warren! I just might. My husband and I each have a catechism, which I did read through a lot of when I was most rigorously studying the Catholic beliefs. :)

  • cathyf

    Michelle, something to chew around for a bit…For anyone but a small child, to obey any human being without question, including your father, is a violation of the First Commandment.You are responsible for your actions, and before you act you must always answer the question for yourself: "is this against God's will and laws?" Sure, depending upon what the answer is to the question you may in fact do what it is that your father wants. But it will be because you are obedient to God not because of obedience to your father.

  • Anonymous

    @ Michelle: Like Warren said, talk with a priest. He will guide you and help you.@ Warren: Weren't you sad when we could no longer stop by for a "visit", at any time? I miss prayer books, the bells, the reverence. Some it is making a comeback, right?I remember when I went to my first Confession, convinced I had committed a mortal sin. The priest could not disabuse my of the notion. As a child I was pre-occupied w/ many things.@ Webster–do we need to sign in now via "blogger"?Maria

  • Warren Jewell

    @Maria – Kids could be so easily led into over-scrupled assurance that they were little nests of evil. Of all things, I had a cradle-Catholic mother who called children evil. (Maybe, someday, I'll blog if the WebsterFrank permits on my ethnic mother's Catholicism. It has its humorous points.) Somehow, I got past her to arrive at confession and find out I wasn't evil at all. Just confused, and going to frequent confession is to also frequently find a priest guided by the Holy Spirit for help with confusion. (Can you see, Michelle, that even little Catholics, in Catholic schools with daily Religion classes, can wonder whether they are right or wrong in their actions. Only recalcitrant sinners probably don't wonder – they just don't care.)Visits before the Lord in Eucharistic exposition was when I was a child – up to 3rd grade. Perpetual adoration had yet to make its rather subtle dent in my consciousness. But, now I wonder if its influence so filled the full church – oh, such a beautiful round-format structure, still there today as a Spanish-speaking parish – that the Presence even calmed confession goers with graces.So, I have to believe that we need more benediction and exposition in all churches and parishes, to permit Christ to give His most glorious graces to our needs. Maria, I sign-on via "Name/URL" under the 'Comment as' pull-down and just use that given name that my 'goin'-for-the-fire-and-brimstone' Mom gave me. But, you could pick any name as long as you stay with it so we remember who you are. How about 'Maria of Mary'?So, Michelle, you have a Catholic-curious husband, too? You should both pick out some kindly old priest to 'bother' about our Christian Catholicism. No priest is likely to deny you time and attention, but some older, semi-retired priest just is likely to have more time to help. Whatever, God bless you both with His graces to stay curious until you can make His decision for you your own.

  • http://www.livingaliturgy.blogspot.com Michelle

    @Warren,My husband's Catholic interests superseded my own, actually. We almost broke up twice while dating because of it, until I was willing to really study what I believed and what the Church really taught. He's on more of a hiatus (I think he got theologically burnt out) and is much more hesitant than I am. He has questions that he hasn't been able to find satisfactory answers to (which I personally think will just take a matter of faith for him). Thankfully, we have a wonderful parish here with a fantastic priest. After being disappointed with every Episcopal church we tried here, we've decided to go back to a Catholic church we were visiting for a while back in the summer.

  • Warren Jewell

    ". . . a fantastic priest" God bless us all, with at least one in every parish . . .Michelle, this priest sounds like the prime candidate for your Q&A.; Pray to the Holy Spirit for God's will and help, and then take the time to persuade your husband to just go to this pastor, first, with a simple question or two, and, then, with the burdensome concerns he has. If he wants to do it alone, fine; if he wants you there for moral support, just as fine.Pope John Paul the Great had a way of calling to us "Be not afraid!" This one God is our very own God, and each of us is His child, a unique masterpiece of His momentous creation from His will and hands, stamped in His image and embraced in His special place for each in His Sacred Heart. Your husband is to be a crown prince in heaven, you a crown princess, of the one King Who is Goodness, Truth, Joy, Peace and Power Himself.And, never, ever forget that this Father-God sacrificed His one only-begotten Son as perfect expiation for each and every sin of each and every one of us. He is with you, at your side; who can be against you? Look at the Crucifix and see Love nakedly giving His all, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity into His Father's will that we may live forever with our one beloved God. My Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Yet, I will be unafraid with the awesome loving will of God before me, behind me and at my sides. I am His; He is mine! "Be not afraid!" Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you. (1Peter 5:7)

  • Webster Bull

    @Maria,Not sure about signing in via Blogger. I am "in Blogger" all the time, so I don't know what life is like outside the fishtank. I do think that if you are signed in via Blogger, it will show your picture and use your Blogger name. If not, I think you can follow Warren's advice and sign is as Maria…of…Mary! I like that:-)

  • Webster Bull

    @Michelle, I am sincerely awed by non-Catholics like you, like your husband, like EPG, who are so carefully discerning your path: to Rome or not to Rome? I smile to think that, if I had known how many questions there are, or can be, I might still be a lapsed Episcopalian. After my 40 years in the wilderness, however, something just told me, This is right. Maybe if I had been in a regular Church-going mode–Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist like my grandparents–I would have had more to justify mentally, to myself, to my family, to my fellow Protestant parishioners. But this unchurched dude just said, Duh, sounds good to me! LOL And I've never been happier, is the thing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09224717915986136369 Cheryl

    My husband and I are Lutheran, but both of us are feeling compelled to understand more about the Catholic church. (OT–our denomination, ELCA, has made some recent decisions that seem to us to be flagrantly unBiblical. We are being pushed out.) So that's my background.I have a question about confession, because reading these verses in light of confession is a new idea to me. But what about in Matthew 6:6, where Jesus says, "shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." I'm not trying to play "dueling verses" with you…this is a new understanding for me and I wonder how this fits in.

  • Webster Bull

    @Cheryl,I am the last person who should be jumping in to answer your question, as a Catholic convert who never had to fight the Sola Scriptura wars, just jumped in with both feet (see my comment above). But I'm sure if Frank or Ferde or even EPG reads your comment, they will have more useful things to say about it. For me, and this is off the cuff, I'll bet that if I had to justify OR attack ANY sacrament, ANY paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I could find a line in the Bible to back me up–pro or con. Which is PRECISELY why we need the Church and its tradition, formulated by people we consider saints, over 2000 years, in a (more or less) direct line of transmission from Our Savior. Funny thing is, Frank is doing exactly what I'm talking about, he's just using lines from the Gospel et al. to make his points in favor of the Catholic position–just the way he learned to do in Protestant Bible camp as a kid. Only now he's playing for the Saints, not the Colts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @Cheryl,Good morning! Thanks for your comment! Disclaimer, I'm no theologian or apologist expert. Google "Catholic Answers" to really wade deeper. But, in this case, the context seems to be one of "don't do these things to make yourselves look good." Praying on street corners, announcing the new hospital wing named after you, etc. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a private matter and is none of these things. And as you can see from the comments, it is a humbling, if not downright humiliating experience, to enter the Confessional. See the words of Our Lord before and after the verse you cited,But take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray:And then He gives us the Our Father. In no way does the Sacrament of Reconciliation distance one from God. Nor does it take away from prayer with Him directly. Nor does it obviate our need to pray. After all, we are told to "pray without ceasing" by St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As Webster replied above, having the Church as referee in these matters is comforting. The Church has "stayed the course" in these matters.I hope this helped.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09224717915986136369 Cheryl

    Thanks to both of you…yes, it helped. I know VERY well how easy it is to pick out one verse to advocate a position. I am still wrestling with this, though, since confession is just not something that ever even registered with me in relation to "where two or three are gathered…"This has the makings of an interesting Lenten journey for me. I appreciate your blog and your responses.

  • http://www.livingaliturgy.blogspot.com Michelle

    @ Cheryl(Frank or Webster – can you make my links "hot"? Thanks!)I am curious to know why the Catholic church for you and your husband and not, say, Methodist or Presbyterian? (I understand why not Episcopalian, as my husband and I are leaning away from that to Catholicism). I've probably dealt with many of your same questions. Some great resources for me while I was first studying were Scott Hahn (any of his works pretty much, but especially "Reasons to Believe", "The Lamb's Supper" and "Hail Holy Queen"), as well as the Catechism of the Catholic church available here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTMA fantastic Lenten journey is reading the early Fathers. A convert-friend passed it on to me and it was so enriching. The plan and readings are all available here:http://www.churchyear.net/lentfathers.html And one more, the first step for me even considering Catholicism was understanding the error in Sola Scriptura. The argument that convinced me is here:http://www.cin.org/users/james/files/practicl.htmHope those might be of some help!Some of my journey is available in the earlier posts on my blog – though most of it is a little more discreet than I am on here :)


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