19 January 2008

Confession on the Ascent

Here's a most interesting article on the comeback of saying, "I'm sorry" - that is, the comeback of Confession. The article quotes LCMS Ohio District President Rev. Terry Cripe on the value of Confession and Absolution: "There is such power in getting things off your chest. But that's only part of the equation. You must seek absolution. You can't do better than God's forgiveness." Great quote!

I rejoice at this now second article that I've seen on the reemergence/resurrection of Confession and Absolution, and both of them refer to the resolution from last summer's LCMS Synodical Convention commending the practice of Confession and Absolution. However, I also take it as a clarion call for greater teaching and improved practice regarding this soul-comforting and faith-strengthening Sacrament. When I ponder people "confessing" in an anonymous online venue, or in a shopping mall venue, or even turning to the likes of Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura (for all the good that they certain do for many), I must pray, "Lord, have mercy!" They're missing out on the greatest part of Confession: the Absolution!

So, thank God for the resurrection of Confession and Absolution, for both Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Thank God for this prime opportunity to return to the proper care of souls that occurs in Confession and Absolution. And I especially rejoice in what our Lutheran Confessions say on this Sacrament (and, yes, they even call it a Sacrament!):
It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse. However, in confession it is not necessary to enumerate all trespasses and sins, for this is impossible. Ps. 19:12, "Who can discern his errors?" (Augsburg Confession, XI)

It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God's will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith. For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith. (Augsburg Confession, XIII)

If we define sacraments as "rites which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added," we can easily determine which are sacraments in the strict sense.... The genuine sacraments, therefore, are Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and absolution (which is the sacrament of penitence), for these rites have the commandment of God and the promise of grace, which is the heart of the New Testament. When we are baptized, when we eat the Lord's body, when we are absolved, our hearts should firmly believe that God really forgives us for Christ's sake. Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart to believe and take hold of faith, as Paul says (Rom. 10:17), "Faith comes from what is heard." As the Word enters through the ears to strike the heart, so the rite itself enters through the eyes to move the heart. The Word and the rite have the same effect, as Augustine said so well when he called the sacrament "the visible Word," for the rite is received by the eyes and is a sort of picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect. (Apology, XIII:3-5)

Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the pope's command at any point, but you will compel yourself and beg me for the privilege of sharing in it. (Large Catechism, A Brief Exhortation to Confession, 28)

If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us to offer it. (Large Catechism, A Brief Exhortation to Confession, 30)

Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian. (Large Catechism, A Brief Exhortation to Confession, 32)

(All quotes from the Tappert edition of the Book of Concord. I'd love to quote from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, but for some strange reason, the editors decided to omit some of the key quotes on this subject! In AC XI, they go with the Latin and thus omit the phrase "and not allowed to fall into disuse." And in Luther's Large Catechism, they omit the whole section called "A Brief Exhortation to Confession," which follows the section on the Sacrament of the Altar.)


Paul T. McCain said...


The "exhortation" is still in the second edition, it was moved to the back since it is not original to the first edition of the LC, and was not included in either the German 1580 or Latin 1584. It's good stuff, to be sure, but not actually part of the Book of Concord, per se.

As for other textual issues, the explanation in the front explains the choices made when it came to the German and/or Latin versions.

Hope this helps.


Randy Asburry said...

Thanks, Paul,

I didn't realize that the exhortation had been moved; I'll have to track it down. So, if it's not - technically? - part of the Book of Concord, then why is it included in other editions, such as Tappert and Kolb-Wengert (as I recall)?

On the textual/translation issues, that's all well and good, however, I do think that such choices have a way of short-changing our folks, for whom "Concordia" is intended, after all. They really do need to hear AC XI when it says that C/A "should not be allowed to fall into disuse" for the simple reason that we Lutherans have most certainly let it fall into disuse. To keep that phrase out of the "Concordia" edition by some other textual consideration (rationale?) only perpetuates at least one of our many problems, imho.

Paul T. McCain said...


The Tappert/KW editions are translations based on the German critical edition of the Lutheran Confessions, which may, or may not, actually present the texts of the Confessions as they are contained in the 1580/1584 authoritative editions of the Book of Concord.

So, they have some things in them that are not actually in Book of Concord, proper.

Tappert began this trend toward including materials not in the BOC, and K/W took it to an extreme, [not to mention the gender-neutered language it imposes on the texts]. The most notorious example of this in K/W is the decision made to include a version of the Apology explicitly rejected for use in the BOC, by the editors of the BOC: Andreae and Chemnitz, etc. That's the summary version.

Please refer to the intro. in the second edition dealing with all the textual issues involved for a more complete explanation.

Now as for the concern you express about not having that phrase from the AC, due to the decision to offer only one of the two texts of the AC. Not to worry...there is more than enough powerful comments, in fact, even stronger ones.

Check out, for example:

Therefore it would be wicked to remove private absolution from the Church. Ap. XII(B).3; Concordia, p. 172.

And just keep on reading, more interesting comments abound.

Hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

This resolution coming from the convention is good news. The question I have is: do we go to confession only when our sins trouble us greatly (which is what I hear) or do we go regularly as a discipline? It seems to me that if it is a sacrament that we would want to go on a regular basis.

On the other hand, I think that many Lutherans might feel that they are not terribly troubled by their sins because they are often told of and believe in Christ's redemptive work on the cross and know that all their sins are completely covered.

I personally want to make confession a regular part of my Christian life, but wonder, how we are to use this gift.

Also, is confession only for sins of word and deed? Or can we confess our thoughts? I guess I am asking because I get the feeling that we are only to confess the really big stuff (so to speak) not the ordinary, garden variety sins such as our thoughts of pride or selfishness( not that these aren't big, but I think you probably get my meaning).
Hope this makes sense.

Randy Asburry said...


Thanks for your post and your questions.

You said: "The question I have is: do we go to confession only when our sins trouble us greatly (which is what I hear) or do we go regularly as a discipline? It seems to me that if it is a sacrament that we would want to go on a regular basis."

Yes and amen! You're right, we normally hear of "going to Confession" as something you do only when your sins trouble you, which for too many of us is not nearly often enough. Also, for many, that seems to mean that if their sins don't trouble them, then they ought not bother with seeking out their pastor for Confession-Absolution.

It probably comes from a mistaken interpolation of Luther's words in the Catechism: "before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts." (Ranks right up there with the goofy interpolation of only having Communion once a quarter, somehow *very* loosely based on Luther's words about receiving it *at least* four times a year. But that's for another discussion.) However, Luther was contrasting this with his previous statement of confessing *all sins* before God.

I think the rubric in Lutheran Service Book's rite for Individual Confession (p. 292) gives a helpful commentary and explanation for you: "If you are not burdened with particular sins, do not trouble yourself or search for or invent other sins, thereby turning confession into a torture. Instead, mention one or two sins that you know and let that be enough." Notice that it does not use the language of "sins that trouble you," but rather "sins that you know." You may very well know your sins, even if they don't "trouble" you! And whatever the case, no matter how much or how little your sins trouble you, you still need to confess them. After all, you go to Confession in order to receive the Lord's gift of the Absolution!

So, yes, I highly recommend the regular discipline of Confession. You are exactly right: since Confession-Absolution *is* a Sacrament, it's only proper that we make a regular practice of it. The only thing we don't want to do is make it a requirement, as in "Thou shalt confess X times a year." So, yes, I do recommend a regular practice of going to Confession. Just think of how our Lord Himself will not only comfort you but also continually recreate in you a new heart with such a healthy discipline. (Not only that, but as a pastor, I would absolutely love it if more and more people would "pester" me and urge me on a regular basis to give them the Lord's Absolution! :-)

You also said: "I personally want to make confession a regular part of my Christian life, but wonder, how we are to use this gift."

Go for it! I'm not sure I know what you mean by "how we are to use this gift," only because I don't know what you've learned on the subject or how you've been taught to practice it, or how you may already practice it. The best advice I can give is this: talk with your pastor, read and learn Luther's treatments on this Sacrament in the Small and Large Catechism, and consult a rite of Individual Confession, such as Lutheran Service Book contains. The next bit of advice I'd give is this: just do it - make an appointment with your pastor (if he doesn't already have times published for Confession-Absolution), and ask your pastor to lead you through the process.

You also said, "Also, is confession only for sins of word and deed? Or can we confess our thoughts? I guess I am asking because I get the feeling that we are only to confess the really big stuff (so to speak) not the ordinary, garden variety sins such as our thoughts of pride or selfishness"

Confession is for any and all sins! The sins of words and deeds may be the beginning for most people, but once they start peeling that onion, more and more layers just keep coming. ;-) So, by all means, confess the sins of prideful thoughts and selfishness. After all, those are the truly vile sins - the real corruptors! - that variously expose themselves in the apparent things of our words and deeds. Nothing "garden variety" about pride and selfishness! Actually, when you confess that - and often over and over again - then you're starting to diagnose and treat the real sickness of sin. So, by all means, confess your prideful, selfish thoughts. Believe me, I've confessed many things that have stayed within my head and heart and have never seen the light of day in words or deeds! And also, believe you me, those are the things for which the Absolution gives the greatest healing and comfort!!

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Pastor Asburry,

Thank you. Your words have been very helpful.


Tiggerr said...

This is not one of my famous smart remarks, but a thirst for knowledge.

The Catholics as you know also consider, marriage and ordination as sacraments. As you know my bible knowledge is growing but not as great as I'd like but didn't Christ exhort his apostles to go forth and spread the word.

And I am certain there are references in the bible for men and women regarding marriage. My favorite (paraphrased) That a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh etc. is in several spots.

I can see how this can be argued that they are sacraments, but I'm sure you can explain the flaws in my thinking.