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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I Confess . . . That It's Biblical

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When I read Far From Rome, Near To God and the companion book The Truth Set Us Free, one of the things I found most surprising was the near universal condemnation of the sacrament of confession. Especially among the priest testimonies, person after person related feeling unworthy to forgive sins, usually followed by a search of the Bible which led them to discover that "only God can forgive sins."

I found this surprising because, being a bit familiar with the Bible myself, I have found much more scriptural support for the sacrament of confession than, say, papal infallibility or the Immaculate Confession. No, I'm not admitting that the Catholic Church made those doctrines up, but some parts of Catholicism rely more on Tradition than Scripture. But, I digress . . .

Only one of these testimonies provided scripture for "only God can forgive sins" and that one pointed to Mark 2:7. Interestingly, this is quoting the Pharisees who say "Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?"

It is true that no man has the power to forgive sins. No priest, as an individual man, has the power to forgive sins. It is God, acting through the ministration of the priest, who forgives sins. Jesus gave this apostles the authority to forgive sins in his stead, and that power remains, though apostolic succession. It doesn't matter how unworthy the priest is, because God can work through any person, no matter how unworthy. A quick perusal of the Old Testament will tell you that.

Here are some verses in support of the sacrament of Confession, also known as Reconciliation:

John 20:21-23 "Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."

As a man, Jesus forgave the sins of men on earth, as He was sent by the Father. He breathed on the apostles, which indicates a significant transformation, a giving of life, and then sends them to forgive sins.

Matthew 18:18, in reference to the Church, Jesus says "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

James 5:15-16 "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."

Acts 19:18 "And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds."

1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Why would God ask us to confess our sins to a priest instead of to Him directly? I'm not aware of any doctrine which defines God's reasoning on confession, but I can think of several reasons.

First, it is more difficult. Sure, people say that they confess their sins to God, but how many actually do? I'm sure some do, but I'm sure a lot more never get around to that uncomfortable self-examination.

Confession teaches you humility. You are supposed to take a few moments before the sacrament to examine your life, and think of all the sins you have committed, all the ways that you have fallen short. Did you get angry at the man driving in front of you? Did you copy a DVD that you rented from Netflix?

Next, you have to be truly sorry for these sins. You must have real repentance in order to get absolution. If you are perhaps, being intimate with a boyfriend when you aren't married, then you need to have firmly resolved that it will stop, and not happen again. Confession isn't a "get out of jail free card."

In life, it is easy to let things slide. When you find that you are confessing the same things over and over, it can help you to see patterns in your life that need changing. The best part, is that it comes with free individualized spiritual advice! Right after you confess, the priest will probably speak with you about your sins, and give you some suggestions for ways to improve your life, and overcome your particular temptations.

Finally, for many people, especially those who have made big mistakes in their life, it can be difficult believe that they are forgiven. Being able to hear the priest actually say "You are forgiven" can be a very healing experience.

It is sad that the sacrament of Confession has fallen out of favor with Catholics at the same time that participation in the Eucharist is at a high. Paul reminds us that "Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." 1 Cor. 11:27-29

Lev. 5:6 states "And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin."

In the old covenant, you brought an offering of atonement for your sin to the priest. Now, we still come to the priest, but we do not bring an offering of atonement. The sacrifice has already been provided by Jesus, Himself. Confession and the Eucharist are always bound together because in our self-examination, we remember why Jesus had to die. Because we always fall short. But in taking the Eucharist, which means "thanksgiving" we joyfully remember that the debt has been paid, and not by us.

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven,
and the pains of hell;
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,
to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.


13 comments:

Faithful Catholic said...

Beautiful, Kelly! Thanks for this post. Thank God for the sacrament of Confession!

Milehimama said...

I think you overlooked another point: counseling and encouragement.

Usually during confession, the Confessor will counsel, give advice, or use pointed inquiries to help the spiritual life of the one confessing.

Also, it is generally anonymous, and one can get advice on something that one might never have the nerve to ask for in person or from someone they know!

kritterc said...

Excellent post!!

Kelly said...

milehimama, I included this part, which was supposed to address spiritual counseling:

"The best part, is that it comes with free individualized spiritual advice! Right after you confess, the priest will probably speak with you about your sins, and give you some suggestions for ways to improve your life, and overcome your particular temptations."

It is a long article, though, so perhaps it gets lost in with everything else. :)

Elena said...

Another great job Kelly!

Blondie said...

I cannot tell you what a burden was lifted after my first confession. I was 37 yrs old and had been baptized at 13, so it took a while! lol But afterward, the feeling was amazing. I can't even describe it. Emotionally, spiritually, even physically, it was the best feeling I ever experienced in my life.

motherofmany said...

I'm not sure where it says with the new covenant that we do not need a sin offering but we still go through a priest.

Kelly said...

I'm not sure where it says with the new covenant that we do not need a sin offering but we still go through a priest.

I provided verses in the article. Feel free to pick them apart here in the comments. That's why they're there. I've been surprised that you hadn't done so on previous articles, such as the vain repetition one. :)

motherofmany said...

I've kinda gotten to the point that no matter what I put it gets ignored or overruled without being read. But I did not see anything in the verses you posted that said we still need a priest.

Kelly said...

I've kinda gotten to the point that no matter what I put it gets ignored or overruled without being read.

Well, we seem to have a majority of Catholic posters here, so I would expect you to be overruled. I guess it depends on what your purpose is.

I still comment on your page, because I like to explain what the Catholic interpretation is, although I know you will disagree with it. It is useful to me, just as a point of understanding how other Christians view things. But then, my degree is in Religious Studies, and religion has always been a favorite topic of mine.

On the subject of confession, I'm particularly wondering how you interpret John 20:21-23.

On another topic, I asked how you would address a heretical view that isn't explicitly contradicted in Scripture, such as Marcion's view that Jesus on appeared to have a physical body. I'm still very interested to hear your answer on that.

Of course, these day, heretics can just start a new denomination, so I suppose it's a mute point. ;)

motherofmany said...

I wasn't talking about being over-ruled. People have asked questions, and I have posted links or verses, and they still ask where I got that idea. They are obviously not really reading what I said. It would be different to say "I disagree" but they aren't saying that- they say "how do you explain" when I just did.

As for something like Marcion, he is very easily disproved from the scriptures. How do you crucify, bury, and touch the wounds of an apparition? There are many verses that say Christ was fully God and fully man (but I don't have those up right now. I'm just checking in on my way to the co-op page to get my order done).

John 20:21-23 was written as a recounting of what Christ said to his gathered disciples there in that room. It does not say that they have the power to pass on that gift to others. Also, he breathed on them when he said it. That is a mark of special distinction, just as it was in Genesis. We all have the power to receive the Holy Spirit when we are truly saved, but he gave them special powers through the Holy Spirit and that was why he breathed on them. It would make no sense to say they could then just pass them on to others.

My degree is also in religion (though it is the history of religions and not necessarily the theology of them, though I study that on my own a great deal) and that was why I appreciated your willingness to converse in a respectful manner. But you seem to be a rare find, because as I said, you are willing to read what I have linked when others are not.

But anyway, as to this post, I do see that we are to confess our sins to one another. I do not see the command to confess to a priest (in fact I see no instruction to even have priests in the New Testament) or the power of a priest to forgive sins, even in the name of Christ.

Kelly said...

John 20:21-23 was written as a recounting of what Christ said to his gathered disciples there in that room. It does not say that they have the power to pass on that gift to others.

So you would say that the apostles had the power to forgive sins, but no one after them. That would be an acknowledgement that there were twelve men who had the power to forgive sins.

What would be the point in giving the apostles that power? Why not just skip it, if it wasn't intended to be passed on?

I have given you the verses in Acts that point to apostolic succession, but I understand that you believe in it, so that's fine.

But anyway, as to this post, I do see that we are to confess our sins to one another.

I expected you to say that, because I've gotten a good idea of where you fit theologically by this point. Mainstream churches do not have any sort of confession, but I've found that the more fundamentalist varieties take this seriously and either confess to the person that they have offended, or to the entire church, depending on the offense.

As for something like Marcion, he is very easily disproved from the scriptures. How do you crucify, bury, and touch the wounds of an apparition?

But that was the beauty of his argument, he said that it appeared to be flesh in every way, including being able to be touched, but that it was all a sort of deception. Like a secret group of Christians (sorry, couldn't resist!) it was an irrefutable argument.

motherofmany said...

Actually, most non-Catholic churches I have been in have what is called the invitation. It is a time of reflection right after the sermon usually where people are invited to come forward and confess their sins, ask for special prayers, commit their lives to Christ for the first time, be renewed, etc. It is also often called the alter call, not because there is a literal alter, but symbolic of the bringing of our sins to the alter to be forgiven.

This is one area where I stood out when I was young, because I would do this coming forward and confessing sins, asking for prayers and accountability, when most people my age never did.

Another thing about fundamentalists is that we take the Bible literally (except where the language clearly indicates that it is allegorical) and do not add anything to it. So the idea of a 'hologram' body would be rejected, both because the scriptures used word that indicated actual physical body, and because the Bible nowhere indicates that it was anything but literal.

The apostles were specially called out to spread the gospel, so it makes sense to give thenm powers that no one else had, since one of the criteria for deeming prophets as legitimate in the OT was that they could perform miracles.

e a secret group of Christians (sorry, couldn't resist!) it was an irrefutable argument.

OK, wait, I missed the joke!