FI_LawAndGospel_Monday

At the heart of virtually every problem in the church, at the bottom of every strained relationship, at the center of every reason an inactive member stays home on Sunday or leaves the church* is the issue of the proper distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Without this understanding, the Scriptures make no sense, we will have no idea why we go to church (or worse, the wrong idea) and we will have no clue as to why orthodox Lutheranism reflects New Testament Christianity in the best sense.

We may well be a royal pain and terror to those around us. Even worse, without a clear understanding of Law and Gospel, we’ll be of no use to people around us struggling with spiritual and life issues. Worse still, we may even become a millstone round their necks, helping them (and ourselves) on the way to hell!

The Lutheran Reformation began when the Lord God Himself, through the Scriptures, opened Luther’s mind to the scriptural distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law makes demands, which we could not, cannot and never will fulfill. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If St. Paul laments about himself, “The good that I would do I do not do” (Rom. 7:19), where does that leave you? You have not a thought, an action or any of your physical, psychological or spiritual being that is not affected by and tainted by the reality of sin. And sin damns.

The Gospel, however, makes no demands and even gives the faith needed to believe it (Eph. 2:8–9). The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you (Matt. 25:34). Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament for you (Isaiah 53). Christ was conceived for you (Luke 1:26). Christ was born for you (Luke 2). Christ was circumcised and fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law for you (Luke 2:22). The boy Christ taught in the temple for you! (You get the credit for His diligence in the catechism! See Luke 2:41.) John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—for you. Jesus was baptized for you (Luke 3:21). Jesus was tempted for you (Luke 4). All of Jesus’ miracles, healings, words, promises, His Passion, His trials, His beating, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His ridicule, His words on the cross— “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34); “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)—His death, His descent in victory to hell and His glorious resurrection and ascension are all, all of it, for you! And that’s all Gospel!

But there is even better news, and this is the point where the devil bedevils us. What Jesus attained for us some 6,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago is delivered in the word of preaching, in Baptism, in absolution and in the Supper. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Oh, yeah? God says you do. “Do not give up meeting together.” (See all of Hebrews 10.) But better than the Law (which says you should go to church) is the blessed Gospel! We cry like the tax collector at church, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, forgiven!” (see John 20:21–23). He makes the sign of the cross to remind us that we’re baptized, forgiven (Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are read, and they contain both Law (demand, threat) and Gospel (forgiveness, promise). The sermon is preached, and the texts explained. The Law threatens and drives us to Jesus! The Gospel is not merely described or spoken about, it’s delivered! “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), right now, for you!

Most people who stop going to church or get church wrong think it’s about ethics. They think it’s about following the rules (i.e., following the Law). No, it’s finally about sinners receiving forgiveness (Gospel). And blessed by the Benediction (“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you”—Gospel!) and all the forgiveness given, forgiven sinners head back into their vocations in life to be a beautiful leaven. If I know I’m a real “hard-boiled sinner” who’s been forgiven (Luther), I cannot be an unforgiving jackass to those around me. It’s a matter of Law and Gospel. I cannot but speak forgiveness—the Lord’s own forgiveness—to others.

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

(Pastor Harrison is the 13th and current President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.)

*Edited out LCMS replaced with “church” for a general understanding.

Spiritual Deception

Posted: May 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

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There is a Slavonic word which has come into English usage as “prelest” for lack of a precise equivalent, although it is often translated as “spiritual delusion,” “spiritual deception,” or “illusion,” accepting a delusion for reality in contrast to spiritual sobriety. Prelest carries a connotation of allurement in the sense that the serpent beguiled Eve by means of the forbidden fruit.  Here prelest is defined in greater depth and explained the two ways in which it is applied.

Spiritual deception is the wounding of human nature by falsehood. Spiritual deception is the state of all men without exception, and it has been made possible by the fall of our original parents. All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it. We are all deceived, all deluded; we all find ourselves in a condition of falsehood; we all need to be liberated by the Truth. The Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ (John 8:32-14:6). Let us assimilate that Truth by faith in it; Let us cry out in prayer to this Truth, and it will draw us out of the abyss of demonic deception and self-delusion. Bitter is our state! It is that prison from which we beseech that our souls be led out, that we may confess the name of the Lord (Ps. 141:8). The enemy that hates and pursues us has cast our life into that gloomy land. It is that carnal-mindedness (Rom. 8:6) and knowledge falsely so-called (I Tim. 6:20) wherewith the entire world is infected, refusing to acknowledge its illness, insisting, rather, that it is in the bloom of health. It is that “flesh and blood” which “cannot inherit the Kingdom of God”(I Cor. 15:50). It is that eternal death which is healed and destroyed by the Lord Jesus, Who is “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). Such is our state. In addition, the perception thereof is a new reason to weep. With tears, let us cry out to the Lord Jesus to bring us out of prison, to draw us Forth from the depths of the earth, and to wrest us from the jaws of death! “For this cause did our Lord Jesus Christ descent to us, because He wanted to rescue us from captivity and from most wicked spiritual deception.”

The means whereby the fallen angel brought ruin upon the human race was falsehood (Gen. 3:13). For this reason did the Lord call the devil “a liar, and the father of lies…, a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). We see that the Lord closely associated the notion of falsehood with the notion of murder; for the latter is the inevitable consequence of the former. The words “from the beginning” indicate that from the very start the devil has used falsehood as a weapon in murdering men, for the ruination of men. The beginning of evil is in the false thought.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (KJV)

The source of self-delusion and demonic deception is the false thought. By means of falsehood, the devil infected humanity at its very root, our first parents, with eternal death. For our first parents were deceived, i.e., they acknowledged falsehood as the truth, and having accepted falsehood in the guise of truth, they wounded themselves incurably with mortal sin, as is attested by our ancestor Eve, when she said: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). Thenceforth, voluntarily, or involuntarily, our nature, infected with the poison of evil, inclined toward evil that, to our perverted will, distorted reason, and debauched heart, presents itself as good. There remains within us a remnant of the freedom to choose between good and evil. That remnant of freedom does not function as complete freedom, but rather under the unavoidable influence of the wound of sin. Thus is every human born and cannot be otherwise; and for this reason we all, without exception, find ourselves in a state of self-delusion and demonic deception. From this view of man’s state with regard to good and evil, the state that is necessarily characteristic of each human being, we arrive at the following definition of spiritual deception, which explains it satisfactorily: spiritual deception is man’s assimilation of a falsehood that he accepts as truth.

From the time of man’s fall, the devil has had free access to him. The devil is entitled to this access, for; through disobedience to him, man has voluntarily submitted to his authority and rejected obedience to God. However, God has redeemed man. To the redeemed man He has given the freedom to submit either to God or to the devil; and that this freedom may manifest itself without any compulsion, the devil has been permitted access to man. It is quite natural that the devil makes every effort to keep man in his former subjection to him, or yet to enslave him even more thoroughly. To achieve this, he implements his primordial and customary weapon–falsehood. He strives to deceive and delude us, counting on our state of self-delusion. He stimulates our passions, our sick inclinations. He invests their pernicious demands with an attractive appearance and strives to entice us to indulge them. However, he that is faithful to the Word of God will not permit himself to do so; through faith he will restrain the passions and thus repulse the enemy’s assaults (see James 4:7); struggling against his own self-deception under the guidance of the Gospel, subduing his passions, and thus gradually destroying the influence of the fallen spirits on himself, he will through faith pass from the state of deception to the realm of truth and freedom (see John 8:32), the fullness of which will be given through the overshadowing of divine grace. He that is not faithful to Christ’s teaching, who follows his own will and knowledge, will submit to the enemy, and will pass from a state of self-deception into a state of demonic deception, will lose the remnant of his freedom, and in the end he will become totally enslaved to the devil.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  1 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV)

 

 

Remembering the stain…

Posted: April 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

I remember the stain
at times it doesn’t seem right
to recall what marred my walk in light
it cannot be removed
so much of life reviewed
in my minds eye

I remember the stain
i cannot clean it
even the rushing tide
sweeping away foot prints over and again
cannot remove it

I remember the stain
of idolatry, rebellion, amd caustic choices
trying to reign over me
why do I remember?

I remember the stain
even though i can still see it
has been washed in blood deep red
where my Father sees me white as snow
where no stain is left to judge me rightly
where no bondage there to bind me tightly
where freedom rings so very brightly
at the dawn of His appearing
He remembers no stain at me leering

I remember the stain
maybe at my minds random recollection
to remind once more the souls misdirection
at one time I knew not
the Deliverer from before
to grasp again His winsome words
Nor do I condemn you, go and sin no more…

By Gary DeSha © 2018

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Since in the Lord’s Supper we receive our Lord Jesus’ very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins it is a great gift to us and is central to the Divine Service. The holy Christian church throughout the ages has identified the Lord’s Day (Sunday) with the Lord’s Supper. As such the Lord’s Supper was never viewed as an occasional extra or as somehow not as important as the other means of grace (Word, Absolution, Holy Baptism). In the Supper, the Church, the Bride of Christ, sees herself clearly as the Body of Christ, being “one flesh” with Christ Jesus — a great mystery indeed (Ephesians 5). The Supper is our Lord’s last will and testament where we receive His life-giving mercy.

Also, since each day and each week we need the Lord’s forgiveness and strength, we are therefore in need of the Lord’s Supper much in every way. Today, our increasingly less and less Christianly influenced culture threatens our faith daily, along with the help of Satan and our own sinful desires (old Adam).

In the Small Catechism, Luther, under “The Christian Questions and Answers,” writes the following, admonishing us to frequently receive the gift of the Lord’s Supper:

  1. What should admonish and encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?

“First, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord. Second, his own pressing need, because of which the command, encouragement, and promise are given.”

  1. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?

“To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.”

The opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day was a reality cherished by Luther and set forth clearly with high esteem by our Lutheran Confessions (Article XXIV of the Augsburg Confession and of the Apology); and Luther’s Catechism. All of them remind us that the Scriptures place the Lord’s Supper at the center of worship (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20,23), and not as an appendage or an occasional extra.

This does not mean that every communicant must receive the Sacrament every Sunday. This is about the availability of the Lord’s Supper, not setting a rule about how often someone should receive it. So, while the Augsburg Confession and its Apology (Defense) make it clear that Lutheran Churches celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day and on festival days, the preface to the Small Catechism also makes it clear that the church make no laws about how often someone should receive this gift personally.  As Lutherans, we take our vows of subscribing to the Lutheran Confessions very seriously on both aspects of the frequency of the Lord’s Supper.  We must recover lost treasures.

The offering of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday does not and should not imply that we must attend it every time.  We must take the time to prepare regularly.   We do not want the celebration of the Lord’s Supper to become mechanical.   However, when it is offered every Sunday we can regain a more “organic” rather than “mechanical” view between how often we commune vs. how often it is offered.

There is a tremendous opportunity to grow in our faith and understanding when we can have it available every Sunday service and yet in freedom prepare.   We should not act on any real or perceived social pressure in this regard.  We must resist that temptation. The Gospel is forced on no one, however, it is always preached and offered.  With this sacramental form of the saving Gospel, the Lord’s Supper, it is offered but forced on no one.

The weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper will indicate and confess our high esteem and desire for the gift of our Lord’s body and blood and the forgiveness of sins which is received in this gift. The Lord’s Supper is a central way our faith is sustained in Christ. The Lord’s Supper is no less important than the other gospel gifts by which our faith is sustained. We have weekly sermons, pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly, confess the Creed, and so forth. The meaning of the Lord’s Supper does not come from us, but from Jesus Christ and His Word. Contrite sinners cannot have too much of the Gospel.

The Lord’s Supper acknowledges the Lord’s holy presence with us and that gathered around Him, in heaven and on earth, are “angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.”  That’s something to rejoice in.  Saying, “I love you” more often in a marriage doesn’t cause it to mean less.  This is about feeding faith and building up the Body of Christ.  Consider what our Lutheran Confessions say about the “Mass” (Worship Service with Holy Communion).  In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV, we subscribe to the following:

“At the outset, we must again make the preliminary statement that we (Lutherans) do not abolish the Mass, but religiously maintain and defend it. For among us masses are celebrated every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals, in which the Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other like things.” (The Book of Concord)

Therefore, I propose that we should gladly and frequently come to the Lord’s Supper as it is made available every week. There are three reasons that are given in order of importance:

First, Jesus earnestly invites us to do so.  In the words of institution, Jesus commands, “This do in remembrance of Me.”  Jesus tenderly invites us to Himself for refreshment in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Secondly, we need the great blessing that He there gives us, namely, the forgiveness of our sins and the strength for a new and holy life.  These blessings are promised and offered in the words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus urges us to come often because by Lord’s Supper He wants to strengthen our weak faith. He says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Thirdly, by gladly and frequently coming to the Lord’s Supper, we openly confess our faith in Jesus’ atoning death. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). As we proclaim our unity of faith in our Lord’s death, we also encourage each other in our Christian faith and lives.

 

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Galatians 6:6. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them to bestow “all good things” upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency. In the papacy I saw the people give generously for the erection and maintenance of luxurious church buildings and for the sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of Rome. I saw bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate. I thought then that Paul’s admonitions were overdone. I thought he should have requested the people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the generosity of the people of the Church was encouraging covetousness on the part of the clergy. I know better now.

As often as I read the admonitions of the Apostle to the effect that the churches should support their pastors and raise funds for the relief of impoverished Christians I am half ashamed to think that the great Apostle Paul had to touch upon this subject so frequently. In writing to the Corinthians he needed two chapters to impress this matter upon them. I would not want to discredit Wittenberg as Paul discredited the Corinthians by urging them at such length to contribute to the relief of the poor. It seems to be a by-product of the Gospel that nobody wants to contribute to the maintenance of the Gospel ministry. When the doctrine of the devil is preached people are prodigal in their willing support of those who deceive them.

We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go wild like savage beasts.

Paul’s admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with their pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he wrote: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (1Cr 9:11) In the old days when the Pope reigned supreme everybody paid plenty for masses. The begging friars brought in their share. Commercial priests counted the daily offerings. From these extortions our countrymen are now delivered by the Gospel. You would think they would be grateful for their emancipation and give generously for the support of the ministry of the Gospel and the relief of impoverished Christians. Instead, they rob Christ. When the members of a Christian congregation permit their pastor to struggle along in penury, they are worse than heathen.

Before very long they are going to suffer for their ingratitude. They will lose their temporal and spiritual possessions. This sin merits the severest punishment. The reason why the churches of Galatia, Corinth, and other places were troubled by false apostles was this, that they had so little regard for their faithful ministers. You cannot refuse to give God a penny who gives you all good things, even life eternal, and turn around and give the devil, the giver of all evil and death eternal, pieces of gold, and not be punished for it.

The words “in all good things: are not to be understood to mean that people are to give all they have to their ministers, but that they should support them liberally and give them enough to live well.

~ Martin Luther

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To be Lutheran – My Journey

My journey of faith has been an experience with the different expressions of Christianity. I have been told I am pan-denominational. My first experience was with the Baptist church, then United Methodist, then Pentecostal and Charismatic, then Evangelical Episcopal, then the Eastern Orthodox, then Reformed, and now Lutheran. God, it seems to me, has brought me around 180 degrees, and blessed me with an understanding of the reason for the Reformation, and why Martin Luther had to speak up and demand very important changes within the Roman Catholic Church. Being Lutheran for me, began while studying Lutheranism after being called to a Lutheran Church as an assistant pastor for family and youth. I bought a copy of “Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions” and dove in the deep end.

To be Lutheran and the Word of God

To me, being Lutheran means you love the Word of God. Being Lutheran means that the Word of God is central to life and faith. To be Lutheran means to appreciate how Martin Luther read Holy Scripture at face value and allowed Scripture to interpret itself for the most part. This led me to read and study the Scripture from a different hermeneutic than I had used before. The Bible was opened to me in a totally different light. To be Lutheran means I believe in the divine inspiration, infallibility, authority, inerrancy of the Bible as the Word of God. Reading Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechism’s helped me understand how much he relied upon the promises of God in His Word for every aspect of his life. Being Lutheran and the Word of God being central, not only opened my eyes theologically, but opened them regarding family, marriage, society, the Church, and my neighbor; it was like a new light was shed upon my Christian experience. In being Lutheran, you stand apart from the other expressions of Christianity.

To be Lutheran and the Sacraments

To be Lutheran means that the Lord’s Supper is spiritual nourishment, the forgiveness of sins, and what we eat and drink is the true Body and Blood of our Lord. To be Lutheran is to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. To be Lutheran means we enjoy the fellowship we have with one another around the Lord’s Table. To be Lutheran means that I understand that I have been born again by water and the Holy Spirit. I have been washed with water and the Word. Because of God’s kindness and tender mercies, He has saved me with the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. To be Lutheran means I remember the promises of God in His Word; those promises are given in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and they bring peace, joy, comfort, and solace to my heart.

To be Lutheran Is to Believe, Teach, and Confess

To be Lutheran means that what we believe, teach, and confess is God’s Word. To be Lutheran means what we believe comes from the Bible. Lutherans preach and teach the Bible. Lutherans have written down what they believe the Bible teaches as confessions of faith. The Book of Concord which contains the Lutheran Confessions is the result of this Lutheran biblical faith. Lutherans also believe that the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed are descriptors of the biblical faith in which we believe. Being Lutheran is understanding the distinction between Law and Gospel. This has been a hallmark in my study of Lutheranism. The Law tells me I’m a sinner and deserve God’s wrath. The Gospel tells me I have been forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing I can do to earn my salvation. Everything about salvation is all of God. The Law tells me I must be holy as God is holy. The Gospel tells me that I am holy based upon the righteousness that has been imputed to me, which is the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. To the Law, I’m a slave. To the Gospel, I am freed man. This is most certainly true.

To be Lutheran doesn’t mean you should be German, Norwegian or Swedish

To be Lutheran means so much more than one’s nationality. To be Lutheran means that I have been blessed with a spiritual legacy left by Martin Luther himself, and every other Lutheran that has come before me from whatever part of the world. To be Lutheran means that I am a part of a continual movement toward Reformation. To be Lutheran means that I believe in God’s Word, the Law and Gospel, and to proclaim and teach it so that other’s may inherit eternal life. No matter what class of individual you are, no matter what race or culture you come from, no matter if you are male or female, young or old, what it means to be a Lutheran is that God makes you His own, and you are justified by grace through faith alone.

To be Lutheran doesn’t mean you should be an American Lutheran

You see, to be Lutheran here in America means you are not a “Luther” Lutheran. American Lutheranism is full of relativism. So many directions, so many destinations, so many routes, so many liberals, and so much confusion. American Lutheranism is not consistent within itself. Martin Luther probably wouldn’t recognize most Lutherans of today. He would be shocked, mortified, and would probably rebuke its condition outrageously.

To be Lutheran means I do not fit into the American evangelical mold, and I do not fit into the American Lutheran mold, nor do I fit into any denominational mold for that matter.

All I have tried to do, my adult Christian life, is to find the truth in Holy Scripture and stick to it. However, most importantly, my desire is to be a disciple of Christ, a follower of Jesus — to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, and obey God’s Word — to be transformed by the Word and the Holy Spirit into the image of God’s Son, Jesus, and to be found a good and faithful servant of my Lord.

Am I an American Lutheran? No. However, if I were to be labeled, I would be a “Luther” Lutheran. I accept that label because I respect the changes Martin Luther vigilantly fought for against the Roman Catholic Church, and I respect what he taught, even though I may not agree with all of his theology.

What does matter is that I follow Jesus, obey His commandments, repent and confess my sins, love and worship God alone, love my neighbor as myself, be His witness, make disciples, and proclaim the Gospel. Isn’t that what Jesus called His disciples to do?


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Individual/Personal Confession

Pastor, what is confession and absolution?

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins,and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. It is hard to say,“I was wrong. I am sorry. Forgive me.” God’s Word makes it clear that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In confession and absolution, God’s Word is having its way with us, moving us to confess the truth about ourselves and our need for His forgiveness. Because of Jesus Christ, confession and absolution is a blessed, joyful, happy exchange! “For our sake He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus hung on the cross, He became sin—for us. He was the ransom for sin. God poured out His just wrath on Christ. Christ won peace between God and man. In confession, Christ takes the burden of our sin and gives us in exchange His complete forgiveness and love. Absolution is the ongoing work of Holy Baptism, in which our old, sinful nature in Adam is drowned and the new man in
Christ arises.Through Holy Absolution we receive “the gift of God,”which is forgiveness of sins and “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).*

Pastor, don’t we do Confession and Absolution at the start of the Worship Service? Hasn’t individual confession become “unfamiliar” or “infrequently used”?

Yes, we do. But the Confession at the start of the service is not the form or setting of Confession that we just read about in the Small Catechism. What we do at the start of the service is a group or “corporate” form of Confession and Absolution. What we read about in the Catechism and throughout the Lutheran writings is Individual Confession and Absolution, or, for short, individual/personal confession. What we do at the start of the service is a general confession of sins, not specifying any particular sins, and there is a general absolution, directed to the group. What we do in Individual/personal Confession usually involves confessing specific sins, and the pastor directs the absolution to that individual. It is this individual/personal, individual form of confession that the Catechism has in mind when it talks about “Confession.”

Pastor, I thought Lutherans got rid of Individual Confession. Isn’t going to the pastor for Confession just a Roman Catholic thing?

No, it’s not. Individual/personal Confession is a Lutheran thing, too. Luther did not get rid of Individual/personal Confession, he just reformed it, cleaned it up of its abuses. There were three abuses that needed to be corrected. One was that Confession was forced, mandatory, done under coercion and compulsion. The second abuse was the enumeration of sins, that you had to come up with a complete listing of your sins, in detail, or else you could not be sure that you had confessed adequately. The third, and perhaps the worst, abuse was that, instead of putting the emphasis on the absolution, God’s free gift of forgiveness, the priest would give the penitent works of satisfaction to perform, works of penance, to offset his sins. These “three oppressive things,” as Luther called them, had corrupted the practice of Confession, had turned it from a gift into a torture. Therefore, these were the abuses that the Lutherans corrected and reformed.

But Luther never got rid of Individual/personal Confession. Far from it. He strongly encouraged people to go to Confession. He even wrote “A Brief Exhortation to Confession,” in which he says such things as the following: “If you are poor and miserable, then go to Confession and make use of its healing medicine.” Or, “So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is.” Or again, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.”

Likewise, our Lutheran Confessions say the same thing. From the Augsburg Confession, Article XI: “Our churches teach that individual/personal Absolution should be retained in the churches.” Or from the Smalcald Articles, Article VIII: “Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” Again, this is talking about Individual/personal Confession.

But Pastor, do I have to go to Individual/personal Confession to get forgiveness?

No, you don’t. You don’t “have to.” This is a matter of “get to.” You “get to” go to Individual Confession and Absolution. It’s a gift! It’s the Gospel! To be sure, God is rich in his grace, and he gives us his forgiveness in other ways as well. In Holy Baptism, all your sins were washed away, and Baptism is a gift that keeps on giving. Your sins are forgiven also when the pastor preaches the Gospel to you in the sermon, proclaiming the good news that Christ Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, taking them away, and that includes you and your sins. You receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar, when you receive the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

These are all glorious, wonderful means of grace, by which God delivers the forgiveness won by Christ on the cross to us. Holy Baptism, Holy Gospel, Holy Communion–all gifts of God, all means of grace, and each one has its own distinctive value and benefit and place in the life of the Christian. But then so does Holy Absolution. And we don’t want to set one gift of God against another. In other words, just because I get forgiveness in the sermon doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Communion. Just because I get forgiveness in Baptism doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go to Confession. No, God gives us all these gifts, each one of them, for us to use and benefit from.

What’s so special about Individual/personal Confession, Pastor?

For one thing, it helps us to be honest about ourselves. We readily say we are “poor miserable sinners,” but if we just keep it at that general level, we may try to excuse or rationalize sins we should be repenting of. The truth is, poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins. And so, examining our lives according to the Ten Commandments and coming to grips with our actual sins helps to keep us honest and accountable and to realize the depths of our sinfulness and our ongoing need for Christ’s forgiveness.

And that leads us to the most important benefit of Confession, and that is, the Absolution, the word of forgiveness. To realize that, yes, God knows my sins, how lousy of a sinner I am, and yet He forgives me–yes, me! I hear the forgiveness spoken into my ears, with my name on it! I feel the pastor’s hands on my head, Christ’s authorized representative releases me from the burden of my sin and my guilt! That is what is so distinctive and refreshing about Individual Confession and Absolution: precisely that it is individual, dealing with my sins and directing God’s cleansing and forgiveness and care to me.

Luther puts it this way in his Brief Exhortation: “So any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.” “[It] is a work that God does when he declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting.” Yes, the great treasure in Individual/personal Confession is the Absolution, spoken to you.

But Pastor, I’ve never gone to Individual/personal Confession before. I’m scared. What can you say to reassure me?

Let me guess what’s scary or intimidating about it. Maybe you think you must come up with some huge, awful sin–like robbing a bank or murdering someone–in order to go to Individual/personal Confession. No, ordinary, garden-variety sins are welcome any time. Maybe you can think of one or two that weigh on your mind. Lustful thoughts, harsh words, not treating your husband or wife with the love and care you know you should–that sort of thing. But even if you can’t come up with any sins or you’re not quite ready to speak about them, then just make a more general confession and the pastor will still speak God’s word of forgiveness to you.

Pastor, if I told you my sins, my dirty awful sins, wouldn’t you think less of me? Wouldn’t it change our dynamic, our relationship, and you wouldn’t be my friend anymore?

No, I wouldn’t think less of you. If anything, I might be tempted to think more of you, that you took advantage of the opportunity to come to Confession. But then, don’t go and get a big head about it and say, “Hey, look at me! I went to Confession!” That would-be pride, and then you’d have to come back to Confession for that!

No, nothing you say would shock me. I believe what the Bible says about our sinful nature, how the old Adam keeps on having evil desires and thoughts. And hey, your pastor knows what a sinner he is! I won’t be shocked by your sins. In fact, I’m here to give you God’s forgiveness for them.

And what’s more, Individual/personal Confession is just that: Individual and personal. The sins you confess go nowhere else. I am under oath, solemn oath, never to divulge the sins confessed to me. I never have, and I never will. I don’t even divulge them to myself, in a sense. What I mean is, when you confess your sins to me, my ears become a graveyard. The sins die there. I don’t carry them around with me in my head and hold them against you. I can still be your friend. But the more important thing for you is that I be your pastor. God has assigned me here to take care of your soul. And that includes hearing the sins you confess, the sins that trouble your soul, and then forgiving them in the name of Christ.

Pastor, tell me once again: Why should I come to Confession?

For the Gospel. For the forgiveness of your sins. To receive the gift Jesus has for you: Holy Absolution, with your name on it!

 

~ Adapted from an article by Rev. Charles Henrickson

– *Paragraph excerpt from article “What About Confession and Absolution”

by Dr. A. L. Barry, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod