Archive for the ‘Word’ Category

Transform

Christ Lutheran Church is in the process of a modern transformation! By the time this newsletter reaches you, we will have celebrated and re-dedicated Christ Lutheran Church to worship, the ministry of the Gospel, missions, the discipleship of believers, and the correct administration of the Sacraments – all to the glory of God. God has blessed this congregation with many blessings. What I hear God telling us is that we must submit ourselves to the transformation of the Holy Spirit. How are we transformed?

We are told in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that, “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn within a large family.” Romans 8:29

Our transformation enables us to be of service to God in bringing the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to a lost and dying world. A recent Pew Research Center study has identified some interesting facts:

  1. Atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons score higher in religious knowledge and outperform Protestant Christians on questions about the core teachings and history of Christianity.
  2. Those identifying themselves as “Christian” shrunk from 78% to 70% – a drop of 8% points in just seven years. Meanwhile, those calling themselves atheist, non-religious, or simply unaffiliated rose from 16% to almost 23%.
  3. Almost 60% of our youth leave their churches as young adults – many joining the growing number of the so-called “nones,” those who profess no adherence to any faith whatsoever.

What can we at Christ Lutheran Church do? We must do what we believe, teach and confess!

  1. To preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  2. To preach and teach the Law of God, period. Nothing added to it, or taken away from it.
  3. To preach and teach repentance from sin and faith toward God through Jesus Christ alone.
  4. To preach and teach belief in the inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration and authority of God’s Word (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) – the Bible.
  5. To teach her followers of Jesus Christ, their family and children what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and why it matters.
  6. To teach followers of Jesus Christ what the Christian faith is and that it is important to know and understand what they believe, and why.
  7. To preach and teach about the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, i.e., being filled with the Holy Spirit, and the continuation of the gifts (manifestations) of the Holy Spirit; the gifts God gives for the equipping and building up of the Body of Christ.
  8. To preach and teach how God has arranged the Body of Christ (the local church); how He has defined its leadership; and how the Body of Christ (the local church) should function in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  9. To support her members by assembling together for worship, ministry, and fellowship. We are exhorted in God’s Word to always assemble for worship, because it is the evidence that we care, love, and work for one another and our community.

“And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds, not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other. And let us do this all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

At Christ Lutheran Church we must seek to do just that. Let us make the necessary commitment to transformation. It is time to take a sound biblical stand for God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and His Church. Let us come together, from ashes to renewal. Join us, help us, fellowship with us, support us. Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor Gary

Do you remember this song from Seals and Croft?

“See the curtains hanging in the window, in the evening on a Friday night; A little light shining through the window, lets me know everything is alright… Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…

See the paper laying in the sidewalk, a little music from the house next door; So I walked on up to the doorstep, through the screen and across the floor…

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom; July is dressed up and playing her tune; And I come home from a hard day’s work; And you’re waiting there, not a care in the world; See the smile waiting in the kitchen, food cooking and the plates for two; Feel the arms that reach out to hold me, in the evening when the day is through…

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind; Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind…”

In John 3:8, Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. That’s how it is with everyone who has been born from the Spirit.” Nicodemus had objected to Jesus’ teaching because he did not understand. Jesus shows him that he ought not to reject it on that account, for he constantly had a problem believing. Jesus’ words might appear incomprehensible, but His teaching was to be understood by its effects. As in this case of the wind, the effects were seen, the sound was heard, important changes were produced by it, trees and clouds were moved, yet the wind is not seen, nor do we know where it comes, nor by what laws it is governed. So it is with the operations of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person.

When the Holy Spirit comes, we see the changes produced. Men who are sinful become holy; the thoughtless become serious; the licentious become pure; the vicious, moral; the moral, religious; the prayerless, prayerful; the rebellious and obstinate, meek, mild, and gentle. When we see such changes, we ought no more to doubt that they are produced by God ‐ by the mighty Agent, than when we see the trees moved, or the waters of the ocean piled upon heaps, or feel the cooling effects of a summer’s breeze. In those cases we attribute it to the “wind,” even though we do not see it, and we do not understand how it operates.

Here are four things we learn from this passage:

1. That the proper evidence of conversion is the effect of change on the life.

2. That we must not search for the cause or manner of the change on the life.

3. That God has power over the most hardened sinner to change him, as He has power over the loftiest oak, to bring it down by a sweeping blast.

4. That there is a great variety of the modes of the operation of the Holy Spirit. As the “wind” sometimes sweeps with a tempest, and knocks everyone down all before it, and sometimes blows upon us in a mild evening zephyr, so it is with the operations of the Holy Spirit.

The sinner sometimes trembles and is prostrate before the truth, and sometimes is sweetly and gently drawn to the cross of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit’s invisible operations gives visible evidence of His power. The Holy Spirit works His own way beyond our comprehension just like we do not know the law of the wind.

So, as our summer draws nearer and covers us with its warmth, remember as you feel the summer breeze upon your face, that God, by the invisible power of His Holy Spirit has moved you and changed you, and is in the process of changing you, from glory to glory into the blessed, holy image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Have a blessed summer!

GayChristianity

— A Fatal Theological Oxymoron

An oxymoron combines two notions that don’t belong together. They are often humorous, as in “military intelligence,” “open secret” or “paid volunteer.” Oxys in Greek means “sharp” and moron means “dull,” so you can see how the name was coined. “Gay Christianity” is an oxymoron, and not in the least humorous! This growing movement in contemporary evangelicalism mixes two contradictory elements in a dangerous theological oxymoron. To show why this is true, we need to define both elements-“Gay” and “Christianity.”

Christianity: We must begin with the definition of Christianity by its original founders. The Apostle Paul describes the truth as worship of God the Creator, and the lie as the worship of Nature (Romans 1:25). He is connecting with The Old Testament. Nehemiah says of God: “You have made heaven…and the hosts of heaven worship you (Neh 9:6). This takes us back to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Pagans worshiped the hosts of heaven (Nature), but in the Bible, the hosts of heaven worship the Lord. Christianity seeks to follow Psalm 57:5 by exalting God above the heavens, in order that his “glory be over all the earth!” The basic truth of existence is that the Creator and his creation are distinct.

All fallen human beings, including homosexuals, need to hear the compassion and empathy expressed in the gospel, but the biblical message cannot be reduced to mere sentimentality. It reveals the just nature of God the Creator and the fallen nature of every human being. Jesus is the revelation of that just God. As the second person of the Trinity, he is Judge and Creator but also Redeemer who, through his death on the Cross, extends God’s love to sinners.

Gay: The dictionary defines “gay” as “relating to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one’s own sex.” Unlike Christianity, which derives from revealed, holy Scripture, gayness has its roots in pagan religion, which has practiced homosexuality throughout the millennia. Paganism not only worships nature, refusing the Creator; it also refuses the binaries and distinctions that God has placed in creation, such as male and female. For a generation, “Gay Christians” have argued that the Bible embraces homosexuality as a valid expression of human love. A recent scholarly study entitled Unchanging Witness challenges that thesis. It argues that the Judeo-Christian tradition, from the Old Testament world to Rabbinic Judaism, to the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament and on through the whole of Christian history, has never believed the Bible to give moral legitimacy to homosexuality.

Homosexuality poses a colossal threat to Christian living. Radical legal scholar Mark Tushnet, Professor at Harvard Law School argues that the culture wars are over; they (traditionalists) lost, we won…. [O]pponents of the moral revolution are to be treated with scorn, contempt, and worse, like Japan and Germany, owing unconditional surrender.

Such an attitude certainly threatens “Christian” free speech. In addition, the new bathroom laws demolish public decency standards by embracing individual “exposure rights”forgeneralized “nonconsensual nudity” (typical of past pagan societies). Such extreme, nonsensical standards are part of a massive moral brainwashing of the next generation, accomplished through “progressive” educational programs, such as President Obama’s recent diktat regulating gender-free school bathrooms.

We seek rather to identify the pagan cosmology of Oneist nature-worship behind “gayness” and to analyze the conflict such a position has with the Twoist biblical cosmology of a world full of distinctions created by God. Without standing in judgment over homosexuals, we must preserve the essence of the Christian message, namely purity, holiness and the radical transformation made possible by the Twoist Gospel. Those powerful, positive elements will be utterly lost if pagan-inspired “Gay Christianity” becomes a defining element of Christian thinking and practice.

Paganism, in rejecting the binary and “joining the opposites” eliminates the fundamental character of biblical truth expressed in created distinctions between God and the creation, male and female, right and wrong, good and evil. Thus, “Gay Christianity” is indeed an oxymoron.

In His mercy, however, God can clear our sinful thinking and transform our hopelessness into joy. Our conference will feature several testimonies of those who have been rescued from their Oneist confusion. The air has cleared for them, as we pray it will also clear for our culture.

By Dr. Peter Jones

NT

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.

 

LuthersCatechisms

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

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.

individualconfession

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