13 March 2008

Confession is good for the soul

I've been thinking about this recently. Right now, the groups or denominations of Christians that practice confession to a pastor or priest are Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, some Anglicans/Episcopals, some Lutherans and possibly one or two others. The vast majority of Protestants don’t do this for reasons we’re probably all familiar with: arguments about no mediator needed between us and God and so on.

My question is different though. I wonder if, as long as it could be understood rightly and that people didn’t take it being offered to mean they weren’t able to go directly to God on their own (a common misunderstanding), would this be a valuable thing for Protestants to start doing again?

I can think of some good things that might come from it:

1. It’s a good way to practice what Scripture teaches when it says “confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” It provides some accountability and helps us open up and be real about who we are on the inside rather than acting like everything is ok all the time.

2. It requires (if we do it correctly) us to be specific. Instead of glossing over our sins by being overly vague, we have someone there who expects to hear us be honest and can even ask follow up questions to make sure that we don’t minimize our sins when confessing them. Instead of “I’ve been struggling with my thought life” one would just admit, “I looked at pornography.” Instead of vague references to wanting to be “more Christlike in my attitude,” one would admit that “I tend to be jealous of my friends who are doing well financially to the point that part of me is disappointed when I hear about the nice new things they are able to have that I’m not" or "I regularly curse at people while driving."

3. We have an opportunity to receive wise counsel and be reminded of God’s Word regarding our struggles and sins. Sometimes in the fog of our guilt and doubt we’re not able to step outside that box and see things for how they are.

4. We get to audibly hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.” The Anglican Book of Common Prayer has various ways the minister can say this but among them are some beautiful words to hear for someone that’s truly repentant and sorry:

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in Him, of His great mercy forgive you of all your offenses; and by His authority committed to me, I absolve you of from all your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"The Lord has put away all your sins."

The exact wording isn’t quite as important as the message conveyed: God has forgiven you of your sins.

That can be a powerful thing. Of course I can read it in Scripture or think it in my mind, but hearing those words audibly can really drive the point home.

What do you think? Is this something that could work for us Protestants, framed and understood properly of course?


Anne Marie said...

Hi Ragamuffin:

I found your blog from Jen’s Et Tu.

When considering the issue of confession to ordained clergy don’t forget this passage in John’s Gospel.

John 20: 19On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." 22And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

When Jesus commissioned the disciples to forgive sins he did so very specifically with them. Jesus had already met with Mary outside the tomb, but he did not commission her for the forgiveness of sins. He could have, but did not. He tells her to go tell his brothers that she has seen him, and then he tells THEM to go out as the Father has sent him, and in this context they have the authority to forgive or retain sins. This is the scriptural foundation for the Catholic Sacrament of confession.

Your observations in this post are spot on btw with regards to specificity and accountability.

Ragamuffin said...

Welcome anne marie and thanks for your comments.

I'm still not sure I'm with you on the sacrament of confession/penance being a necessity, but I certainly see that it has tremendous value. And I wish more Protestants would evaluate things like this on their own merits rather than "how Catholic they sound." I get the distinct impression that some things are avoided simply on that basis rather than any rational or Scriptural one.