Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Confession and Absolution: Is It Optional?

Quoting from Pastor David H. Petersen's article titled "Renewal" in the Michaelmas 2011 Gottesdienst:
Private confession and absolution may be optional for the laity, but it is certainly not optional for the clergy.  No one can teach the Small Catechism and abstain from this gift without being a hypocrite, any more than he can teach the Small Catechism and abstain from the Lord's Supper or from having his children baptized.  But beyond the obvious goodness of being absolved, the preacher learns something of humility and sorrow in confession.  He remembers what it is to be on the other side, to be at someone else's mercy, to need someone else to say the words, to not have the answers and to depend on someone else.  Preachers who forget this, and we are all prone to forgetting this, preach in generalities.

Our preachers also need to hear confession.  Hearing confession is more humbling than making confession.  It changes the character of the pastoral relationship.  It deepens it.  God makes us pastors by the call and ordination.  But nothing "makes" us, in our minds, the pastor of an individual like this most intimate and pastoral relationship.  It changes the way we think about our people.  Parishioners might be surprised by this: no father confessor hearing the sins of his people becomes disgusted or angry.  I repeat: the penitent's sins do not disgust or anger the confessor.  Rather, hearing confession makes pastors sympathetic.  It puts the preacher on the penitent's side.

Whether the people come or not, the pastor should have regularly scheduled, published times for confession.  Even if the people don't come, the pastor is forced to contemplate his office and to pray for the people.  And eventually, they will come.

photo credit: loafingcoot


Fallhiker said...

For the most part I believe in the general confession of sins. I am not one for the laundry list of sins, atoning for each one. Mainly I suppose for those sins I have committed and either don't realize I have or are too numerous and (not to trivialize) too minor to acknowledge. But, there are those times when I have that burden weighing me down, and I need to unload and many a time my Pastor has been there to listen and absolve my sins. In fact one a year on our men's retreat we have that opportunity to kneel before him and unburden ourselves one by one, and I can think of nothing more uplifting than that.

Scott Diekmann said...

The segments of Dr. Ken Korby on Issues, Etc. on confession and forgiveness were really good. He makes a strong argument for individual confession: http://issuesetc.org/guest/kenneth-korby/

Cas said...

This post should be read and taken to heart by every pastor and seminarian.

In a district over 120 churches, I've only been able to find one where the pastor openly offers private confession and absolution-his church is about 14 hours away. While I would be more than willing to drive an hour or so to go to private confession, 14 hours is more than even I'd be willing to go.

Cas said...

As an add on to my previous comment...there was a pastor here who did offer private confession until he took another call.

Before going to him for confession & absolution the first time, I asked him if the sins people confessed to him ever changed how he felt about them or behaved toward them. He said that if anything, he felt even more respect for those who took that part of their faith seriously and who felt they could trust him enough to come to him and allow him to be their pastor and share those sins with him so that he could speak God's forgiveness to them.