Sunday, October 5, 2008

Confessing sins to a preist....hmmmm

Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest? Don't they know that only God has the power to forgive sins? If Catholics would just read their Bible, they would know this.

This is one of the many problems / issues that I had with the Catholic Church. After 30 years of being taught that only God has the power to forgive sins, it is a difficult pill to swallow to think that Man would have the power to do such a thing. So in my research, I started to dig deeper into the scriptures and see just what the Bible has to say about such things.

One of the first things that I realized is that Catholics do believe that God is the ultimate authority. Jesus has the power to forgive sins:

Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
(Matt 9:2-8)

So, if Jesus has the authority to forgive men of their sins, did He ever give that authority to men? Yes...He did:

Again 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."(John 20:21-23).

Whoa. You mean to tell me that Jesus gave the Apostles the ability to forgive sins? This was brand new to me. So now, we have Jesus who can forgive sins, and the Apostles, mere human beings, that have the ability to forgive sins. Very interesting.

I shared these finds with a friend of mine over lunch one day. He mentioned that he was also not aware of this verse. After doing some research on his own, he came back and told me that there was no where in the Bible where we see the Apostles exercising this gift that the Apostles were given. Ultimately, this gave me the impression, right or wrong, that although he believed that the Apostles were given this authority, that he doesn't believe that the Apostles ever exercised it.

I would imagine that the Apostles, who were in charge of spreading the Gospel, and creating God's Church, would have exercised every gift that they were given by God. They also, would have shared with the Early Church the fact that they were given the authority, by God, to forgive sins. This would especially be true since it ended up in the Holy Scriptures. I really have a hard time imagining that they never exercised these gifts during their Holy commission here on Earth.

However, the challenged still remained. Does the Scriptures show evidence of these Apostles forgiving sins? Before we answer that question, I would like to show that it is not unusual for God to use Priests to forgive sins:

'If a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed. The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting for a guilt offering to the LORD. With the ram of the guilt offering the priest is to make atonement for him before the LORD for the sin he has committed, and his sin will be forgiven.(Leviticus 19:20-22)

Here, we see that God is using a priest as the mediator for the forgiveness of sins. The guilty party is encouraged by Mosaic Law to go to the priest in order that your sins may be forgiven. You see, this is not an unusual practice, and it is also a Biblical one.

To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ(2 Corinthians 2:10).

Here we see that the Apostle Paul encouraging us to forgive sins, and he will forgive those sins also. However, when he forgives sins, it is different than when you and I do. When he forgives sins, because he is an Apostle, he forgives it in the person of Christ - in persona christi.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.(James 5:13-16).

So the elders have the ability, through prayer to forgive sins. Wait a minute, I thought that Jesus only gave this ability to the Apostles. And for that matter, how in the world did Paul attain the ability to forgive sins in persona christi? Now the elders and Paul have the ability to exercise this gift as well? How is this possible? This is possible through Apostalic Succession.

So, the elders and the Apostle Paul received the authority to forgive sins from the 12 Apostles who received the authority from Jesus Christ Himself. Also, those elders and presbyters of the Church kept passing down that authority over the years to the Catholic bishops and priests today. Hence, the belief of asking a priest to forgive sins is not only scriptural but also scripture encourages us to do so.


Belteshazzar Mouse said...

Well done on this post. I have been a Catholic my whole life. At times I felt Reconciliation (the modern term for Confession), was relieving, embarrassing, and even unnecessary. That is until I heard a great talk on sacrament. I mentioned some of this in my comments about baptism.

Remember that sacraments are and outward sign. Just as Jesus used outward signs when he performed miracles (John 9 - curing the blind man). Was this outward sign necessary? Jesus did it for some reason.

Reconciliation is a sign of something that already happened. We are coming to reconciliation because we are sorry and want to make it right with God and with those we have harmed. That is enough to be forgiven. Our coming to confess is our outward sign. (I tend to share and discuss more than confess, though there is always a confession as well.) We also have a responsibility to make it right with the human community we have harmed with our sin, as best as we can. That is another outward sign from us. God makes it right on his part with the open arms of his forgiveness. He also gives us an outward sign, our confessor, to represent the human community we have harmed with our sin. That representative, as part of the sacrament, represents the forgiveness of the human community and gives us the important sign "you are forgiven". In this sense, it is Christ that forgives us (yes, He is doing the forgiving) and the human community we have harmed with our sin forgives us. Christ's forgiveness is for our relationship with Christ, the human forgiveness is for us. If Christ's forgiveness is all we need, and we don't need to hear it, what is the reason Jesus says that we must forgive each other and seek out each others forgiveness?

Here is my take from a personal perspective. There have been times that I have had a problem that I have thought about, obsessed over and been frustrated over. This might be a spiritual problem, a puzzle or a bug in a computer program. I can not solve this problem, so I find someone to ask for help. As I am speaking the problem out loud, I realize the answer. I need to vocalize the problem to solve it.

One more analogy and I am done. My wife knows I love her. She needs to hear it too. (My wife hears it at least three times a day.) Ask your spouse - they understand. As much as I need to speak my problems, I need to hear the forgiveness. There are only a few special people that ever experience God through their senses. The rest of us must experience God through his creation.

This is a huge topic to cover in such a small space, so I will be happy to clarify my points.

Carlus Henry said...


You are challenging me. You have to remember, I come from the "merely" / "only" tradition.

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but it sounds as if you are saying that a sacrament is "merely" / "only" an outward sign. Is this what you are saying?

For now, let us suppose that this is the argument. Where I get confused then is if it is "only" an outward sign, then what is the authority that is given to the Apostles by Christ?

And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."(John 20:22-23).

If it is only an outward sign, what is the use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation? I believe, that this sacrament, like all sacraments are effective and actually do something. It is an outward sign, yes, but not only an outward sign.

Of course, I can be completely misreading your comment.

Always Your Brother...

Belteshazzar Mouse said...

The outward signs are often criticized as unnecessary. My point is that even Jesus used these outward signs. I put this post in the context of my previous post on Baptism, so I see how it could be seen as confusing out of context.

We, as humans, need the outward signs to complete our healing. With all sacraments are signs, all part of God's creation, because that is how we as humans experience the divine, through his creation.

I am going to post my favorite definition of sacrament again here:

A Sacrament is an outward sign

of a personal encounter with the risen Christ

that works in and through the Church

by which the Father is worshiped

and man is placed in a special relationship with Christ and is given a responsibility

and is gradually transformed into closer likeness to the risen Christ.

This definition emphasizes the outward sign only to point out that there is a _real encounter with Christ_. It is a good and necessary worship and we are changed through this encounter with Christ - "it works" - which indicates an action or change.

So, no, it is not _only_ an outward sign. I also do not ascribe "magical" properties to the rites or signs. I assign all change occurring in the sacrament to Christ. I also recognize that these things occur within a community, none of these sacraments are private.

None of what I said makes these signs less necessary.