BJS Reviews Issues Etc Pastor’s Roundtable on Confession and Absolution ““ Issues, Etc. 16th April, 2009, by Jon Townsend

We at BJS have created a new column where we hope to review at least one program from Issues, Etc. each week. Our hope in doing this is to help people to understand what types of programs are available on Issues, Etc. and perhaps to generate interest in the show by new listeners. We also hope to make it easier for you to introduce Issues, Etc. to friends or members of your church; you can print these out and hand them to people who might be interested in the topic. Listen to the show to learn more about this topic, or go to the On Demand page on Issues Etc for other programs.

Confession and Absolution, Pastor’s Roundtable – Issues, Etc. 16th April, 2009

Pr. Wilken did a great job of opening up the segment by reminding us that Jesus talked about confessing and forgiving sins right after His resurrection when He gathered with His disciples (John 20). The question for modern Lutheranism is “why has Confession and Absolution fallen into disuse?”

Included in the Pastor Roundtable were Pastors Robert Niehus, Randy Asburry and Brothers of the John the Steadfast regular contributor Charles Henrickson.

The pastors focused in, (after Pr. Wilken quoted from John 20), on Article XI of the Augsburg Confession. Pr. Henrickson made a great point that Confession and Absolution is doctrine and practice and that the two are linked.

What did Confession and Absolution look like at the time when Article XI was written? Pr. Asburry described to us a wood cut of Luther kneeling at the communion rail and talking into the ear of his father confessor. He went on to say that the liturgy for Private Confession and Absolution, then as it is now, is nothing different than what we see in Luther’s Small Catechism

Pr. Niehus aptly pointed out that the life of a Christian is a life of confession, because we must acknowledge daily before God that He is God and we are not.

As regarding the enumeration of sins, Pr. Asburry called us again to the Small Catechism. We should confess in Private Confession and Absolution the sins that we know and feel in our hearts. We are guilty of all sins and we must confess to God that we are guilty of all sin, but in Private Confession we look at our specific lives and vocations and confess the specific ways in which we have violated God’s Law in the 10 Commandments.

Pr. Henrickson said that in confession “we are being honest with ourselves” and agreeing with God that we are sinful and need His forgiveness. It is not only the Augsburg Confession that tells us this, Holy Scripture also calls us to confess in 1 John 1 and in the Lord’s Prayer.

Pr. Niehus believes that Private Confession is not in wide practice, but the people that come have broken hearts and consciences and contrary to the compulsion to confess that was/is present in the Roman church, these people are feeling the weight of the Law and are longing for the Gospel that is spoken in the stead of Christ through the Pastor.

Pr. Asburry related some experiences in which a parishioner may come in for counsel, but the best way that he can help them is by encouraging them to Private Confession and Absolution.

So why is this wonderful gift given to the Lord’s Church in such disuse that one would find it in only a handful of Lutheran parishes? Pr. Henrickson has some thoughts:

  1. It is foreign to people and it seems Roman Catholic. In this case the pastor must teach on it first.
  2. There is also fear on the part of a parishioner that it would change the relationship with their pastor. He won’t be their buddy anymore if he knows their dirty laundry.

Pr. Asburry said that we should not worry about what our pastor will think of us. Our pastors know we are sinners. They are too. In going to Private Confession and Absolution, it is like going to the doctor. We are sin sick and need healing!

Pr. Wilken went on to make the claim that Confession and Absolution actually bonds the confessor and the penitent together and this is actually the natural way things should be.

Pr. Henrickson also stated that “his ear is like a graveyard” when it comes to confession and that if he were to divulge what he has heard he would forfeit his office.

I heartily recommend this Pastor’s Roundtable to all, especially to my fellow Brothers. Not only should we go, as it is good, right and salutary for us, but we should see it as our duty to encourage our fellow Christians and families to make use of this wonderful gift and the freedom from sin and its guilt and shame that the Gospel in Private Absolution provides.

Listen to the show to learn more about this topic, or go to the On Demand page on Issues Etc for other programs. At Issues, Etc., we love our OnDemand listeners!


About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


BJS Reviews Issues Etc Pastor’s Roundtable on Confession and Absolution ““ Issues, Etc. 16th April, 2009, by Jon Townsend — 10 Comments

  1. “Pr. Henrickson also stated that “his ear is like a graveyard” when it comes to confession and that if he were to divulge what he has heard he would forfeit his office.”

    I am curious how this stands legally. Does the government require reporting of society’s sin du jour?

  2. Bubbles–
    Generally speaking, no, clergy cannot be forced to divulge confidences. There is a legal term for this, called the clergy privilege.

    Here is the state of Illinois statute on the subject:
    (735 ILCS 5/8‑803) (from Ch. 110, par. 8‑803)
    Sec. 8‑803. Clergy. A clergyman or practitioner of any religious denomination accredited by the religious body to which he or she belongs, shall not be compelled to disclose in any court, or to any administrative board or agency, or to any public officer, a confession or admission made to him or her in his or her professional character or as a spiritual advisor in the course of the discipline enjoined by the rules or practices of such religious body or of the religion which he or she professes, nor be compelled to divulge any information which has been obtained by him or her in such professional character or as such spiritual advisor.
    (Source: P.A. 82‑280.)

    The thing that bothers me about the wording is the use of “him or her”. This means that, legally, the state of Illinois recognizes female clergy–even though God doesn’t.

    There would be similar privileges for other courts, but you may wish to research your particular state’s laws on the subject.

    Jon–you misspelled Pastor Niehus’s name.
    There’s no “a” in Niehus–although it is pronounced with the “a”.

  3. Humm. I will probably be lashed for this but here goes.

    1 Many people feel it is too RC – true

    2 Many people feel it will change the way pastor looks at us- true

    3 Many people may feel that private confessions could possibly be used by the pastor against the parishioner. The more the church becomes like a buisness the less trust is given and received. This shows the lack of confidence in the pastor but also reveals the way the world is today. This has been played out by before. Not all pastors are as stand up as the ones on this site, and those whom I am associated with now.

    Ok start rippin’ I can take it.


  4. Another thought is that private confession is the lynchpin in the closed vs. open communion debate. If parishioners are required to come to private confession at regular intervals established by them and the their pastor, then closed communion makes sense: the pastor/penitent relationship is dynamic and fluid. But when private confession is optional (left to the discretion of the sheep whether to use it or not), then it for the most part falls into disuse. This leads to the notion on the part of the laity that communion is between them and Jesus alone (or at best Jesus First). Thus the real battleground in the communion issue is whether to require private confession or not.

  5. John (#4)

    You pose an troubling argument. I believe that there are some who would not hold to strict confidence. I do believe however that it is my duty to honor the oath that I made before God at my ordination. I agree with Pr. Henrickson that my ear becomes the grave of the confession heard. I was taught that the confession cannot be discussed with any one–not with the elders, not with my wife, not even anonomously with other clergy. I have only recieved personal confession twice, and I cannot even remember what was said.

    We all run the risk of altering relationships with one to who we make confession. And that fear probably keeps many from confessing their sins, because many never forgive. I see this in my own congregation where grudges are never forgotten. All I can say is that regardless of the burden, I will not devulge confessions to anyone. Now regarding the law, I am not confident that I am now or will always be protected. But again that is the burden that I might have to face in the future.

  6. Sorry Pr. Niehus for butchering your name… die deutsche Seite meines Gehirns hat am letzten Samstag gewonnen.

  7. People who are afraid of Private Confession and Absolution will go to a “Stephen Minister” (one more way CEO preachers shuck responsibility onto the laity, IMO).

    But “Stephen Ministers” cannot Absolve “in the stead of Christ” and, on inquiry, I found that they do discuss their “cases”. (Anonymously, it’s supposed, but how much anonymity is preserved in a small congregation when the ‘counselees’ are making it evident that they are participating?) They also could not refuse to testify, as an ordained Pastor can. No thanks, as a “job” or as a “service”.

  8. Lutheran School K-9, baptized 1970 (minimalist Baptismal Rite, and played as a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ for parents, sponsors and the congregation-at-large), acolyte, confirmed 1976, (confirmed unbeliever?) and never heard of Private Confession and Absolution until 2013, and even then, I had no idea what this was about.
    Now, I know that these are not common Lutheran practices, but I now believe strongly in immersion, or at least partial immersion, for other-than-infants, as well as frequent extra-examination, enumeration, confession and absolution, and intensive catechism/education, I will go so far as to suggest at least a semi-monastic lifestyle during that time for a troubled young man like I have been, might have helped…

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