Skip to comments.I Confess...........[The Complete Biblical Basis for Confession]
Posted on 07/05/2002 10:14:23 AM PDT by Polycarp
You've decided to help out on a confirmation retreat at your parish.You're a small group leader with five candidates in your group. The youth are responding well until the time comes to go to confession. One of the girls in your group, Michelle, has an objection to going to confession.
Her Evangelical boyfriend has apparently convinced her she has no need of a priest to confess her sins. "Why can't I confess my sins directly to God?" Michelle protests.
Evidently, Michelle was waiting for this opportunity to make her stand, because she immediately reels off five Scripture passages that she had no doubt memorized for the occasion.
"Isaiah 43:25 says, 'I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.' It's God who forgives sins," she confidently proclaims. You notice she is quoting from the King James Bible.
"Further, Hebrews 3:1 and 7:22-27 tell us Jesus is our one and only true High Priest and that there are not many priests, but one in the New Testament. The Bible makes it clear in 1 John 2:2 that Jesus 'is the propitiation for our sins,' and not some priest, 'and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world'. And how can we Catholics claim priests act in the role of mediator in confession when 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us, 'For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus'?"
You begin by complimenting Michelle on her knowledge of Scripture, and encourage the rest of your group to imitate her in the practice of memorizing Sacred Scripture. You thank her for both her honesty and for bringing up these objections to confession. In answering them, these objections can serve to deepen our understanding of the One, True Faith established by Jesus Christ.
Step One: After thanking Michelle once again for bringing up Isaiah 43:25, which teaches us that it is, in fact, God Who forgives our sins, you ask another member of the group, Mark, to read Leviticus 19:20-22:"If a man lies carnally with a woman . . . they shall not be put to death . . . but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him . . . before the Lord for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him."
Remember, Isaiah 43:25 is an Old Testament passage. It declares that God forgives our sins. On that point all Christians agree. However, here in Leviticus, also in the Old Testament, the priest has been given the ministry of reconciliation. He mediates God's forgiveness to the sinner. Obviously, this does not take away from the fact that it is God Who does the forgiving. God is the efficient, or ultimate, cause of forgiveness. The priest is the instrumental cause
Michelle immediately objects. "But Jesus is our priest and mediator in the New Testament."
You respond, "We'll get to that in a minute, Michelle, but first I want to make sure everyone understands what we're saying." Now, in order to keep this from becoming a confrontation between yourself and Michelle, you turn to the rest of the group and say, "God indeed forgives us our sins, as Isaiah 43:25 teaches. However, that doesn't eliminate the possibility of using priests to mediate that forgiveness to the world as Leviticus 19:20-22 teaches. Right?"
You notice Michelle responds affirmatively with the others, so you quickly move ahead.
"Michelle brought up another excellent point we need to address. How can we Catholics have priests to forgive our sins, when Hebrews 3:1 says Jesus is the apostle and High Priest of our confession? And what about Hebrews 7:22-27?" At this point, you ask another member of your small group, Kendra, to read the text.
"This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever . . . For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself."
At this point, you see all five of your group members absorbed in thought. Jennifer suddenly pipes up and says, "How do we answer that one? It seems that Jesus is our only priest."
To answer, you call on Andrea to read 1 Peter 2:5, 9.
"And like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people . . ."
If Jesus is the one and only priest in the New Testament in the strict sense that Protestants believe, then we have a contradiction in Sacred Scripture, because 1 Peter teaches that all believers are members of a holy priesthood. The key to clearing up this difficulty is in understanding the nature of the Body of Christ. Believers do not take away from Christ's unique Priesthood, rather, as members of His Body, we establish His Priesthood on earth. We are His hands and feet.Michelle jumps in, "That doesn't say there's any special priesthood we have to go to in order to have our mortal sins forgiven. That text says we're all priests.
"We'll get to that," you assure her, "but we are making progress. A moment ago we couldn't see how anyone could be a priest in the New Testament other than Christ, and now we see how all believers are priests.
"Before we move on to demonstrate a special priesthood, can we all see how Christ being the true High Priest does not eliminate the possibility of there being many priests? We are priests as believers inasmuch as we participate in the one priesthood of Christ, as members of His Body."At this point you clear up the difficulty of 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Yes, Jesus is the one mediator between God and men. However, Christians are also called to be mediators in Him. When we intercede for one another or share the gospel with someone, we act as mediators of God's love and grace in the one true Mediator, Christ Jesus (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-7, 4:16, Rom. 10:9-14).
Now what about 1 John 2:2? "He is the expiation [propitiation] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." How can we demonstrate from Scripture the existence of a priesthood with the power to forgive sins, within the universal priesthood of all believers?
Now show the context of 1 Peter 2:5, 9. When St. Peter teaches us about the universal priesthood of all believers, he refers to Exodus 19:6 where God speaks of ancient Israel as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," a reference to the universal priesthood in the Old Testament "church." But this did not preclude the existence of the Aaronic and Levitical priesthoods within that universal priesthood (cf. Ex. 28 and Num. 3:1-12).
In an analogous way, we have a universal "royal priesthood" in the New Testament, but we also have an ordained clergy who have priestly authority given to them by Christ to carry out His ministry of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17-21, John 20:21-23, James 5:16). Michelle once again protests. "But you still haven't answered the Scripture I quoted earlier. 1 John 2:2 says Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, not a priest. And in Mark 2:5-10, Jesus forgives the sins of a paralytic. When the scribes object to that and call it blasphemy, Jesus says: ' "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth," he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home."' Scripture is clear. Jesus is the One we go to for forgiveness. Where does the Bible say there's a priesthood with the authority to forgive sins
Now ask Mark to read John 20:21-23 to the group: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.' "
"What does this text say to you?" you ask. Andrea speaks up: "I think it says Jesus gave His authority to forgive sins to His disciples, which we read about in Mark 2." The rest of the group agrees, except for Michelle, who had been listening attentively, but is now studying the text intensely.
You point out the setting: Jesus has risen from the dead and is about to ascend to the Father. In verse 21, Jesus says, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." What did the Father send Jesus to do? He came to be the one true mediator between God and men: proclaiming the gospel (cf. Luke 4:16-21), reigning supreme as King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Rev. 19:16), and especially, redeeming the world through the forgiveness of sins (cf. 1 Peter 2:21-25, Mark 2:5-10). So this is what Christ is sending the apostles to do in His name: To proclaim the gospel with His authority (cf. Matt. 18:15-17), to govern the Church in His stead (cf. Luke 22:29-30), and to sanctify the Church through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist (cf. John 6:54, 1 Cor. 11:24-29) and confession.
Christ, the High Priest of the New Covenant, ordained the apostles to continue His priestly mission. In John 20:22-23, Jesus then emphasizes this essential part of the priestly ministry of the apostles: forgiving men's sins in the name of Christ. "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." This is confession. The only way the apostles can either forgive or retain sins is by first hearing those sins confessed, and then making a judgement as to whether or not the penitent should be absolved.
"You mean it's up to the priest to decide whether or not I'm going to be forgiven?" Michelle queries indignantly.
"Yes, Michelle. That's what the Bible teaches here in John 20.
"Let's say a woman confesses adultery," you continue. "When the priest asks her if she's sorry for her sin and resolved to turn away from it, she says she's not. The priest would then be bound to 'retain' her sins. One has to be truly sorry for his or her sins in order to be forgiven." "What if she lies to the priest and says she's sorry when she's not, and then the priest absolves her?" Jennifer asks. "Will she be forgiven?" "No," you respond. "The sacrament does not take effect unless the penitent is truly sorry for his or her sins. In fact, lying in confession is another serious sin, called the sin of sacrilege.
You notice Michelle is much less defensive when she asks her next question. "Do we see any examples of the apostles or church elders actually forgiving sins?"
You have Andrea read 2 Corinthians 2:10: "Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ."
Actually, a better translation of the phrase "in the presence of Christ" is "in the person of Christ." The Greek word in the passage is prosopon. The Latin word persona comes from this word. The Greek prefix pro translates to Latin as per. The Greek sopon becomes sona in Latin. Interestingly, the King James Bible renders the better translation of "person."
You read James 5:14-16 aloud: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects."
You point out Scripture teaches us we must go to the "elders," not just anyone, to receive this "anointing" and the forgiveness of our sins.Michelle objects. "In verse 16 it says to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. James is just encouraging us to confess our sins to a close friend so we can help one another to overcome our faults."
You respond, "We have to examine the context of Scripture in order to understand it properly. There are two reasons we know St. James is not saying we should confess our sins to just anyone. First, he's just told us to go to the elder, or priest, in verse 14. Then, verse 16 begins with the word "therefore." That word is a conjunction that connects verse 16 back to verses 14 and 15. It's the elder to whom St. James is telling us to confess our sins.
At this point, there's a break and you decide to take Michelle outside for a little one on one. You ask her, "Well, what do you think?"She replies thoughtfully, "I have to admit, John 20:21-23 and all the rest of the verses you pointed out make it awfully clear. But it's so hard to confess your sins to a man."
"Yep, I agree," you say. "But I guarantee you, you will walk out of that confessional feeling like you're walking on air. And remember, when the priest says, 'I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,' there are two people speaking at the same time: the priest, and Jesus Himself, Who loves you more than words could ever say."
After the break, it's time for confession. You're watching for Michelle. As soon as she comes out of the confessional, she looks right at you with a bright, beaming smile. As she approaches, you tease, "Was I right?"
The smile never leaves her face as she slaps you a high five and walks toward the chapel to pray.
Reprinted with permission from Envoy Magazine, www.envoymagazine.com
Now this follows upon their receiving the Holy Ghost; for, if they had not had an extraordinary spirit of discerning, they had not been fit to be entrusted with such an authority; for, in the strictest sense, this is a special commission to the apostles themselves and the first preachers of the gospel, who could distinguish who were in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity, and who were not.
By virtue of this power, Peter struck Ananias and Sapphira dead, and Paul struck Elymas blind. Yet it must be understood as a general charter to the church and her ministers, not securing an infallibility of judgment to any man or company of men in the world, but encouraging the faithful stewards of the mysteries of God to stand to the gospel they were sent to preach, for that God himself will stand to it.
The apostles, in preaching remission, must begin at Jerusalem, though she had lately brought upon herself the guilt of Christs blood: "Yet you may declare their sins remitted upon gospel terms.
And Peter did so, Acts 2:38; 3:19. Christ, being risen for our justification, sends his gospel heralds to proclaim the jubilee begun, the act of indemnity now passed; and by this rule men shall be judged, ch. 12:48; Rom. 2:16; Jam. 2:12. God will never alter this rule of judgment, nor vary from it; those whom the gospel acquits shall be acquitted, and those whom the gospel condemns shall be condemned, which puts immense honour upon the ministry, and should put immense courage into ministers. Two ways the apostles and ministers of Christ remit and retain sin, and both as having authority:
[1.] By sound doctrine. They are commissioned to tell the world that salvation is to be had upon gospel terms, and no other, and they shall find God will say Amen to it; so shall their doom be.
[2.] By a strict discipline, applying the general rule of the gospel to particular persons. "Whom you admit into communion with you, according to the rules of the gospel, God will admit into communion with himself; and whom you cast out of communion as impenitent, and obstinate in scandalous and infectious sins, shall be bound over to the righteous judgment of God.
No whewre in Acts ot in the letters do the Apostles speak of forgiving mens sins. That was NOT their understanding..They preached forgivness in the blood of Christ!
If anything, sins used to be confessed in the presence of everyone in the church. As the Church grew, particularly after if became the official religion of the Roman Empire, this became problematic since the congregation often contained folks who would use such information in a less than Christian manner (their presence was much less likely while the Church was being persecuted).
Following this, confessions were done in the presence of a representative of the Church, someone who was sworn to confidentiality.
Show me anywhere in the NT where the Apostles said anyone but Jesus forgave sins..show me where they held confessional services?
Historically can you tell me when the practice of confession as we now see it began?
Actually, no. What I relayed to you was the historical reference to the practicality of the practice and should not be considered an admission of any such thing. The New Testament citations in support of the practice were cited in the original article. Why would I now attempt to admit to something not being "in the NT" when the contrary had just been proven?
'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'
Did Jesus lie or is the above statement true?
I've followed apologetics threads here for quite some time. Certain posters have a history of hit and run posting, not addressing the substance of a cohesive article such as this but simply posting their own personal opinions, and refusing to admit to the overwhelming evidence an article such as this presents, using one single proof text as their excuse to ignore the Truth.
No apologies necessary.
And if I post a thread and others refuse to address the points of that article, its not being a "hall monitor" to point that out and direct the poster back to the substantial arguments of the debate.
One proof text accompanied by your personal interpretation of same is hardly a refutation of the article in this thread.
I honestly doubt you read the article based on your thinking you've refuted it.
Do you understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity?
What kind of inane statement is this?
That didn't answer my question. Was the statement true or was it a lie?
Sorry, but the article clearly did that. You just don't want to admit it even though the evidence is before you.
You may not have meant to admit the lack of early church evidence, but your wording says otherwise.
No, that's just wishful thinking on your part. The article proves the point of confession to the priesthood conclusively. I just added practicial reasoning on top of that.