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Catechetical Refresher - The Office Of The Keys And Confession

Catechetical Refresher
Office Of The Keys and Confession
Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
August 14, 2018

The fifth of Dr. Martin Luther’s six chief parts of Christian doctrine as found in the Small Catechism is: the Office Of The Keys And Confession. You will get the most benefit from this essay if you have your catechism open as you read.

To date our study has reviewed the Ten Commandments (the Law), the Apostle’s Creed (the Gospel), the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism and now we come to the fifth chief part of Christian doctrine: The Office Of The Keys And Confession.

This doctrine both comforts and confounds Lutherans. Confounding comes easily enough. Our flesh / sinful nature / Old Adam opposes God’s institutions. It bristles at the notion that God forgives the sins of men, through men who are no less sinful than the people they forgive. But this is how God works, and if we will humble ourselves before him in this matter, he will exalt us! (Luke 14:11)

The key Scripture verse for this doctrine is John 20:21-23 where Jesus says to the disciples, “Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending 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 them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’"

Luther then explains: What do you believe according to these words?

“I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”

Forgiveness, then, is a concrete, real, earthy thing. Words going from a mouth to an ear by the Breath of the Son of God who gave His life and rose again that we might have and hear the forgiveness of all of our sins, and live in the confident freedom of God’s baptized children.

There are three kinds of confession, but only two come with absolution.

There is Personal Confession. This is what Christians do when they have sinned. They pray, and ask God to forgive them; and anyone who is sorry, and asks, will be forgiven. You should believe this with all your might. Though there is no objective absolution given in Personal Confession, a person can call to mind the promises of God, and that is good and right. He can remember that, “If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) He can remember the Lord’s words to the paralytic: “Son your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)

There is also General Confession. This is the confession that Lutherans make at the start of Divine Service. It is good and right to do so, and comes with the benefit of an absolution spoken by God’s “called and ordained servant of the Word.” This is as sure and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself. The only disadvantage to General Confession is that there is no specific naming of sins; and so we never get right down to the core matter of things.

The most salutary of all is Private Confession. This is confession made to the pastor, using the formula found in the catechism. It is done one on one, often at the altar, or in another suitable place. It is not more effective than General Confession and Absolution, but it is more comforting. In it a person confesses the sins that trouble him most. He is able to unburden his soul and to gain relief and a light heart that brightens everything about him. Peace, happiness and "the joy of salvation" are restored.

Also be sure that whatever a person tells the pastor in confession is confidential and protected; even in a court of law. It is sacrosanct. The pastor is the ear of God. But more importantly he is the mouth of God. When he says: “I forgive you all of your sins,” you can be certain that your sins are forgiven. That the guilt, condemnation, judgment and punishment due you because of them has been remitted. As the Lord says in Jeremiah, “I will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34).

Confession and Absolution are good for the body, mind and soul. We learn this from the 32nd Psalm where David writes:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1-6)

In a small parish it may be impractical to set regular hours for confession, but the pastor is always available by appointment, and ready and willing to administer this special sacrament to you.

Lastly, by this review you should remember that to forgive sins is the church’s real work; and that everything she does has that end in mind, so that sinners might be redeemed and have glorious Life and everlasting Salvation in Christ.

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Peace be with you. Amen.

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