Dear Members and Friends of our ELS:
If I remember correctly as a 1959 five-year-old, it was a Friday night activity at our home. People would stop by the parsonage and speak with my pastor-father whenever the Lord’s Supper would be offered at the church next door on the following Sunday. I never knew, of course, what was being said in those conversations in his private office behind the wall of our living room.
In answer to my adolescent curiosity, I was told members of the church were coming to announce their intention of taking Communion. It was also relayed to me, with no specifics or further comments, how some would take the opportunity to mention a sin or struggle they were encountering. In return, they received absolution personally, right then and there, from the voice of their called spiritual shepherd.
The full authority to forgive sins rests with God alone. It is paramount, then, that all sins be confessed to Him, regardless of whether one uses a confessor or not. At the same time, the sinner who confesses sin is to be certain of God’s full forgiveness — a forgiveness based only in the reality that Christ made once-for-all the atoning sacrifice for every sin of every sinner.
When sin is confessed (even those we do not know about, as in the Lord’s Prayer), there is no hiccup or hesitancy on God’s part in granting full pardon. The sinner is to be sure of the Heavenly Father’s pardoning announcement since the Savior’s act of redemption for sinners has been completed.
Martin Luther, in reaction to the practice of forced confession and penance in the Roman Church, stressed the teaching of the universal priesthood of all believers. Christians need not go through a priestly mediator to communicate with God and are therefore assured of having his absolution. Unfortunately, some people drew the assumption Luther, as a result, discouraged church members from approaching their pastor privately and making confession. This was far from the case.
We sin much daily and are painfully aware of the tendencies of our carnal nature. This sobering fact of our tenting trip in the present desert does not destroy the validity of God’s absolution. We have an oasis of life-giving water! “If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Only God’s absolution empowers the Christian for the continued battle versus sin, Satan, death and hell. The pastor is God’s servant eagerly holding the quenching cup at the rim of the well.
Any heart deliberately set on plotting sin cannot and does not benefit from the validity of God’s absolution. Faith apprehends the blessings. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
O God, grant us in this new year of your grace a renewed appreciation for your loving-kindness in offering us your absolution. Thank you also for providing faithful shepherds who convey your grace to our wounded souls. Amen.
Rev. John A. Moldstad, ELS President