Absolution and forgiveness

Ordinary Time 3 – Friday

First up, some Stendhal for you all.

I’ve been reading the Penguin Great Loves abridgment of Stendhal’s “De l’Amour (On Love)” at the moment and this particular section stood out to me earlier this week:

The most heartrending moment of love in its infancy is the realization that you have been mistaken about something, and that a whole framework of crystals has to be destroyed. You begin to feel doubtful about the entire process of crystallization.

If you don’t get what the term “crystallization” means, you’ll need to read the section on “Crystallization” in the Wikipedia link to Stendhal I linked to above.


There is a very interesting comment thread going on at the moment on iMonk currently.

Pat Kyle initially posted in March 2009 on New Reformation Press about the first experience of confession he had at a Lutheran Church. You can read his first part of this quasi-series by clicking here.

After almost an eternity (well, 10 months or so), he’s written up Part 2, but Chaplain Mike has posted it on iMonk instead.

This has been a bugbear of mine ever since I found out about private and corporate confession a long time ago (in Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican circles; knowing about Eastern Orthodoxy’s approach came much later). Can a pastor/minister/priest actually forgive sins or can only God do so?

I have always been fascinated with what Christ is recorded as saying in the Gospel accounts according to St. Matthew (Matt 16:19; 18:15-18) and St. John (John 20:23).

Have Protestants (with the exception of Lutherans and potentially Anglicans) potentially skewed their interpretation of these verses by rejecting the place of tradition, what looks like the first option of meaning for these verses and (even after all these years) an anti-Catholic bias? Have Catholics skewed their interpretation of these verses by overexalting the place of tradition and the first option of meaning for these verses while downplaying the priesthood of all believers who thus have this ability to forgive the sins of others?

I say this knowing that I have been raised in a tradition which has always stressed that only God can forgive sin and thus if one screws up, they should go only to God in prayer for forgiveness. None of this stuff about ministers pronouncing, declaring and forgiving those who sin in the name of God, the Father, Son & Holy Ghost. But then St. James in his epistle kicks me up the arse by exhorting believers to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16, ESV).

Looking at all these verses, I’m inclined to place my bets (if I can use that term) with those communions which have retained private confession to a priest/minister/pastor, corporate confession in the liturgy and in which the priest/minister/pastor does actually use the authority that has been committed to their safekeeping and use by Christ himself to absolve those who sin from their sins. Whether that absolution is effective by virtue of the position the person has (the “traditional” Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox view as I understand it) or whether it is because of the minister’s authority as derived from the word of God (the Lutheran position) or a combination of both (the Anglican position), is damn near irrelevant to my mind. Going to God directly is the other option, but the first option about private confession should never have been dismissed by a large majority of Protestants.

I fear that evangelical Protestantism threw out the baby with the bathwater on this matter and there is little hope of the baby being found now even.

Then again, having persons who have the authority to excommunicate others in evangelical Protestantism is almost rife. That’s probably a partial explanation as to why there are so many damn denominations. But the main point is this, if we can trust persons to excommunicate others in God’s name on the basis that they have committed sin, why doesn’t the flipside of a person forgiving someone in God’s name who has committed sin make sense then? Because it should.


Today was the last day I am in the CBD for quite a while. The next two months at least. Meaning that I will have to miss out on the Lenten programs at St. John’s and St. Stephen’s for 2010. Including Ash Wednesday services. 😦

Made a stopover at Christian Supplies to catch up with Greg before I headed home today. Nice to see that the retreat he took at the beginning of 2010 seems to have rejuvenated himself and his spirit for the challenges this year will bring.

There may be some big changes happening in my life this year. And I will probably need to speak with one of Greg’s friends for some counsel on one of these big matters. Somehow, I don’t think I will actually get decent counsel on this matter at CMCA-EMP. The chances it could disrupt friendships and familial ties are high if it does happen.

BUT, if this truly is what God is calling me into doing, how can I refuse?

G.K. Chesterton is one author I will be reading more of in the near future. One of his books will be read very slowly over the next few weeks. See if you can guess which book it is out of that prolific Chesterton bibliography in the last link.

Time for a shower and then sleep.

+ 2340hrs


One thought on “Absolution and forgiveness”

  1. Haven’t thought about this toooo much, but from my current perspective… just some thoughts on the analogy you drew.

    I think the main defining point as to why there would be a difference between the power of excommunication and forgiveness is that usually regarding excommunication, people don’t WANT to leave the church – and therefore it is often necessary for the pastor/minister/priest to exercise their God-given authority in order to protect the congregation (and also hope to bring the member to the realisation and repentance of their sin).

    On the other hand, Christians ought to know very well that God can and will forgive all sins, if only they turn with true repentance and faith to Him, and it should NOT be the case that they do not want to be forgiven.

    I agree that confessing to another has its benefits (how could I argue with James?)… however, I can see that that, from a Protestant point of view, may not necessarily need to be to a pastor/minister/priest (although that would indeed be a very sensible option). After all, I see main purposes of confession being: acknowledgement and repentance of sins; reassurance that you have been forgiven by God; and spiritual support for both healing of the consequences of your sin as well as a sort of preventative measure for future sin (as alluded to by prayer for one another). Of course, then there’s also the distinction of when you have directly sinned against man as well as God… but think I’ve exhausted whatever brainpower I had left at the end of this long day…

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