Tuesday, July 7, 2009

CORE VALUES of the Christian: Confession and Repentance

The Augsburg Confession “Chief Articles of Faith” Article XI — Confession

Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession. For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible. “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19:12)

The Augsburg Confession “Chief Articles of Faith” Article XII — Repentance

Our churches teach that there is forgiveness of sins for those who have fallen after Baptism whenever they are converted. The Church ought to impart Absolution to those who return to repentance [Jeremiah 3:12]. Now, strictly speaking, repentance consists of two parts. One part is contrition, that is, terrors strikeing the conscience thorugh the knowledge of sin. The other part is faith, which is born of the Gospel [Romans 10:17] or the Absolution and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven. It comforts the conscience and delivers it from terror. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruit of repentance [Galatians 5:22-23].

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those who have once been justified can lose the Holy Spirit. They also condemn those who argue that some may reach such a state of perfection in this life that they cannot sin. The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve those who had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance. Our churches also reject those who do not teach that forgiveness of sins comes through faith, but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of our own. They also reject those who teach that it is necessary to perform works of satisfaction, commanded by Church law, in order to remit eternal punishment or the punishment of purgatory.

Truly, one of the “core values” of the Christian life is that we learn to repent of our sins and confess our sins to God and, where we have wronged our neighbor, we confess our sins to our neighbor. When the reformers wrote about their “core values” they wrote separate, but short, articles on Confession (to deal with the practice of required Private Confession — more on that in a bit), and on repentance. Since the two really go hand in hand, I will treat of both of them here.

ARTICLE XI: Confession

ARTICLE XII: Repentance

“Confession is good for the soul” goes the old adage. Generally speaking, this is most certainly true. To carry around an unconfessed sin is to require that your conscience become seared. If you refuse to confess your sins, you will soon teach your conscience that you are accountable to no one. This is spiritually dangerous! The whole world is, ultimately, accountable to God (Romans 3:19). That includes every single person. So when you sin against God who created you and redeemed you, and/or when you sin against your neighbor whom God has also made and redeemed, confession is good. (See Psalm 32:3-5.)

In the Roman Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation, there were people then, as there are people now, who thought that God did not need to hear their confession. They were wrong then. They are still wrong. Every man, woman, and child is accountable to God.

For this reason, the Lutherans said that the practice of private confession should be retained. The Lutherans wanted to correct some abuses in that practice, but they affirmed that the practice of private confession is truly Biblical and, therefore, catholic (in the sense that it belongs to the universal Christian church).

However, the fact that the Lutherans wanted to correct some of the abuses which had arisen around private confession did NOT mean that the Lutherans were somehow “against” repentance. After all, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” is the exact same sermon that John the Baptist and our lord Christ Himself preached as they began their public ministries (Matt. 3:2 & Matt. 4:17). Repentance IS an integral part of the Christian life.

Is Required Confession Really Confession?

The problems that the Lutherans had with requiring private confession were: 1. That while teaching people to make private confession is certainly a good discipline for the Christian life, when you require private confession as a condition before being allowed to attend Holy Communion, for example, places a burden on souls which the Lord Himself has not required; 2. That trying to enumerate each and every sin will have one of two effects: a. it will cause you to think that you have enumerated all of your sins so that you will start to tell yourself that those are your only sins (they never are since we all sin in ways of which we are not even aware) and you will be proud of yourself for not being “too bad” of a sinner (hence you won’t see that you need Christ your Savior); or, b. you will be driven to despair at the realization that you cannot even begin to name all of your sins, so that you will wonder if Christ could have possibly paid the price for all of your awful sins; 3. the practice that we can somehow make some payment (“penance”) for our sins against God or others (while we should surely want to “make amends” to those whom we have harmed, we should never be led to believe that we can somehow pay for our sins); and 4. the concept of invoking the merits of the saints or others who have gone before us for our forgiveness (in truth, Christ is THE only payment for all sins — Hebrews 10:12).

Repentance Is NOT Hard!

Human nature being what it is, there is a part of us which shuns Biblical repentance. To repent means that we admit that we are thinking, speaking, or doing wrong (or not thinking, speaking, or doing as we ought). Our sinful pride despises the idea of admitting our faults. But if we do not admit our sins, then we will not see our need for our Lord Christ and His life and His suffering and death as the payment for our and all sins. If we do not see and believe in Christ, we will go to hell (Mark 16:16).

Repentance is not hard. The Christian acknowledges that he sins every single day. The Christian repents daily, simply clinging to the holy merits of our Lord Christ. It is not hard work. And it is not “too hard” for you to do!

"Once Saved, Always Saved?”

The Lutherans rejected the notion which the Anabaptists of that day popularized of thinking that once a person is brought to faith, he can never fall from faith. The doctrine of election does promise the Christian who is troubled by his sins that God will not let him fall (Romans 8:28ff.). But, the Scriptures also teach us that it is truly possible for the Christian to fall from faith. This could create a false hope and could cause a person to no longer see his need for daily repentance.

“Holiness” in This Life?

Some Christians mistakenly think that we, by our works, can become holy in God’s sight in this life. We cannot. Even the great apostle Paul confessed that, in his sinful flesh, there is always sin (Romans 7:18). If one starts to think that he can become holy in this life, by himself or even with God’s help, then he will no longer see his need for daily repentance because he will no longer see his need for Christ. There is only one “holiness” which we can have in this life — a most blessed holiness! — and that is the holiness which God, by His grace, places upon us (Romans 3:21ff.).

Sometimes You Can’t Repent?

There have been in the past those extreme sects which have taught that, once you are baptized, you are not permitted to fall from faith and if you do, you cannot be forgiven again. This false doctrine is condemned because it does not teach God’s mercy to sinners!

You Have to Earn Repentance?

Finally, the Lutherans made it clear that we must not teach that we by our works, prayers, offerings, or the like can somehow merit God’s forgiveness. To think that we can merit God’s forgiveness is to deny the one, perfect, all-sufficient payment of God’s only Son, our Savior Christ.

Repentance is . . .

“God, I have sinned against You and against my neighbor. For the sake of my Lord Jesus Christ, His suffering and death, please forgive me all my sins. Please help me, because of Your forgiveness, to live humbly and thankfully before You and my neighbor, and help me in my living to show forth Your love in Christ. And when I have particular sins which bother me, give my pastor grace to hear my private confession, to absolve me for Christ’s sake, and never to repeat my sins to others. All this I pray through Christ, Your Son, my dear Savior. Amen.”

This is repentance, in Christ, /s/ Pastor Wollenburg

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