Can a Person Absolve your Sins? Drum roll please…

A penitent confessing his sins in the former L...

Image via Wikipedia (confessing to another)

About 500 years ago there was this spat. At the time, having your sins forgiven was a sort of pay as you go thing. It was a bit like a toll road.

The toll booth worker was the Priest. If you bought “indulgences” the Priest could better settle up your debt with God.

Handy little business model, especially when folks hope to avoid damnation, right?

This became rather upsetting. So these Reformer types started protesting. It was not so much to split from the Church, but to transform it–at first.

Of course, men can get pretty riled up about their new fantastic ideas (ever seen that?), and before anyone realized it, a huge split…others might say a heresy or rebellion… was cemented into place in history–forever changing the landscape of Christianity.

Spiritually speaking, some good was gained (and Catholics adjusted to these grievances by the 1960s with Vatican II), but as more and more people are beginning to realizing now, some very good and important things were lost because of going this route.

So, what is the real purpose of a priest, or priest-like figure? Is it necessary? Can absolution of sin come from a man in a white collar? What about a teenager in a crew neck? Or a lady with a scarf?

Drum roll, please…..

Oh!  Wait! Before, you start gathering firewood and a sturdy stake for my conflagration, please hear me out the entire way. (Then have at it; I’d like to hear from you.)

The I Timothy 2:5 “one mediator” verse is often used to underscore that Christ alone can forgive sins and be our mediator to God. It’s true. This was the mission of the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

But Protestants have, by the over-reactive trailblazing of the Reformers, missed quite a bit of the spiritual benefits of what Jesus’ brother James talks about:

James 5:16
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

What is James saying…that confession and other believers’ prayers are powerful and effective against sin? Yes.

Okay, not a total gasp. But how does this play out? You may wonder…

This confessing to each other is not the same as be able to actually take Jesus’ place (obviously). James shows us that confession to each other works. It does something important. God wants it to be done this way.

It absolves us (because God absolves us). So, it is true that we personally experience the relief of our guilt being removed. We experience, in real terms, the agency of God’s forgiveness of our guilt. Someone is there beside us, standing in the gap for us, so we can be reconciled more thoroughly, more completely than we can experience it otherwise. It is God’s work; and we are agents of his ministry.

These confessors  to whom we confess become a flesh and blood representation of God’s love that promotes gracious forgiveness and offers wholeness. It offers us freedom from guilt (felt guilt, and feeling or thinking as if Christ‘s work is not complete). It puts flesh on our spiritual justification.

It seems we can’t handle our sin on our own too well, at all.

We are sinful, and it’s not a private matter.

Just confessing to God, and keeping our mistakes and sin to ourselves, is not the recommendation and requirement of Christ’s disciples.

The Community of God (i.e. the Church; our brothers and sisters in the Lord) plays a vital role in our spiritual growth and growth in grace. Confession ushers in that felt healing of the sin and guilt which weigh us down, and disables us.

Our sin is a rejection of community (aka The Bride of Christ) and an act of selfishness.

Our sin is a destructive thing. Socially and spiritually destructive.

Confession and absolution, (the kind you might say/declare out loud to another person) restore us at a core level. To ourselves, to God, and to community (aka The Bride of Christ).

In this way, we act not as God, but on God’s behalf. We minister.

It is simply true that he forgives us. We concur and offer social restoration, and remind the confessing one of God’s gracious work and love for us.

We minister to each other, on equal footing, and we may offer God’s grace to a brother or sister who cannot yet properly apprehend it. We can accept their confession and offer forgiveness, so we speak the Truth of God’s Kingdom into their life. We help set the captives free. (Not because God can’t do it without us, but because he wishes to use us this way.)

YES. We may say, “You have confessed, and you are forgiven. God absolves you. I, too, forgive you. Go in peace, and rest in his love.”

Please offer this to others. Ask for it on your behalf, too.

Will you comment on this topic, please? Your input is vital on this one. Thank you.

10 responses to “Can a Person Absolve your Sins? Drum roll please…

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Can a Person Absolve your Sins? Drum roll please… | (Life As Prayer, and other stuff) --

  2. “In confession a man breaks through to certainty. Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God? …We must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution.”

    John Paul II? NO! Lutheran theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Life Together.” His entire treatment of confession in that book makes an excellent gloss on your blog, as does Richard Foster’s chapter on the same subject in “Celebration of Discipline.”

  3. There was a lot of content in that post to think about and respond to. First, I think that the role of a human priest is foreign to the New Testament and probably antithetical to it.

    Second, to agree with much of the thrust of this post, I think that confession (to other people) is necessary, not optional. My guess is that most Christians will say that we only need to confess to God directly. God is of course the primary one offended by our sin and we do need to confess to God, but also confess our sins to one another. This, however, can be fostered but not forced. It should be expected though.

    Third, you lost me on the absolution. If you simply mean that we can remind others of God’s Word that they will be forgiven as they confess their sins, then yes. More, than that and I’m gonna need more convincing.

    The James passage you mention is important and we all probably ought to spend more time exegeting and applying it.
    (Side note: Since James is ‘an epistle of straw,’ shouldn’t we remove it from the canon? ) ;-p

  4. warwickfuller

    I like the many colors of the fonts. Of that you are forgiven, with no confession needed.

  5. Nice post. 🙂

    Keeping in mind, James does not say that confession to one another brings forgiveness. But, there is an element that the confession to one another brings about that confession to God does not – accountability….and I don’t mean the kind that one asks another “did you screw up today?”…but rather accountability that shares each others’ burdens.

    About forgiveness…we’ve lost something in the church today that the church in Jesus’ day had. They understood that forgiveness was something that only God the Father could do – and there was a great price to be paid for that forgiveness. Before Jesus, there was required blood shed to receive forgiveness….

    In Mark 2:1-12 Jesus heals a paralyzed man. But what happened first was interesting (to me). The friends lower the man from the roof – and Jesus says “Son, your sins are forgiven”. The seminary professors and theologians of the day got indignant and said to each other “This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!“.

    Jesus asks them, “Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.”…..“Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

    The people of the day were more quick to believe in healing of a paralyzed man than they could accept sins being forgiven.

    Today’s Church often has it the other way around…more surprised (dare I say suspicious) that God can heal than that He can forgive.

  6. Now that you put it this way, there have been times when I’ve sensed something from God to share with someone. And so, in that way, I could see “absolving” someone on the basis of what God is telling me. I suppose I get uncomfortable with reconciliation as an official office or ceremonial duty where someone HAS to absolve you if you play the part of the penitent. It seems to me that it’s supposed to be a little more organic than that, but then again, I’m just a low-church Protestant…

  7. I guess small groups can serve this function. I’ve even heard of “accountability groups,” but have never really seen one in action. Sounds like something we need, though.