19 July 2007

Private Confession and Absolution

With all the doom and gloom and griping already arising from the Synodical Convention, it was joy to read that this resolution passed overwhelmingly (96%):

To Encourage Individual Confession and Absolution


Overture 2- 12 (CW, p. 142)

WHEREAS, Our Lord has granted to all Christians the joy and privilege of speaking the forgiveness of sins to one another; and

WHEREAS, Our Lord has also given to His church the gift of individual confession and absolution where the pastor's word of absolution is spoken to the penitent as by Christ Himself (John 20:19–23); and

WHEREAS, Individual confession and absolution is clearly set forth in our Lutheran Confessions as well as the Synod's explanation to the Small Catechism; and

WHEREAS, The opportunity to use individual confession and absolution was a practice cherished strongly by Luther, Walther, Loehe, and other prominent Lutheran fathers; and

WHEREAS, Lutheran Service Book offers rites and resources for the use of individual confession and absolution for pastoral care; and

WHEREAS, Individual confess ion and absolution is an important means of pastoral care; therefore be it

Resolved, That pastors and congregations be encouraged to study the scriptural, confessional, and historical witness to individual confession and absolution with a view toward recovering the regular availability of its practice in our congregations; and be it further

Resolved, That the seminaries be encouraged to provide additional guidance through articles in the seminary journals and in presentations to pastors' conferences; and be it further

Resolved, That both laity and pastors be encouraged to make greater use of individual confession and absolution; and be it finally

Resolved, That all Christians be bold in speaking Christ's word of forgiveness to one another.

Action: Adopted


cheryl said...

That is wonderful. How will the Church actively encourage the re-emergence of private Confession?

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Whoohoo! :)

Let it be done for us as we believe! :)

William Weedon said...


It remains to be seen, I suppose, but now those who ask for it can say: "Didn't the Synod in convention encourage you to be offering it to me?"




Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

I am grateful for any steps forward on this in our church body, yet at the cost of looking like I am being cynical or judgmental, I admit that an act like this on the part of the synod in convention comes across to me a bit hollow. As I say, I am grateful for what is there. What I'm trying to express, though, is that if the synod wants to convince her people that she is serious about resurrecting Confession, and if the synod really wants to "encourage" the practice, then this could be actually accomplished by doing things like emphasizing the absolute seal of Confession, and in so doing, perhaps begin to make up for past weaknesses on that point (eg. the CTCR document on the pastor-penitent relationship). Perhaps the teaching of the seminaries that this resolution calls for will do that. That would be a positive change, since it is an open secret that seminarians for some time now have been taught to break the seal.

William Weedon said...

It has, of course, been many, many years since I was at seminary. But when I was there, we were told flat out: 1) The state does not recognize the right of the seal in the Lutheran Church as it does in the Roman; 2) Therefore you must be prepared to go to jail to keep your ordination promise "not to divulge the sins confessed to you." Anyone else out there remember the class with Dr. Knippel where he laid this out to us in very blunt terms?

I have never heard a confession under the assumption that I would be at liberty to divulge its contents under any circumstances; the seal for me has always been absolute.

Jim Roemke said...

I have just gotten encouragement to offer regular times for confession and absolution from my board of elders and am encouraged by their support of the office of the keys.
Pastors especially need to be encouraged to partake in this joyful rite for their own edification and evangelical piety.

Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Your position on the seal comes as no surprise to me, yet I think it does a great deal of good for pastors to speak it loud & clear, whether in the pulpit, classroom, blogworld, whatever. I praise God for your witness.

Jimbo said...

cool. Now I can teach spend some major time during elders meetings teaching "the scriptural, confessional, and historical witness to individual confession and absolution with a view toward recovering the regular availability of its practice in our congregations", and if any elder complains, I can say, "Hey, [he/you] voted for it at Synod in convention" - since one of my elders was our circuit's lay delegate.

Jimbo said...

(oops, forgot to edit out the first "teach")

Fraser Pearce said...

Thanks for posting this good news.

Anonymous said...

My question is, who were the 4% who voted against the resolution? And why?

William Weedon said...


No way of knowing who voted against it or why, but given the way votes go at Synodical conventions, that's about as unanimous as it tends to get on average. I think I've only seen one 100% vote in the history of the Convention that I've been acquainted with. I *think* it was for fellowship with the Lutheran Church in Haiti. It shocked everyone!

Past Elder said...

I'm really interested in the statement that the state does not recognise the "seal" for Lutheran pastors as for Roman priests.

Is "state" in the sense of the Federal government, or in the sense of US jurisdictional states that may vary from state to state if they do not conflict with Federal law?

On a side note, the phrase as I first heard it was "seal of the confessional", that being in my preconciliar RC youth. Now that, as of my last experience, there are no longer confessionals but "reconciliation room", I wonder if the Brave New Church has a "seal of the reconciliation room".

If I ever get elected Elder again, or more accurately if I am ever elected an LCMS elder, since I was an elder in WELS, the pastor will have nothing but encouragement from me re private confession.

Christine said...

My priests always refer to "Confession" and the "Confessional". Last time I went it was pretty much as you experienced it, Past Elder. A sacrament as it has always been.

The fact that the state does not recognize Lutheran private confession does not surprise me. The general public pretty much considers Lutherans Protestant, even if they disagree.

Chris Jones said...


The point is not whether or not Lutherans are "Protestant" (whatever that means), but whether the teaching and the discipline of our Church is to be given the same respect by the State that is given to the Roman Catholic Church. Since our teaching and practice with respect to the seal of the confessional is the same as that of the Roman Catholic Church, there is no reason why the state should respect the one and not the other. If it does not, that is, in effect, an establishment of religion.

I am curious: Eastern Orthodox priests hear confessions under the same seal that Roman Catholic priests do. Does the state respect the seal for them, as for Catholics? or disrespect it, as for Lutherans? And in either case, what possible legitimate legal basis can there be for treating different Christian confessions differently?

Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that the heirarchy in Orthodoxy and in Roman Catholicism may have something to do with it, as well as the clear teaching of the church. Priests hear confessions, and those confessions are under the seal (although that has been challenged often).

Lutherans in their various forms aren't all that clear, and no one really "speaks for the Church."

I suspect that this may account for the difference in the way things are regarded. Many protestant-evangelical churches really don't have confession and absolution ... and in many of theose churches there aren't really clear standards for who is clergy and who not.

Just some thoughts ....


Past Elder said...

I'm still wondering what statute on which level of government does not recognise Lutheran confession and the seal thereof.

It's true that Lutherans are generally held to be Protestants. That's what I thought myself -- until I read the Confessions.

It's nice that there are confessionals somewhere. I guess Catholic is as Catholic does. In my own parish growing up, what were once confessionals were remodelled, so that on one side you could go as before, but on the other you sat face to face with the priest -- which was the preferred method, since we now, it was explained to us, not as a private opinion but what our Catholic priests and teachers taught us, it isn't just us and Christ but we are the People of God and repentance is the restoration and reconciliation of the penitent with the faith community. Maybe forgiveness of sin was in there somewhere. And a nice sign with "Reconciiation Room" was put on the door. Those of us who couldn't quite get with it, who still thought as we had been taught that the screen was a reminder that even if we knew the priest he wasn't there as a man but in loco Christi to speak Christ's forgiveness could still hang with our outdated me and Christ stuff.

Kind of a mini motu proprio before its time: one sacrament with two observances, never mind that each "observance" proceeds from a radially different idea about what it is that is going on. Now we've got, in typical Roman fashion, one whole rite with two observances. Not a big leap, really, and what the whole idea of several (I think there's still four in the novus ordo) Masses being one Mass in the missal was to prepare.

And they said the cafeteria was closed! Officially yes. In practice, it's Burger King -- have it your way! Oh well, good this came up after Houston -- reminds me that our LCMS problems are a walk in the park after what I've lived through. Now if only we'd stop patterning our worship books after their new ones!

Past Elder said...

PS -- in my post conciliar experience, the term confessional was used in only one place, the old neighbourhood bar in what was once the Irish part of town. It was a reference to the rest room. One said "I'm going to the confessional" instead of "I'm going to the can". The basement/storeroom was the "catacombs", the Saturday gathering for sing along was "choir practice", on and on. You heard more of that lingo at the Shamrock Bar than at St Pat's!

Man I'm glad I'm Lutheran!

Christine said...

Lutherans in their various forms aren't all that clear, and no one really "speaks for the Church."

Exactly. In my little Bavarian hometown there were basically two churches: the "Evangelical" (or Lutheran) Church and the Roman Catholic Church. No one ever referred to the Evangelical Church as "catholic" in any sense.

Since the RC and even the EO churches have a recognized body of canon law that is explicit about the function of sacramental confession they have long been acknowledged to have the "seal" of confession.

Nevertheless, I am glad to hear the LCMS has placed a new emphasis on private confession, although I will be amazed if it is offered at the Willow Creek style LCMS mission congregation down the road from my house. One literally has to search their website to find "sacraments" in any form.

William Weedon said...

The teaching of the Lutheran Church is contained in her Symbols, which all teach the retention of private confession and absolution. Though there is no mention of the seal of the confessional, it is very clearly presummed in the retention of the practice itself. Nevertheless, the fact that Lutherans had come to rarely practice private confession and absolution no doubt accounts for the fact that the courts (and that is where I think the matter took shape, Past Elder) did not recognize the right of a Lutheran clergyman to claim the seal. I'm not sure whether the courts have changed on that in the last 21 years, but I was told that was the situation when I graduated. I am trying to remember where the situation obtained and I *think* it was a judicial ruling in Florida. But note that sense the publication of Lutheran Worship Agenda and then continued in Lutheran Service Book all Missouri pastors are obligated to the seal by their very ordination vows: "And will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you." The presence of such in our liturgy may make a difference in arguing in court about whether it was "just counselling" or what is for us tantamount to a sacramental act. FWIW.

William Weedon said...

since, not sense! GRR.

Past Elder said...

I would not be surprised at all if this were a matter of judicial precedent rather than legislative statute.

As to a "new emphasis" on private confession, maybe the RC church will follow suit. Of the many "Catholics" I know, I know of none who find private confession anything of major importance to their "religion", reconciliation rooms and all.