-The Church of Rome teaches that in order to obtain God's forgiveness of "mortal" sins, we must confess them to an ordained, ministerial priest in a small room which is called a confessional booth (CCC#980). According to the Roman Catholic Church, this practice and water baptism are absolutely necessary for the salvation of our souls (CCC#1257; 2020). Roman Catholicism further maintains that Jesus Christ gave the twelve apostles the authority to absolve sins confessed to them, and draws its primary support from the scriptural text of John 20:23. The premise of this teaching is elaborated on by the claim that this apostolic authority was passed on to apostolic successors (Catholic bishops and priests of future generations). All faithful adherents of the Roman Catholic Church are obligated to embrace the practice of confessing mortal sins to a priest as sanctioned by God, under penalty of anathema. This custom is maintained in the Eastern Orthodox and certain Lutheran churches, but this article focuses primarily on the Roman Catholic Church.
- Confession To A Ministerial Priest Is Contrary To Biblical Teaching:
-The New Testament Scriptures are silent about an ordained ministerial priesthood. In other words, they say nothing about the designated office for ministerial priests or their supposed functions in the church. Never do we see the Greek word "hiereus," which is the Greek word for priest, filling in the role of any New Testament church offices. Instead, we are told that all Christians have been called to be priests (biblical references where the Greek word "hiereus" is used) who offer spiritual sacrifices to God under the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5-9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10). We give ourselves up by serving God through the preaching of and living in accordance to the principles of the gospel.
-In the Bible, we see that confession of sin took place in the presence of the offended individuals (Matthew 3:6; 18:15-17; Mark 1:4-5; Acts 19:18-19; James 5:16). In Scripture, we never see the confession of sin done with the mediatorship of priests. In the New Testament, confession of sin was never done privately, as is the manner of style found within the modern Church of Rome, but rather was a public act for all members of the church to hear. The most primitive Christians confessed their sins to another. In Scripture, we always see people praying directly to God for mercy (Psalm 32:5; Matthew 6:9-12; Acts 8:20-22; Luke 18:13-14). The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is not limited by any specific ritual. Justification is by faith apart from the merit of all works (Romans 3:27-28; Ephesians 2:8-9).
- Do Matthew 16:19 And John 20:23 Support The Notion That We Must Confess Our Sins To A Priest (And That They Have The Power To Forgive Our Sins)?:
-These verses say nothing about the confession of sins. These passages say nothing about apostolic authority being passed on to future leaders of the Christian church through apostolic succession. In the New Testament, we never see the apostles acting as if they had been given the authority to absolve sins. In fact, the New Testament epistles mention nothing about having opportunities to get forgiven for sins as a result of private confession to a priest. Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23 do not even limit the ability of "binding and loosing" or "forgiving and retaining sins" to the leaders of the church.
-The "keys" represent the authority to proclaim the salvation of converts and the condemnation of sinners (Luke 10:16). The keys are knowledge of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 23:13; Luke 11:52). The door of salvation is opened to those who accept the message of the gospel, whereas the door of condemnation is opened to those who reject the salvific message of the gospel (Acts 14:27; Romans 1:16). This passage is definitely within the context of the Great Commission, which is defined as the mission of preaching of the gospel to the world through the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:45-49). In the Book of Acts, converts such as Paul and Cornelius received the gift of the Holy Spirit. They rejoiced as a result of hearing the proclamation of eternal salvation. But notice how the Lord Jesus Christ instructed His original disciples to shake the dust off their feet when they encountered cities who rejected them for preaching the gospel message (Matthew 10:14-15; Mark 6:11; Acts 13:51). This is a perfect way of applying the principle of "loosing", or announcing the condemnation of sinners. Today, we serve as ambassadors for Christ by performing the ministry of reconciliation through the preaching of the gospel and conversion of perishing souls (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Christians have been authorized to declare the terms of forgiveness as provided by the gospel: holding fast by faith in Jesus Christ's death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). In short, John 20:23 is a more declarative and judicial way of sending the disciples into the world to declare the message of salvation. It is simply an authoritative exhortation made by our Lord Jesus Christ to bring lost people to the truth, which will set them free (John 8:31-32).
-The Greek structure of John 20:23 is rare. The first pair of verbs found in this passage, which are "forgive" and "retain", are in the present tense. In the same verse, both of the second pair of verb phrases ("are forgiven"; "are retained") are in the perfect tense, which points to an action that happened in the past but is still taking place. In other words, the grammatical structure of John 20:23 strongly suggests that God responds accordingly to a man's reaction to the gospel being made known to him before the proclamation of that decision to accept or reject the message of salvation. It is simply a proclamation of what God has already done in response to a person's decision to either accept or reject the gospel. This verse seems to read, "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins HAVE ALREADY BEEN (or "shall have been") forgiven." Jesus simply gave His disciples the authority to proclaim the forgiveness of people who were already justified in the sight of God. We simply announce and confirm what God has already done for us through the words that He has given us. This is not a matter of deciding to forgive or hold sins against people. The same comments are applicable to "binding and loosing" as found in Matthew 16:19.
- Background Information On The Historical Development Of Auricular Confession:
-The most primitive Christians viewed confession as a public matter. It was specifically pertinent to grave sins against other people. Confession of sin could only be done once to an offended party. The early church did not see sins forgiven through a priest through judicial absolution when confessed. It was not until the end of the second to early third centuries that we begin to see penances being introduced into the Christian church as a means of obtaining forgiveness of sins from God. Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church admits that the concept of confessing sins privately to a priest did not begin in the church until the seventh or eight centuries:
"…During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the “private” practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on [i.e., from the seventh century], the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament… " (CCC #1447)
- The Words Of Church Historian J.N.D Kelly:
-“With the dawn of the third century the rough outlines of a recognized penitential system were beginning to take shape. In spite of the ingenious arguments of certain scholars, there are still no signs of a sacrament of private penance (i.e. confession to a priest, followed by absolution and the imposition of a penance) such as Catholic Christendom knows to-day. The system which seems to have existed in the church at this time, and for centuries afterwards, was wholly public, involving confession, a period of penance and exclusion from communion, and formal absolution and restoration—the whole process being called exomologesis.” (“Early Christian Doctrines,” p. 216)
- Information From The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia Online:
-“Great difficulty is caused by varying terminology and practice during the lengthy time expanse under consideration. The word “penance” was used to designate both the entire sacramental procedure and the satisfaction performed by the penitent… Though confession was a necessary presupposition to reception of the Church’s sacramental Penance, it is not always certain what sort of confession was required… But to repeat, documents of the patristic period are difficult to interpret on this score, and unanimous agreement has not been reached among scholars."
- The Words Of Roman Catholic Priest S. B. Smith, D.D., In His “Notes on the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore” (October 7-21, 1866):
-"Public confession was practiced during the first ages of the Church. Yet it was restricted generally to sins that were public, or at least publicly committed. Not infrequently, however, secret crimes and sins were openly avowed. This was a voluntary confession on the part of the penitent. However, public confession soon gave rise to various abuses, and was consequently abolished under Leo I., in 459.” (Chapter XVII, paragraph 52, #237, page 208)
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