Dr Martin Luther did not post his 95 Theses and then be pursued for the next 30 odd years to have the baby thrown out with the bath water. He had problems with the Roman Church, but it was not about liturgy or Biblical practices, it was about abuses that arose from the Roman Church adding to the Bible. Communion, baptism, confession were not an issue, Luther had no problem with these because they were Biblical. He did have problems with the ways they had become corrupted, but not with the biblical principals.
However subsequent “reformers” chose to dump those practices that they just did not like. Not that they were unbiblical, they just didn’t like practices such as understanding that baptism meant new birth in Jesus. They just did not like that the bread and wine in communion, were the actual Body and Blood of Jesus, they didn’t like the idea of confessing to another person, even though the Bible is pretty clear. It frankly seems as though those who come through Reformed Christianity or other avenues that only seem to emphasize personal preferences, or personal improvement in order to further their own lives, come to the realization that the spiritual practices of Christianity do have a much more profound meaning and do what is far more important in our lives, build our relationship with God.
Mark Buchanan is very much in the Reformed Christian branch of Protestantism, an ordained Baptist minister and well known author. He also quotes Richard Foster, a Quaker, definitely not Lutheran! In his book Your God is too Safe (p 166) “…Protestants became so scornful of the Roman Catholic practice of confession that we dropped it altogether and ended up creating churches of smiling, laughing, savvy people who are dying on the inside and too afraid to let anyone know. First Church of the Whitewashed Tombs. This, too, bypasses the real issue of spiritual growth. Rather than bear fruit, we’ve tended to paint it on and hope nobody notices that we have no real roots or sap to grow fruit anyhow.”
Full disclosure, I would have to concede, that even though Lutherans retain the confessional, corporate and individual confession, they don’t really practice it. When I was at seminary, graduated 2010, the seminary chaplain held confession every Wednesday. Out of about 500 students and maybe 100 professors, staff etc, he said that he had about 25 people attend confession, about 5% of the possible population. I was one of the 5% and found great benefit in personal confession. Lutherans talk confession, but actual practice, eh… not so much.
Lutherans do practice corporate confession, meaning at the beginning of every worship, we have confession, agreeing we are sinners in need of divine forgiveness and then I announce that as “a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ and by His authority I forgive you all of your sins.” So I’m sure many feel that the base is covered.
Pastor Buchanan goes on to say: ” Confession is when we quit all the deal making, the sidestepping, the mask wearing, the pretense and preening and we get bone-deep honest before God…” (p 167)
“…In order to present our real selves to God, we need to be honest with ourselves about ourselves and honest about ourselves to at least one other trusted and godly person.”
I submit, being a person that has to learn all about the subject, has been trained to listen, has taken an oath to never discuss anything that has been confessed to him, called the “sanctity of the confessional” which is even recognized under the law and would be a reason to discharge me from the ministry should I violate that sanctity, that maybe you want me to be that “trusted and godly person.” Puhlease do not get some goofy idea that this feeds some prurient interest on my part. Nothing could be further from the truth, hearing someone’s confession is not something that I relish or look forward to. But I see it as a responsibility. As a pastor I am going to be held to a higher standard in the final judgment and I am not going to be put in the position of being asked, “it would have helped people to know that you offered regular confession, you had the opportunity to do it, why didn’t you?
While Dr Luther did not have a problem with confession, he did have a problem with how the Roman church did business conducting confession. I will readily stipulate that because the concept of confession has been undermined and frankly trivialized by the Roman church (to wit, go and say five Hail Marys and the stations of the cross, come back and I will forgive you), that has allowed most to simply dismiss it as a relic of a past church. As a baptized Christian you are forgiven, we have that assurance when we take the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. Yes you are forgiven. Jesus died for all your sins. Your works do not add to your forgiveness.
Having said that Pastor Buchanan quotes Richard Foster (please note that Mr Foster is a Quaker, again not a Roman Catholic with an agenda, or Lutheran for that matter.):
“The person who has known forgiveness and release from persistent, nagging habits of sin through private confession [that is, to God alone] should rejoice greatly in this evidence of God’s mercy. But there are others for whom this has not happened. Let me describe what it is like. We have prayed, even begged, for forgiveness and though we hope we have been forgiven, we sense no release. We doubt our forgiveness and despair at our confession. We fear that perhaps we have made confession only to ourselves and not to God. The haunting sorrows and hurts of the past have not been healed. We try to convince ourselves that God forgives only the sin; he does not heal the memory. But deep within … we know there must be something more. People have told us to take our forgiveness by faith and not call God a liar. Not wanting to call God a liar, we do our best to take it by faith. But because misery and bitterness remain in our lives, we again despair. Eventually we begin to believe either that forgiveness is only a ticket to heaven and not to affect our lives now, or that we are unworthy of the forgiving grace of God.”
I’ve had men tell me “I don’t confess my sin to men.” Well tough guy that’s not biblical, it’s just not. James’ epistle 5:16 clearly states: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Ya, you may think you have it altogether, but honestly, those are the type of people that end up with all sorts of additional problems that they allow to come between themselves and God. The manly thing to do? I did it. Sit across from someone who you can trust and say I need absolution, I need to know from someone I can trust (your pastor) that I am forgiven. If you want to go into detail I will certainly listen and help you. I do not, however, need to hear the detail. I do not even need to hear the particular besetting sin. But if you are in any doubt, or need assurance, your pastor will sit across from you and provide that. That is at least for those churches that provide for confession.
Listen, tough guy, you want to be tough? Stand up, admit your sin, know that you are forgiven, go back into the world and truly live the life in Christ. Frankly the biggest cowards I’ve seen are the ones that can’t stand up to their sins, to those they’ve sinned against and of course that is always against God. Who refuse to know that they are forgiven and will know how to live his life truly in Jesus. Ask yourself can you really continue to live a life that is as Pastor Buchanan describes: “in churches of smiling, laughing, savvy people who are dying on the inside and too afraid to let anyone know. First Church of the Whitewashed Tombs.” Ya know, going through the motions, doing the “right” thing, knowing that you are just living a farce, never really dealing with your relationship with Jesus and your fellow man, just making it up. Wow, this is from guys who would tell me how much they can’t stand phonies. Ya, really dude? Take a look in the mirror.
Let’s all be real, strong men (and women), deal with the things we need to deal with, with someone we can trust. Get in their with your pastor, tell him what’s happening, get the assurance that you are forgiven in Jesus, maybe some objective guidance as to how to move on from a besetting sin, put it behind you and grow in your relationship with Jesus. Sorry guys, you are nowhere near as smart and tough and savvy as you think. I know that, because I know I’m not. Let’s get real together, move on as men together and do some real stuff. Then we can really smile, laugh and be savvy and show the world what it really means to be a Christian man.