Posted by Sheila Thomasson

“Did You Know?”
It’s always interesting when we get together for a class, whether a Bible study or a book review. St. John’s is blessed to be filled with members from such diverse backgrounds and experiences that it is always enlightening for all of us as we share thoughts and feelings. Recently I met with a number of our adult members during Vacation Bible School as I taught the Adult Class. As usual, the conversation was great and I learned as much from the class members as they did from me. During classes, on a number of occasions we realized that the Lutheran Church has some ministries with which we were unfamiliar. My September column will look at just one of those ministries that came up during our class. The resource for much of what I write comes from Commentary on the Occasional Services by Philip Pfatteicher (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1983). Interesting sidenote: Dr. Pfatteicher was a pastor to our daughter Samantha in Pittsburgh.

During VBS, one topic that came up was “confession.” We are familiar with the every Sunday use of “Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness,” for this is how we begin our worship services. We participate in what is known as corporate confession and then hear the pastor pronounce absolution upon us. But within Lutheranism, there is also an “Order for Private Confession and Absolution” where an individual may meet with the pastor for private confession and the pronouncement of absolution. Many in the class found this an unfamiliar offering. It seemed strange to think that we still have a service or occasion where we would meet privately with the pastor to confess our sins, perhaps even naming them outloud. Quoting from Pfatteicher, “Individual Confession and Forgiveness is intended for use as a personal application of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. It is a traditional use of what the Lutheran confessions call ‘the power (or office) of the keys,’ to disclose ‘a sure and firm consolation for the conscience.’”

In my ministry I have found this service helpful for many people but especially beneficial for those who are troubled with a particularly bothersome sin which they feel a need to share out loud with one in a position to pronounce the forgiveness of God. Basically, the form for Individual Confession and Forgiveness includes a greeting, a prayer of confession which may include an enumeration of particular sins, and a statement of absolution. The Commentary suggests it be used in the Church’s Ministry of Healing as well as in counseling the separated or divorced.

Again, relying on Pfatteicher, “Luther intended confession and absolution especially for those who were about to receive Holy Communion, and the Lutheran Churches have maintained that connection. The initial rubric (rule) in the Church Book regarding private confession relates first to the reception of Holy Communion and then secondly to spiritual growth. Regardless of the occasion where this ‘Order’ may be used, the issue is always that “Confession is to be genuine, and it is to be free. Absolution is to be given only to such persons as are truly penitent, and sincerely determined to amend their ways; for without genuine repentance there is no forgiveness.”

Some may struggle to believe they need to share their deepest, darkest secrets (sins) with another living soul, although they feel very comfortable sharing them with God directly. Others, however, do find great comfort in sharing the darkness in their soul with their pastor and hearing their pastor pronounce absolution to them individually. Personally, I find it comforting that our Lutheran Church has kept this “Order” available for any of us who feel that we might be helped by it.

Please feel free to catch up with me to discuss the “Order for Individual Confession and Forgiveness” and what it means. Perhaps when we finish that conversation, we can continue on to discuss some of the other Occasional Services that are available to help us in our spiritual growth and relationship to God through Jesus Christ. May we all be aware of God’s blessings and our hope.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Butler +