Thursday, February 8, 2018

Strength For Our Journey Along The Way

Following that last published essay in the C.F.W. Walther book, I started to spend more time on individual confession and absolution. The very next year in 2012 permitted me a key-note address at the Catechism Convocation for the People sponsored by LC-MS pastors in Southern California. My paper was entitled, "Individual Confession and Absolution as Integral to Pastoral Care: An Apologetic." Issues, Etc. had me on the air to discuss the paper and the project turned out to be invigorating and the delivery of the paper was exciting.

The following year, this very subject matter came up at the national, synodical convention of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Here is Resolution 4-13 from the 2013 national convention:

To Encourage Confession and Absolution for Pastors RESOLUTION 4-13 Overture 4-13 (CW, p. 168–169)

Whereas, In confession “[i]t is not the voice or word of the man who speaks, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command” (AC XXV 3 [Tappert]); and

Whereas, Our pastors are bound by the Word of God and their ordination vows “never to divulge the sins confessed to them” (Lutheran Service Book: Agenda); and

Whereas, While no one should be forced to go to confession (“no one should be compelled to recount sins in detail” (AC XXV 7), it is also true that confession should be made available for those whose conscience is troubled (“Yet the preachers on our side diligently teach that confession is to be retained for the sake of absolution,…for the consolation of terrified consciences” [AC XXV 13]); and

Whereas, Pastors may also become aware of sins that they themselves have committed and desire to confess them to another pastor, as Luther describes in the Small Catechism, and so receive absolution; and

Whereas, The Synod in 2007 “[r]esolved, that both laity and pastors be encouraged to make greater use of individual confession and absolution” (Res. 2-07A); therefore be it

Resolved, That the Synod in convention state its commitment that in all activities, offices, and agencies of the Synod, the goal is that all might “hear the Word of the Gospel” (Acts 15:7), as referenced in the Preamble of the LCMS Constitution; and be it further

Resolved, That the pastors of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod be reassured that the Synod takes very seriously the spiritual welfare of her pastors and encourages them, when they feel a need to avail themselves of private absolution, that they should do so; and be it further

Resolved, That pastors be encouraged to seek a father confessor or the district president will provide for the penitent pastor the name and contact information for another pastor who is able and willing to hear that confession and offer absolution; and be it further

Resolved, That the convention make clear that no one is being forced to confess sins, or even to confess privately, but that this resolution makes provision only for those pastors who have a desire to make use of private confession but who are unsure where they may go to make such a confession to another pastor and hear the word of absolution; and be it further

Resolved, That the Commission on Theology and Church Relations provide a document that sets forth our church’s teaching on confession and absolution and offers positive guidance to pastors and congregations in their exercise of the Office of the Keys; and be it finally

Resolved, That the Synod in convention give thanks to God for all the means He has given to His church whereby the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ is received.

Action: Adopted (9)

(After debate, the resolution was adopted as presented [Yes: 840; No: 32].)

After the resolution was passed, I was contacted by the CTCR and invited to draft the document. I was happy to comply. In 2014 I submitted my first draft to the CTCR and the following year, 2015, presented the final draft. I have a feeling that the Church might be seeing this come out in 2018. We shall see. The document I submitted contains the following major sections:

Part 1: Foundations

This section covers definitions, the Scriptural witness on the subject matter, the Confessional witness on the subject matter, history on its use and development in the Church, and finally contemporary challenges.

Part 2: Helping the Pastor

Here several needs are discussed which amount to the unique challenges encountered in the pastoral ministry. This is rounded out by who may serve as a confessor, reasons why every pastor ought have a confessor, Luther's example, learning to embrace the tentatio in holy ministry, and finally implementation with guidance on how to find a confessor.

Part 3: Extending the Gift to the Congregation

Here I discuss the general need which persists in the local parish, the great benefit involved in offering this resource both to the pastor and laity, the specific benefit of confessing what needs to be confessed, the second specific benefit of ensuring that the gospel is personally received, and the last specific benefit which discusses how the practice brings pastor and people closer together. Finally, I discuss the restoration of the practice.

But what does this have to do with the Christian in culture? It is a singular hiding place. I don't mean "hiding" as in a monastery or a form of escapism. Rather, it is a place to regather; it is a place for restoration. Indeed, we are called to be Christ's witnesses; light to the world, and salt to the earth. To be these, however, is to feel and know exertion, and it is to be confronted by our own sin and weakness. Where do we go when we feel our burden? One place we may go for help is where we go to receive individual confession and absolution. It is one of the free gospel-gifts. That is to say, it is optional, but it is still there. This is yet another reason pastors are given. Let us use this gift. Let us receive the great consolation that flows from it. It will also strengthen us to go back out to live in the culture as people with those who have received it and who now share it with a world that desperately needs it. 

If you are interested, take a look at the short service as presented in The Lutheran Service Book hymnal on pages 292-293. Remember, what is most important about this gift is not the "quality" of your confession, but the enormity of the absolution. This is the real treasure: the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ pronounced to you beyond a shadow of a doubt.

In the upcoming book Faith That Sees Through The Culture one of the most important stories in the book is about my personal discovery -- beyond academic knowledge -- side-by-side a sister in Christ that I served at my first parish. She granted her permission for me to use her real identity in the book. LC-MS Deaconess (retired) Patty Kristofic permitted me to the great honor and privilege of serving her with this gift. What I witnessed in her was transformative. The Lord worked through my sister to teach me the importance of this gift. I have not stopped using it sense, both for myself and for others. I take this opportunity to thank my Father Confessors over the years: Rev. Timothy Seals, Rev. Dr. Scott Murray, and Rev. Robert Dargatz. Pastor Seals served me during my first stint in Southern Cal, Pastor Murray served me while I was in Texas; and Pastor Dargatz serves me now. I thank God for these men.

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