CONFESSIONA lot of people have never heard of private confession being offered in the Lutheran Church, and that's because a lot of pastors don't offer it. Some think that such an offering will bring up emotional and psychological baggage from those who left the Roman Catholic Church. But confession is a necessary part of our spiritual journey. Even if we just confess the sins we've committed one against the other, it's important that we admit our wrongs, ask for forgiveness, and receive absolution. In the Lutheran Church, moreover, it is not a requirement, but rather a suggestion.
What is private confession? Private confession has two parts. First, we make a personal confession of sins to the pastor, and then we receive absolution, which means forgiveness as from God himself. This absolution we should not doubt, but firmly believe that thereby our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. . .
What sins should we confess? Before God we should confess that we are guilty of all sins, even those which are not known to us, as we do in the Lord's Prayer. But in private confession, as before the pastor, we should confess only those sins which trouble us in heart and mind.
This is something that is also outlined in Luther's Small Catechism. Take a look at it, see what it says. Here is a brief exposition of what begins on p. 24 of the 1986 publication of the Small Catechism:
What is Confession?My husband published the Beichtspiegel on his blog. This provides a list of questions expounding on the Ten Commandments so that we might be able to recognize some of the sins we've committed and repent of them before the pastor in private confession.
Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven by God in heaven. . .
Because a lot of pastors don't offer private confession, most people in the LCMS don't know that it exists except as a Roman Catholic thing. I know I didn't until my husband and I joined our present church, and our pastor wrote in the Church calendar and in our bulletin when he would be offering private confession. (He offers it about once a month, always on a Saturday afternoon.)
We know that we are grievous sinners, all of us. But how many times do we sin against someone else or against ourselves, not pray about it, and go along our daily lives unrepentant and unforgiven for those thoughts, words and deeds? When we confess our sins and receive absolution in private confession, it gives us a chance to reflect upon our sins, talk about why they were wrong or what we can do to avoid them in the future, and receive absolution for them.
Because our pastors are called and ordained servants of the Word, we have assurance that the forgiveness our pastors give us can be accepted as if God, Himself, is speaking to us through the pastors' words. (See the bottom of p. 26 of the aforementioned Small Catechism.) God gives pastors the ability to absolve us of our sins because He speaks to us through them. Furthermore, our pastors can supply us with Scripture passages to comfort us and strengthen our faith.
This was one practice of the Roman Catholic Church that Martin Luther believed was an important part of the faith life of Christians. It was something he believed should continue. Unfortunately, as many churches in the LCMS stray toward more liberal and contemporary methods of services and ministry to congregants, these practices are left by the wayside as "too Catholic" or "too rigid" or "too personal," etc. The last of these is sealed by vows of confidentiality. As for being "too Catholic," it is a catholic (small c) practice, meant to provide comfort and strength, as well as reflection.
It may not be something you're used to or particularly like the sound of when you first hear about it, especially if you come from a Catholic background. I was a little unsure of it when my husband and I started going to private confession about two years ago, but it has since become a comfort to me. I'm sure it would be a comfort for any of you, too.