The Power to Forgive SinsThe Problem: Most Christians insist that no one need go to a priest to confess sins, rather one should only approach Jesus Christ in his heart, for only Christ can forgive sins. Oddly enough, while they deny that human mediation is necessary for the cleansing of sin in confession, all denominations require a human mediator for baptism; i.e., no Christian denomination allows a believer to baptize himself. This is true even for those denominations which assert baptism does not cleanse from sin, but is only a seal.
The Truth: As the Body of Christ, the Church has the power to forgive sins, an authority granted by Jesus Christ through His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection, to the Apostles and to their consecrated successors.
Acts 8:13,18-24 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.... Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, "Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20 But Peter said to him, "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." 24 And Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me."
Simon asks the Apostles to mediate his forgiveness. The Apostles hold a priestly office.
Num 5:6-7 "Say to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that men commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person is guilty, 7 he shall confess his sin which he has committed; and he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it, and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong.
The sacrament of Confession was prefigured in the Old Testament...
Lev 26:39-40 And those of you that are left shall pine away in your enemies' lands because of their iniquity; and also because of the iniquities of their fathers they shall pine away like them. 40 "But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery which they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me,
2 Sam 12:13 David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." And Nathan said to David, "The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord"; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.
Prov 28:13 He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
...and in the baptism of John.
Mt 3:5-6 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Mk 1:5 And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins
The section from Isaiah to 2 Cor 2:10 below is a very quick summary of Tim Staple's "I Confess," Envoy, Nov. 97-Feb. 98, pp. 42-44.
Is 43:25 "I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Only God forgives sins...
Lev 19:20-22 "If a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave, betrothed to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; 21 but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. 22 And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.
but a priest intercedes and mediates for sinners.
Heb 3:1 Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession
Christ is the only High Priest...
1 Pet 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
But everyone is a member of the holy priesthood of believers, through being part of Christ's body. In this passage Peter refers to the Old Testament, Exodus 19:6, and Isaiah 61:6. Israel, a nation of holy priests, had the Aaronic and Levitical priesthoods as mediators. Thus, Peter expressly links the Israelite manner of priesthood with the New Covenant's manner of priesthood. Christ, who alone can forgive sins, explicitly gives the power to forgive sins to the Apostles, making them the new mediating priesthood for the Body of new believers God would build up as His own.
Jn 13:5-15 Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. 6 He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, "Lord, do you wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered him, "What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you." 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, "You are not all clean." 12 When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Baptism washes one clean of sins, but Christ washes the Apostles' feet. He expressly says that the Apostles will not understand what He is doing until "afterward" - a reference to His death. Christ is not just demonstrating humility, for Christ has already said that the Apostles won't fully understand His action now, and Peter understands that Jesus is humbling Himself before him. Christ gives them a hint by stating that whoever has bathed has no need of washing again, except for his feet. The feet are the only part of the body which is in habitual contact with the ground, with the world. The Hebrew euphemism for relieving oneself is "to cover one's feet" (cf. 1 Sam 24:3, where Saul enters the cave to "ease nature."), when Christ washes feet, He washes away more than dust. If this action were not a type for confession, then why has no Christian denominations instituted the "seal" of the washing of feet, in order to fulfill the command of John 13:14-15? The Last Supper begins with the washing of feet. Thus, even though baptism cleanses, more cleansing is required throughout life. When do the Apostles finally understand what Christ did?
Jn 20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
Jesus Christ sends the Apostles in the SAME way He was sent from the Father: with the Divine authority to reconcile the world to God through the forgiveness of sins. God breathes on man only twice in all of Scripture - once in Genesis when He breathes the breath of life into Adam, through whom we were all given life, and again here, at the completion of the New Creation, when He breathes on the Apostles, through whom we all attain new life in Christ. The risen Christ, who alone won our redemption, gave the Apostles the power to raise people from spiritual death, which is sin.
Lk 22:29-30 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
2 Cor 2:10 Any one whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ,...
Mind-reading is not part of the sacramental gift. Sins must be stated to be forgiven. Just as no one can baptize themselves, but must instead go to another to be cleansed in baptism, so we must go to another to be cleansed in confession.
2 Cor 5:18-20 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
1 Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We are forgiven the minute we ask forgiveness - that's what makes repentance possible in confession. Confession to a priest is necessary for the same reason the confession of marriage vows is necessary - it affirms or reaffirms our covenant with the Body of Christ.
Acts 19:18 Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.
James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.
Eph 4:15-16 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
Eph 5:29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church...
1 Cor 12:22-25 On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, 25 that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
The commentary on leprosy comes from apologetics lectures given by Pat Madrid on the sacrament of confession.
Just as lepers needed to be re-integrated into the community after they were cured from leprosy, so do sinners need to be re-integrated into the Body of Christ.
Lk 17:11-14 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." 14 When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed.
Lk 5:13-14 And he stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one; but "go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to the people."
Mt 8:2-4 and behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." 3 And he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people."
Mk 1:40-45 And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean." 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I will; be clean." 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And he sternly charged him, and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, "See that you say nothing to any one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people." 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
The need for re-integration into the Body of Christ after sin is part of human existence. We need to be healed. We can do that only by removing and renouncing that which brought us harm and death.
1 Jn 1:8-9 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Lk 15:18-19 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."'
1 Jn 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.
It is through the sacrament of Confession that we publicly accuse ourselves of sinfulness and renounce our attachment to sin in sorrow. In this sacrament, we pass through the mystery of the Cross in order to reach sanctification. The Holy Spirit brings the penitent sinner a real participation in the grieving the crucified Christ experienced for our particular sin. Accepting penance is accepting the burden of Christ, it is an immersion in Christ's Passion.
Early Christians' comments on Confession