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Confession and Absolution: Bridging Divides in the LCMS and Beyond

I believe confession of sin is a declining skill. One would think that the older one grows, the easier confession becomes. Why? We know ourselves better. We’ve experienced the damaging effects of sin and selfishness. We’re not surprised when we sin. Our sin is ever before us. We know sin is a disease we’ll live with until Christ returns or we depart into paradise at death.




This seems elementary. So why is confession and absolution not a growing trend in our world?


The world lives by the Law.


The Law says do, do, do. When we don’t live according to God’s Law, both written in the Ten Commandments and on our hearts, we fail to trust in the promises of God. We are blinded in disbelief that God is good, that we are His, and that nothing–not even our sin–can separate us from God’s love delivered by faith in Jesus.


The Church lives by both Law and Gospel!


Here is the Law. We’re pressed against the mirror of our sin. It’s ugly. We can’t do anything to make ourselves beautiful before God. Yet, in baptism, God chose us. He changed us from ugly sinners into beautiful saints. He said, “You’re mine.” The Father sent the Son and the Holy Spirit on His divine mission to get His kids back. God wants all His kids back.


I know I’m “preaching to the choir.” You know the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the hope of the world. The Gospel comes to us through the journey of confession and absolution. We sin. Jesus forgives.


Back to my primary thesis. Why is confession and absolution not practiced consistently in the Church or by its leaders, even in the LCMS? This makes me sad. Deeply understanding the teachings of intent and impact, as found in Difficult Conversations, could have a profound effect on the health of the LCMS.


The Concordia University System, LCMS board of directors, and Concordia Texas debacle, now turned into a lawsuit, could have been, and still could be, solved by mutual confession and absolution. Multiple “sides/factions” of this struggle placed the worst intent on the other, the best intent on self, and failed to mutually confess their respective impact on the other. I know the situation is more complex than this now. Or, maybe it isn’t.


The “confessional” and “missional” factions of the LCMS could be bridged through confession and absolution. We need all parts and varied personalities of leaders and laypeople in the LCMS. We should confess our penchant for labeling and placing people in “camps.” This saddens the heart of God.


Let me model what needs to happen in circuits and between various factions in Synod. I get frustrated with brother pastors in the LCMS who may read the Lutheran Confessions more than the Scriptures. I don’t always place the best emphasis on pastors who insist on wearing their clerical collar (the preacher shirt), even to pastors' conferences. I’ve been concerned that we’re hiding behind declining birth rates as an excuse for not reaching people with the Gospel.


Confession. How in the world do I know how much my brother reads the Scriptures alongside the Lutheran Confessions? He may simply love deep Lutheran theology. How in the world do I know my brother’s intent for always wearing a clerical collar? He may simply want to wear the collar to let people know He is Jesus’ man, eager to pray and care for anyone in need. How in the world do I know the heart of those who talk about declining birth rates? Birth rates are declining, and this is impacting our work in the LCMS.


I know my brother has lots to share with me, and I have a lot to learn. I pray my brother will forgive my judgmental heart. My intent is simply to reach as many people as possible with the Gospel, and because of the drive and personality Jesus gave me, anything that may stand in the way of sharing the Gospel is looked upon judgmentally. The impact of putting the worst construction on the intent of my brother is sin. I pray my brother forgives me.


This seems simple. It is not. Sin leads us to hide in shame. We’re all like kids caught with our hand in the proverbial cookie jar of sin. We’ve got cookie crumbs all over our face, but we don’t want to admit we ate the cookie.


I’m praying confession and absolution gets modeled by leaders at the highest levels in the LCMS. Your modeling of public confession and absolution leading to reconciliation has the potential to fuel our church body on our united confessional mission to make Jesus known. The world will know we’re Jesus followers by our love.


Confessing divisive labels is one of the primary goals of the ULC. The days are too short to do otherwise.


If you’d like to confess your labels and learn with us, please go to uniteleadership.org.

 


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The congregations with the best Confession and Absolution habit that I have seen, have all had set weekly hours for the Pastor to have anyone in who wishes to have their sins forgiven.

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Padre Dave Poedel
Padre Dave Poedel
Dec 04, 2023

For a significant time in my ministry, I was a member of The Society of the Holy Trinity, a religious Order for Lutheran clergy. It is pan-Lutheran with the joys of knowing brothers and sisters in the Lutheran ministry. A part of our Rule was Confession/Absolution in our quarterly retreats. Being on both sides of the sacrament was humbling but comforting at the same time.


My naïveté that preaching at the Closing Eucharist for the General Retreat held at CTSFW with the Senior of the STS being an ELCA Pastor, would not lead to unionism charges against me, was indicative of my not being raised in the “system”. I didn’t even think twice about it when asked to preach (an…


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zz-retired
zz-retired
Dec 05, 2023
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I am so grateful you are in our church body, Dave! Thanks for your patient and kind service!

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Another good one Tim. Is there a way the clergy and laymen/laywomen, using actual situations, can demonstrate confession and absolution in our District? Your model above is simple to understand, and can be made stronger with testimony. The testimony could demonstrate the benefits of confession and absolution. I'm praying for you, this Blog may hit some nerves.

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So much to learn from the Acts of the Apostles.

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Thank you, Tim! I have been praying for the wisdom and maturity to confront the resurgence of pietism in the LCMS with love and compassion recently, and forgiveness when I fail. The smallest thing can set me off - like a speech titled “The Primacy of Piety in Lutheran Education.” Instead of asking them what they mean by this, I immediately wonder, “if piety enjoys the position of primacy, where do they slot Christ - 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th?” This sin in thought is counterproductive to my objectives, and typically leads to further sin in word and deed.

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