“Confess Your Sins”
THE inspired apostle John said: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity.” (1 John 1:9, Dy) Do you confess your sins? Do you do it in the way God provided, the way he instructs in his Word? Millions throughout the world enter a confession box and make their confession to a priest. Millions more do not. Personal preference, traditional practice and the opinions of men should not be the factors that determine what we do. It is the Bible that guides a Christian in the path approved by God. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”—Ps. 119:105, AV.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains confession in this way: “The confession is made not in the secrecy of the penitent’s heart nor to a layman as friend and advocate, nor to a representative of human authority, but to a duly ordained priest with requisite jurisdiction and with the ‘power of the keys’, i.e., the power to forgive sins which Christ granted to His Church.” In answer to those who may contend that only God can forgive sins, this same encyclopedia quotes St. Pacian, bishop of Barcelona, as saying: “This (forgiving sins), you say, only God can do. Quite true: but what He does through His priests is the doing of His own power.” And St. Augustine forcibly sets out the scope of that authority to forgive when he says: “Let us not listen to those who deny that the Church of God has power to forgive all sins.”—Vol. XI, pages 619-621.
The Bible too is appealed to as authority for the practice of confession among the Catholic population. Did not Jesus say to Peter: “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven”? (Matt. 16:19, Dy) And the footnote adds: “The loosing the bands of temporal punishments due to sins is called an indulgence; the power of which is here granted.” By this procedure, we are assured, both the guilt of sin and the eternal punishment for mortal sin are remitted. Jesus’ words to his disciples, in John 20:23, are also called upon: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (Dy) And so that none should miss the point being stressed by the church, the footnote in the Murphy Edition of the Catholic Douay Version states: “See here the commission, stamped by the broad seal of heaven, by virtue of which the pastors of Christ’s church absolve repenting sinners upon their confession.” That Christ could forgive sins is unmistakably shown in the Scriptures. (Mark 2:7-11) Does the foregoing evidence show that priests have like power to “absolve repenting sinners upon their confession”?
There are at least three factors on which the strength of the arguments presented in The Catholic Encyclopedia and in Catholic Bible footnotes depend. Are all sins forgivable? Is there temporal punishment after death for the soul of one sinning? Are Catholic priests the priests of God?
When St. Augustine said we should not listen to any who deny that the church has power to “forgive all sins” he spoke rashly, advising us not to listen to Christ. For Christ Jesus said, in Matthew 12:31, 32, as quoted from the Catholic Confraternity Bible: “Therefore I say to you, that every kind of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven to men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. . . . it will not be forgiven him, either in this world or in the world to come.” Not all sin is forgivable.
While it is true that one may suffer both mentally and physically while one lives because of sins committed, that suffering ceases at death. “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.” (Job 3:17, AV) But is not the soul yet alive? “The soul that sinneth, the same shall die.” (Eze 18:4, Dy) Consequently, to man, the soul, apply the further texts: “For the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more.” (Eccl. 9:5, Dy) “His spirit shall go forth, and he shall return into his earth: in that day all their thoughts shall perish.” (Ps. 145:4, Dy) There is punishment for the wicked, yes. “These shall go into everlasting punishment.” But that punishment, likened to being cast into a lake of fire, is death: this is “the second death.”—Matt. 25:46; Apoc. Re 21:8, Dy.
In the confession box itself the procedure is not in accord with the counsel of Christ, and consequently not conducted by men who show by obedience that they are priests of God. When the penitent enters the confession box she says, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.” She has been instructed to begin in that way. To whom is she speaking? Ask any Catholic and he will assure you that the priest is being spoken to, of course. Yet Jesus showed that the practice is wrong. He said: “Call none your father upon earth: for one is your father, who is in heaven.” (Matt. 23:9, Dy) Those who ignore his counsel do not act for him.
Where, then, did this practice of auricular (“in the ear”) confession originate? Alexander Hislop shows that in ancient Babylon and Greece secret confession to a priest was required of all who were admitted to the Mysteries, with questions on morals being asked that are comparable to the ones asked in the confessional today. The pretense was that confession was needed to purge the conscience of guilt in order to avoid the wrath of the gods. The fact is that it gave great power to the pagan priesthood over the lives of those who came to them and were required to divulge their inmost thoughts. The doctrine of penance was reconfirmed in the Roman Catholic Church by the Council of Trent in 1551, and again it has served to give the clergy tremendous power over the lives of men.
The enforcing of auricular confession set a moral trap for priests under vows of celibacy. Young men, with the God-given desire for marriage throttled, were now called upon to inquire minutely into the morals of female penitents who came to them to confess. There was no proper outlet for their emotions permitted by marriage, yet the intimacies of sex relations were constantly forced upon their consciousness. Is it any wonder that the church had to bring into existence a body of legislation restricting improper use of the confessional? So widespread was priestly seduction in Spain that Pope Pius IV called on the Inquisition to prosecute the matter. When threatened with punishment if they would fail to report such acts, so many women in Seville alone filed complaints against the clergy that the matter had to be dropped.
But what about John 20:22, 23, quoted earlier? Does it not authorize confession? No; it does not even mention it. If this referred to auricular confession and forgiveness of sins were dependent upon it, is it not strange that not a word regarding auricular confession do we read from Matthew 1:1 to Revelation 22:21?
Nor would it be proper to conclude from Matthew 16:19 that Christian ministers make decisions on forgiving sins that heaven is then called on to ratify. This text is speaking of the keys (or means of opening or unlocking knowledge) of the kingdom of the heavens and the opportunity to enter it. Peter used the first of these keys in unlocking this knowledge to the Jews at Pentecost. Three and a half years later he was directed by heavenly decision to unlock knowledge of this opportunity to the Gentile Cornelius and his household.—Acts, chapters 2, 10.
The pronoun “you” in the Greek text at Matthew 16:19 is singular, addressed to Peter, and the keys were used by him alone. Properly the New World Translation renders it in harmony with the Greek text and in accord with the Biblical principle of the supremacy of God, saying: “Whatever you may bind on earth will have been bound in the heavens, and whatever you may loose on earth will have been loosed in the heavens.”
Matthew 18:18 contains a similar statement, but with the plural pronoun “you.” Here the preceding verses show that the matter being discussed involves a decision on the part of the older men in the congregation on retaining in or expelling from the congregation an individual who has sinned against his brother. But here, too, the matter is already decided upon in heaven. How so?
Christian overseers are appointed by God’s holy spirit, in that they are designated such by the organization on which God’s spirit operates, in harmony with the inspired requirements for overseers found in the Bible and in view of the fact that their life gives evidence of the fruits of God’s spirit. (Acts 20:28) It is this same holy spirit that makes possible the forgiveness of sins. (John 20:22, 23) The spirit-filled Christian overseer knows what decisions have been made in heaven on the matter of forgiveness, because these decisions are recorded in the Bible, and he knows that those righteous principles continue to apply and govern cases of wrongdoing today. (Matt. 18:15-17; Luke 24:27; Gal. 6:1) Consequently, he is called upon to apply the Bible principles to the case at hand, and whatever decision in accord with that written Word he may now make binding on the individuals concerned is the decision already bound in heaven.
This is in accord with the counsel found in James 5:14-16: “Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, rubbing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him. Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed.” This in no wise describes Catholic auricular confession. It is sound counsel for Christians who become spiritually sick to seek the help of mature men of the congregation, openly confessing their sin. These older men are not authorized to inquire minutely into every aspect of the individual’s private life.
The erring person has become so sick spiritually that he no longer feels that his prayer has effect. So the mature overseer, having faithfully applied the soothing oil of God’s Word and strengthened with it the one seeking help, aids him by expressing for him his request to God for forgiveness. It is His forgiveness that counts. “I have acknowledged my sin to thee: and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord. And thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin.” (Ps. 31:5, Dy) The overseer does not presume to take the role of God, nor to be the mediator between God and men. Rather, as a loving Christian brother, he approaches God in prayer along with the spiritually sick one, doing so through the one Mediator Christ Jesus, and faithfully pointing out Jehovah’s loving provision for forgiveness. It is Jehovah who restores the truly repentant one.
Do you confess your sins? You should, but do it in the way the Bible instructs.