Who can forgive sins?

 

4620136747_1290387524_b

“Who can forgive my sins?”

Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples as they hid from the Jews. Thomas was absent. Any number of disciples in addition to the ten may have been there; the Bible doesn’t specify. Jesus gave them a charge as he anointed them with the Holy Spirit:

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:21-23

The Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations such as the Lutherans interpret this passage to mean that priests and ministers have the authority to forgive sins on behalf of God. Other Protestants disagree and insist that the authority rests with God and has only been delegated to his son, Jesus Christ. It would be a mistake to dismiss the Catholic position prematurely, for the face value of Jesus’ command implies that believers are given such authority. We should note, however, that Jesus gives the charge to the group, the body of believers as a whole, and not specifically to individuals.

We sin against God

All sin, though committed against a fellow creature, being a transgression of the law, is against the lawgiver; and, indeed, begins at the neglect or contempt of his commandment. – John Gill

Ultimately God retains the authority to forgive sins, for the Bible makes it plain that our sins rest on him no matter where they begin. David admitted this in Psalm 51 when he said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” Joseph acknowledged it in Potiphar’s house in Egypt. “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) When we sin we transgress against God. Therefore, it is God who ultimately decides whether to pardon our sin. The question remains, has God delegated his authority to anyone else?

Jesus Forgives Sins

“Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:7

The scribes and Pharisees were aghast that Jesus, a man, would claim the authority to forgive sins. Jesus proved his authority as he demonstrated his divinity by healing the paralytic man. The Pharisees were correct that only God could forgive sins. They were mistaken in failing to recognize that Jesus was God. It’s interesting to note that the Pharisees defended God’s authority even though the Temple worship with its system of priestly sacrifices was a daily practice at the time.

The New Testament is full of references to Jesus’ role in pardoning our sins. John the apostle wrote, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In Romans, Paul wrote, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” In First Timothy he said, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Even Isaiah, prophesying about Jesus in the Old Testament, said, “he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Can anyone else forgive sins?

The question therefore amongst divines is, Whether Christ in this text hath given authority to his ministers actually to discharge men of the guilt of their sins; or only to declare unto them, that if their repentance and faith be true, their sins are really forgiven them? The former is by many contended for… – Matthew Poole

God holds the ultimate authority to forgive. Jesus serves as mediator, advocate, and intercessor between God and man. Is there a need or a place for anyone else to forgive sins? Apparently the church has felt such a need, for it has practiced private confession since at least the fifth century AD. In 459 AD Pope Leo I described the practice in a letter to his bishops. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1447, says that Irish monks took the practice of private penance to Europe in the seventh century. The practice was first codified in 1215 when the Fourth Lateran Council stated “All the faithful… should individually confess all their sins in a faithful manner to their own priest at least once a year…” Before the initiation of private penance the church would publicly excommunicate those who committed serious or grave sins, only readmitting them after they made extensive penance, a process which could take years.

In contrast to the Catholic position, most Protestants believe private confession and ministerial forgiveness is unnecessary and not supported by scripture. They hold that the charge given to the disciples in John 20 deals with the church’s mission to bring peace to the world through the ministry of the gospel. In that light, forgiveness of sins is confirmed for those who repent and believe the good news. Priests are not necessary for intercession because, as Peter said, the church itself is a royal priesthood and each man may ask God for forgiveness. Forgiveness or condemnation also operates through church discipline as described by Jesus in Matthew 18: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The New Testament records no instance of the early church practicing private intercession.

Is there any middle ground between these two positions? If there is, I think it would follow along these lines:

  • Priestly or ministerial confession is not required, but may be beneficial. As James said, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Such confession may be made between any believers, but priests and ministers are well equipped to offer counsel as well as prayer.
  • We should acknowledge that we have sinned against God, who holds the ultimate authority to forgive, and that the penalty for our sins was paid by Jesus Christ, who now intercedes with God on our behalf. Like the priests in the old covenant of temple sacrifices, contemporary priests and ministers may administer God’s forgiveness but they are not the source of that pardon.
  • Repentance is always necessary for forgiveness, but the practice of penance is a separate matter and beyond the scope of this article.
  • Congregations should take more responsibility for confronting their members when they sin, using church discipline to restore them.

Image by Juliana Muncinelli on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

Advertisements

50 thoughts on “Who can forgive sins?

  1. Thank you for this very well thought out and comprehensive discussion. I would underscore much of what you say and add a few thoughts.

    I think Protestants and Catholics agree far more than they disagree, though often using different terminology to arrive at similar ideas and conclusions. In the matter of reconciliation, however, they seem to be divided.

    What exactly does Jesus say?

    “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20

    Which is not unlike Matthew 16: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Apparently binding and loosing is Rabbinic terminology for something similar to forgiveness of sins. But the rabbis are correct when they declare, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:7

    Is Jesus’ statement important? It would be hard to say it is not. Not only does it occur when he first appears to his disciples after his resurrection, but immediately after he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Add to that the fact that he is essentially extending to them a power which uniquely belongs to God. Not only is it important, it is astounding.

    Who does he give this power to?

    He does not give this to one person, true, but to a very unique group, perhaps the most unique group of all time, hand picked by Christ himself. So rather than water down the gift, it makes it all the more powerful. He isn’t speaking to a large group of followers like he did in the Sermon on the Mount, he is speaking to this highly select group, the group that he is entrusting to start the church.

    Why does Christ do this? Can’t I just go directly to God for forgiveness?

    Yes, we can all ask God for forgiveness whenever we feel the need, and we should. But this doesn’t negate the fact that Christ felt it important to arm his church with this sacrament. He does not tell us why he does, but is it really so hard to put forth a reason?

    Man is broken and sinful and in need of both repentance and forgiveness. Repentance is a prerequisite to salvation. John’s baptism of repentance is in a sense a collective reconciliation of Israel to prepare them for the coming of the Lord. Jesus no doubt knew we would be in dire need of assistance with the very act of repenting.

    Sin is terrible in a multitude of ways: it separates us from God, it injures our spirit, it injures those around us (often without us knowing), and it can so darken our awareness, that we often do not even know some of our actions are sinful. This is why confessing sins “to one another” as James commands may hold hidden benefits that Jesus knew we would need. James goes on to say, “and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” He doesn’t specify who we are confessing to, but he may have indeed intended one of the “righteous” elders (priests) of the church who had been given this special grace from Christ. He doesn’t say. But more than just hearing sins, and forgiving them, these wise gifted men are in a position to advise, instruct, and pray for the penitent. The intellect darkened by sin is desperately in need of this type of assistance. Helping to identify sources of temptation, ways to overcome temptation, pointing out how our sins are harming those around us in ways we may be blind to, all this and more are the benefits of having an earthly confessor. Our spiritual ears may have gone deaf from sin. We may be unable to hear God’s reply. I think Jesus knew we might need to hear a human voice of forgiveness at times. Some may counter that they do just fine confessing to God alone, and perhaps they do, but this is not true for everyone. And it still evades the point, Jesus gave this special gift to the apostles, and he did so with purpose.

    That he gave us this sacrament is undeniable. What we do with it today is of course a point of debate. It seems reasonable to say that anything Christ gave us is of huge significance. Do I need to say the Lord’s prayer to be saved? No. It is ok to just ignore it then? Of course not. I would even argue that our need for confession today is greater than the need of first century Christians. And as usual, Chesterton seems to get it right: “The morbid thing is not to confess your sins. The morbid thing is to conceal your sins and let them eat away at your soul, which is exactly the state of most people in today’s highly civilized communities.” And if you ask those, who through personal experience, have both freely confessed their sins to God, as well as entered the confines of the confessional, I think the majority will tell you, there is simply no comparison. Jesus knows we need this visible sign of his invisible grace, and it’s just one more way in which he shows us how much he loves us.

    • I share your opinion of the terrible weight of sin and the spiritual blindness it causes. We need more confession, not less. What struck me most in writing this post was how much we have lost the vision of the church as a body confronting individual members with their unconfessed, unrepented sins.

  2. Who does he give this power to?

    He does not give this to one person, true, but to a very unique group, perhaps the most unique group of all time, hand picked by Christ himself.

    I think this is the first point at which we disagree: who is this group? To whom does Christ grant these rights? Clearly the Holy Spirit isn’t limited to the Twelve alone; indeed, it’s not clear exactly who is included in “the disciples” in John 20, or Matthew 16, or Matthew 18 – though we know Thomas is absent in the first case, and that someone with small children is present in the last. Protestants, I think, generally assume that these are messages for the Church as a whole – which would still count as a unique group hand-picked by Christ! – where I think Catholics more often restrict it to just the apostles.

    And this makes all the difference; it’s the distinction between saying we can confess our sins to some church-distinguished group of wise elders and that we need to do so.

    It also seems to me that you’re conflating two not-necessarily-related issues here: that, on the one hand, it is healthy for the church if we confess our sins to each other; and that, on the other hand, Christ makes a statement regarding the forgiveness of sins. The value of the former isn’t necessarily related to the latter; that it’s healthy for us to admit our shortcomings to each other need not be grounded in that being a mechanism of transmission of grace.

    Which is what you mean when you say “sacrament,” if I understand it right – a mechanism by which further grace is transmitted to us? Because that such a thing even exists seems to require rather more argument. We might say that Christ gives us a command, or even a tradition to uphold, but the specific meaning of sacrament as the Catholic Church uses it goes rather beyond those.

  3. It seems we agree that we need to confess our sins to both God and to each other. You dispute who that other person should be.

    So let me ask this. Who in your church has the power to forgive sins?

    • Actually, a word of clarification there:

      It seems we agree that we need to confess our sins to both God and to each other.

      I’m not sure this is true; or at least, I’m not sure we agree on what’s meant by “need” here. I think it’s healthy for us to confess our sins to each other, and I think it’s obedient of us to do so. I don’t think doing so plays any part in our forgiveness.

      • How can you be forgiven unless you confess?

        Because I’ve already been forgiven: when I claimed Christ as Lord, his grace covered sins past, present, and future. There is now no condemnation for those in Christ – no fear of dying with a black mark on my record, with a sin unconfessed and unexpunged. That’s exactly why I have issue with the idea of sacraments: I have already been given an ocean of grace, grace sufficient to all my evil actions.

        The purpose of confession, now, is several-fold: to encourage me away from sin; to remind me of what I’ve gained, and how far away from it I naturally am; to encourage the church, and to aid us in urging each other on. It’s not a condition of my justification, though.

        My sin, ah the bliss of this glorious thought
        My sin, not in part, but the whole
        Is nailed to the Cross
        And I bear it no more
        Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my Soul!

  4. But this cuts to the very heart of the matter. Christ himself says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20

    So where are his words carried to their fulfillment? They are carried to their fulfillment in the sacrament of reconciliation. Anything less than that, and they are stripped of their power. They become mere words without power. Mere words. Is this the nature of our Lord, and of his words, that they can lose their divine power? Do they die out within a generation?

    The Gospel narratives speak of this being a select audience, the eleven, even behind locked doors. This is not the open audience of Christ’s other teachings. Clearly this is a message to the Apostles. No doubt this is why the Lord returns a week later to make sure even doubting Thomas is convinced of the Gospel, so he can place he fingers in the wounds and believe, so he has the strength to persevere and be martyred in India for the name of Jesus.

    This is the power of the Word, that these chosen men have the God given power to forgive sins. Just as they had the same God given power to go out in twos (Mark 6) working miracles through the power of Christ, so the chosen are given the power of Christ to forgive sins. Anything less, and the power of Christ is stripped from John 20.

    I would say the Protestant church is correct. They do not have the power to forgive sins. To attempt that would ironically be a sin. They can of course appeal to God directly for that, and that is magnificent. And they should. But by Apostolic succession, the power of the words of Christ live on. They retain their power. Priests today are doing exactly as Jesus commanded, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. Praise God for that.

      • Isn’t the distinction one of following versus leading, of the preresurrection from the postresurrection chosen man?

      • Acts 1:15 – the point is that the word disciples was used to describe a group of 120 people devoted to and following Jesus soon after his resurrection, not just a small group of 11.

      • That is very true. But how many were called apostles? There seems to be a distinction between those who continued to follow only, and those who led. Of note, Paul refers to super-apostles in 2 Corinthians 12:11. I always thought this meant the Eleven, but recently I have read commentary that suggests these may have in fact been false teachers who followed behind Paul and tried to capitalize on the initial work he had done in Corinth. You may know more about that than I do.

    • But this cuts to the very heart of the matter. Christ himself says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20

      Perhaps this is an issue of semantics. I would read that passage to say that Christ has the power to forgive sins, as you asked; I would agree that all other Christians have the authority to bring this forgiveness to others – to say, “Repentant friend, I tell you, your sins are forgiven.” Without forgiveness received in this way – through the work of fellow Christians – sins are not forgiven.

      (The distinction here is, I think, a bit like our discussion on prayer earlier. It’s not that the Christian has inherent power over sin; it’s that God, who has that power, acts in line with us as his priests and agents.)

      So there is a sense in which Christians serve as confessors – as initial confessors, receiving the first confession of a new Christian and pronouncing God’s judgment on him.

      I am given to understand that this works better in the Greek; I’m certainly no Greek scholar, but I’m told that “are forgiven them” is in the present perfect tense, which conveys an action that started previously and continues into the present. So, for instance, one might read the intent as something akin to, “If you declare forgiveness to someone, know that they have already been forgiven and continue in that forgiveness; if you don’t, then they haven’t.”

      This is, I admit, a bit of an awkward reading. It has the advantage that the alternative reading is logically contradictory. Suppose James agrees to forgive me and John, in a moment of pique, does not; if the verse intends literally that I am in sin or not depending on their reaction, then I am both forgiven and unforgiven. That can’t be right.

      The Gospel narratives speak of this being a select audience, the eleven,

      As noted in both the original post and in my initial reply, that ain’t necessarily so – “disciples” is a general term. Whatever we’re going to say this verse means, as with Matthew 18:18, we have to be prepared to say it of all Christians. (Does Christ not bring “his peace” to all? Do all not “receive the Holy Spirit?” On what grounds do we declare this one thing restricted?)

  5. Actually, no. Christ is speaking directly to his chosen eleven. The text bears this out. This is not an open address to all Christians. The Sermon on the Mount is, this is not. The doors are locked, Christ entered through walls to get there, this is most definitely not an address to all. Further, he is giving his power, God’s power, to forgive sins to these select eleven. There is no other way to honestly read this. And this is rightly born out by your statement that in your church, Christ forgives sins. You do not forgive sins, the man in the pew next to you does not forgive sins, your pastor does not forgive sins, Christ forgives sins. You most certainly can hear someone’s confession, but you are powerless to forgive their sins. If you attempted to forgive their sins, you would in fact be committing blasphemy.

    The heart of the matter is this, that as a Protestant, I had to relinquish the power of this scriptural passage. No where in my church could this power be found. No member of my congregation could forgive my sins. Yes, I could appeal to God directly for forgiveness, but there was no successor to Peter that I could appeal to who had the power to forgive sins that Christ passed on to his chosen eleven.

    The point being this, that as Protestants we just have to accept that this is so, this is the choice we make. And we should be firm and secure in that choice. But as Catholics we can rejoice that these words of Christ still retain their original power, the same today as they did 2000 years ago. He isn’t saying, “I will forgive your sins”, he is saying “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. Those are his words, and he spoke them for a reason.

    • I appreciate your interpretation of the charge and know you are following a long RCC tradition on this. You cannot clearly say there were eleven (Judas gone, Thomas absent) and you cannot say how many were there (Acts 1:15 uses the same term for disciples and says there were 120).

  6. You are right, it isn’t the head count that matters, it is the audience. But it is a reading of all of scripture that gives us this understanding, such as this: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.”, “Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.”, ” and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.”. ” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.”

    When you read it together as a whole, it’s pretty clear whom the Lord is addressing. And when you follow his teaching through history, it becomes pretty clear what he meant by his words.

    • We can see each other’s positions on this topic. Did Jesus give this charge to a select few, or to the church as a body? Does the charge institute a sacrament, or is it making the church God’s representative on Earth to convey the message and ministry of reconciliation? Not much more to say than that.

      • I am a bit baffled by the discussion to be honest. Do you think the power of Christ’s words died out and that no one has this power now? Does some person in your church claim to have the power to forgive sins? I am not sure what point you are trying to make.

      • Do you think the power of Christ’s words died out and that no one has this power now?

        Let me take a stab at fielding this: I don’t think there’s anything inherently problematic in the idea that the people Christ was speaking to in a particular statement died, and that no other person fills the role that they did. That isn’t uncommon in Biblical history; Moses filled a unique leadership role that terminated at his death (or, if you prefer, with the death of Joshua); so did many of the judges and prophets. So, for that matter, did the physical presence of Christ on earth; arguably, so did the miraculous translation granted at Pentecost. It’s not uncommon for God to appoint people in special roles for a season; it doesn’t mean that “the power of Christ’s words died” just because the term of that person’s unique service did. To be honest, I’m not sure what “the power of Christ’s words died” would even mean; not every word has to be applicable to every time and circumstance.

        So, for instance: suppose, for the sake of argument, that God granted some level of special authority to the eleven, James, Paul, etc. It seems plausible to say that one reason to do so is that there was not yet any fixed universal court of appeal for the church: in other words, that the books that would become the New Testament did not yet exist. Once those books did exist, apostolic authority would become much less necessary – because a common permanent standard of truth was available to the church at large. When the apostles died, that apostolic authority could quite reasonably die with them.

        That doesn’t mean this did happen, of course, and if Scripture indicated that the apostles possessed an authority that they passed generation to generation – well, so be it! But lacking such passages, it’s at least fully consistent with Christianity to say something could have been granted only for a season.

        I’m not persuaded that the “forgive sins” passage was such a temporary authority, mind; several alternative reads have been proposed, which I’m not sure you’ve engaged at all. But it’s not somehow disrespectful to believe that it might have been such a thing.

      • Again, Christianity is not a religion based upon a book. Islam is. Christianity is a religion based upon the Word made flesh.

        No one had to wait for a book to be written to know what was what. The Holy Spirit was alive in men and the church was flourishing, even while being persecuted. They were living the book.

        But because sin was also alive, they needed the healing and guidance of pastoral absolution. Christ gave the church this power, and he did it for a reason. That reason still exists, and fortunately so does His sacramental grace.

      • You make good points regarding temporal limitations to events and persons in Gods plan for us. The problem is that we are not ultimately talking about people, we are talking about grace. We are talking about the power of God being extended through Christ to the Eleven. Grace does not die out like Moses, or the Prophets. Grace is eternal. Which is why this sacramental grace lives on even today.

      • Again, Christianity is not a religion based upon a book. Islam is. Christianity is a religion based upon the Word made flesh.

        Oh, come now – this isn’t an argument, it’s a buzzword. I could as easily say, “We’re not a religion based on a pope or a committee” – it’d be no less relevant. Obviously Chrisitanity is based on Christ; is that logically inconsistent with the idea that God might have appointed special leadership until there was a generally-available record of Christ’s life?

        But because sin was also alive, they needed the healing and guidance of pastoral absolution.
        Christ gave the church this power, and he did it for a reason. That reason still exists, and fortunately so does His sacramental grace.

        This is not a defense! It doesn’t establish the existence of pastoral absolution and sacramental grace; it presumes their existence.

        I don’t know what to say other than that there is no argument here. There’s no backing for your claim that I can critique, no foundation of premises leading to the conclusion. I would be glad to engage you on your beliefs, but there’s no basis here for me to engage!

        ***

        You make good points regarding temporal limitations to events and persons in Gods plan for us. The problem is that we are not ultimately talking about people, we are talking about grace. We are talking about the power of God being extended through Christ to the Eleven. Grace does not die out like Moses, or the Prophets. Grace is eternal. Which is why this sacramental grace lives on even today.

        Unless you want to argue that every particular manifestation of grace is eternal – do you? – this doesn’t contradict my argument in any way. Sure, grace is eternal! Once – for the sake of argument – that eternal grace manifested in the leadership of the apostles. Now it manifests in other ways. So what?

    • When you read it together as a whole, it’s pretty clear whom the Lord is addressing. And when you follow his teaching through history, it becomes pretty clear what he meant by his words.

      As already noted, you can’t assert that he’s addressing the eleven, because we know Thomas is absent. Is he addressing only “the ten?” Is Thomas not granted this authority? If not, then clearly it’s not an address limited only to those physically present in the room.

      And we have, further, no indication as to who else might have been in the room; the only things we know for sure are that it included at least some of the apostles, not including Thomas. Even then, it’s not clear from context that the instruction he’s given is meant only for a select group – again, do only the apostles receive the holy spirit? Are only the apostles called to make disciples of all nations?

      To assert that “it’s pretty clear whom the Lord is addressing” is to beg the question – that’s the point you have to show! The only passage you’ve offered that might apply here is Mark 16:14, which (a) seems to apply better to the meeting with Thomas (when all eleven were actually present and Thomas was rebuked for his doubts), not the one in John 20:22, and (b) may not even be an original part of Mark! The rest of your quotations clearly aren’t the meeting in the upper room – why bring them in at all?

      So when you say…

      You are right, it isn’t the head count that matters, it is the audience.

      … there isn’t any actual grounds to show that the audience is a restricted group. Why should we believe that this is true? Why not assume that, whatever Christ means, it applies more broadly?

      • Yes, Thomas is absent, which is why the Lord comes back a week later, and addressed him directly. Yes, there are others in the room, though they are not named. At no point are they named, because they are not important to this story. The eleven are named (some in John, the rest elsewhere) and are referred to again and again as a group, because this group matters uniquely. And this is not a gift of the Holy Spirit (which are intended for all who would receive them), this is a gift direct from Christ, to a unique hand selected group. Even if we negated the difference of Christ versus the Holy Spirit, absolution is not one of the known gifts of the Holy Spirit, and no one else is ever recorded being given this gift from God, though it is passed through the clergy through the laying on of hands.

        What would be examples of Gifts from Christ to all? His sacrifice on the cross, The Lord’s Prayer, and the bread of life, the Eucharist. All of these were given openly in large forums to any and all who would chose to accept them. Not so of the power to forgive sins.

        Then look to see how these gifts were employed over time. We see the masses venerating the cross, praying the Lord’s Prayer, and partaking of the Eucharist. Who do we see performing absolution? Bishops and priests. At no time do we see the laity performing the Act of Reconciliation, because they knew this power been passed down directly from Christ to the Eleven, and from the Eleven to their hand picked successors, always and everywhere restricted to the clergy.

      • The eleven are named (some in John, the rest elsewhere) and are referred to again and again as a group, because this group matters uniquely. And this is not a gift of the Holy Spirit (which are intended for all who would receive them), this is a gift direct from Christ, to a unique hand selected group.

        The argument you make here appears to reduce to the following two claims:

        1) The eleven were a unique group.
        2) Christ is speaking only to the eleven here.

        No one contests (1). (2) does not follow from it and has not been demonstrated.

        What would be examples of Gifts from Christ to all? His sacrifice on the cross, The Lord’s Prayer, and the bread of life, the Eucharist. All of these were given openly in large forums to any and all who would chose to accept them.

        You argue here that the Lord’s Supper, which was given in the relative private of a quiet room to the twelve, is a universal gift, while the forgiveness of sins, given in the relative privacy of a quiet room to an unknown group, was meant only for the apostles. That seems unsupportable on the face of it.

        Plus, of course, Christ gives other gifts in this meeting – including the Holy Spirit and his own words – which are obviously not restricted to that latter group. We could say the same of the Great Commission: spoken to a similar group, but unarguably intended for the church at large. There is no textual evidence that this statement is different!

        We see the masses venerating the cross, praying the Lord’s Prayer, and partaking of the Eucharist. Who do we see performing absolution? Bishops and priests.

        This is effectively the argument that Roman Catholic doctrine is correct because it’s consistent with how Roman Catholics act. I could as easily reply that I don’t see anyone performing absolution in my church, so it must be wrong!

  7. Yes, they are not the chosen eleven. That is not to say they are not disciples, of which there were many at various time. The chosen I take it were named, and were numbered 12 originally to reflect the 12 tribes. I suspect there were clearly other followers who likely helped support Christ and the twelve, assisting their ministry in many ways, but they never appear to be given the importance of the twelve.

  8. I am not sure how the discussion drifted so far afield. My point was meant to be a simple one.

    Where is that in the Bible?

    For the Act of Reconciliation, this is where it is.

  9. Yea, I left that a little too dependent on posts from way back.

    A lot of people will ask regarding certain Catholic beliefs, “Where is that in the Bible?” My main point in responding to this post on forgiveness, is that John 20 is where one can find support for the Act of Reconciliation, more commonly known as confession. I am no expert in other churches, but it seems the Eastern, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran Churches all appeal to this same verse (as well as James) to support their continuing practice of absolution (confession).

    As I was reflecting on that passage, it just struck me that I don’t think ever gave those lines much thought as a Protestant. I don’t think I ever heard a sermon refer to them. And on deeper reflection, it seems they simply carry no power in the Reformed Churches. And that, on further reflection, was sobering. To contemplate the power of Christ extending a trait of God (forgiveness of sins) to man, and then seeing it dissipate into nothingness, strikes me as deeply profoundly wrong on some level. I just never paid it any attention before. Fortunately, as a Protestant, I could confess directly to God. But still, that verse had been rendered null and void.

    • The problem, I think, is that you can’t rely on the verse sufficiently here. You need several premises to arrive at the Catholic position:

      1) Christ is announcing a special authority to remit sins, as opposed to the other interpretations proposed here.

      2) Christ offers this authority only to the eleven apostles.

      3) This authority is then passed from those apostles to a select group of successors.

      4) Those successors are now the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

      The problem is that none of these follows necessarily from the text of John 20. They are not inconsistent with the text, but neither is the proposition that Christ was actually speaking only to Bartholomew in this passage and that Bartholomew passed that right on to his biological children. I can’t therefore claim that John 20 supports the idea that only Bart and his kids could forgive sins; I could, at best, say that John 20 fails to contradict the idea. (Even that might be a stretch.)

      And it’s the question of support – of “Why must this be the truth, such that we should be viewed as heretics for believing differently?” – that’s really at issue here.

      • You are still not addressing the main issue here, that Christ extended a power unique to God alone, to man. Just stop for a moment and contemplate the profound nature of that action. He gives man the power to forgive sins. There has to be a reason why he would do this. Is there a reason why it should have stopped? Is there any suggestion it ever stopped? None. Nor has it.

        Every Christian church understands the need for forgiveness of sins. This is in fact what Christ is facilitating. Why is it so hard to accept this gift he gave us? It is an act of love, pure and simple. It is grace.

        Look at the churches that continue to embrace this sacrament: Catholic, Orthodox, Eastern, Anglican, Lutheran (yes, Lutheran!). Can they all be wrong?? And in each, it is the clergy that dispense this absolution, not the laity. Why is it thus? Because these churches preserved the traditions that were passed on from generation to generation, just as Paul insisted they do (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

        And this was the bitter pill I had to swallow on the path of my conversion (and it was bitter), that when the Roman and Orthodox Churches agree, and they differ from the Protestant Church, the Protestant Church loses. I hated that statement passionately, but it was true. It was true because the inherent nature of both of those churches was to preserve the traditions of the Gospel. They died to preserve it. If they agree on a principle (and they do not have the greatest relationship you know), it is almost certainly authentic.

        This sacrament is alive and well and helping countless Christians on their path to the foot of the cross, and it is not just in the RCC, it is widespread. I have benefited from this grace myself. It is priceless by the very fact that it is from Christ. Would you deny it to those who desperately need it? I know you wouldn’t. I would ask you to open your heart to the possibility that Christ is working in ways the Baptist Church does not recognize. The RCC does the same of the Protestant faith.

        And as for the Eucharist, Christ announced this openly to the masses in John 6. They rejected him for it. Judas may have turned on him for preaching it. This was not revealed in secret. Yes, the teaching was deepened at the Last Supper, but it was never a private act, reserved for the apostles, like absolution. Of course that gets us thinking about another sacrament, the Bread of Life.

      • This gift is not passed genetically, it is passed through the laying on of hands, as Paul tells us.

        So it goes like this:
        1) Christ said it
        2) Scripture records it
        3) Various churches proclaim it
        4) Tradition upholds it

        Add to that that penitents today are telling you it is an amazing gift they have personally experienced. It is not clear to me why you struggle to accept that it exists. As a Protestant, I admit I never really gave it all that much thought, but I never felt compelled to deny that priests were dispensing absolution in persona Christi.

        And watch out for this common error:

        1) If a thing is condemned by the Church, but permitted by the Protestant (say, gay marriage) the demand is for an explicit text forbidding it (“Show me where Jesus said one word about not allowing gay marriage! That’s just the Church imposing its purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.”).

        2) Conversely, if a thing is allowed by the Church but condemned by the Protestant, the demand is for an explicit text commanding it. So, for instance, we get demands like, “Where in the Bible do you find anyone asking us to pray to dead people? That’s just the Church imposing it’s purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.” (HT to Mr. Shea).

        The Bible, wonderful as it is, is not the foundation of the Church, it is the witness to it. Christ is the foundation of the Church.

      • Before getting into a proper fisking of the reply, let me make a more general comment. A lot of the contents of your posts – a lot of the contents of your posts – are summaries of the Catholic narrative. Which, it’s good to have a narrative! That’s an essential component of a strong position. Protestants have a narrative, too, which might run something like the following:

        “Once upon a time, there were the followers of Christ. And if there was one thing these followers were good at, it was making theological mistakes; it tended to be the case that, as soon as a guy who knew the original truth left, all the other people started getting it wrong again. (This is actually kind of a good thing for us, because it means we have lots of letters full of original truth, geared at correcting common mistakes!) Even the guys in charge weren’t perfect about this, so periodically they had to correct each other, too.

        “Somewhere down the line, though, the new guys in charge made a pretty bad mistake: they reasoned their way to the belief that, when acting in certain capacities, they couldn’t be mistaken. This was a problem, because it meant that when they did make mistakes – which they continued to do, as they always had! – those mistakes got codified as being as certain as the original truth.

        “Now these guys have been very faithfully preserving their faith ever since, but that faith is now an inextricable mixture of original truth and mistakes. So the Protestant Reformation is an attempt to back up to before that original mistake and see what falls out from there.”

        Now, I think that’s a pretty decent narrative, on balance; it works fairly well as a counterpoint to the “sole keepers of the truth, throughout the ages” narrative. But the key point is this: a narrative can’t be an argument for its own truth. Describing the narrative – appealing to the narrative – is not an argument that the narrative is correct, because we can both do it. You say, “Look, here’s all of these denominations that believe the same thing as us,” and I say, “Of course they do, because that mistake is in all of their theological genetic heritages; we went back and pruned it out.” That’s not an advantage for either of us!

        And so when you say this:

        Why is it thus? Because these churches preserved the traditions that were passed on from generation to generation

        or this:

        This sacrament is alive and well and helping countless Christians on their path to the foot of the cross

        or this:

        a private act, reserved for the apostles, like absolution.

        or this:

        So it goes like this:
        1) Christ said it
        2) Scripture records it
        3) Various churches proclaim it
        4) Tradition upholds it

        these aren’t arguments! They aren’t defenses. They’re just descriptions of your narrative. But I understand your narrative; I’m not in need of further description of it. What I need are defenses of it, and the narrative can’t defend itself. Without that, there’s just nothing persuasive here.

        So on my side, I’m trying to re-ground the discussion in what Scripture actually definitively says, plus necessary logical consequences of these statements – because Scripture and logic are available and valuable to both of us, given the starting points we have in common. It feels like every time I do so, you shift back to, “But the Catholic narrative is…” – and that’s basically never going to get us anywhere.

      • Is there a reason why it should have stopped? Is there any suggestion it ever stopped? None. Nor has it.

        I think you’re fundamentally misunderstanding my point above. I argued that if we understood “forgiveness of sins” – whatever that entails – to be extended to the apostles alone, then it’s reasonable to add, “But there’s no indication that apostolic authority continued; therefore, there’s no indication that this did, either.” In other words, if we grant your thesis that Christ speaks only to the eleven, the natural conclusion is that he speaks only to the eleven. This was in response to your question about the power of Christ’s words dying out: I argued, basically, that there’s nothing weird or unscriptural about a particular authority being given only for a season.

        But of course, I don’t think that Christ is speaking only to the eleven here. Whatever he’s saying, I believe he says it to all his chosen – to all of us, his royal priests! – and that what he says is as true of us today as it was of whoever was in the room then. From that perspective, it’s the RCC that’s trying to limit what should be the general extension of authority here. (Of course, I also disagree with the RCC as to what Christ actually means when he says this.)

        It is priceless by the very fact that it is from Christ. Would you deny it to those who desperately need it?

        Certainly not. But of course, from my perspective, no one needs to have their sins forgiven by an ordained Catholic priest – the forgiveness Christ offers at salvation suffices. So the set of “people who desperately need it” is empty.

        And as for the Eucharist, Christ announced this openly to the masses in John 6. They rejected him for it. Judas may have turned on him for preaching it. This was not revealed in secret. Yes, the teaching was deepened at the Last Supper, but it was never a private act, reserved for the apostles, like absolution.

        No one walked away from John 6 with a tradition of breaking bread and wine. The actual ritual we practice only shows up in a private room. Christ giving of the Holy Spirit only shows up in a private room. The particular words Christ has to say on these occasions only show up in a private room.

        Yet all of these are given to all Christians. What in this passage requires a limitation? You cannot appeal to who was present and who wasn’t; you’ve said so yourself. It is nonsense to appeal to the fact that the eleven are often treated as a group – of course they are, but there’s no such reference here! What else is there?

        Add to that that penitents today are telling you it is an amazing gift they have personally experienced.

        You know this is meaningless as an argument; Muslims and Buddhists and yoga instructors can all tell you they’ve had amazing spiritual experiences.

        2) Conversely, if a thing is allowed by the Church but condemned by the Protestant, the demand is for an explicit text commanding it. So, for instance, we get demands like, “Where in the Bible do you find anyone asking us to pray to dead people? That’s just the Church imposing it’s purely human ideas on what Jesus came to say.”

        But I didn’t demand that of you when we discussed prayer to the dead. I never said it was condemned; everything is permissible! I just said there was no particular reason to believe it was beneficial.

        Please don’t criticize me for errors I haven’t made! I have quite enough actual mistakes to my name.

      • Rereading, I worded that last paragraph or two poorly. I certainly did demand some Scriptural justification; what I didn’t do was condemn the act of praying to the dead. It’s the teaching on the effect of such prayer that I condemn as unjustified.

        Expanding on that, I think it’s absolutely reasonable to demand that the church justify by Scripture any claims that an action is not neutral. If it says something is prohibited, that needs justification. If it says something is beneficial, that needs justification. I would not say, as suggested here, that the claim that an action is permissible needs explicit justification.

        Or to put that another way: if you want to talk at dead Christians, go for it! Likewise if you want to talk to the rocks, or to nothing at all. It’s when you teach that these conversations accomplish some external purpose that the demand for proof comes in. My objection is that the Catholic Church so often takes actions that, so far as we know, are simply neutral – and it teaches that they have either positive or negative effect.

        Where Protestants move to outright condemnation of actions that, again, are neutral so far as we know, I think they likewise overstep their bounds.

        So, for instance: talking to dead Christians is neutral. Non-abortifacient birth control is neutral. Abstaining from chemical birth control is neutral. Choosing to confess your sins to a priest inside a booth, instead of to any other Christian in any other location, is neutral. Marrying, when you lead a spiritual community, is neutral. Sprinkling water on infants is neutral. Organizing in a strict hierarchical structure of churches is neutral. Choosing not to be part of such a structure is neutral.

        (Some of these things may be good or bad ideas, in different circumstances, even if they aren’t inherently sinful.)

        Teaching that these things have moral weight is not neutral, and has to be supported. Teaching that prayer to the saints has spiritual benefits a la talking to God is unjustified. Teaching that controlling fertility is inherently sinful is unjustified. Teaching that priests have special authority over sin and grace, different from other Christians, is unjustified. Teaching spiritual leaders that it is sin for them to marry is unjustified. Teaching that infant baptism has any meaningful spiritual effect is unjustified. Teaching that churches must be part of one particular church hierarchy is unjustified. And to teach an unjustified claim as the truth is wrong.

        (Or if they are justified, then these cases must be proven from the Bible!)

      • “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20

        Still, this verse stands. You have not addressed it completely. No where is it negated in scripture. You have said that some things last for a season, but these are the words of Christ. For them to end, you would have to show where he ended them, otherwise they stand unopposed. You appeal to scripture, so where in scripture does Christ negate or withdraw this power? Even if it was given to everyone, you should see church members dispensing this grace to other church members. I do not mean listening to a confession, I mean forgiving sins. That is nowhere to be seen, as you have stated. It can only be found coming from clergy. And to say there is an alternative path of forgiveness does not negate this one.

        To make sure I was being fair, I checked with a friend of mine, a Baptist seminarian. He says this power of Christ, passed on to the apostles, exists nowhere in the Baptist Church today. Yes, you can confess to God directly, and that is wonderful, but you have abandoned this specific form of grace that Christ extended to us through the Church. Perhaps the real question you should explore is why would anyone give up such an amazing and redemptive gift, especially when you have brothers and sisters in Christ telling you how amazing this grace is.

        2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.

        This is apostolic succession at work. This is scriptural support for it. This is how the power of Christ is transmitted from bishop to priest.

        I like your examples of the narratives, and to an extent there is some truth to it. The problem with it is this. The story of the Catholic Church is not a narrative, it is history. It is written down for all to read. The errors and flaws were not the Church, those were the heretics and schismatics. The Church worked day and night to expel false teaching and ideas, not admit new ones. Any attempt to admit a false idea was immediately met with protest and correction. You might say they just discarded the ones they didn’t like. If true, then you would have to believe their rejections to be true. There is a long list of documented heresies, I doubt you would find many of them to be truthful.

        What you describe as a failed argument isn’t an argument at all, it is evidence. Want to know what early Christians thought about the teachings of Christ, Peter, Paul, John, James? Go and look and see how they lived, what they said, and what they did. Go near the fountainhead to find the purest teaching. Fifteen centuries late to arrive to the party? Sorry, that’s just a little too late. I think I will look to those who were there at the beginning and their successors to search for meaning. If you want to know what early Americans thought about the Constitution, you look at early case law, you don’t read today’s newspaper. You don’t ignore history, you learn from it. So when you see multiple churches agreeing with Rome (some of whom haven’t been in communion with Rome for over 1000 years), that isn’t a narrative, that is World Religions 101.

        And look at this band of late arrivers. Here is their “narrative”. They show up late with a new set of rules, which they say is based on an important book. Only they are not certain the book contains fully authentic chapters. They are not exactly sure which chapters are authentic, and which are not, but they know some, probably most, are. And this group doesn’t even have a unified understanding of the new rules. They vehemently disagree with each other on several crucial points, and worse, they have no authoritative structure with which to settle their disputes. They bicker and quarrel and break off into subgroups, and then start quarreling again within their new subgroups. In short, each man becomes his own arbitrator of authority. To the early arrivers, it looks like chaos.

        Here is a better story. An important event happens with important characters. It is such an amazing story, people decide the story needs to be preserved. So they begin retelling the story. It is such an important story they are willing to die to preserve it. They teach it to their children, family, friends, anyone who will listen. Wicked men try to change or pervert the story. They cry foul and preserve the original story, even risking careers, even life. They realize the benefit of writing parts of the story down and do. But this story is so amazing and epic, only a portion of it can be recorded. Other parts continue to be preserved orally. Further, some parts of the story are so profound and complex, it takes gifted insightful men to help others understand. Without them, the moral, or deep meaning of the story might be lost. And by checking and rechecking the story, the written story, the oral story, the gifted understanding of the story, the story is preserved intact from generation to generation. Because people are inherently bad, bad people show up from time to time doing bad things. Yet the story is preserved. Of course it is, you see, the original protagonist of the story said it would be. He promised special help would come to those telling the story to help them preserve it. And he said their group was the “bulwark and foundation of the truth”.

        Clearly we will each hold to our respective “narratives” as you put it. And I do not see a problem with that. They lead to the same destination after all, just by different courses. You are on one side of the Tiber, I am on the other. The river flows in the same direction. But remember, I have been on your side. I know the view from there, and it is a grand view. The mystery of the view from my side, is that you cannot even imagine it, until you see it for yourself. It is like yours, but different. That is not some exclusive members only right, it is just nature. It is the “you can’t know a man until you walk in his shoes” fact of life. What is it like here? I wouldn’t say the view is better, since they both gaze upon the Glory of God. I would say perhaps that the view is clearer, broader, and perhaps more full. And I do not mean to suggest it is superior, just different. From your side, as I recall, I would say it is more focused (which now to me feels overly restrictive). Both are good, but different. Does it matter which side we stand on? I have no idea. God knows. People jump back and forth, for various reasons. Some good, some bad.

        One lesson I have learned on this shore, is that Christ is bigger than I imagined. That sounds trite, but hear me out. He is bigger than a book. “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ”, yes indeed. But Merton went to the Orient, Aquinas read Aristotle, Therese of Lisieux retreated into a convent, all to know Christ more completely. I know you know this, yet you project the image that he can only be known through the pages of scripture. That would be a shockingly limited view of him. Even the Apostle John tells us that (John 21:25).

        Anyway, I enjoy our discussions and hope they continue, if we don’t wear the blogmaster out.

        (Those examples of prayers for the dead, gay marriage, were borrowed from Mr. Shea. They were not referencing you specifically. It is just a error some Protestants use when making Biblical arguments, usually unintentionally.)

      • Still, this verse stands. You have not addressed it completely.

        Eric, Dad addressed other interpretations of that verse in his opening post. For that matter, I addressed that point several posts ago. If you want to argue those interpretations can’t be right, go for it – but I certainly have addressed it.

        No where is it negated in scripture. You have said that some things last for a season, but these are the words of Christ. For them to end, you would have to show where he ended them, otherwise they stand unopposed.

        Okay, that’s fair. Then for them to be limited to the apostles, you have to show where he explicitly limited them; otherwise they stand unopposed for all Christians.

        Even if it was given to everyone, you should see church members dispensing this grace to other church members.

        You would, if we interpreted it as Catholics do! But, again, we don’t; we believe there is no need of grace to be dispensed! If one interprets the verse (as we do) as speaking of Christians bringing news of initial forgiveness when they bring the gospel, then you certainly do see it fulfilled.

        2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.

        This is apostolic succession at work. This is scriptural support for it. This is how the power of Christ is transmitted from bishop to priest.

        That would be more compelling if we knew that Timothy was an apostle, but we don’t!

        I like your examples of the narratives, and to an extent there is some truth to it. The problem with it is this. The story of the Catholic Church is not a narrative, it is history.

        That is, itself, part of your narrative! It doesn’t make it wrong; it just means you have to support it, rather than just asserting it to be true. (Other Catholics saying the same thing is not particularly effective evidence, here.)

        It is written down for all to read. The errors and flaws were not the Church, those were the heretics and schismatics. The Church worked day and night to expel false teaching and ideas, not admit new ones.

        How long did it take Galatia to fall into error? Do you believe they did so intentionally, or did they think they were holding to the truth?

        In the RCC narrative, they’re the Jerusalem Church; in the Protestant narrative, the RCC is Galatia two thousand years on. Which one is right? Well, we certainly can’t answer from the narratives; which one fits closer to Scripture?

        What you describe as a failed argument isn’t an argument at all, it is evidence. Want to know what early Christians thought about the teachings of Christ, Peter, Paul, John, James? Go and look and see how they lived, what they said, and what they did. Go near the fountainhead to find the purest teaching.

        Sure. So let’s discount two millennia of tradition and talk Scripture. The written words of God – what external source could be nearer to the fountainhead than that?

        And look at this band of late arrivers. Here is their “narrative”.

        But it doesn’t matter what their narrative is. That’s the point! In argument, narratives don’t matter. Let’s stop discussing narratives and talk evidence.

        Because for all the strong words about how careful the church has been – whatever the narrative may be! – the evidence is actually pretty thin on the ground. This is a verse you, specifically, chose as the point that supports this particular Catholic teaching. And when we look at it, the verse:

        (1) May be talking about something entirely other than you say it is
        (2) Doesn’t say it’s restricted to the limited group you say it is
        (3) Doesn’t say it’s passed on to the limited group you say it is

        which is to say, it does not confirm your claim; the strongest statement that can be made is that it fails to contradict your claim.

        If this is how it is for a verse you hand-pick as support, how is it for the rest? Because the impression I’m left with in all these conversations is that Scripture does not suffice to support the RCC on basically any doctrine on which we disagree. Again and again, these arguments fall back on a narrative that states simply, “We’re right about everything we say; that we say it is the proof that we’re right.” And that’s not compelling; indeed, it is the greatest possible distance from persuasive.

        Suppose that tomorrow, a Manichaeist Catholic Church – the MCC! – steps out of the shadows of history. “We’ve kept the faith from the beginning,” they say, “Look! You can find us among the first few centuries of Christian believers. Could they have gone wrong so early? Surely not. Sure, those Roman Catholics condemn us in their councils – well, we condemn them, too, in ours! But we’ve kept the traditions handed down by the apostles; their traditions are lies. Look! We have all these teachings, and while you can’t confirm them in the Bible, these apostolic traditions we hold as the successors of Peter clearly confirm them to be true.”

        How am I to choose between the RCC and the MCC? I can’t judge them by their own narratives, or by the contradictory traditions their contradictory narratives claim to be authoritative. I can only judge by how well their doctrines match Scripture – and when they fail to do so, when they claim truths that Scripture doesn’t, I have to reject them both.

      • “Okay, that’s fair. Then for them to be limited to the apostles, you have to show where he explicitly limited them; otherwise they stand unopposed for all Christians.”

        But you do not even follow your own argument. Whether this grace was given to a select group, or all, for a limited time, or all time, you say this grace no longer exists because it isn’t needed, and scripture never says to continue it. So in brief, Christ should have just saved his breath. They were unneeded words since everyone could have gone straight to God anyway, back then just as today. I find that theologically astounding, to empty Christ’s words of their power. Are there other words of his you would time limit?

        Apostolic succession is not passing grace from apostle to apostle, its passing grace from the original apostles down through time to bishops and priests. And we do know Timothy was Bishop of Ephesus, history records it, so we have a historical record supporting what scripture tells us is true. Paul is showing us Apostolic succession in action.

        The church and tradition preceded scripture, by decades in some cases. So if you really want to get chronologically as close to Christ as possible, you cannot do it with scripture.

        What would history (evidence) look like if your interpretation was correct? You would find bishops, priests, someone, writing arguments against priestly absolution of sins. St. Irenaeus, St. Agustine, St. Aquinas, someone would have committed it to parchment. They would be saying exactly what you are saying, defending the truth of scripture as you see it. But no one did. There is not one scrap of evidence of anyone arguing against it. Mind you, this isn’t one church against another, because at this point there is only one church. There is only one truth, and it is contained within that church. The whole time this supposedly unsupported and unneeded practice is going on no one protests? And over a millennium later suddenly the truth appears out of nowhere, somehow hidden in scripture the whole time? That is just incomprehensible. If ever there was the need for suspension of disbelief, this is it. Somehow this secret truth is preserved underground for 15 centuries, when the very nature of the Gospel is to be proclaimed, not hidden. The errors of the Galatians are brought to light immediately, not 15 centuries later. The saints are dying to proclaim the truth. They are not dying to preserve a lie.

        What Rome offers is an unbroken testimony, from John 20 to the present day. What Protestantism offers appears to be on some level a self-serving desire to separate itself from Rome, when it appears all those years later.

        But let’s not stop there. Let’s put your theory to the test, within scripture.

        So let’s go to Acts 15 and look at the vexing question, should new gentile converts to the faith be circumcised? Let’s do what any decent scripture-only church would do and scour the scriptures for guidance. What do they find?

        They find that God gave Abraham the covenant of cir­cumcision “as an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:7). It is the sign given not only to descendants of Abraham, but also “those who are not your offspring” (Gen. 17:12)—that is, any who want to join the covenant people by conversion (Ex. 12:48). So the Patriarchs are all circumcised. Moses is circumcised and the covenant of circumcision is renewed and reinforced in the Mosaic Law (Lev. 12:3). All the prophets are circumcised. And for good measure, as we look up from the Bible we are studying, we note that the apostles gathered around us are all circumcised and recall that even the Lord Jesus himself was circumcised (a fact a future compan­ion of Paul’s will eventually note, years from now, in Luke 2:21). Someone in the group remembers Jesus used to say:

        “Till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:18–19).

        Curiously, Jesus is silent about the idea that Gentiles are exempt from the requirement that men who want to join the covenant people undergo circumcision. Thus, on the basis of Scripture alone, the solution to the problem is obvious. Therefore, in Acts 15, the Church meets in council and, in light of all this plain scriptural teaching, declares . . .

        . . . that circumcision for Gentile Christians is against the will of the God who does not change.

        The decision is actually made not through an appeal to scripture, but to the apostolic Tradition of the Church and to Peter’s own Christ-delegated apostolic authority. (HT to Mr. Shea again for putting this together).

        So your approach to appeal to scripture only, seems rather, unbiblical.

        And as for contraception, I am glad you are making choices that do not risk abortion. I saw it just as you did when I was a Protestant. I would say now that we see it with human eyes. The Church of course, has to consider all of mankind. So what are the perils for mankind? Hormonal abortion, failed contraception that leads to elective abortion, a dramatic increase in sexual licentiousness, and an overall lowering of the dignity of life (the President’s desire that his daughters not be punished for a mistake, as if life is a mistake). I would say God led the Church to make the right choice in Humanae vitae.

    • (Those examples of prayers for the dead, gay marriage, were borrowed from Mr. Shea. They were not referencing you specifically. It is just a error some Protestants use when making Biblical arguments, usually unintentionally.)

      They are certainly in error when they do so! Baptists in particular fall into the same error when they condemn alcohol, for instance; I heard a Presybterian the other day explain that the presbytery was the way God had appointed for churches to be governed. We all tend to absolutize our traditions – to take the things we’ve always done and assume they must be right, barring some explicit contradiction. (Indeed, that this tendency survives so well among Protestants is part of why I’m so suspicious of the claim from anywhere else.)

      But I think perhaps the tendency is over-read, as well: that what’s being critiqued is the claim that an action has moral weight, i.e., not that it’s permissible, but that it’s either beneficial or harmful. And it does seem to me that this is a legitimate demand – that any claim of moral import needs to be backed.

  10. The purpose of confession, now, is several-fold: to encourage me away from sin; to remind me of what I’ve gained, and how far away from it I naturally am; to encourage the church, and to aid us in urging each other on. It’s not a condition of my justification, though.

    I would add on that confession, whether in private to God or to other believers, also works to repair relationship – that my relating to God can be broken until I repent of my sin and recognize that it needs forgiveness and ask for that forgiveness. I think that even sin I haven’t repented of can’t threaten my state as a forgiven sinner, but it can mean I am out of harmony with God.

    I Woul love to see more commonplace accountability with other Christians in our church. Our church (Mercer Baptist) doesn’t shy away from straightforwardly requesting prayer for folks struggling with addiction or other sin-related trials, but I would like to see what effect it would have to extend that to mutual confession and support.

  11. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Who can forgive sins? | ChristianBlessings

Comments are closed.