A Dispute over the Law: Acts 15

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Today’s reading: Acts 14-15.

“How did the early church reconcile the conflict between the Law of Moses and the new covenant of grace?”

The first believers were Jewish, and they did not abandon their Jewish practices which arose from the Law of Moses. They continued to follow them while adding Christian observances such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When the church grew rapidly among Greek Gentiles, conflict arose as the older Jewish Christian congregations began to try to influence the new Gentile Christians.

Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. Acts 15:1-2 

Circumcision would have been the tip of the iceberg. The whole weight of the law with its dietary restrictions, Sabbath rules, feasts, and sacrifices threatened to come down on the Gentile believers if the legalists had their way. Peter had won the right for Gentiles to hear the Good News in an earlier Jerusalem Council. Now the stakes grew as the church decided whether each believer had to become a Jew in order to be saved.

No distinction. Peter, who had seen the Holy Spirit’s work among the Gentiles firsthand, declared that there was no intent on God’s part to distinguish between Jew and Gentile. “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). Paul later stated the same conclusion. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile” (Romans 3:22). “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).

The failure of the Law. Peter told the council that no Jew had been able to keep the Law. Why did they think the Gentiles would do any better?

Salvation by grace. He reminded the Council that they all believed that salvation came through the grace of the Lord Jesus. It had been true for the Jewish believers and it was also true for the Gentiles.

God’s plan for the Gentiles. James argued from the Old Testament that God had planned all along to redeem the Gentiles.

Practical means for reconciliation. James pleaded that they not make salvation difficult for the Gentiles by forcing them to keep the Law. Instead he proposed four practical steps that would accomplish the double task of separating the Gentiles from their old idolatrous ways and making their lifestyle acceptable to their more scrupulous Jewish brothers.

  • Abstain from food sacrificed to idols. This would be evidence of their forsaking idolatry.
  • Abstain from the meat of strangled animals. Since they would still have the blood in them.
  • Abstain from blood. The presence of blood in the meat, or the consumption of blood as food, was too shocking to the Jewish believers to be acceptable.
  • Abstain from sexual immorality. This was the hallmark sin of the heathen world in the eyes of the Jews, and without forsaking it the Jews would be unable to accept that the Gentile believers had been born again.

Paul became the Biblical scholar on how Christians should relate to the Law of Moses. In his letters he spelled out the following principles:

  • The law was our tutor, teaching us our need for salvation by grace since no one could keep the law. Galatians 3
  • It demonstrates our sin. Romans 7
  • We have the freedom to observe the law if we wish, but not to force it upon others. I Corinthian 9
  • Christ’s death on the cross cancelled the debt we owe to sin because of the law. Colossians 2
  • We cannot be saved by the law, and it does not even help restrain our desire to sin. Colossians 2

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Peter went right to the heart of the question. In this whole dispute the deepest of principles was involved. Can a man earn the favor of God? Or must he admit his own helplessness and be ready in humble faith to accept what the grace of God gives? In effect, the Jewish party said, “Religion means earning God’s favor by keeping the Law.” Peter said, “Religion consists in casting ourselves on the grace of God.” Here is implicit the difference between a religion of works and a religion of grace. Peace will never come to a man until he realizes that he can never put God in his debt; and that all he can do is take what God in his grace gives. The paradox of Christianity is that the way to victory is through surrender; and the way to power is through admitting one’s own helplessness. – William Barclay

Image by Hc_07 on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

Paul’s Gospel for the Jews: Acts 13

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Today’s reading: Acts 11-13.

“How do I tell a Jewish person the Good News?”

Paul left with Barnabas and John Mark on his first missionary journey in 48 AD, about eighteen years after the death of Jesus. It had been about fourteen years since his conversion. Persecution had scattered the church leading to a widening circle of influence. King Herod had executed James, the brother of John. Paul and Barnabas sailed to Cyprus, then to Asia Minor. He visited the Synagogue there and preached to the Jews the good news of Jesus Christ. His message gives us an outline of one way to share that good news, including with those of the Jewish faith.

“The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.” Acts 13: 27-33

Before Jesus.

  • David’s descendant; God brought a savior from the line of David as he promised.
  • Elijah’s entrance; John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah as foretold by Isaiah and Malachi.
  • Promised prophecies; Jesus’ life and death mirrored all the words of the Law and the Prophets read weekly in the Synagogue.

Jesus’ resurrection. He did not remain in the grave but rose to life as the scriptures promised.

After Jesus.

  • Sin forgiven; “Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”
  • Warning given; Don’t ignore the revealed truth and fulfilled promises and become hardened as the prophets predicted.

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It should come as no surprise that any people, including the Jews, resist the gospel. Jesus Himself experienced in his own body the full force of rejection by his own people. He did not cry out in amazement, “What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know who I am? Can’t you just read Isaiah 53?” As He wept over Jerusalem, He cried out, “Oh, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her.” He did not see His own rejection as an isolated event in the history of Israel, but as the culmination of a long history of resistance and rejection of the messengers of God. The Apostle Paul understood this when he declared that “the man without the spirit does not accept the things that come from the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and, he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1st Corinthians 2:14). There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to the sinfulness of the human heart, which is the first and primary reason for Gospel resistance. – David N. Brickner

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Reaching the Gentiles: Acts 10

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Today’s reading: Acts 9-10.

“How did the Gospel reach the Gentiles?”

God always planned for his chosen people, the Jews, to help evangelize the lost world.

(spoken to Abraham) “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:3

“See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ ” Deuteronomy 4:5-6

All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. Psalm 86:9

(spoken about the Messiah) “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

Their failure to bring the Gentiles to the Lord did not thwart his plans. Their rejection of Jesus, except by a few, did not stop his intention. He worked through Saul, whom Jesus converted on the road to Damascus, and through Peter. God said that Saul was his “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Saul had a ministry to the Jews and the Gentiles. He went into the synagogues to preach, but was almost always rejected and persecuted. He found a much more fruitful harvest among the Gentiles.

God brought Peter along by degrees. Peter saw Philip’s success among the Samaritans and joined him in that work, even though the Samaritans were usually despised by the Jews. Then God gave Peter the vision of the clean and unclean animals with the command to eat because God had made them clean. Immediately afterward he was summoned to the home of a Gentile centurion who was seeking God.

Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection… I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:27-29, 34-35

The truth of Peter’s realization was proven as the Holy Spirit came down on the Gentile men, who spoke in tongues and praised God.

Saul, who became Paul, worked among the Jews and Gentiles for thirty years. During that time he saw the church expanding among the Gentiles even as it failed to penetrate the great part of the Jews. His heart longed for his Jewish brothers to accept Christ, but he glorified God for the Gentile believers who were grafted into the kingdom because of the unbelief of the Jews. He was convinced it was all part of God’s plan to save both Jews and Gentiles. God had not rejected the Jews, Paul said. His promises to them were irrevocable.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!… I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved… For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Romans 11:11-12, 25-26, 30-32

Image, “St. Peter baptizing Cornelius” by Francesco Trevisani

Baptism Controversies: Acts 8

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Today’s reading: Acts 7-8.

“Who should be baptized?”

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Romans 6:3-5

Baptism is one of those great divides in Christianity. Infant baptism. Believer’s baptism. Sprinkling, pouring, dunking. How could something so clearly commanded by Jesus become such a source of disagreement? In brief, by 400 AD the practice of infant baptism was firmly established in the Catholic Church. Augustine codified the doctrine through his writings and established the precepts of original sin, the necessity of baptism for salvation, and the damnation of unbaptized infants. This practice continued unopposed for a thousand years until the time of the Protestant Reformation. Though Luther maintained the doctrine of infant baptism and the necessity of baptism for salvation, Calvin taught that baptism was only a public profession and identification with the church of Jesus Christ. Calvin continued the practice of infant baptism. On January 21, 1525, several students of Swiss reformer Zwingli re-baptized themselves, stating that their baptism as infants was invalid because it was not based on personal faith. They wrote that baptism should be preceded by “faith and a penitent life.” These Anabaptists influenced John Smyth and a group of Puritan/Separatists from England, who in 1609 re-baptized themselves and began the Baptist church. They wrote, in their London Confession, “Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispersed only upon persons professing faith.” Note that the main distinction between those practicing infant and believer’s baptism is not whether they were Catholic or Protestant, but whether they were members of the state church (Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist) or the professing church (Anabaptist, Baptist).

The Catholic church considers baptism to be sacramental, a means of conveying God’s saving grace to those who receive it. Catholics cite the early practice of the church in support of this view, along with Bible verses that describe whole families being baptized. The Protestant church usually describes baptism as an ordinance, an outward expression of the inward faith. Faith is a necessary prerequisite, as in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Some Christians go further and separate baptism from water entirely, believing that baptism is solely the work of the Holy Spirit transforming the heart of the believer.

With that background, look at today’s passage from Acts. After the Sanhedrin martyred Stephen, and Saul began to persecute the church, believers fled from Jerusalem. One of the seven deacons, Philip, traveled to Samaria and converted many, then encountered an Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza.

And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, [here is] water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. Acts 8:35-38

Some Bible translations omit verse 37 in which Philip says, “if thou believest.” But early church authorities included it. Cyprian (200-258 A.D.) supported the inclusion of verse 37 when he said, “In the Acts of the Apostles Treatise 12:3: Lo, here is water; what is there which hinders me from being baptized? Then said Phillip, If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest” (The Treatises of Cyprian). Augustine (354-430 AD) also supported it in his Sermon 49: “The eunuch believed on Christ, and said when they came unto a certain water, See water, who doth hinder me to be baptized? Philip said to him, Dost thou believe on Jesus Christ? He answered, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Immediately he went down with him into the water.”

Philip knew, as Jesus had taught, that baptism follows from faith. Having been baptized as an infant, and baptized again as a professing adult, for me the most meaningful baptism is the voluntary action of keeping Jesus’ command because of one’s personal faith in Jesus.

Moreover, from the time when He said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven;” and again, “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it;” no one becomes a member of Christ except it be either by baptism in Christ, or death for Christ. – Augustine

Just as a man cannot live in the flesh unless he is born in the flesh, even so a man cannot have the spiritual life of grace unless he is born again spiritually. This regeneration is effected by Baptism: “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5)  – St. Thomas Aquinas

Why do you suppose that baptism is put into this prominent position? I think that it is for this reason, Baptism is the outward expression of the inward faith. He who believes in Christ with his heart confesses his faith before God and before the Church of God by being baptized. Now, the faith that speaks thus is not a dumb faith; it is not a cowardly faith; it is not a sneaking faith. Paul puts the matter thus, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” – Charles Spurgeon

Our justification from sins takes place at the point of saving faith, not at the point of water baptism, which usually occurs later. But if a person is already justified and has sins forgiven eternally at the point of saving faith, then baptism is not necessary for forgiveness of sins nor for the bestowal of new spiritual life. Baptism, then, is not necessary for salvation. But it is necessary if we are to be obedient to Christ, for he commanded baptism for all who believe in him. – Wayne A. Grudem

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Worthy to suffer shame: Acts 5

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Today’s reading: Acts 4-6.

“It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” ― Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ

It didn’t take long for opposition to confront the newborn church. The continued miracles, the rapid growth of new believers, the preaching which condemned the murder of Jesus – they all brought down the indignation of the religious leaders. It began with the High Priest and Sadducees who were the most powerful and stood to lose the most from any upheaval (and who did not believe in life after death). They targeted the apostles. First they used jail time and stern lectures. That escalated to beatings. Death was not far in the distance.

But the disciples rejoiced in spite of the conflict.

…when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:40-42

What inspired their joy? How did they bear the interrogations and jail time? Most of all, they identified with the Lord, who had suffered much from the same authorities. Jesus had taught them to expect this kind of pressure. They believed the words they preached courageously, that there was salvation in no other name than that of Jesus Christ. They considered obedience to the governing authority, but decided that they must obey God before man, and God kept telling them to spread the good news. When they prayed for boldness to resist the threats, they saw their prayer answered with the unmistakable rumbling of the Holy Spirit that made them stronger.

The early church was powerfully effective because of the work of the Holy Spirit and the faith of the believers. God was with them, but their faithfulness and power fueled the conflict with the worldly authorities. Rather than questioning their mistreatment, the disciples accepted it as proof that they were following the path of Jesus. As Paul later wrote in Colossians, they were “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Their suffering was not only a result of their success, but a necessary ingredient in the continued growth of the church.

So you can count on it: if the Spirit comes upon you, and you receive power to minister blessing and healing in these extraordinary ways, there will be a price to pay: the suffering of jealousy and accusations of false doctrine and carnal counter-power (the power of politics and the power of the sword). – John Piper

The church is born: Acts 2

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Today’s reading: Acts 1-3.

Jesus poured himself into his twelve disciples for three years, but when he returned to heaven there were only 120 persons who could be counted as believers (Acts 1:15). However, with God little is much. As a result of his discipling, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, thousands of new believers were soon filling the homes and crowding the temple in Jerusalem. The church, literally the assembly or gathering, sprang up and grew rapidly.

With many other words he (Peter) warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:40-42

The longing of the church: Jesus’ return. As the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven, they were told that he would return in the same way. “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus” is the cry of believers who watch and wait for his return.

The power of the church: the Holy Spirit. The believers were gathered together on Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, when the Holy Spirit came and filled them. Jesus had been sacrificed on Passover, and had risen from the dead at the time of the First Fruits celebration. Pentecost celebrated the first of the wheat harvest, and a great harvest of new believers came into the church as a result of the work of the Spirit on Pentecost.

The growth of the church: preaching to the lost. I think it’s significant that the growth came from preaching outside the gathering of believers, but in view of the remarkable work of God among the believers. So much of our preaching focuses on the people already in the church. Peter’s effective preaching reached the outsiders. Our preaching would be more effective if today’s believers showed more evidence of God’s power in their lives.

The maintainance of the church: fellowship. Acts mentions four things going on in the early church. Teaching was done by the apostles. Fellowship involved sharing time with each other and sharing resources with each other as needed to meet needs. They had a common purpose and held their possessions loosely in order to fulfill that purpose. They broke bread together, an everyday word for everyday eating, but they likely followed the meal with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Finally, they prayed together, uniting them in communication with God.

They kept up the communion of saints. They continued in fellowship, and continued daily with one accord in the temple. They not only had a mutual affection to each other, but a great deal of mutual conversation with each other; they were much together. When they withdrew from the untoward generation, they did not turn hermits, but were very intimate with one another, and took all occasions to meet; wherever you saw one disciple, you would see more, like birds of a feather. See how these Christians love one another. They were concerned for one another, sympathized with one another, and heartily espoused one another’s interests. – Matthew Henry

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Who can forgive sins?

 

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“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.

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