Thursday, August 12, 2010


My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Confession:

Q: Do any types of churches other than Roman Catholic go to Confession? If so, what are the similarities and differences?

Confession is certainly a part of all forms of Christianity. Without confession in some form, a religion could not be Christian, because it would lack two necessary elements—repentance and forgiveness. Television and movies have made Roman Catholic confessionals a very familiar image for most of us, but other Christians also practice confession in varying ways.

Three primary ways can be found of conducting confession by Christians. The first of these is a purely private confession. In this type of confession, a person confesses their sins directly to God through prayer without the knowledge or intervention of any other person. Forgiveness is understood to have been received through faith by the person making confession. This type of confession is the only method practiced by the majority of Protestants, and nearly all Christians engage in this type of private confession to some degree.

The second type of confession can be called individual confession. In this type of confession, an individual confesses their sins directly to a person in a position of spiritual authority, such as a priest or pastor. This is the primary method of confession among Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, although with some differences in details, and is a requirement for believers attending these churches.

A slightly different type of individual confession is practiced by a very small minority of Christians. In this variation, an individual confesses their sin, but must do so publicly in front of the entire congregation. This is typically found among protestant groups which hold to a very strict moral code as a condition of membership. The testimonies of new Christians, which are featured in many churches, bear a striking similarity to individual public confessions of sin, even though they are neither done as a requirement nor for the purpose of seeking forgiveness.

The third type of confession is corporate confession. In this type of confession the entire gathered congregation confesses their sin together, using the same words. The confession spoken is typically generic in nature and confesses all sins, in thought, word, and deed, asking for God’s forgiveness. After the congregation has confessed their sin collectively, the pastor then announces the forgiveness of their sins to all who have confessed. This type of confession is the most common type among Christians in Lutheran or Anglican denominations.

Even though it is not commonly known, Lutheran and Anglican theology does allow for individual confession to be made as well. Unlike other churches which practice individual confession, though, it is voluntary in nature, and they do not require that their members confess individually.

Additionally, these individual confessions are not made anonymously, as they are among Roman Catholics. Instead, the individual confesses personally to a member of the clergy without anonymity. At the same time, Lutheran and Anglican clergy are bound by a similar seal of confidentiality to Roman Catholic priests and they vow at their ordination never to reveal the sins confessed to them.

An additional difference between individual confession among Roman Catholics as opposed to Lutherans and Anglicans is that Lutheran and Anglican pastors do not specify penance to be performed by the person confessing. Instead, they announce the forgiveness of the person’s sins as a free gift from God based only on the perfect life and innocent sacrificial death of Jesus.

Many Christian communities make use of more than one method of confession. For example, there are ceremonies of corporate confession in circulation among Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers, while Anglican and Lutheran Christians make use of all three forms of confession. Although there is one God and His forgiveness is available only as a gift through Jesus, His Son, the diversity of settings in which that forgiveness can be delivered is God’s gracious way of providing that each of His people hear that message applied to them effectively and individually.

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