Confession: Proclaiming the Gospel Purely

What is the problem?  The problem is that the Brief Order for Confession and Absolution found in the LBW (pages 56 and 77) is deeply flawed; its theology is what is loosely called heresy.

  1. Simply as a matter of rhetoric, not of theology, it is worth noting that the opening:  ‘Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,……” is taken word for word from the Book of Common Prayer.  This opening has already become familiar to us because it is also in the SBH, so we assume it is our tradition.
  2. The next item is the main problem. Of course it is a citation of 1 John 1:8-9, but it is a perfect example of taking verses out of context.  1 John 3:5, 3:9, and 5:18 state that a Christian does not sin, and the person using 1 John has to take this into consideration.  As a proof text, 1 John 1:8-9 makes confession and absolution conditional, dependent on our confessing.
  3. The confession itself (LBW) is a combination of good and bad.  Some commentary and oral history are in order at this point:
    1. Gerhard Forde was on the committee that produced this Brief Order.  It is hard to understand how he agreed to the use of 1 John 1:8-9 at this point unless one assumes that no New Testament expert was present to help and he was caught by Biblical proof-texting.
    2. The battle was over the SBH version:  “by nature sinful and unclean.”  One has to concede that claiming original sin is “by nature” no longer is the accepted way of concluding we have original sin.  “By nature” can seem to imply we are in our created material in sin, a Manichean view, which is to be avoided.
    3. Forde said that he spent all his political capital (not his phrase) in order to have this version of the confession.  Perhaps this explains some of the problems with the rest of this Brief Order.  His opponents had various innocuous proposals, to be found in the minutes of this committee, but a person can easily imagine the sort of thing proposed.
  4. The absolution has alternatives.  The first brings out the role of the minister (“As a called and ordained minister, I ….”), making it seem as if the clergy have special authority and power to forgive or announce absolution. At least this absolution is declaratory.  The second does not bring out the role of the minister, stating what God has done in Jesus Christ.  In a certain sense this is declaratory.  BUT it also adds “to those who believe….” – a condition.  Thus both alternatives are flawed.

General comments:

  1. We Lutherans develop an internal semi-Pelagianism detector1, and we need to trust this as our guide to proclaiming the Gospel purely.
  2. Below/attached are several alternative Brief Orders of Confession and Absolution.  They too are Biblical, but tweaked and combined to proclaim the Gospel purely.  This is not proof-texting, but here we enter the broad discussion of the immediate context and the broader, Biblical context.

1Semi-Pelagian is the technical term for “gospel-plus” churches/preaching which undermine the all-sufficient cross by making something else necessary. For example, Christ plus your decision, Christ plus your repentance, Christ plus your belief. Christ plus the historic episcopate.