Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Misunderstanding the Absolution

On February 18 I had written a post on the nature of the absolution and what it meant for the pastor to say "I forgive you..." In Bible class this morning we were again discussing the topic and it was mentioned that some people have refused to join the Lutheran church based on the fact that they misunderstand the absolution. That is, it seemed preposterous to them that a mere man could claim to do what God alone could do. Now the class did not disagree that there is scriptural support for the absolution (John 20, et. al.). But some wondered why we would use a form of the absolution that had the potential for such misunderstanding, and why we didn't just use another one.

In doing some research I found it interesting that the declarative form (I forgive you) has not historically been a universal practice among Lutherans. In the Service Book and Hymnal of the old ALC and LCA, the indicative use is exclusive (simply indicating that God has forgiven us, rather than putting it in the first person singular.) For those in the LCMS both forms of the absolution are provided. Apparently there was some discussion when they were putting together the LBW back in the late 70's as to whether the "LCMS version" shoudl be included. Admittedly, I have used the declarative exclusively.

Now I am not opposed to using the indicative use on occasion. It has an honored use, at least within the Lutheran tradition. However, for the sake of confession, I could not cease using the declarative use, no matter how a few might understand it wrongly. People misunderstand the doctrine of the church all the time, and it is the ongoing responsibility of the church to teach and explain and clarify. This is catechesis.

For any reading this who are from traditions outside of Lutheranism: what form of the absolution does your church employ? Or for those within Lutheranism, what form does your pastor use? I believe that in the Catholic tradition the declarative use does have a place in private confession, but I am unsure of the practice for public pronouncements during a service of reconciliation.

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