Full Text for Your Pastor Is Not Your Therapist: Private Confession— The Ministry of Repentance and Faith. (Text)

LOGIA A JOURNAL OF LUTHERAN THEOLOGY PASSIONIS DOMINI NOSTRI IESV CHRISTI. SIN SICKNESS & SALVATION -SEELSORGE EASTERTIDE 2001 VOLUME X. NUMBER 2 conversation has become completely one-sided. TheologyÕslistening to psychology has been far more accurate, empath-ic, and attentive than has psychologyÕs listening to theology.I do not cease to hope for a viable two-way dialogue, butthere is as little evidence that theology is ready to speak outin such a dialogue as there is that psychology is ready to lis-ten. The bridge will not be built by the complete acquies-cence of theology to the reductionistic assumptions of psy-chology, or by relinquishing such key religious postulates asprovidence and resurrection."Since writing those words in his book Agenda for Theology:Recovering Christian Roots, Oden has gone on to write a pastoraltheology as well as a multi-volume set entitled Classical PastoralCareand a study of the pastoral theology of Gregory the Great,Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition. In each of these works, Odenattempts to reconnect day-to-day pastoral work with classicalChristian theology rather than psychological theories or manage-rial techniques.Braaten, Pruyser, Willimon, and Oden write in light of the col-lapse of theology and practice in the so-called mainline, liberalchurches. David Wells turns his attention to a similar failure with-in conservative or evangelical circles. In a series of three books, NoPlace for Truth, or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?(), God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World ofFading Dreams (), and Losing Our Virtue: Why the ChurchMust Recover Its Moral Vision(#), Wells provides an analysis ofthe state of theology and church life among AmericanEvangelicals. Wells notes that Òmany evangelicals believe in theinnocence of modern culture and for that reason exploit it and areexploited by it so that they are unable to believe in all the truththat once characterized this Protestant orthodoxy.Ó$For our purposes here it is worthwhile to note WellsÕs criticismof the understanding of ministry within contemporary evangeli-calism as it is shaped by therapeutic and/or managerial categories.Within evangelicalism, as within liberalism, the training of pas-tors has become biased against theology and oriented toward theimparting of professional skills. Witness the claims of the PastoralLeadership Institute in our own circles! Wells writes,It is not hard to see why clergy should have embarked ontheir own movement toward professionalization. After all,that is how other professionals acquired their standing insociety. It was by gaining control over their specialized Þeldsthat medical doctors, lawyers, architects, accountants, andengineers secured their own space and social standing forthemselves. Professionalization, however, is itself a culture,and the values by which it operates are not always friendly topastoral calling and character. For the most part, Americanclergy have not understood this. They grabbed at profes-sionalization like a drowning man might grab at a life jacket,but having been thus saved, they must now live by its limita-tions and dictates.%My colleague at Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne, Dr. RogerPittelko, says that the Missouri Synod has become the garbagecollector of American Christianity. As fads run their course in ries that many clergy have become uncertain of their unique call-ing and have restlessly looked to psychology for guidance ratherthan utilizing the legacy of Christian theology. The language of thechurch is jettisoned for the language of the clinic. In striving to belike counselors, ministers are rendered incapable of providinggenuine pastoral care, that is, the care of souls, using the meansthat reside in the pastoral o&ce.Two United Methodists, William Willimon of Duke Universityand Thomas Oden of Drew University, have weighed in with theircritique of the churchÕs uncritical embrace of the tools and tech-niques of the therapist. Willimon recognizes that counseling willbe part of the pastoral task, but he laments the reduction of pas-toral care to counseling. Observing that the Òdialogue betweenpsychology and theology has been a mostly unilateral a'air, withpsychology doing most of the talking,Ó(Willimon identiÞes theCPE Movement as a form of Òliberal pietismÓ that is individualis-tic and anti-intellectual. Above all, Willimon notes that CPE failsto recognize the churchly context for pastoral care. Pastorsbecome indistinguishable from physicians, social workers, psychi-atrists, and other clinicians.In his book Worship as Pastoral Care, Willimon echoes thereßection of the Jesuit liturgical scholar Josef Jungmann that Òforcenturies, the liturgy, actively celebrated, has been the most impor-tant form for pastoral care.Ó)The pastoral care of the individual isdone in the context of the congregation gathered around word andsacrament. Willimon is to be credited for calling pastors back tothe liturgy as the primary and ordinary means of pastoral care.Like Willimon, Thomas Oden was also deeply involved in thecounseling movement of the  s. In fact, Oden writes of his ownpilgrimage through the client-centered therapy movement andTransactional Analysis as well as dabbling in parapsychologybefore coming to embrace what he describes as classicalChristianity:I have spent most of my career working span by span on abridge between psychology and religion. Just how incessant-ly preoccupied I have been with this theological bridge isclear if from nothing else, from the titles of my previousbooks: Kerygma and Counseling, Contemporary Theology andPsychotherapy, The Structure of Awareness, The IntensiveGroup Experience, After Therapy What?, Game Free, andTAG: The Transactional Awareness Game. After two decadesof bridge building, however, it is Þnally dawning on me thatthe tra&c is moving on the bridge only one way: from psy-chological speculation to rapt religious attentiveness. TheÒDialogue between psychology and theology has been a mostly unilateral aair,with psychologydoing most ofthe talking.Ónbto have contrition and sorrow, or terror, on account of sin, and yetat the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution.ÓRepentance is not the self-contrived sorrow of the penitent, butthe Òtrue sorrow of the heart, su'ering, and pain of deathÓ (SA; Tappert, ) produced by the hammer of GodÕs law alongwith Òfaith, which is born of the GospelÓ (AC *; Tappert, ).This Lutheran doctrine of repentance refocuses the practice ofconfession and absolution. Gone is the insistence that all sins beenumerated. Freed from coercion and fear, confession wasretained for the sake of the absolution. Thus the Large Catechism:We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs,not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear whatGod wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, iswhat you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishingit as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with allpraise and gratitude (Tappert,  ).Article *rejoices in the absolution. All that diminishes abso-lution is rejected. Perfectionists who claim that real Christianscannot fall into sin are rejected. The Novatians, who denied abso-lution to those who sin after Baptism, are condemned becausetheir false teaching undermines the forgiveness of sins won byChrist and bestowed in his word. Finally Article *rejects theopinion that remission of sins is obtained by human satisfactionrather than through faith in Christ.Absolution is nothing less than the very voice of God himself.Article **expands upon Article *: ÒWe also teach that Godrequires us to believe this absolution as much as if we heard GodÕsvoice from heaven, that we should joyfully comfort ourselves withabsolution, and that we should know that through such faith weobtain forgiveness of sinsÓ (Tappert, ). Spoken from the humanlips of a pastor, the absolution is the very word of the Lord himself.More than a mere Òassurance,Ó absolution is Òthe very voice of theGospelÓ (Ap *, ; Tappert, #). It is on account of the absolutionthat the Augsburg Confession holds private confession in suchhigh esteem and insists that it Ònot be allowed to fall into disuse.ÓThe fact of the matter is that private confession has fallen intodisuse in our churches. It is beyond the parameters of this paperto review and analyze the causes of this displacement. The studiesof others such as Paul Lang and Fred Precht trace the history ofthe loss. A survey of the treatment of private confession or lackthereof in the textbooks of pastoral theology in the MissouriSynod might also prove revealing. The same could be said for thecatechesis for the Fifth Chief Part in the various synodical exposi-other denominations, we seem to pick them up in the LCMS. TheOden and Willimon critiques of the CPE Movement are not thatnew; they were written over twenty years ago. Yet this modelseems to have gained prominence in the LCMS only recently.Likewise, the professionalization of the ministry denounced byDavid Wells, a theologian at Gordon Conwell, a leading evangel-ical seminary, is eagerly embraced as innovative, creative, andÒcutting-edgeÓ by some within our synod. In collecting the theo-logical hand-me-downs from other denominations, we are apt toclutter our churches with junk that others have already discov-ered not to be that useful anyway. In doing so we also run the riskof displacing or losing altogether the gifts that we are called to setbefore the world.I have devoted a substantial section of this essay to an overviewof the critiques that others have o'ered of current, mostly clinical-ly based models of pastoral care and ministerial practice. My pointin providing this survey is to contrast the therapeutic model withthe understanding of pastoral theology that undergirds the ongo-ing practice of confession and absolution in the EvangelicalLutheran congregation. To put it another way, you canÕt patch oldcloth with new; you canÕt pour new wine into old wine skins. Thetherapeutic model of pastoral ministry is incapable of sustainingthe practice of confession and absolution evangelically under-stood. In the remainder of this essay we shall consider how thepractice of confession and absolution might be used in theLutheran parish, not as a therapeutic tool but as the locus of gen-uine pastoral care.Our practice of confession and absolution must grow out ofEvangelical Lutheran theology. ÒIt is taught among us that privateabsolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse,Ósays Article *of the Augsburg Confession. Martin Luther was noless adamant in the Large Catechism: ÒIf you are a Christian, youshould be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession,not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us too'er it .... Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I amsimply urging you to be a ChristianÓ (LC, ÒA Brief Exhortation toConfessionÓ; Tappert,  ). In spite of these and other clear state-ments in the Lutheran Confessions, the practice of private confes-sion and absolution is regarded by many as an archaic relic leftbehind by the Reformation and replaced by more relevant andpsychologically sound methods of pastoral care.A recovery of private confession and absolution entails a redis-covery of the evangelical Lutheran doctrine of repentance. In theAugustana, the practice of confession and absolution (Article *)is joined to the doctrine of repentance (Article *). The LutheranReformation has been characterized as a struggle over the doc-trine of repentance. Already in the Þrst of his Ninety-Five Theses,Luther writes: ÒWhen our Lord and Master Jesus Christ saidÔRepent,Õ [Matt. :] he willed the entire life of believers to be oneof repentanceÓ (AE :  ). Reacting against RomeÕs doctrine ofrepentance as an occasional activity that Christians were requiredto engage in, and the subsequent practice of selling indulgences,Luther taught that repentance is the natural rhythm of theChristian life set in motion at baptism and continuing until bap-tismÕs completion in the resurrection of the body.LutherÕs insight is reßected in Article *of the AugsburgConfession where true repentance is deÞned as Ònothing else than +   +The therapeutic model ofpastoral ministry is incapable ofsustaining the practice ofconfession and absolution evangelically understood.nbdistributed in the LordÕs Supper, and in the words proclaimed inthe sermon and spoken in the absolution. It is not that the forgiv-ing words proclaimed in the sermon are somehow less than thewords of absolution spoken to the individual penitent. The gifts ofChrist are never piecemeal. Forgiveness of sins does not come inbits and pieces. There are no levels of forgiveness. Rather, theSmalcald Articles confess that the gospel Òo'ers counsel and helpagainst sin in more than one way, for God is surpassingly rich inhis graceÓ (SA , Tappert, ). The forgiveness of sins pro-claimed in the sermon is not to be played o'against the forgive-ness of sins proclaimed in absolution to the individual penitent. Inthe abundance of his merciful will to save sinners, God has givenus both sermon and absolution. The great value of individualabsolution is that in the words of absolution God would give tothe penitent the certainty that this forgiveness is indeed Òfor you.ÓFollowing the example of LutherÕs ÒA Brief Exhortation toConfessionÓ in the Large Catechism, pastors will extol confessionin their preaching: ÒThus we teach what a wonderful, precious,and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a pre-cious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consid-er our great needÓ (Tappert,  ). Very practically this means thatpastors ought to look for those places in the lectionary where thetext invites (and yes, even compels) that we give exposition to thebeneÞts of confession for the sake of the absolution. To beginwith, pay special attention to the Sundays in Advent and Lent. Thepenitential seasons especially a'ord bountiful opportunities forthe preacher to set before the congregation the blessings of con-fession and absolution. A midweek Lenten series on the peniten-tial psalms or a series devoted to Psalm alone would provideanother opportunity to proclaim confession and absolution as theconcrete expression of the life of repentance and faith.Careful and continuous catechesis of confession and absolutionis essential. Fortunately the # translation of the SmallCatechism restores LutherÕs ÒA Short Form of ConfessionÓ to theFifth Chief Part. Here the catechist will follow the path of the cat-echism itself in teaching both what confession is and how confes-sion is to be made. This catechization ought to continue in othercontexts within the congregation such as youth retreats, adultBible classes, or study sessions built into regularly scheduledmeetings of the board of elders and/or the church council. PeterBenderÕs Lutheran Catechesisand Harold SenkbeilÕs Dying to Live:The Power of Forgivenessprovide excellent and accessible materialfor such teaching. Jobst SchšneÕs short monograph TheChristological Character of the Oce of the Ministry and the RoyalPriesthoodlends itself well for use as a study document with theboard of elders or other lay leaders in the congregation in helpingthem to understand GodÕs ordering of the o&ce of the ministryand the function of that o&ce in delivering ChristÕs forgiveness.In catechizing his people the pastor will make it clear that con-fession and absolution is the ordinary means of pastoral care inthe church. It need not be reserved only for extraordinary cir-cumstances or situations. Therefore it is salutary to establish andannounce set times at which the pastor will be available for con-fession and absolution.Setting aside a period of time each week for confession andabsolution has several advantages. First, it says to the congregationthat confession and absolution is indeed a natural part of the# tions of the Small Catechism. But this too will need to wait foranother time. Rather, I would like to reßect on how we mightwork toward the recovery of private confession in our parishes onaccount of the treasure of holy absolution.A salutary restoration of private confession will be anchored inpreaching and catechesis. Marsha WittenÕs study of sermons onthe parable of the prodigal son preached in Presbyterian andSouthern Baptist pulpits demonstrates how the language of secu-larity has overcome such biblical motifs as atonement, repen-tance, and faith. ,FulÞllment of self is substituted for the forgive-ness of sins. Sin is spoken of only in a most general sense, withpreachers carefully crafting their language to cushion the blow ofjudgment. Secular categories such as victimization and alienationreplace biblical categories of depravity, death, hell, and wrath.With such a muted preachment of the law, it comes as no surprisethat the gospel is likewise reduced to a generic message of divinelove that opens the way for self-acceptance. Preaching itselfbecomes therapeutic in its aims as it seeks either to soothe psy-chological hurts or to give wise counsel for sanctiÞed living.Against such a homiletical backdrop, private confession will beseen at best as one of many helpful techniques to relieve guilt; atworst it will be seen as irrelevant and perhaps harmful to a well-balanced, integrated spiritual life that can be achieved by follow-ing prescribed principles.Over against the kind of preaching observed and described byWitten, Evangelical Lutheranism understands preaching as thatdual work of God by which he both kills and enlivens. GodÕs wordsare performative. The words of GodÕs law bring death to the sinner,stripping him of all excuses and taking away every idol that hewould use for self-justiÞcation. The words of the gospel actuallybestow deliverance from sin, death, and hell. Law preaching notonly condemns the evil deeds of the ßesh; it brings our good worksunder divine judgment, as Luther made clear in his HeidelbergTheses. Gospel preaching moves beyond assurance and encour-agement to actually deliver the beneÞts of ChristÕs atonement tothose who live under the lawÕs death-sentence. Such preaching isnever merely descriptive. It is not that preachers preach about lawand gospel, but rather that they preach law and gospel.Only in the context of law-gospel preaching will the value ofprivate confession be appreciated and the gift of holy absolutionbe treasured. The practice of private confession is actually anextension of such preaching. Genuine evangelical preaching pro-claims a Òlocated God.Ó God is for us where he puts himself forusÑin the water of baptism, in the body and blood present andThe forgiveness ofsins proclaimed in thesermon is not to be played oagainstthe forgiveness ofsins proclaimed inabsolution to the individual penitent.nbhusband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient,unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, orquarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words ordeeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, ordone any harm?The diagnostic key is self-examination in view of oneÕs vocationor place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Here thepastor does not unduly probe or coerce; he is not a moral detec-tive. Rather, he bids the penitent to stand before the mirror ofGodÕs law so that the inbred sin is brought to light, to paraphrasethe words of the hymn. Here the pastor will need to be attentiveto the words of the penitent, guiding the penitent away from com-plaining about his sins to actually confessing them, naming them.When there is confusion or lack of clarity here, the pastor mayneed to press the penitent to identify which commandment ofGod he or she has sinned against. Likewise the pastor will be onguard lest the penitent slip into the Adamic mode of confessingthe sins of another: ÒThe woman you put here with meÑshe gaveme some fruit from the tree, and I ate itÓ (Gn :).The pastoral care of the penitent includes training the penitentto draw his life from GodÕs merciful and gracious words of abso-lution. Absolution is GodÕs verdict. In this word he declares sin-ners righteous and gives life to the dead. I think it was GerhardForde who described absolution as the verdict of the last day spo-ken ahead of time. In the face of SatanÕs hellish accusations andhis demonic invitation to doubt, the pastor teaches the penitentto cling to that word of absolution when confronted by the fatherof lies.The pastor will also help his people understand what absolutiondoes and does not accomplish. Absolution is that word of thecruciÞed and living Lord in the mouth of his pastors that Òis just asvalid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealtwith us himself.Ó Because it is the word of the Lord, it is truth.Heaven and earth may pass away, but this word from the mouth ofthe One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life endures forever.Absolution delivers an eschatological reality. It is not a quick Þxfor psychological disorders or di&culties. It does not follow thatone will Òfeel betterÓ after confession and absolution. The oppo-site may be true. The penitent may still need psychological coun-seling from those whose calling it is to provide this service in thekingdom of the left hand. The pastor will want to shepherd thepenitent in such a way as to guard against false expectationsregarding the e'ects of absolution so that he or she learns to holdfast to this word even under the crosses and a-ictions which stillmust be borne in this life.churchÕs life and the ordinary means of pastoral care. Confessionand absolution is not reserved for desperate cases or extraordinaryexpressions of sinfulness. Second, it provides an avenue for thosewho have never taken advantage of this gift to approach their pas-tor without awkwardness. Third, it reminds our people that con-fession and absolution is there for them. The weekly announce-ment in the church bulletin or on the sign in front of the buildinggently reminds parishioners of this gift. Knowing that confessionand absolution is regularly o'ered often prompts people who donot come at the scheduled time to seek out confession and abso-lution at other times when they are pressed hard by their sin andtormented by Satan.One of the issues that the pastor must face is the question ofwhich rite to use. At this point there are basically two choices.First, there is LutherÕs ÒShort Form of ConfessionÓ in the SmallCatechism. The advantages of this form are its brevity and evan-gelical clarity. It quickly moves the penitent to the point of con-fessing his sins and receiving absolution. A disadvantage of thisform is that Luther provides something of a sample confessionthat is helpful for teaching but cumbersome for the penitent whoattempts to put it in his own words. Second, there is the order forindividual confession and absolution in Lutheran Worship. Muchlonger than LutherÕs simple form, the LWrite is wordy and endsup with three confessions of sin. Somewhat problematic also is theplacement of rubric after the naming of the sins but before theabsolution. This rubric states that Òthe pastor may then o'eradmonition and comfort from Holy Scripture.Ó A more Þttingplace for such pastoral speaking would be after the absolution soas to catechize the penitent on how to embrace the word of for-giveness and so use that word against the assaults of the devil.Peter Bender o'ers an order of private confession and absolutionadapted from the Small Catechism and Lutheran Worshipthatavoids the wordiness of the LW rite while providing a structurethat is easily followed by the penitent. !The rite itself ought to take place in the chancel when possible.If the pastor is engaged in pastoral conversation or counselingwith someone in his study, and that conversation leads to arequest for confession and absolution, I suggest that the pastorand penitent move from the study to the chancel. This, along withthe fact that the pastor is vested in surplice or alb with stole, servesto indicate the churchly nature of confession and absolution.A few things need to be said about the actual hearing of con-fession. The pastor best learns how to listen to confession by beinga penitent himself under the care of a father confessor. OftenÑespecially in the case of a Þrst-time penitentÑthe pastor will needto guide the penitent gently in making confession. Here the SmallCatechism provides direction:What sins should we confess?Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even thosewe are not aware of, as we do in the LordÕs Prayer; but beforethe pastor we should confess only those sins which we knowand feel in our hearts.Which are these?Consider your place in life according to the TenCommandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter,The diagnostic key is self-examinationin view ofoneÕs vocation or place in lifeaccording to the Ten Commandments.nb +   +NOTES.Carl Braaten, JustiÞcation: The Article by Which the Church Standsor Falls (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, ),  ..E. Brooks HoliÞeld. A History of Pastoral Care in America: FromSalvation to Self-Realization (Nashville: Abingdon, #), #..Braaten,  #Ð ..Paul Pruyser, The Minister as Diagnostician (Philadelphia:Westminster Press,  ), . .William Willimon, Worship as Pastoral Care (Nashville: AbingdonPress, ), . .Ibid.,  ..Thomas Oden, Agenda for Theology: Recovering Christian Roots(New York: Harper and Row, ),  .#.David Wells, No Place for Truth, or Whatever Happened toEvangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, ), ..Wells,  ..See Marsha Witten, All Is Forgiven: The Secular Message inAmerican Protestantism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, )..See the excellent treatment given by Gerhard Forde, On Being aTheologian of the Cross: Reßections on LutherÕs Heidelberg Disputation,  (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, )..Peter Bender, Lutheran Catechesis(Sussex, WI: ConcordiaCatechetical Academy, ), Ð.In the Large Catechism Luther writes:Further we believe that in this Christian church we have theforgiveness of sins, which is granted through the holy sacra-ments and absolution as well as through all the comfortingwords of the entire Gospel. Toward forgiveness is directedeverything that is to be preached concerning the sacramentsand, in short, the entire Gospel and all the duties ofChristianity. Forgiveness is needed constantly, for althoughGodÕs grace has been won by Christ, and holiness has beenwrought by the Holy Spirit through GodÕs Word in the unityof the Christian church, yet because we are encumbered withour ßesh we are never without sin.Therefore everything in the Christian church is so orderedthat we may daily obtain full forgiveness of sins through theWord and through signs appointed to comfort and reviveour consciences as long as we live (LC , Ð ; Tappert,Ð#).Do we really believe these words of the Large Catechism? Or dowe, in fact, believe that everything in the Christian church is soordered that other goalsÑnumerical growth, healthy families,self-esteem, deepened spirituality, or whatever may be achieved?How pastors and congregations view confession and absolutionwill, in large part, reveal what they understand not only about thechurch but also about the very heart of the gospelÑthe forgive-ness of sins.LOGIA