I have been absent from this world for a while. I am preparing to leave Missouri and head to Illinois for a year on a vicarage assignment. I am hoping through the nest year I will be more faithful in corresponding what is transpiring in Staunton through this medium.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Absolution and the Vicar

Thanks again to Pastor Brown and Meador for their input and insight into this area of discussion as well as the rest of us for feeling comfortable enough to share our insights and thoughts throughout this discussion. As well as the blessed men who have guided me through prayer and meditation.

This section will be a review of the circumstance that has brought this reflection and discussion into fruition. If you have followed the discussion all along then you might want to skip down a paragraph if not and you would like to have a greater grasp on what is being discussed, please read on.

This week a child was brought to me, he was heavy with guilt on account of a trespass committed at home. We discussed it, I led him into the sanctuary and we knelt together at the altar. He had no words for his confession so I opened him to the confession that is printed in the LSB. He acknowledged that the confession he had read was his own and according to his confession I proclaimed the Grace of God to him. (That is the short of it) I halted though because I felt a desire to proclaim to the child, “I forgive you all your sin, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus” but did not. I resisted because I believe that these words are given to the pastor according to the keys and authority given to him by the church. (Properly understanding the keys is critical and I thank Nathan, a classmate of mine from Concordia Austin, for the review in Lutheran Catechesis. So if anyone needs an explanation of “the office of the Keys” then look to the Small Catechism of Luther first, go to a local Lutheran Parish second, or call me if you have my number) So, I was unsettled because I wanted to remit him of his sin because I had compassion on him in his grief but was bound not to overstep the lines of authority which have been established for proper order of the church and for the care of souls. Now, back to the discussion…

I have read through all of the comments that have been posted and read through the confessions. I have talked to my Bishop, I have talked to Pastors who are around me daily who are wiser more learned men than I could hope to be in a lifetime and think that now I have a satisfactory presentation of “Absolution and the Vicar” which I hope challenges us in our thinking but more importantly our DOING. Here is my brief presentation (and it is important also to remember that as a vicar I am neither laity or Pastor, so my view will be different than that of a lay-man but I will try with all my might to make it so for the sake of the casual reader that might happen into the confines of this correspondence) thanks for all your patience and careful thought through all of this. I hope and pray this is for the mutual building up and education of us all, I know it has been for me, and perhaps a re-inforcer and refiner for others.

There are three realms that confession/absolution reign in and may be applied. These are not realms that you will find in a systematic or worship book, as far as I know and have read, but just three different areas of faith that the “sacrament” may be celebrated. I will begin with the one closest to the situation I have previously presented; between a penitent believer and a third party.

It is important to point out that the child in my story did not trespass against me, making me a third party in his story. I was the one asked to lead him in confession/absolution not being his father or mother. In this celebration of confession absolution I resolve that any lay-man not holding the authority of the Pastoral Office and the vicar alike absolve the sins of a third party in the form and fashion of that presented to us in Compline. In this confession and absolution the leader as well as the congregation confesses sin before Almighty God, the whole company of Heaven, and all gathered brothers and sisters of faith. Then the response is given in the third person asking that God forgive, remit, and pardon all sin. This is what Pastor J. Brown is talking about when he mentioned in his comment that I am left with a third person absolution. This is a declaration of Grace upon a penitent believer. This is where my tension stemmed forth on account of the literature I read.

I am being trained as a Pastor, like all vicars, and as a candidate we are being taught the necessity of a first person to second person dialogue in our speaking, Baptismal Speech, W. Willimon might put it and well as G. Forde. A speech that bears full authority to remit sins; as if it were God himself booking the declaration from heaven! That is why I think there was great tension. I am being trained to say words that I have not yet the authority to mutter. This might lead to a further discussion on the propriety of a third year vicarage. But, that is another topic altogether. Let us move onto what I label the second realm or celebration.

The second realm is what we see presented to us by Jesus in so many of his teachings concerning forgiveness; when a brother or a sister trespasses against me. In this celebration of confession/absolution there is nothing restraining me from using a first person to second person discourse in my absolution. If I am sinned against I will tell the trespasser, “I forgive you of all your sin by the command of Christ my Lord” or something to that effect. In this celebration there is nothing keeping a priest of the saintly priesthood from declaring full pardon. In-fact, we should hold fast to the command of Christ and forgive or else (Matt. 18:35). After this stern reminder from Christ let us move on to the third celebration of confession/absolution.

In the third celebration we see the richness of the Pastoral Office. Standing before a gathered crowd or a homebound soul the Pastor declares a first person to second person absolution in the stead of Christ and by his command. This absolution is authoritative to remit any sin committed. Not limited in only pardoning the sins committed to him in a first to second person setting or limited to grant only a third person absolution; the Pastor declares as if God were there in-front of the penitent, “I forgive You.” This is the Kerygmatic Public Ministry, if there is such a term. The declaration of First to Second person absolution which is bound by nothing because it is from God and not man, as my friend Shawn Barnett has pointed out so wonderfully. I should say make mention, the other celebrations of confession/absolution are also not bound for God in any way, and are powerful indeed, but as far as humanity we are bound by their form or the realm they are celebrated in.

A lay-man ought not to cross the lines of the Pastoral Office in celebrating absolution according to the third celebration I have mentioned above. In the same way, as we are being trained, a Pastor should not act as a lay-man in the pulpit. He ought to celebrate the full practice of this third celebration of absolution; using a first to second person correspondence between God and Man. “I forgive you all your sins!” This is the election of God and the full measure of his Grace which the church has authorized the Pastor to practice publicly, so let him practice it.

This brings into light the comment concerning the authorization of any person to hold the keys. I am not sure yet how to answer that and might take a few more days of looking, asking, praying, and reading to come up with a coherent response. Perhaps one of our other contributors might be able to sufficiently respond in less time.

If the question is, “could” the church authorize a man to perform absolution the answer is yes they could. Now, I think there are all kinds of other factors that come into play here. The question I have is, why does the church make use of its God given keys more often? Why don’t we gather sinners before the whole communion, confess, and then absolve as the body of Christ? I think Pastor Meador had an experience like this when he was visiting his current parish in Plymouth, WI. The communion gathered and forgave. That might also be a topic for another discussion/reflection.

I hope that you have endured through all of this. I hope that you have enjoyed it in some way. I pray that I have not been a stumbling block and that the devil and his evil angels keep away from these words and this discussion. Let us not be led astray and to divisions over words that we do not understand or agree. Let us, as brother, try to explain and teach simply, patiently, and calmly in love, so that the communion may be built up and the church protected. Pray that St. Michael and all the company of heaven be will us in battle against the evil one not taking his power for granted but reminding him of his defeat in Christ and lack of power over us. Let us practice and celebrate daily the richness of confession and absolution. As vicars let us pray to remain steadfast in our current vocations and not give into desire and temptation. As Pastors I pray that all you blessed men celebrate the Authority given to you by Christ through His Church to absolve by his Power and Might. As lay-men I pray that you/we would remain prayerful in our support of the Pastoral office not neglecting or becoming envious in anyway the position our Pastors have been granted.

I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear son, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger, and that you would keep me this day from sin and every evil. That all my doings in life may please you. For into your hand I commend myself. My body and soul and all things. Let your holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have not power over me. Amen and Amen.


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