The Small Catechism – Confession and Blessings
In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Making Christ Known has featured a series focusing on Luther’s Small Catechism. We conclude this year-long series with Confession and Blessings.
A Kinder and Gentler Confession
NIS Bishop Jeffrey Clements
I am sometimes amused by what has stuck with me for a lifetime. When I was a child, the Sunday liturgy did not vary much. There were two settings for Holy Communion in the Service Book and Hymnal, but we only used one of them. The Collect and Scripture readings were different each week. There was some variety in the hymns, although I think we sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” at least 26 times a year. But, everything else was pretty much the same, week after week, year after year. Even the sermon with its introduction, three points, and conclusion was formulaic.
One result of all those years of repetition was the memorization of large portions of the liturgy, which came in handy for playing church at home. The words actually became a part of who I am. It is funny, however, to note the parts that are still lurking in the recesses of my mind some 38 years after the SBH was retired.
My pastor favored the use of Public Confession. I recall the beautiful words of absolution. “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us, and for the sake of the sufferings, death, and resurrection of his dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, forgiveth us all our sins. As a Minister of the Church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare unto you who do truly repent and believe in him, the entire forgiveness of all your sins: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
But more than these words of grace, I vividly recall the admonition that followed. “On the other hand, by the same authority, I declare to the impenitent and unbelieving, that so long as they continue in their impenitence, God hath not forgiven their sins, and will assuredly visit their iniquities upon them, if they turn not from their evil ways, and come to true repentance and faith in Christ, ere the day of grace be ended.”
I have wondered if my pastor took some secret delight in threatening the congregation with God’s vengeance. I also wonder if the adults in the congregation heard these words as the same kind of threat that I did.
Corporate Confession is kinder and gentler these days. Luther’s Small Catechism keeps confession pretty simple, stating that it has two parts, confessing sins and receiving absolution. When the words of forgiveness are given to us, we are to receive them as from God. I hope our children hear words conveying God’s grace often enough so that they become a part of who they are.