Friday, June 22, 2012

Chemnitz's Absolution for only the Penitent Faithful

On 'Issues Etc.' radio the other day, Rev. Will Weedon (Director of Worship for LCMS)   mentioned an Absolution included in the Kirchenordnung for Braunschweig-Wolfenbuettel by Chemnitz and Andreae in A.D. 1569. 
 "The Almighty God has been merciful to you, and through the merit of the most holy suffering death and resurrection of Jesus Christ His beloved Son, He forgives you all your sins, and I as a called and ordained servant of the Christian Church proclaim to all you who truly repent and who through faith place your trust and minds on the merit of Jesus Christ and who order your lives according to the commands and will of God the forgiveness of all of your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. On the contrary however, I say to any impenitent and unbelieving, according to God's Word and in His name, that God has held your sin against you and this certainly is punished. Amen. "
How would — if at all — such an Absolution sting our ears in our modern WELS pews?  


Pastor Spencer said...

It must be noted that there is no "if" in this absolution, as in "If you repent . . . believe . . . act . . . ," but only that those "who" believe are absolved, etc... In other words, the fact that they are even able to repent shows their faith, and since this faith exists, the absolution is pronounced upon them.

Note the absolutions from the 1941 Synodical Conference hymnal:

. . . . "To them that believe on His name He gives power to become the sons of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. Grant this, LORD, unto us all."

Forgiveness is predicated on the fact that the penitent have faith.

"Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins . . ."

It is "upon" the confession of the believer, not apart from it. And again, the very fact that a person can confess their sins to God shows faith. Once again, forgiveness is tied to faith.

Thus, faith is not a "condition" that man must meet in order to win forgiveness, but the gift of God given through the Means of Grace. Only rejection of this free gift of faith damns, and leaves the unbeliever under God's wrath.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

I've noticed from reading Chemnitz's Enchiridion (p. 135), that he's very careful not to pronounce Absolution to the impenitent. It seems that back in the day, Pastors went out of their way to make sure they didn't Absolve someone who shouldn't be. The second bold sentence is almost bending backwards to cover their butt. They take the Keys seriously and want to avoid pronouncing Absolution to secure sinners at all costs.

"Are, then, all to be equally absolved regardless, be they penitent or impenitent? or is it in the discretion and power of the minister to bind and loose howsoever and whomever he will?
By no means....Christ says...that you administer the keys of the kingdom of heaven...Therefore, whom God binds in His Word, him the minister of the Word also should bind...whom God absolves, him the minister...should pronounce forgiven...

But how will a minister of the Word become clear regarding the true repentance and faith of a sinner?
For that reason and for that purpose examination and exploration in private confession is observed in our churches with those who seek absolution and are about to approach the Table of the Lord."

It seems like today there is more of a blanket Absolution given and the Pastor will 'leave it up to God' about who has true repentance and faith (not necessarily a bad thing). Whereas, Chemnitz seems to suggest to poke and pry open his parishioner's minds to make sure he doesn't give false security to an impenitent and misuse the Keys.

Just my opinion. Does anyone have any thoughts for or against my opinionated observation?

Christian Schulz

Pastor Spencer said...


Thank you for your comments and observations.

It is also been my observation of practices among my Pastoral peers that we tend to give people "the benefit of the doubt." As you say, this is not necessarily, and by itself, a bad thing, or a sign of slack practice or poor theology. But then again it might be.

As I pointed out previously today, the ability to repent and confess is as much a free gift of God as is the ability to believe. Therefore, if we are speaking to our sheep - and worship services are meant for BELIEVERS, not unbelievers - we are right in seeing them as the penitent faithful. That is also why the 1941 absolutions are so appropriate since they are very clearly and purposely directed to believers. And, of course, God has not given we shepherds, who are Called to pronounce public absolution, the capacity to ferret out who is and who is not a believer. We must take people at their word and also judge them by their "fruits" by which they will be made manifest.

Naturally, a re-introduction and energetic use of the sacrament of Private Confession and Absolution would be immensely helpful to us - both Pastors and people - in this regard, and that's why the Confessors so strenuously sought to maintain this salutary practice.

Nevertheless, I think a "general absolution" is still appropriate in the worship service. However, it is certainly possible, especially in some of the "homemade" confessions and absolutions I have seen, to inadvertently give comfort to the unbelieving impenitent. This, indeed, should always be avoided.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Christian Schulz says, "I've noticed from reading Chemnitz's Enchiridion(p.135), that he's very careful not to pronounce Absolution to the impenitant." This leads me to wonder how many impenitent people seek an Absolution. Doesn't the very act of seeking Absolution for a sin imply that one acknowledges his guilt before God and needs his mercy and forgiveness? Could the person be faking? I suppose. But then, are pastors called to judge another's heart apart from their public action and verbal confession?

Alan Lubeck

Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that an antinominan would probably still seek absolution.

Rick Techlin

Ken Engdahl said...

When this absolution was written, people were required by law to attend a state church. There were civil punishments for non - attendance or attendance at a non - established church. When Luther said the "communion at least four times a year" opinion, people would attend church but not receive communion for various reasons including the requirement for private confession and absolution then in effect. This might explain the address to the impenitent.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Spencer,

I appreciate your comment that there is no "if" in this absolution. A conditional absolution of a sinful human being is no absolution at all. Repentance and faith are the gift of God. (Acts 11:18, Ephesians 2:8-9).

But for someone (like me) who has been taught that Christians can choose to believe, this absolution sounds like conditional law. An absolution like this is an exercise in terror. Have I repented enough? Do I believe enough? I am still a sinner. These questions will ring in their ears until they either reject the absolution, or find true peace in Christ. And that peace is that our sins are forgiven without condition.

Love is unconditional.

God's blessings.
Rick Techlin

Pastor Spencer said...

Dear Rick,

I appreciate your comments. I very much understand your point - as one myself born into the Baptist Church. I suppose one could say that this absolution is meant for those raised and reared in the orthodox Lutheran faith, and can properly understand Chemntiz' meaning.

And your are also correct in emphasizing that God's love is indeed unconditional. Still, as you very correctly point out, both repentance and faith are gifts of God. Those reject those gifts also reject His unconditional love, perhaps, sadly, to their eternal detriment.

So called "general absolutions" need to always make clear that only those who possess God's graces of penitence and saving trust have His salutary and eternal absolution.

Pastor Spencer

Warren Malach said...

The old Service Book and Hymnal of the LCA and TALC had in its special services an absolution like this. When I was a student at CTSFW in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I asked the pastor at the "confessional and liturgical" congregation we were attending, Redeemer, Fort Wayne, about the absolution and he thought that it was terrible; that its conditional nature injected doubt into the minds of the penitents if they were TRULY sorry for their sins.

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