What All Christians Should Know About Priests, the Pope and Confession

🌺 Published by Brittany Ann

What All Christians Should Know About Priests, the Pope and Confession Pin

This post is post 7 in a series entitled Letting God Lead: My Journey Through Protestant and Catholic Beliefs. While you certainly can read this post by itself, I highly encourage you to check out the rest of the series as well. Find more about this series and a list of all of posts here. *This post contains affiliate links.

 

 

In last week’s post, we talked about the history of Christianity and how the church spread from a small group of Jewish Christ followers throughout the ends of the world. So, how does one take the crucial message of the Gospel and spread it throughout the entire world without losing something important in the translation? Two ways: the Bible and the Church.

 

About the Bible: I LOVE the Bible. I’ve read it cover to cover a few times now, I post verses around my home, I went to Bible college… Love the Bible. BUT you must remember: the church hasn’t always had the Bible. It didn’t exist in one compilation until a few centuries in, and even then, the Bible was SO expensive, most churches couldn’t afford to own the whole thing. So, how did the early Christians pass the message on? Through the church.

 

Read more on the proper role of the Bible in Christian history in my post: Who Has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura

 

Catholic Church Hierarchy

 

Within the Catholic church– just like within all large churches and organizations–there is a hierarchy of authority. The pope is at the top, and then there are cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, priests and elders. Not only is this hierarchy extremely useful for settling doctrinal debates and for keeping the central message pure, but it dates back to the beginnings of Christianity.

 

In fact, in Titus 1:5, Paul writes: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” It wasn’t that a few leaders naturally just emerged. The early church purposely set up a hierarchy to help get things done. A further developed model of that same hierarchy still exists today.

 

Here are just a few of the New Testament verses that mention bishops, elders, overseers, etc: Acts 11:30, Acts 15:2, Acts 16:4, Phil 1:1, 1 Tim 3:2, 8, Titus 1:7. Check out this article for an in-depth look at Christian Elders in the New Testament and their roles and responsibilities. 

 

Peter: The First Pope

 

Yet, of all of the Christian church leaders, none is more important or influential than the pope. It’s the pope’s job to guide the people, be a spokesperson and keep the whole operation running smoothly. Today, we have Pope Francis; the first pope was Peter, as seen in this section of Matthew 16:

 

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

–Matthew 16:13-20

 

What is this Rock Jesus is Referring to?

 

In the original Greek, the word for Peter (in verse 18) is Petros while the word for rock is petra. Some Protestants claim that because “petros” was a word for a small stone and “petra” was a word for a large rock, that Jesus was trying to contrast the two. “You are small, but my church will be big.” However, there are a few problems with this statement.

a. The words had lost their distinction by the time this book was written, so they meant the same thing: a rock.

b. The real reason for the distinction is probably more accurately that “os” was added to Peter’s name because he was a male and “os” was the masculine inflection, while the “a” was added to the rock because it was a feminine noun and therefore needed a feminine inflection.

c. But all that is besides the point anyways since Jesus wouldn’t have been speaking in Greek anyways, but Aramic, and in Aramaic, the words are the same. So what Jesus very likely actually said was “You are Kepha and on this kepha I will build my church” — same word.

d. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would bless Peter, call him insignificant, and then hand him the keys to the kingdom. “You are blessed. You’re an insignificant little stone. Here’s the keys to the kingdom.”

 

Other Protestants will say the rock Jesus was talking about what the truth Peter just spoke “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” but grammatically, the “this rock” should refer back to the nearest noun (Peter).

 

For these reasons and others, the Catholic Church believes that the rock Jesus would build his church on was Peter. Or in other words, Peter was the first leader of the church, or pope.

 

What Did it Mean to Be Pope?

 

As the first leader of the church, Peter had an amazing amount of power and responsibility. Verse 19 says “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In other words, whatever Peter said goes. Woah. But… there are a few catches, as we’ll see in a minute.

 

Why Does the Church Believe the Pope is Infallible?

 

Papal infallibility is based on the following verses:

 

The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” –Luke 10:16

 

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” –Matthew 16:19

 

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” –John 16:13

 

“if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” –1 Tim. 3:15

 

In other words, Jesus gave Peter (and the apostles, really), the authority that whatever they said would be.

 

It’s like if I were to hire a babysitter for my children. I’m still their mother and what I say goes. I can make new rules just by speaking them into existence and my children are obligated to obey. But if I were to hire a babysitter for my children, I would give her authority as well. She isn’t me, but she would have the power to act in the place of me while I was gone. If she said “It’s bedtime” or “You must get in your pajamas before I read stories” — those things become binding by her speaking them because I gave her that authority. And Jesus gave this same authority to the apostles–to act in place of him while he is gone.

 

What Does “Infallible” Mean?

 

Catholics believe that the pope is infallible. But the word “infallible” may not mean what you think it does. So for clarification…

 

1. Catholics do NOT worship the pope. He is the leader or the head of the organization, not God or divine or supreme or anything like that.

2. “Infallible” does NOT mean “sinless.” The pope is human and sins just like the rest of us.

3. The pope doesn’t have any sort of “magic powers.” He doesn’t just automatically know the right thing to do. Instead, he has to study the Scriptures, church history and previous council decisions, and rely on the Holy Spirit to hep him make the right decision.

4. Papal infallibility ONLY applies to official doctrinal declarations. That’s an incredibly important distinction that shouldn’t be overlooked. The Church doesn’t teach that the pope will never mess up, ONLY that he will never make an official doctrinal declaration in error.

5. There are restrictions. 

  • The pope must be making a formal declaration as the pope. He can’t just accidentally say something and it doesn’t even count if he’s teaching or writing about something in a church or in a book. It has to be official and on purpose.
  • He must be speaking about faith and morals. (He can’t declare pineapple pizza the best kind).
  • The decision has to be in line with Scripture and Tradition. (He can’t suddenly declare that Jesus was married.)
  • The decision has to be in line with what previous church councils have decided. (He can’t declare a new canon.)
  • The decision has to be logical. (He can’t declare squares circles.)

 

So… he’s important and he’s got a lot of power, BUT it’s not unrestrained. He can’t just go do or proclaim anything he wants.

 

Instances of Papal Infallibility

 

If I were the pope (Heaven help us all!), I’m not sure if I would be making formal declarations left and right or if I’d shy away from them altogether. Either way, Catholic popes make far less official infallible decisions than many people think.

 

Research papal infallibility, and you’ll find most sources say that only two official declarations have ever been made:

  1. In 1854, Pope Pius IX formally declared the doctrine of Immaculate Conception (That Mary was born without original sin).
  2. In 1950, Pope Pius XII formally declared the doctrine of the Assumption (That Mary was assumed into Heaven with both body and soul–after she died).

 

A few other sources will list a few more:

  1. In Acts 15:28, Peter declares that circumcision is not a requirement for the Gentiles.
  2. In 1870, the doctrine of papal infalliblity was officially declared at the first Vatican Council.
  3. When the pope declares someone a saint, that is supposed to be infallible as well.

 

Either way, it doesn’t happen often, and it usually doesn’t occur unless it is the settling of a dispute. (Catholics believe a lot of things, but they generally don’t feel the need to “declare” them to be true until they are challenged.)

 

 

**Okay, so hopefully that answers your questions on the pope! Let’s switch gears now and talk about confession for a minute.**

 

 

Why Do Catholics Confess Their Sins to a Priest?

 

The Catholic practice of confessing to a priest is based on the following verses:

 

“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” –John 20:21-23

 

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” –Matthew 16:19

 

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” –James 5:16

 

In other words, Jesus told the disciples that they had the power to forgive (or not forgive) sins! Why would he give it to them if he didn’t expect them to use it? And how could priests forgive or not forgive our sins if we don’t tell them what they are? Catholics confess to a priest not because they CAN’T go straight to God–they can–but because that’s how they believe God intended for things to work.

 

This super cute little video does a good job of explaining it:

 

 

And here’s a really handy guide to confession, so you can know exactly what happens there!

 

But God is the Only One Who Has the Power to Forgive Sins!

 

According to whom? In Mark 2:7, the Pharisees ASK: “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But the Pharisees asking is NOT the same as Jesus or one of the disciples declaring. To my knowledge, Jesus and the apostles don’t ever say only God can forgive sins. (If they do–please leave the verse in the comments section!!)

 

And anyways, this passage would have occurred BEFORE the passages in John 20 and Matthew 16… so it probably WAS true then… until Jesus also gave this responsibility to the apostles.

 

A Few Clarifications on Confession

 

  • Catholics are not required to confess ALL their sins, just the major ones.
  • If you legitimately forget something, you’re still forgiven; you just can’t *forget* on purpose.
  • Catholics are required to confess any mortal sins at least once a year.
  • These requirements don’t kick in until you reach a certain age.
  • Priests CAN NOT repeat anything they heard in confession or in ANY WAY change their actions based on what they have heard.
  • Priests cannot require you to confess to someone else (They can recommend it, but they can’t require it).
  • When priests forgive sins, they are acting in persona Christi, or in place of Christ.
  • This doesn’t mean that they ARE Christ, but that they are exercising their authority to act on his behalf, or as his ambassador.
  • Priests–and even the pope–also go to confession. They can’t forgive themselves. (Well, they can, but it doesn’t “count.”)
  • Those of you who have actually BEEN to confession–feel free to add more in the comments!

 

Benefits of Confession

 

Honestly–though I have yet to go myself–I’ve always liked the idea of confession.

  • Confessing your sins out loud forces you to own up to them–not just ignore them.
  • Also, I imagine it must make you less likely to keep doing the same sin in the future. Who wants to admit the same thing over and over again?
  • It reminds you that you are a part of a community of believers–and that your sins affect others.

 

Catholics list a few more benefits:

  • You can know for sure your sins are forgiven.
  • Confessing imparts a special grace that helps you sin less in the future.
  • It helps you know yourself more/identify your habitual sin patterns.
  • The priest will sometimes offer you counsel or advice.

 

And assuming it’s not sinful (and I really don’t think it is)–why not??

 

 

 

Why Can’t Women Be Priests?

 

This article pretty much sums up any arguments I could give: Why Can’t Women Be Priests. Like it or not, the church isn’t changing its mind on this one.

 

But for the record, the Catholic Church doesn’t do it out of spite or disdain for women. In fact, the church calls women the “crown of creation,” and the church has FAR more women leaders in other areas than the average company. Statistically, they out-perform at promoting women, just not as priests.

 

Aren’t Catholic Priests a Bunch of Child Molesters?

 

We actually discussed this topic quite a bit in the comments section of my 10 Common Catholic Myths Critics Believe Post, so I won’t go into it in much detail here, other than to make a couple points.

 

1. What the church teaches and what certain members of the church do are two COMPLETELY different issues.

 

If the church were TEACHING people to molest or teaching that it was acceptable to molest or that it was acceptable to allow others to molest, that would be a huge problem. BUT this is NOT what the Catholic church teaches at all. Just because a few people don’t follow the rules doesn’t mean that the rules are flawed–just that the people didn’t follow them.

 

That’d be like saying America is a horrible country and democracy is a joke because a few people steal and kill. It’s not democracy’s fault. It’s the people’s fault.

 

2. Just because a few did something horrible doesn’t mean that all do.

 

Yes, some priests committed a horrible, horrible, shameful crime. It was absolutely inexcusable. BUT that doesn’t mean that all of the rest of the priests who were not involve deserve the same reputation.

 

That’d be like saying that because a few Americans kill and steal that we are ALL murderers and thieves.

 

And honestly, can you imagine trying to be a priest today–trying to serve God and His people–all while being accused and scorned because of a scandal you had nothing to do with? Yes, we should put the blame and responsibility where it is due–but it isn’t with the entire church or with every priest–just those who were involved in some way.

 

3. Priests aren’t the only ones involved in scandals like these.

 

Statistically, more teachers are convicted of molestation than priests. Are all teachers rapists? Hardly! Furthermore, MANY Protestant pastors, political leaders and parents are involved in crimes like these every day as well. Does that mean we’re all doomed? No, it means we’re all sinners and we all mess up sometimes–some in more horrible and public ways than others.

 

Okay, discussion time! What questions do you still have? What points did I miss? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

Letting God Lead: My Journey Through Protestant and Catholic Beliefs: Great Series! Must read for any Christian! Pin

 

Enjoyed this post? Don’t miss the rest of the posts in the series!

 

The Day I Realized My Religion Got it Wrong

10 Common Catholic Church Myths that Critics Believe

Is the Eucharist Really Just a Symbol?

Is Faith Alone Enough?

Who has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura

A Brief Look at the History of Christianity

What All Christians Should Know About Priests, the Pope and Confession

What Do Catholics Really Believe About Mary, Saints and Statues?

Infant Baptism or Believer’s Baptism? Which is Correct?

What is Purgatory? What are Indulgences?

Why Do Catholics….? Honest Answers to Your Burning Questions

Protestant and Catholic Beliefs Series Conclusion

 

 

Resources and Further Reading

 

I’m not asking you to believe because I say so. Please DON’T take my word for it! The purpose of this series is only to share what I’ve learned on my journey in order to inspire you to begin a journey of your own. Here are a few helpful resources to get you started.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

The New Catholic Answer Bible

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic by Patrick Madrid

The Catholic Church: What Everyone Needs to Know by John L. Allen

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/papal-infallibility

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-forgiveness-of-sins

http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/why-can-t-women-be-priests.html

 http://catholicexchange.com/is-confession-still-an-easter-duty

http://catholicism.about.com/od/beliefsteachings/f/Did-The-Virgin-Mary-Die.htm

http://www.catholicscomehome.org/two-minute-answers/

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/infallibility-and-the-catholic-pope.html

http://www.goodconfession.com/five-benefits-of-frequent-confession/

http://jimmyakin.com/2004/06/two_instances_o.html

http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2013-0402-siscoe-infallibility.htm

Brittany Ann

Brittany Ann is an author, speaker, and founder of EquippingGodlyWomen.com, a popular Christian-living website dedicated to helping women be “all in” in faith and family.

  1. A very well-written article. As always, as a Protestant, I have a lot of thoughts about the article, but I’ll limit myself to a few comments. For starters, kudos on the last two points. I agree that it is extremely unfair for anyone to dismiss Catholic teachings simply because some priests have committed grave sins. Protestant churches also have ministers who commit serious sin. I also agree that the fact the Catholic church adheres to biblical gender roles in regard to church leadership is a strong point of the Catholic faith, as the Catholic record is better than the Protestant one on this. Now, for my concerns and questions about other points of Catholic thought. One, you note that if confessing to a priest isn’t a sin, why not do it? I would add though that this is not simply a matter of Christians having the spiritual liberty to confess sins to church leaders. It is a matter of whether they have to go through a Catholic priest to gain forgiveness from Christ, which then brings up the question of what happens to those outside the Catholic church such as Protestants and the Orthodox. Second, I have many questions about the doctrine of papal infallibility. Why, for instance, was it only outlined as official doctrine in 1870, when papal authority had been challenged many, many times already in history? And why does there seem to be confusion over how many times popes have spoken with such infallible authority? One of the selling points of the Catholic church is the claim that it provides better clarification of doctrine than the Bible can. But if church officials and laypeople are uncertain as to how many times and when popes have spoken infallibly, that weakens the selling point.

    1. I *think* (and sincerely hope!) that Protestants who pray straight to God can still be forgiven! I really can’t imagine God saying “It’s nice that you’re sorry and all, but you didn’t tell a priest, so it doesn’t count!” This is on my list of questions to get an official answer for once I can finally get a meeting with a priest again.

      And as for why it wasn’t formally defined until 1870–not positive. I do know that Catholics don’t always define things until challenged and that they say that while there is no new divine revelation, they can grow in their understanding of the revelation we’ve already been given. I don’t think a dispute really weakens things though. They aren’t disputing the decisions that were made, but just whether or not they technically count as falling under the infallibility clause.

      1. Thanks for your reply. I’ll be interested to hear more about what you find out. I do think it’s important for statements of papal infallibility to be identifiable though. And perhaps they are, I just did not gather that from what I’ve read. Without the ability to identify which specific recorded statements fall under that clause and why they do, it makes it difficult to discuss church history. As a Protestant, when I read a particular pope’s declaration, am I to read it as the official teaching of the Catholic church? Or am I to read it as a point that even Catholics are allowed to debate among themselves? I know there are theoretical guidelines, but how does that look in reality? The Catholic church promises more certainty than what is found in Scripture, but sometimes it is difficult for me to understand precisely where to look for official Catholic teaching.

      2. Not sure if it helps but documents that popes write have different “authority” for lack of a better word. Some rank pretty high and we should look at them more seriously than others. Does that make sense?
        For instance, Pope Francis wrote a great letter last year called The Joy of the Gospel. Did it change any rules in the church? No. Did Catholics have to read it and believe it all? No. However, I know many Catholics did because it’s always good to hear what the Pope says (similar in some way to if a very well know Protestant pastor wrote a book. Many people would likely read it because they trust his insight and want to hear what he has to say). I can say his letter has influenced a lot of thinking ( I actually went to a workshop/training on it).

        As far as infallible statements, the only two I’ve ever seen named were the two regarding Mary. They were already commonly believe by the Catholic laypeople (aka the people who aren’t clergy) since the beginning of the church but like Brittany explains, we usually don’t declare something officially until it’s argued.

        As far as the other statements, I would say the verse from Acts could be implied as infallible although they didn’t talk about things like infallible statements back then. I would guess the First Vatican Council made the official statement about papal infallibility to solidify what was said in 1854 regarding Mary.

        I wouldn’t consider Saint canonization infallible although I can see how it is similar in that Catholics generally don’t dispute who is made a Saint since the process usually takes FOREVER and the people have been encouraging this person to be officially named such.

        Hope that helps! 🙂

      3. I am interested your last sentence. “The Catholic church promises more certainty than what is found in Scripture. Can you tell me specifically what you are talking about?

      4. Sure, Erin. What I mean is that some Protestants (including myself) adhere to the Bible (the 66 books of the Protestant canon) as being our primary doctrinal authority. In short, we adhere to the idea of “Sola Scriptura” and tend to view the Bible as God’s inerrant, authoritative and infallible Word. The Catholic Church, though also respecting Scripture as God’s Word, argues that this Protestant position is insufficient and that additional authoritative sources are needed to determine spiritual matters. In that sense, since the Catholic Church claims to be an additional authoritative source, the Catholic Church promises more certainty than is found directly in the pages of Scripture. That’s why it confuses me when there is doubt within Catholicism as to which papal statements, for instance, are infallible. I understand such debates but, meaning no insult to Catholicism, think they undermine some of the claims of providing more certainty than Scripture itself. That said, I also don’t think that my concerns would be as troubling to someone raised a Catholic.

      5. Just to clarify, I don’t think the church teaches that it is superior to Scripture–just that official Tradition (meaning the official doctrines handed down from the apostles, not the little traditions, as in cultural custom things) are on equal footing as the Bible. In other words, the apostles had just as much authority as the Bible does.

    2. DCal,

      First let me try an answer your questions about confession. I mention in another comment above the difference between “mortal” and “venial” sins. That should get you started as far as needing to confess to a priest.

      While there are differences between them, the Orthodox church is in many ways the same as the Catholic Church. Their sacraments (Eucharist, Holy Orders, Reconciliation) are recognized as valid by the Catholic Church. So in this case, there really isn’t a difference. In the case of protestants, the official, formal teaching of the Church is basically, “we don’t know.”

      When it comes to protestant Christians, the Church hopes we will all be reunited if not in this life then in the next. However, that is ultimately up to God because the criteria the Church uses to help us know ourselves are matters of the heart which we cannot judge in others. The saying goes, “God has bound Himself to the Sacraments, but He is not bound BY the Sacraments.” In other words, we are assured of the saving grace received in the sacraments. But God’s saving grace is not limited to only those sacraments validly performed by Catholic or Orthodox ministers. He is God, and can save whom He chooses by His grace.

      To your second point on papal infallibility, it is important not to confuse “papal infallibility” with the infallibility of the Church. Not every doctrine of the Church has been defined explicitly by an infallible decree from a pope. In fact, very few have (even the more liberal estimates are still single digits). Most of what gets infallibly defined comes from the Ecumenical Councils (Nicea, Constantinople, Trent, Vatican I and II, etc.).

      1. Thank you again, Bryan, Chelsea and Brittany for your replies to my comments. The explanations are useful in helping me understand Catholic viewpoints on papal infallibility and confession more fully. In particular, Bryan, I am grateful for your reference to the Ecumenical Councils as being where most Catholic doctrine is defined. As noted in one of my comments, I do at times have difficulty understanding what Catholics officially believe (and I stress the word “officially” here). For instance, on papal infallibility, my concern is not only related to the principle itself, but to the lateness it was declared and to the seeming uncertainty about which papal statements should be considered infallible. From what I understand, Catholic apologists for 1800 years could have assured me that papal infallibility was not part of the official teaching of the Catholic Church and that I would not have to believe it in order to be a Catholic in good standing. And far from this being a belief that simply had not been defined due to a lack of challenge, papal authority had been challenged numerous times throughout history both from within and from without the Catholic Church. Then, in 1870, papal infallibility became official teaching, and even after that, despite 100 subsequent years of history, there seems to be uncertainty about which papal declarations are or are not infallible. That makes it difficult for me, as a Protestant, to evaluate Catholic truth claims.

      2. DCal, you’re not alone. Even as a Catholic, there are parts of our Church I don’t fully understand.

        One point of clarification, is very few things actually “become” official teaching. They are always implied through the revelation of God’s Word in Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition (oral teachings passed on from Christ). They become formally defined when the Church recognizes a need. Sometimes this need is because of a challenge (i.e. the early heresies) and others it is because the Church believes a clear definition will be beneficial to the faithful and/or it is already held as a common viewpoint among the faithful (i.e. Immaculate Conception).

        Some of the Early Church Fathers’ writings point to the belief in papal infallibility (I’m sorry I can’t cite them for you, but search Catholic.com for “papal infallibility” and some of them are quoted). So it’s not an idea that suddenly appeared in 1870. It was still a Church teaching, just not one that had been formally defined.

        As to the good standing argument, if you were aware of the teachings on papal infallibility even prior to it’s formal definition and chose to not believe that would be between you and God. As I said when talking about confession for protestants, only God is fit to judge whether we truly “know” something and are choosing to reject it. On the surface, I would say you would not be in good standing, but that really would depend on you. That’s why it’s hard for me to objectively say anything about a person’s standing within the Church. Unless they were just Baptized 2 seconds ago, then I think I’m safe in saying he/she is in good standing.

      3. Completely understandable. Thankfully, I don’t think Jesus is calling us to get everything 100% right–because there are a lot of things that are still unclear–just to do our best. And I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Catholics believe that divine revelation is closed (God won’t reveal anything new), but that the way we understand the divine revelation we’ve already been given is very much a work in progress! We’re learning and understanding more all the time–especially when it comes time to refute heresies, for example.

  2. Dear Brittany,
    I am really enjoying this series. May you be blessed for all this hard work.

    One thing, almost always overlooked about the One Mediator argument in regard to the role of the Church, is that Christ shares his authority and his role as mediator. Obviously every Christian believes this, because they all share the gospel with the world. No one other than perhaps St. Paul has had a direct vision from Jesus Christ about the Gospel. Each one of us is a mediator, but as St. Paul tells us there are different levels: “are all apostles, are all profits, are all teachers?” The Greek phrasing of this question implies a no answer, meaning that there are different roles of authority within the body of Christ. We are all mediators in the one mediator, Jesus Christ. Confessing your sins to the priest does not diminish our sense of Christ as the one mediator, rather, it gives us a unique experience of it. When you hand the gospel down to your children, it does not diminish the one mediator of Jesus Christ, rather, it gives your children a unique experience of it. It is our privilege to be coheirs and coworkers with Christ for the salvation of the world.

    “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). In these words Christ commissions his apostles to do as he did: to preach, baptize, and even to heal and forgive sin. As has already been pointed out, Christ gave them this power to bind and loose (Matthew 16:18/18:18), words that derive their meaning from their context in the culture. Judges and priests had authority and the power to bind and loose. When talking about himself and Barnabas and their role as apostles, Paul states, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). The “us” refers not to all believers, but in context to them as apostles.

    There is so much more I would add here, but for the sake of time and space I will leave it at this for all to ponder.

    +Deacon Greg

    1. CORRECTION: “No one other than perhaps St. Paul has had a direct vision from Jesus Christ about the Gospel.” AFTER the Ascension, that is.

  3. Fun fact about Confession- Confessing to a priest is something that evolved a bit over time. In the early church, we confessed to the whole church- once when a person initially became Christian and other other time. The church as a whole decided your penance and then you were in that state for a while (up to a few years sometimes). Because of this practice, many Christians stopped going after a while (you can imagine why) and stopped receiving communion. Then in Ireland, Irish monks began the practice of confessing to one another for forgiveness. The people in the community heard about this and asked if they could also be forgiven in this way. Rome heard about how this practice was bringing people back into the church since they were more comfortable going to confession and began adopting this practice universally. If you need/want, I can try to find some more legit resources besides my rambling to help explain this.

    1. Yes, early on, you confessed to the community, but the bishops and presbyters (priests) determined when you were re-admitted to Holy Communion. This developed into the “order of penitents” who attended Masses without receiving communion, then they would eventually be received back into communion by the authorities in the Church.

      ‘The Didache written at the close of the first century or early in the second, in 4.14 and again in 14.1, commands an individual confession in the congregation: “In the congregation thou shalt confess thy transgressions”; or again: “On the Lord’s Day come together and break bread . . . having confessed your transgressions that your sacrifice may be pure.” Clement I (d. 99) in his Epistle to the Corinthians not only exhorts to repentance, but begs the seditious to “submit themselves to the presbyters and receive correction so as to repent” (chapter 57), and Ignatius of Antioch at the close of the first century speaks of the mercy of God to sinners, provided they return” with one consent to the unity of Christ and the communion of the bishop”. The clause “communion of the bishop” evidently means the bishop with his council of presbyters as assessors. He also says (Letter to the Philadelphians) “that the bishop presides over penance”. ‘ (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11618c.htm)

    2. I had actually heard this before, just not in very much detail. I’m not sure which version would be better. Confessing privately does encourage more people to confess, but could you imagine if there was a place where everyone really COULD be open and honest and confess? How freeing that would be to know that we’re all in this together? That’s probably a little idealistic though 🙂

  4. Comment on confession: I have found confession to be very healing and cleansing. I have gone to confession to confess my sins, and God had done amazing thing that never entered my mind. He has healed me of issues I had no idea were affecting my happiness and peace.

  5. Brittany, I love your series! Confession can be difficult. Admitting your mistakes and your bad habits takes courage. I hated it as a child. We went every month, except during Lent when we went every Friday. I don’t think my education was lacking, just my desire to learn was low. As an adult, I have found a new appreciation for my faith and I thank God often for giving me the parents he did. Confession is still difficult. When I go, there is a profound lightening of the Spirit. The proverbial rock being lifted from my shoulders. Why don’t I go more often? Time? That’s an excuse. Embarrassment? As if God doesn’t know what I did. Uncomfortable? Things that are really important usually are.

    There are so many reasons why Confession is a good thing. Priests are given an amazing Grace that lets them hear the most awful things, absolve sins, and still serve. If they doubt your sincerity in the confessional, they have the authority to not grant absolution. I wonder how much they use that authority.

    The Devil is in my avoidance and I have let him lead me astray.

    Thank you for your timely pieces and all the effort you are putting into them!

  6. After reading some of the comments on this blog post, I thought it might be helpful to again note some Protestant concerns with the Catholic interpretation of the Sacrament of Confession (and no doubt these concerns would not speak for all Protestants; I come from Baptist/Presbyterian traditions). Most sola-Scriptura Protestants don’t dispute that confession and repentance are necessary fruit in a Christian’s life. Christ’s work, we believe, is the basis for our salvation, but even so, a sinner who never acknowledges his sin and repents, is a sinner who has never experienced the salvation offered in Christ. A genuine Christian will engage in confession and repentance, and I would even go so far as to say that some elements of Catholic church structure could be useful in facilitating that. One main objection we have to the Catholic Sacrament of Confession is the extent to which the priest serves as an intermediary between Christ and man. We believe that following the exact rules for the Catholic Sacrament of Confession is unnecessary for salvation, as Christ forgives repentant sinners directly. I know that some Catholics would agree, but that only further emphasizes our point. Can the priest truly either grant or withhold absolution? If he grants absolution to a non-repentant sinner, does it count? If he withholds absolution from a repentant sinner, does it count? It appears to us that the Catholic Sacrament of Confession as currently practiced is an unnecessary hoop to go through for salvation, as we don’t see it outlined in the New Testament. Indeed, the discussion on this blog suggests that the Catholic Church has changed the practice of confession and prescriptions for repentance over the years to make them easier, and if those assertions are correct, they emphasize our point yet further. If the Sacrament can be made easier, were there once other unnecessary hoops to go through involved in church practice? These are some of the questions Protestants like me have, and I’m glad that various individuals on this blog have made an attempt to address those concerns. I just thought it important to note again that many Protestants don’t dispute that confession is critical in a Christian’s life; we believe confession to be good. We just don’t believe that it is necessary for salvation to confess to a Catholic priest and to follow the exact rules set up by the Catholic Church.

    1. Makes complete sense. I’m still not positive how much I believe it is 100% necessary (surely God would forgive us Himself when we pray directly to Him too…).

      BUT the way the Catholic Church is approaching it is that they are saying “This is good for you, so we are saying you should do it.” (Because they are the caretakers of the church people while Jesus is away, they have the authority to be in charge while He’s gone–I go into this more in my authority of the church post). So, the real question **for Catholics** now isn’t whether or not God would forgive their sins if they didn’t go, but it’s a question of obedience when the church says they need to do it and they don’t.

      So… if I became Catholic and went to confession, my not going to confession for the first twentysome years of my life isn’t sinful. It’s a Catholic Church requirement for Catholics–which I’m not–so I don’t have to. But if I converted, I would, out of obedience.

      Does that make sense?

      1. Thanks, Brittany! I think I understand what you’re saying, and I thank you for explaining those views to me. Based on the gist of the conversation, it seems the current Catholic view is that, in theory, anyone who sincerely believes they are following God at least stands a chance of being forgiven for their sins. They would simply be in error regarding their non-Catholic practices. On that note though, it is important to remember that in speaking of the Catholic concept of confession we’re not simply talking about optional, denominational rules. The Catholic Church claims to be, so far as I can tell, the exclusive representation of Christ’s Church on earth. All Christians, then, are expected to be Catholic, and therefore, to go to confession as the Catholic Church defines it. It seems modern Catholicism now makes allowances for separated brethren such as Protestants, but the exclusive claim of authority is nonetheless there. And I’m not sure that, per Catholic teaching, practicing Catholics who pray directly to God could expect to have mortal sins forgiven except by going through a priest (unless they were physically unable to see a priest in time). Confession to a priest seems to be a requirement, not simply a helpful tool. And that is where, as a Protestant, I find myself in disagreement with the Catholic understanding of confession. The New Testament seems to make more generous allowances for confessing to Christ and to each other, and I’m not sure why, even if she had the authority to do so as Catholicism claims, the Church would restrict a person’s ability to seek forgiveness directly from God. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be genuine and identifiable signs of repentance in a person’s life, but I think the New Testament gives each of us as members of the Body of Christ a more direct access to Him than perhaps the Catholic concept of confession suggests. In closing, thanks again for letting me comment, and I hope that, for Protestant and Catholic alike, my comments are helpful as food for thought. Please know that I do not intend to insult anyone’s faith. I’m just trying (very imperfectly unfortunately) to provide a Protestant perspective on the matters at hand.

  7. Hi Brittany,

    Just like all the other readers, I’m enjoying this series. I catch myself laughing or smiling while reading your blogs. You have a genuine desire to seek the truth and a childlike curiosity in your faith.

    “They can’t forgive themselves. (Well, they can, but it doesn’t “count.”)” – I really laughed because of this. Imagine a priest absolving himself. ??!! Would he be using a mirror? Or would he be jumping from either side of the confessional? lol!

    I had the privilege to go to wonderful Catholic schools, one run by Jesuits and the other by the Salesians of Don Bosco. In the school of Don Bosco, we used to have what is called “an exercise for a happy death” on a regular basis. This practice is exactly the sacrament of reconciliation (or confession). If you come to think of it, at the day of judgement, you will have to account for your life on earth. How best could you prepare for this than regularly examining your conscience and availing of the graces that God provides us through the sacraments. When we were in school, we used to have small tests, and even had practice tests, to prepare for the finals. If we would like to have a happy death, wouldn’t it be best we we regularly prepare for it?

    I have had amazing experiences with confessions. I was looking forward to this Lenten season. The week before Ash Wednesday, I had the chance to go to confession. It’s now 2 weeks into Lent and I can enumerate many tangible graces I have received since. Many things are unfolding in my life. Looking back to my life history, I can definitely say that without the sacrament of reconciliation, I could have easily gotten into big trouble.

    DCal90, I appreciate your questions. You definitely do not come across as someone who would like willfully attack anyone or the Catholic faith. Your questions are very valid. I am not an apologetic because I’d be horrible at it and I have forgotten many of the things I have learned from kindergarten through college. Allow me though to present to you a different angle. You need to look at confession as a sacrament. The Catholic faith teaches us that the sacraments are living and tangible manifestations of Jesus’ promise of being with us always in each day of our lives. As humans, we are bound by our bodies in this physical world. Jesus has provided us with these sacraments to experience his love and mercy in a physical way. We all know that only God can cleanse us from our sins. Wouldn’t it be a more profound experience to get a “splash of water” and see our sins being washed away? The sacrament of reconciliation is the tangible experience for us humans of how God washes away our sins and showers us with his graces.

    May the good Lord bless you always!
    Justin

    1. Thanks 🙂 And I don’t know how it would work for a priest to forgive himself either–but it’s pretty funny to imagine!

  8. This link just came across my Facebook feed today, and I thought it would be helpful bringing another perspective to the mix: (link no longer works)

  9. A) out of all of the molesters out there, a brother, an uncle, a teacher or a coach are more likely to abuse a child than a priest. I know. I have been there. Out of all child molesters, priests make up 1%. That’s all. And the Catholic Church has made the MOSTAdvances to protect not only children, but also the elderly from such abuses. No one can volunteer in a Catholic Church to do any service involving others (in my Diocese, at least) without a criminal background check AND Virtus training (a day long training on sexual abuse and vulnerability). Tell me how many sports teams and schools do the same?

    B). Reconciliation has helped me identify my repeating sins, and has helped me grow in faith. I use an app for that. Confession. Created by a bishop.

    1. A. Just a side comment for the record: teachers DO have to have criminal background checks and have classes/in-services in preventing sexual abuse, etc. Don’t know about sports teams.

      B. There’s a confession app????

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