How Christians should be taught to confess
What is Confession?
Confession consists of two parts. One is that we confess our sins. The other is that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, by no means doubting but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.
Which sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those of which we are unaware, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.
Which are these?
Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments. Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife or servant? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy, angry, rude or quarrelsome? Have you hurt anyone by words or actions; have you stolen, neglected or wasted anything, or done any harm?
Please give me a brief form of Confession
Say to the confessor:
Dear sir, I ask you to hear my confession and to pronounce forgiveness in accordance with God’s will.
I, a poor sinner, confess before God that I am guilty of all sins. In particular, I confess before you that I am a servant, a maid, etc. Alas, I serve my master unfaithfully; for in this and in that I have not done what they commanded me; I have provoked them, and caused them to curse, have been negligent and have allowed damage to be done. I have also been shameless in words and deeds, have quarrelled with my equals, have grumbled and sworn at my mistress, etc. For all this I am sorry, and I pray for grace. I want to do better.
A master or lady of the house may say this:
In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully trained my children, servants and wife to honour God. I have cursed and set a bad example by rude words and deeds. I have done harm to my neighbour and spoken evil of him. I have overcharged, sold shoddy goods, and used false weights and measures.
The penitent should add anything else he has done against God’s commandments and his own position in life.
If anyone does not find himself burdened with these or greater sins, he should not trouble himself, searching for or inventing other sins. That would make confession a torture. Instead, he should mention one or two that he knows. For example:
“In particular I confess that I have cursed, or that I have used obscene words, or that I have neglected this or that, etc.”
Let this be enough.
But if you know of no sins at all (which is surely impossible), then mention none in particular, but receive forgiveness upon your general confession which you make before God to the confessor.
Then the confessor shall say:
God be merciful to you and strengthen your faith. Amen.
Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?
Yes, dear sir.
Then let the confessor say:
“Let it be done for you as you believe.”* And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Depart in peace.
The confessor will know other passages of Scripture to comfort and encourage those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or who are distressed and tempted.
This is only a general form of confession for ordinary people.
[The last three questions in this section may not have been written by Luther himself, but they do reflect his teaching and were included in editions of the Small Catechism in his lifetime.]
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
This is what St John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty:
“The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’ ”
What do you believe according to these words?
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.