Monday, April 16, 2007

Misproclaimed Absolution

In two different Lutheran churches I attended last Sunday and this Sunday, the pastor “misproclaimed” the absolution (the announcement of the the forgiveness of sins) by using his own creative wording. I’m beginning to wonder how widespread this practice might be, and whether it is intentional or accidental.

After the public confession, rather than personally announcing the forgiveness of sins to the congregation (in the first and second person, i.e. “I forgive you your sins” or even the second person passive "your sins are forgiven"), the pastor used third-person grammar in a more generic statement about God (i.e. God is merciful to man, blah, blah, blah).

I know God is merciful. But is he merciful to me?

Unless God forgives my sins, he is a God no different from the god of Islam - who also is said to be merciful, is he not?

I realize this may sound nitpicky. And I don’t consider myself liturgically legalistic, by any means. But I can appreciate why some churches insist on precise liturgical language - at least in the case of the absolution, because it is the one event in the public service where, if the pastor doesn't mess it up, you cannot avoid hearing the Gospel. Even if the entire rest of the service is filled with legalism (i.e. the praise songs, the sermon, the prayers, the announcements - yes, especially the announcements!) the forgiveness of my sins is (or ought to be) pure Gospel.

“I announce the grace of God to all of you and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”


Kaleb said...

Are you sure it was the pastor, and not a deacon? Only a pastor can give the words of absolution. On rare occasions in our church, the pastor will be unavailable at that point in the service, and so a deacon will use these words:

"In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become the children of God an bestows on them the Holy Spirit. May the Lord, who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Anonymous said...

I don't know why it would matter whether or not it was the pastor or a deacon. Can not a deacon proclaim absolution? Did not Jesus in John 20 breathe on all who were present declaring that if they forgive the sins of any they have been forgiven? Did not Luther teach the priesthood of all believers? Are we all not called to extend God's forgiveness and the ministry of reconciliation?

T. Hahm said...

I would agree with Adam regarding the priesthood of all believers. Anyone may proclaim absolution.

In the examples I cited, however, both were ordained Lutheran pastors, so this was not the issue.

Kaleb said...

Since these were ordained pastors, it is strange indeed.

As a matter of doctrine I certainly agree regarding the priesthood of all believers (Tr 67). But as a matter of practice, a church may reserve public absolution for the pastors, in deference to their position of leadership (AC XIV).