Individual Confession and Absolution

Christ comes to you and me through the means of grace: the Holy Scriptures, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. These saving and forgiving means of grace may also be applied through Individual Confession and Absolution.

Luther’s Small Catechism explains, “The use of the Keys is that special power and right which Christ gave to his church on earth: to forgive the sins of penitent sinners but refuse forgiveness to the impenitent as long as they do not repent.” This forgiveness “is as valid and certain in heaven also, as if Christ our dear Lord, dealt with us himself.” 

“[Jesus] breathed on [his disciples] and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:22–23). 


What happens in Individual Confession and Absolution?

Very simply, you go to your pastor, confess your sins, and receive personal, individual announcement of forgiveness won for you on the cross. You need not mention any specific sin, although you are welcome to confess any sins that trouble your conscience. The pastor doesn’t probe into your life or try to make you feel guilty. You simply confess sin, using a formula from the catechism or hymnal, or just talk about it in a conversational setting. Then you receive full forgiveness (absolution) from Almighty God through one of His pastors, who says, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.” 

Do I Really Need this?

Some people may feel that careful self-examination before receiving Holy Communion eliminates the need for private Confession. However, the practice of individual Confession and Absolution is really a separate and unique act in its own right. It does not necessarily precede the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, although you may likely desire to commune the next time the Sacrament is offered.

Individual Confession and Absolution fulfills the very essence of the Gospel: “Your sins are forgiven!” Christ died for you. This is an individualized word to you from the pastor, acting in the stead of Christ. What a blessing! What a great benefit! This is what the Augsburg Confession says (XXV 3–4):

[We] are taught that [we] should highly prize the Absolution as being God's voice and pronounced by God's command…God requires faith to believe such Absolution as a voice sounding from heaven. …Such faith in Christ truly obtains and receives the forgiveness of sins.


Must I “Tell All”?

No, you don’t need to confess any specific sins to your pastor. Of course, you may want to do so for the release it will give you. Sometimes sins—especially those we hide from others and try to put out of our own memory—prevent us from having the confident assurance that our sins have indeed been forgiven. When an individual confesses sin out loud, it is no longer hidden only in your heart, and is no longer a burden to be carried alone.

If you are not burdened with particular sins, do not trouble yourself or search for or invent other sins, thereby turning Confession into a torture. Instead, mention one or two sins that you know and let that be enough.

— Martin Luther

But even if you can’t come up with any sins in particular, or you’re not quite ready to speak about them, then just make a more general confession and the pastor will still speak God’s word of forgiveness to you.

 The pastor is bound to confidentiality. The pastor never repeats what he has heard in Confession.


Why Should I Go?

For the gospel. For the forgiveness of your sins. To receive the gift Jesus has for you: Holy Absolution, with your name on it!


How does it work?

You can come to your pastor for Confession and Absolution anytime. Just contact him.  Or, you can come at a time regularly scheduled for this: Saturday evenings 5:00–6:00. Most often, this takes place at the communion rail, with the pastor sitting on the other side of the rail to listen and announce God’s forgiveness. But it may also take place wherever the need arises.

Small Catechism
How Christians should be taught to confess.

What is Confession?
Confession embraces two parts: the one is, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.

What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.

Which are these?
Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted aught, or done other injury.