All May. Some Should. None Must.
This particular sacramental rite is perhaps one of the hardest for people coming from Baptist, Pentecostal, and other ‘free church’ traditions. I encourage you to read through it and prayerfully look at the Scriptures.
This article is about Absolution from within the Anglican Tradition, with a Charismatic perspective. As an Anglican priest, I value and live in the ecclesia anglicana tradition as part of Christ’s ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.’ As a Charismatic, my reading of the Bible is done with the theological conviction and continually confirmed experience that the dynamic ministry of the Holy Spirit has been on-going in the history of the Church in various epochs of renewal and restoration.
From the Anglican Catechism
120 What is absolution?
After repenting and confessing my sins to God in the presence of a priest, the priest declares God’s forgiveness to me with authority given by God. (John 20:22-23; James 5:15-16)
121 What grace does God give to you in absolution?
In absolution, God conveys to me His pardon through the cross, thus declaring to me reconciliation and peace with Him, and bestowing upon me the assurance of His grace and salvation.
Here are the New Testament Scripture verses on Absolution. Let me say that absolution is what is pronounced when there has been sincere repentance, be that by the entire congregation in public worship or in private counsel with an individual or smaller group. For more clarity on our understanding of Ordained Clergy, click here.
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:21-23 ESV
“I will give you [apostles] the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:19 ESV
“I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled bin the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 5:3b-5 ESV
“But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” – Acts 8:20–24 ESV
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
– Galatians 1:8–9 ESV
What is Absolution?
Absolution is the formal declaration of divine forgiveness to the repentant person. This formal declaration is based on the once for all work of Christ on the cross. The Bishop, or priest, announces the forgiveness of sins to the repentant person or congregation based upon what Jesus has done on the cross, once for all, and upon the person/congregations repentance and faith in Him.
This time of formal declaration provides great assurance to those with weighed down consciences as they continue to pray, waiting for the assurance of the Holy Spirit. As John wrote, “even if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts,” (1 John 3:20). Absolution is the visible act in the Church of this Scriptural promise.
In the Scriptures mentioned above, Philip the Evangelist has gone to Samaria preaching the Gospel in the Spirit’s power, baptizing those who profess faith and repent. Upon the arrival of Peter and John to confirm, strengthen, and order the work, their confer the Spirit in power power upon the baptized. In this process, Peter sees the intent of Simon the Sorcerer, and that his conversion is not complete. Simon exposes his intent with his desire to purchase the Holy Spirit, very unlike the apostles who received the Spirit with authority at the Resurrection.
Peter, and by inference, John withhold forgiveness from Simon. Within the Anglican tradition, the belief in apostolic succession is integral to the essence of the Church (see our article on Ordination). As the charismatic movement believes in the on-going ministry of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists, so built within the Tradition of the apostles handed down through the early Church fathers is the teaching that the Bishops, and the priests with them, share in the apostolic charge, authority, and grace to administer, declare, confirm, and grant pardon to all who truly repent. And to not grant, administer, declare, confirm, or pardon those who do not repent but still want the spiritual benefit of the Church.
Generally considered in Evangelical circles, there is no need for confession to a priest or pastor since Jesus alone forgives sins without any human agency. Larger catholic traditions, Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran traditions, understand the priest to be standing in the role of Christ because of what Jesus told the apostles on Easter morning. As the Father sent Jesus to make full atonement for sin, so Jesus is sending the apostles to make full declaration of Jesus’ work so those who believe might be forgiven and added to the Church. This is what is happening in 1 John 1:1-4:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”
The Gospel declaration of the apostles was to bring all who responded into a reconciled relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The divine command, with corresponding authority, to declare the forgiveness of sins to those who repent is still part of the apostolic mandate that Bishops and priests are charged with.
All baptized believers are to encourage, exhort, and comfort one another with the words of Scripture to other believers who are wrestling with overcoming sin and a guilty conscience. As James writes, “confess your sins one to another and pray for one another so that you might be healed,” (Jas. 5:16). With this apostolic admonishment by James is the example of the Prophet Elijah and godly Job. Believers are to encourage one another with the Scripture and the power of the Spirit. The role of the Bishop and Priest is within the official capacity of the Church as agents of Christ in the Church to strengthen and confirm Her members.
Often in evangelical and charismatic circles, when confession happens it is individual to God alone in a quiet place. This surely must continue! Absolution does not take away the importance of private prayer and devotion, yet it is part of our Christian life. The Bishops and Priests in Christ’s Church are those agents whose divine command is to announce and to withhold forgiveness as shepherds of the flock, guarding God’s people.
What Does This Look Like?
This does not mean that Christians have to meet with a priest to confess their sins. It does mean that Christians have to confess their sins one to another, praying for one another. Over the course of Church history, the practice of confession and absolution has varied in many ways. For this reason, the Anglican tradition, per the 39 Articles of Religion, has distinguished between the 2 Gospel Sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, and the other sacramental rites, Absolution, Confirmation, Marriage, Orders, and Anointing. These 5 are retained and kept as full rites within the Church, being locally adapted yet still based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. While there is permitted minor alterations to these sacramental rites, significant deviation is erroneous and often reflects departure from the Gospel itself depending on the sacrament.
Here is the Absolution from our Prayer Book for Daily Prayer:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in His great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to Him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For more details on how you, if your faith and commitment to Christ have grown cold, may participate in a service of Reconciliation and be granted Absolution by our Priest, please email Fr. Darryl. You may also decide to simply come to worship and participate in our General Confession with the rest of God’s people as well.