Friday, July 16, 2010

Red Chairs and Confessional Seals

I have heard that some of the “Red Chair” messages at the Synod Convention include a pastor (or two) telling stories about those who have come to him to confess their sins, and how the pastor then absolved them.

I have also heard that this prima facie breaking of our ordination vow (included explicitly since LW's rite and implicitly by the whole history of Christianity before that) was addressed at the convention by noting that the pastor either obtained the permission of the penitent to tell the story or changed the names Dragnet-wise.

I didn't watch the videos and I didn't hear the explanation of what went on. But I'll address the situation as it is described above: it is very troubling. Our own Fr. David Petersen has this advice for hearing confession:

When a penitent comes for the first time he needs to be reassured and reminded that this is a gift from God that actually forgives sins and that all sins die in your ear. Not because of some confidentiality agreement, that is for doctors and lawyers, but because they are genuinely and literally forgiven. They are removed. If the pastor speaks them again he brings them and damnation on himself. You took an oath to this effect and you do not want to go to Hell. You are aware that Hell is a possibility. It would, in fact, be just and that frightens you. Tell him you are promising that you will not judge him for what he confesses nor will you ever speak of it again in any way. You will never tell anyone what he has confessed - even without his name. In other words, you are not promising merely to never say "John told me . . ." but to never even say, "Someone once told me . . ." You will never speak these sins again even to people that do not know him. You will not use him or his problems as a discussion point in winkel or as a case study for a paper. They are gone. They are put to death with Jesus. They are left in the grave. You will never speak them again in any circumstance or for any reason.

Brethren, the ordination vow you swore (if you were ordained under the LCMS rite of 1982 and onward - before then, the vow is implicit in the history of Christianity) states simply that you "will never divulge the sins confessed to you." If you want to make some fancy argument such that "divulge" is avoided if permission is sought or names changed - I think you are treading on thin ice, and frankly, I don't buy it. Father Petersen's advice is the best advice anyone will give you in regards to keeping that vow and for encouraging people to make use of this comforting Sacrament.



  1. Yeah. If a sin is forgiven, it no longer exists; therefore, it can no longer be spoken about.

  2. Amen to that. The penitent needs to have absolute confidence in your ordination vow or it will deter him from coming. That's why you don't use them as examples or sermon illustrations because even if the person is dead or gone and will never hear that you disclosed his sin, others will be much more reluctant to come to confession knowing that you sometimes use confessions to make points.

  3. A well-needed admonition. It stings my flesh, but thank you for it.

    I would add that the reverse scenario is just as bad: If someone comes to you to confess his sin, and you tell others that so-and-so came to you for confession, even if you say nothing of the sin, you have likewise broken your vow, and the trust placed in you.

    May God lead all of us who have committed this sin, even peripherally, to repentance!

    You may think it is necessary to use a real-life example when speaking of confession. It is not. Here is one place where it is wise to use concocted examples when teaching this doctrine.

    P.S. I see the Chinese read Gottesdienst... Might want to clean up that spam.

  4. After the Red Chairs, there should have been an altar call.

  5. CS Lewis understood this and even included it in his children's Narnia series. After Edmund and Aslan have their private meeting, Aslan tells Edmund's siblings that there is no need to discuss his crimes ever again.


    You really should watch one of the videos, because without watching, you miss out on the swell music that goes along with it, that helps create the desired emotional experience.


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