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From the Confessions: The Augsburg Confession
Lutherans teach that an enumeration of sins is not necessary, that consciences not be burdened with anxiety by trying to tally all sins. It is impossible to recount all sins, as the psalmist insists: “But who can discern his errors” (Psa 19:12)? Jeremiah also asserts: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it” (Jer 17:9)? If no sins were forgiven except those recited, consciences would never find peace, for there are very many sins that they neither realize nor remember. The ancient writers also declare that an enumeration is not necessary. Chrysostom is quoted in the Decrees: “I do not say to you, Make a display of yourself nor accuse yourself before others; but be persuaded by the prophet who said, 'Commit your way to the LORD' (Psa 37:5). Confess your sins in prayer before God, the true Judge. Confess your sins with the memory of your conscience, not with the tongue.” The Gloss (Decretum, Concerning Confession) admits that Confession is of human origin; it is not commanded by Scripture but instead, ordained by the Church. Nevertheless, because of the great benefit of absolution, and because it is otherwise useful to the conscience, Confession is retained among us.
Pulling It Together: No one can remember or even be aware of all of his sins, so the sort of confession that demands a litany of every last sin is hopeless. Trying to do so will produce a miserable person, overburdened under the weight of both his sins and the Church's demands. Moreover, the ancient Church never required this kind of confession to begin with. Therefore, Lutherans use confession to console the guilty conscience. When sinners hear the words of absolution, their minds turn from sin to Christ. They are so overjoyed that God forgives them that their focus goes outward and no longer inward. They praise God for his mercy instead of worrying that they have forgotten some other sin for which this imaginary, angry god of theirs will hold them accountable. We confess that the Lord is merciful and eager to forgive sinners. Therefore, it is enough that one confesses he is a sinner, and perhaps names some specific sin that haunts his conscience. Having confessed in this manner, his heart is ready to hear the comforting words of forgiveness from our Lord. This is why Lutherans have retained confession in their churches: so that Christians may believe the words, “Almighty God, in his mercy, has given his Son to die for us and, for his sake, forgives us all our sins.”
Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
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Learning About Confession - Teacher's Guide guides leaders in teaching the meaning of Confession and Forgiveness according Luther's guidance in the Small Catechism. The student book, Learning About Confession is recommended for the Sixth Grade Level. Each week focuses on a specific Bible story that illustrates the theme, with additional references from Scripture and Luther's Small Catechism - Children's Version. With a healthy balance of Law and Gospel, lessons emphasize the connection between repentance and forgiveness, and how the promise of God’s forgiveness changes our lives.