A Melbourne Catholic in the Court of the Lutheran Church of Australia

Well, not quite the “court”, but the Lutheran Church of Australia National Convention Reception on Saturday night, anyway. I was very happy to be invited with my Lutheran wife to this social occasion during the Lutheran’s national synod here in Melbourne this weekend. The invitation might have been a bit “naughty” on behalf of the local organisers (who are good friends). I think they were interested to see what would happen if this particular cat was set among those particular pigeons!

All in all, it was a delightful occasion where I had the chance to catch up with many good friends from around the country. I was very moved by the fact that my “defection” nine years ago has not dampened the affection and deep regard that exists between us. As I might have mentioned before, relationships between Lutherans and Catholics here in Melbourne is particularly positive as they are being built upon the foundation of personal friendships and networks. Part of that positive relationship is the deep regard both communities have for faithfulness to the gospel and the church, and a resulting high degree of shared teachings and moral values.

If you want to find out what has been happening at their Synod, just go to: http://www.lca.org.au/lca/synod/. Here is just one interesting report:

Private confession and absolution to be promoted as regular Lutheran practice

A study of private confession and forgiveness, prompted by the consequences of mandatory reporting legislation for pastors who are bound to uphold the seal of confession, has led to work focusing on the benefits of private confession and absolution (forgiveness) within the spiritual life of the church.

‘Private confession and absolution is a practice deeply embedded in the Lutheran tradition but one that has fallen into relative disuse so that most people in the church know little if anything about it’, said Rev Dr Jeff Silcock, chair of the Commission on Theological and Inter-Church Relations.

Synod agreed that pastors and congregations together study and reflect on the practice, with a view to discovering how private confession and absolution enhances the pastoral care of individual and the spiritual life of the church, and that pastors and congregations promote the practice in the life the church.

Dr Silcock said, ‘The Commission hopes that the document it has produced will encourage pastors to teach the benefits of private confession and so encourage congregational members to go to their pastor to confess any sin that is burdening their conscience and receive from him, as from Christ himself, God’s forgiveness.’

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6 responses to “A Melbourne Catholic in the Court of the Lutheran Church of Australia

  1. One thing that had always bothered me about Lutheran confession was the one-dimensionality of it. And the statement from the LCA reflects that. “…and so encourage congregational members to go to their pastor to confess any sin that is burdening their conscience and receive from him, as from Christ himself, God’s forgiveness.”

    Where is the added benefit of grace to assist in battling against sin? The emphasis is always on forgiveness but never on the power that is available through the Sacrament to help avoid sin. I think it is because Lutherans don’t necessarily believe the Sacrament offers more than forgiveness and if one looks through worldly eyes…it is quite true…after confession we keep on sinning. BUT…the spiritual reality is that initially we see very little…it is quite dark but as the Light enters into our lives we see more and more–like a light shining in a dirty attic. So there is an appearance of no improvement but in actuality there is improvement but with that comes the ability to see more and more of our sin.

    In the two years prior to my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy I used to force my Lutheran pastor to hear my confessions. He never quite saw the need but didn’t deny my request either…just challenged me on why I wanted confession. Confession is a wonderful cleansing Sacrament…it makes everything right again and prepares one to receive the Holy Eucharist. I wish the LCA well in their efforts to bring this back to their faithful.

    • That is quite insightful, Dixie. I know what you mean: the Sacrament of Penance is not just to receive forgiveness of sins, but also the grace for strength not to sin in the future. The same is true of the Eucharist. Lutherans here in dialogue with Catholics have asked why Catholics don’t emphasise that Holy Communion is for the forgiveness of sin. We do – and it is – but not for mortal sin, of course. But we also do something that Lutherans don’t do: we emphasise that by the regular reception of Holy Communion we are strengthened by the graces of the sacrament against sin. I think the reason is that Lutherans in general do not actually want to admit that one can – by God’s grace and in the struggle to live the Christian calling – advance in holiness.

  2. Doesn’t Trent say something against those who saw reception of the Eucharist primarily as forgiving sins? I seem to recall that among Lutherans there was an emphasis on this aspect of Communion, which in essence made Confession particularly redundant, as Christ in His Sacrament burns away sins.

    • Yes, that is what I was referring to above in conversation with Dixie. The Lutheran Small Catechism says that the benefits of Holy Communion are “Forgiveness, Life and Salvation, for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (I am quoting from memory). Hence, you are quite rightin the result. While the classical doctrine of the Lutheran Churches is far from “come as you are”, that is what it has become in reality. I don’t think I know of any Lutherans (well, perhaps one or two) who would not go to communion because they were aware of some unconfessed grave sin. On the contrary, their pastors would often encourage them to go and find their absolution there.

  3. !!!

    But that is the manducatio indignorum!

    Did they not heed what warning the Apostle makes to those who dare eat and drink unworthily?

    Interesting: from not having to admit one’s sins prior to receiving forgiveness, there can come the false notion of not having to repent (though I am aware that the Lutheran formula used at the penitential act at Divine Service says a firm God forbid to that).

    The Catholic abuse of the 3rd Rite of Penance comes irresistibly to mind as a parallel – “cheap grace”.

    • No, don’t get me wrong. Luther’s Small Catechism says:

      “Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?

      “Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins.

      “But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unfit; for the words For you require altogether believing hearts.”

      The Lutheran Church of Australia states four requirements for those who wish to receive the sacrament at their altars:

      1) Baptism
      2) Faith in Jesus
      3) Repentance for sin
      4) Belief in the Real Presence.

      Now, given that (at least on a popular level) they have a different understanding of the role of faith in Justification, we can perhaps understand why they don’t require oracular confession before the reception of the sacrament. But it would be entirely wrong to suggest that they don’t require REPENTANCE before the reception. They surely do. Only they would suggest that ABSOLUTION for that repentance can come through the reception of Holy Communion itself.

      All this is is probably a little besides the point though. Although the practice of private absolution has fallen by the wayside, Lutherans still include a full corporate absolution in their penitential rite at the beginning of each Service with Holy Communion, so they would generally regard themselves as having “gone to confession” before going to Holy Communion anyway.