Which is better? To enter into marriage or to take a vow of celibacy to serve God as a priest? That was the question at the time of the Reformation 500 years ago. In the medieval church it was thought that taking a vow of celibacy put you on a higher spiritual plane than the common folk.
Our Lutheran forefathers, however, in writing Article XXIII of the Augsburg Confession, took the position that it is better to marry. They pointed to many grave vices and scandals that took place when priests were required to be celibate (sound familiar?).
More than that, they also point to the command and blessing of God, saying “Since God’s Word and command cannot be altered by any human vows or laws, our priests and other clergy have taken wives to themselves.” (Book of Concord, Tappert, p. 52) Indeed, they say, in Holy Scripture “God commanded marriage to be held in honor” (Tappert, p. 54).
How is this an issue among us today? Our pastors are all allowed to marry, in fact, are encouraged to do so, the same as all the rest of us. But what is the condition of marriage as a gift and command of God among us?
You and I know that marriage is under attack on several fronts today. How many people, even in our churches, live together as though they were husband and wife before they are married? We have not always done a good job teaching our children. How many divorces are there among Christians? Sadly the rate is nearly the same as the rest of society.
What about gay marriage? What should be done about that? Any denigration of marriage is an abomination before God, but let’s dig into the issue just a little more deeply.
First of all, marriage was established by God, the Creator, at the beginning with Adam and Eve. God designed marriage to be the union of one man and one woman for life: “A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
The government, as God’s left hand instrument, enacts laws regulating marriage, requiring a license, etc. Even so, we believe from Scripture that marriage is God’s creation, a gift of God to us for our good, for mutual care and the establishment of the family.
Now what are we to do when the state allows people of the same sex to apply for marriage licenses and “get married”? Does that mean such people are really married? No. Perhaps in the eyes of the state and society at large, but no, not in the eyes of God.
For example, if I have in my hand an onion, but I call it an orange, does that make it an orange? No. Calling the onion something it is not does not change it. Calling something that falls outside of God’s definition of marriage to be “marriage” does not make it so.
What should we Christians do about what is going on today? We have the freedom in our country to make our voices heard. We seek to do so in a faithful and caring manner, letting our elected leaders know our thoughts.
However, there is a dual trap here we need to avoid. There is the trap of the gay lifestyle itself. Pray for those involved that God would provide repentance and healing. We need to find ways of responding with care and compassion to those caught in any sin. God has one way of dealing with any and all sin – by calling us to repentance and bringing forgiveness in the name of Christ.
There is also the trap for us that we might think we have done our job if we write our government officials or protest in some way. We do what free citizens of this country can do, but that never takes the place of our witness for Christ.
Don’t allow anything to keep you from bringing the good news of Jesus to others. Any work we do in the church to speak to the issues of society is secondary. Our primary job is to bring Christ to people, to plant and to water the seeds of God’s Word wherever and whenever we can. Only God can change hearts – and He does it through His Word.
And then our next job is to look to our own house, to teach and to help our children see the importance of waiting for marriage, to help each other keep our marriage vows to live together in holy love until life’s end.
This becomes even more important when we realize faithfulness in marriage is actually a reflection of God’s love and faithfulness for us, His people. God calls husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her … this mystery is a profound one, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself…” (Ephesians 5:25, 32-33).
May God help us all to serve Him faithfully.
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
That’s what we used to say in college when a preacher laid on us his “pet peeve” or “hobby horse” but did not give the Gospel. The conversation might have gone something like: “Was there Gospel in that sermon?” One person might have answered, “Oh, he assumed you knew the Gospel. He just had something else he needed to bring us this morning.” Perhaps it was sophomoric of us, from that hypercritical attitude you sometimes find in students or even pastors. But it’s still true – “the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied.”
Assuming the Gospel is actually the height of arrogance. It is as if we were saying, “We all know what God has done for us in Jesus, so we can go on to more important things now.” St. Paul covered many points in his Corinthian letters. But he also insisted, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). What did he mean? No matter what Paul had to say, the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation are the center, the essence, the focus of all Christian preaching. Justification or sanctification, it all comes back to the cross. No preaching, no Christian teaching is complete unless it brings us back to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ on the cross. Every doctrine of Scripture is designed by God ultimately to bring the comfort of sins forgiven and eternal life in Christ to the broken sinner.
Lutherans wholeheartedly agree. We confess we are saved by grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone, through faith alone. We insist that God works faith in us through Word and Sacrament, His means of grace (Augsburg Confession IV & V). We are known as law and Gospel preachers. We understand the law does God’s “alien” work to show us our need for God’s proper work in the Gospel. Surely we have it right. How could we Lutherans ever be guilty of “assuming the Gospel”?
You find it when a pastor believes his hearers know the Gospel thoroughly already. Perhaps very creatively he urges them to share that Gospel with others, but then forgets that the Gospel itself is the power and motivation for its own proclamation. More blatantly, pastors may think because they have talked about the Gospel, they have also preached the Gospel. Or the pastor may have determined to emphasize “practical issues” of Christian living to the point there simply wasn’t time enough for God’s action.
How do you tell? Are there any warning signs you are in danger of “assuming the Gospel”? Have you ever begun your preparation, formulated your theme, and then realized that the Gospel is auxiliary to the thrust of your sermon? You have a “message” you want to bring to the people; for example, you want them to understand the Biblical ideals concerning marriage. As you finish writing, you realize, “I should get some Gospel in here somewhere. Let’s see, where does it fit?” The Gospel has become auxiliary to your “message.” Perhaps you have listened to a sermon and then thought, “Pastor gave us a lot of good advice for living but there wasn’t much Jesus.” The preacher has assumed, and therefore denied, the Gospel, I would suggest, if Christ and His cross and God’s saving action are adjunct to what the preacher really wanted to say.
The Gospel is assumed (and therefore denied) when we prepare a liturgy where the central focus is on us, how we feel, what we do, or our response. Instead, the golden thread that needs to run through our worship is God’s service to us in Jesus Christ. The ultimate question, the answer to which ought to shape everything, is this: Does the language we use actually deliver God’s gifts or merely talk about them or hint at what they are? Is the central thought God’s work in Christ, God’s gifts in Jesus, or preoccupied with our work?
When the Gospel is assumed, all that is left is law. Of course, as long as the law is not presented too strongly, harshly, or pointedly, our sinful flesh feels at home with the law and counts it an ally. That is why it is so natural to talk about our own actions even when we assume we are proclaiming the Gospel. Because our sinful flesh readily understands the law, we are very comfortable talking about God’s work as though it were our work. For instance, we may say, we come to God, we believe, we preach, we worship, we baptize, we forgive sins, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we do works of service, we witness for Christ. Yes, from a human point of view, we do those things. But if that is all we say, we are still under the law. If we urge these activities apart from God’s work, we have assumed (and therefore denied) the Gospel. Remember, all these actions are actually God’s work. God comes to us in Jesus Christ even though we, in our sin, could never come to Him. The message of the cross has power in itself to create faith. It is God’s doing and God’s gift. Our messages have no power without the Word of God. Jesus Himself speaks through His Word we proclaim. Paul assured the Corinthians, “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
The Spirit uses the means of grace to gather us for worship, because in those means Jesus Himself comes to serve us with His forgiveness. When someone is baptized, we see the water and hear the Word the pastor speaks, but God is there baptizing, uniting that person with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (“We were buried with Him by baptism into death…” [Romans 6:4] It’s passive. God did it to us.) When penitent sinners are absolved, it is Jesus Himself speaking the Word of forgiveness (John 20:21ff). He gathers us around His table, at His command and promise, because He is the host, serving us His own body and blood. Our works of service are really the works of Christ through us. He gives us His Spirit to produce His fruit. Our witness is also the work of His Spirit, who continually bears witness to Jesus. As our confession puts it, “without the grace, help, and activity of the Holy Spirit man is not capable of making himself acceptable to God, of fearing God and believing in God with his whole heart, or of expelling inborn evil lusts from his heart. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who is given through the Word of God…” (Augsburg Confession XVIII, 2-3).
Here is a simple test for evaluating a sermon, Bible Study, or liturgy to see whether you are merely urging people to do something themselves or announcing Jesus’ work and proclaiming His gifts – in other words, whether you are assuming the Gospel or proclaiming the Gospel. After you have prepared your text, go back and underline all of the action words. Find the subject of each verb. Ask, who is doing these verbs? If we are doing the action, then no matter how much it might otherwise sound like Gospel, it’s still the law. The law is concerned with what we do or don’t do. When the Gospel is assumed, the law alone will make us hard-hearted and self-righteous, but then drive us to despair. The Gospel, on the other hand, is concerned with everything God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ for our salvation, to forgive our sins, to give us new life. On the inside of the pulpit at the parish I last served, placed where only the preacher could see it or feel it, was a small crucifix. Yes, that cross was law reminding me of the necessity to preach the Gospel, as St. Paul writes: “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). The Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied!
But that little crucifix was an even more powerful and necessary comfort for me in proclaiming what God has done and is doing for us in Christ. Again, St. Paul writes: “All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). All this is from God. I am not just “flapping my gums” proclaiming Jesus crucified and risen. God Himself is there to bring His reconciliation to me and to the people. God Himself is shining through the Gospel: “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is God who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6).
Though we are never up to this tremendous task, though you and I falter, God is always faithful. He will use His faithful Word to keep us faithful. “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code [the law!] kills, but the Spirit [by the Gospel!] gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). The law does not simply advise us or show us God’s way. The purpose of the law is to kill us so that God by His Word can raise us to life with Jesus. The law strips us of any pretense of life on our own, but the Gospel fills us with the life of Christ crucified and raised from the dead.
Again, who does the verbs? God gives life. God shines. God makes us competent. God saves. God forgives. God raises the dead. God heals. God comes to us in Jesus. God speaks in His Word. God creates faith. God gathers His church. God baptizes. God feeds us the body and blood of His Son. God gives His gifts, all for you. Jesus says to His preachers, “He who hears you, hears me.” His Word on our lips is alive with His life, to give life.
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice-President
[Note: This sermon was preached in the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Wednesday, March 20, 2013. + Herbert Mueller]
31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34).
People loved by God in Jesus!
After telling the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, blessing the children, and dealing with the man who asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus takes the 12 aside and starts the final journey: “See,” He says, “we are going up to Jerusalem, where I’ll be delivered up and killed.”
There are several issues we could engage in this, Jesus’ 3rd prediction of His passion:
- We could emphasize the fact that His suffering will accomplish everything written in the prophets, from the stone the builders rejected becoming the head of the corner to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Something Luke does himself in chapter 24 of his Gospel.
- We could explain how the cross and resurrection of Jesus is central to God’s plan of salvation, and how it was easy for Jesus to SAY, but quite another thing to go and do it – to die and to rise – which Jesus actually went and did!
- We could focus on Jesus’ passive obedience as He laid down His life for us – note the passives – He WILL BE delivered over, He WILL BE mocked, and shamefully treated and spit upon. After flogging Him, they will Kill Him, as He is obedient to the will of the Father, obedient even unto death, even the death of the cross.
But hearing the story again this time, though, I was quite taken by the fact that the disciples who first heard this understood NONE of these things. This word, this matter, was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Perhaps this adds to the believeability of the Gospel. After all, if it were a made up story, you would think those who concocted it would make themselves look better than they did, for this is now the second time Luke tells us the 12 didn’t understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to ask.
That’s what caught my eye this time… They understood NONE of these things – it was hidden from them and they did not grasp what was said.
What about you?
What about me?
Do we grasp it? Do we live as though we understand none of this?
Well, of course not! We know the story! We’ve memorized the details. Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He was betrayed. He carried ALL our sins, took them all. He spoke from the cross, “Father, forgive them…” He is God in our flesh dying for us. And by His resurrection He promises to raise us as well.
We get that!
But do we? More than superficially?
Do we see that God in Jesus has only this one way of operating? That the way to the Kingdom, the way to life is ONLY by death and by resurrection? That this is God’s only game? That God is not in the business of just fixing you up a bit, putting some little finishing touches on the good stuff you are already doing to make it a bit more acceptable? No, God’s aim in His Law is to KILL you, to drown your flesh, to lead you to see YOUR death, so that in His Gospel in Jesus He can raise you to life. “I kill and I make alive,” He says.
- It happened when we were baptized, buried with Christ in His death and raised up by His resurrection.
- It happens now when we are led to repent and to confess our sin, so that we can be raised to life by the forgiveness of sins.
- It will happen, when we die, and our bodies are laid to rest with the promise that He will come back to change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body even by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.
I’ve occasionally enjoyed a little game with people in Bible Class. I’ll ask – what do you have that is uniquely yours to give to Jesus? People bring all kinds of answers. I bring Him my worship. I give Jesus my trust. He wants my heart. I’ll give Him my love, my whole life. It’s all admirable. But all that is stuff He gave you or by His Spirit has worked in you.
Then finally someone gets it. The only thing we have that is uniquely ours that Jesus didn’t give us is our death which comes from our brokenness, our sin.
But THAT is exactly what Jesus has come to take! Our death and our brokenness. That’s why He was going up to Jerusalem to be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, to be mocked and flogged and killed – to take YOUR death, my death, into Himself.
You see, death is the great equalizer. We each get one. Just one. But that is the ONE thing we have that Jesus can truly use, because His game, ultimately His ONLY game, is to raise the dead.
Of course, if you don’t think you’re dying, you don’t need Jesus. But when you see your brokenness, when you see death coming, ONLY Jesus can help. Because only Jesus rose from the dead. And His Church today is His sign of the resurrection, confessing, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
The disciples didn’t get it till Jesus, in the upper room on Easter evening, opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His name to all nations, because Jesus is alive, and He has come to raise the dead – even YOU.
Only with that confidence in Jesus’ death and resurrection will you be able to stand by the grave-side to speak the promises of God. Oh, it will be relatively easy sometimes, like when it’s the 85-year-old grandma who loved Jesus. It’ll be quite another when it’s the 2 day old baby the parents desperately wanted, or worse yet, a 31-year-old father of two little kids who died in a senseless accident.
Only the real resurrection of Jesus will do – when they won’t care what you think, but will be desperate to hear what God has to say.
And that’s also the thing that enables you and me to deal with our own mortality.
Knowing that you, too, are a dying sinner, but forgiven and raised to life in Jesus will be the only strength that will sustain you in the face of unrelenting evil, in the times of profound disappointment, in the midst of often unbearable suffering, and when you walk into the presence of death itself.
May the Spirit of God hold each of you in the confidence that Jesus has taken YOUR death and YOUR brokenness into Himself, and enable you to grasp that, because He rose, He will raise also YOU!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Note: Mondays in chapel at the International Center we work through a Biblical book in small sections. Right now we are in Colossians. Yesterday, I had the privilege of preaching on Colossians 2:16-23. Blessings! + Herbert Mueller]
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Dear People Redeemed by Christ: I have a confession to make…
There was a time when I was enamored with the charismatic movement. This may date me a bit, but as a student at Concordia, Ann Arbor in the early 70′s I regularly attended a charismatic prayer meeting.
I desperately wanted one of the impressive charismatic gifts that others seemed to have. The one I really wanted was the gift of prophecy – knowing the future. I thought that’d be really COOL.
One of those who seemed to be a leader of the group gave suggestions for spiritual exercises I might do to make way for the Spirit, to invite the Spirit, to make myself ready for the Spirit, etc.
Then when it didn’t seem to work, the intimation was that there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t doing it right. I had some unrepented sin I had to find that was blocking the Spirit…
Well, we grew past that, eventually, and I came to see that I was falling into the same spiritual trap that the people in Colossae were tempted with.
That’s the trap of thinking that somehow having Jesus, trusting Jesus, well, it isn’t quite enough. There’s got to be Jesus – AND. Jesus AND these spiritual exercises designed to pull in the Holy Spirit. Or, in Colossae, Jesus AND – making sure you follow the Old Testament regulations concerning food and drink. Jesus AND making sure you observe the proper festivals.
Jesus AND – some kind of asceticism or worship of angels – whatever!
All these, Paul tells us,
“Have indeed the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value…”
What about now?
How might WE be saying – Jesus AND… something else?
Think of the things you hear. What is the next latest and greatest plan for saving the church?
What is the next thing the church just HAS TO do or it will fade and become irrelevant? What’s the thing people are saying is the thing you must do, or you are not missional? Or you are not doing it right?
Now I’m all for excellence, and for being faithful to the mission of the church, and faithful to the Scriptures and our confessions. That’s our calling!
But if we think the future of the church depends on US getting it right, we’ve got things all turned upside down. The Church has a future because Jesus promised –
“On this rock I WILL BUILD my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The New Moon and Sabbath festivals and all that Paul mentioned, they are a shadow of things to come, but the substance, literally, the body, belongs to Christ.
When you are reading a mystery novel, you may not catch all the clues along the way. But after you read the ending and know how it all turns out, you go back and re-read earlier chapters to find all the clues that were there all along.
That’s how Paul reads the Old Testament. Everything points to Christ, but it’s often only in Christ, and knowing Christ crucified and raised from the dead that we look back and see everything that was revealed in the Old Testament, we look back and see it was ALL about Christ.
So, for us, WE are called, in everything,
“to hold fast to the Head, to Christ, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”
In Christ, by our Baptism, we have died to the elemental spirits of the world… have died to everything that pulls us away from God, including our own sinful flesh.
Just BEFORE this section, Paul wrote that all our sins are nailed to the cross with Christ, to be buried in His grave forever. He took the indictment that was against us with its legal demands and REMOVED it forever. And just AFTER this, Paul will assure us that our REAL LIFE is hid with Christ in God.
So there is no such thing as Jesus AND – something else.
But our life, the forgiveness of our sins and our resurrection depend on JESUS ONLY.
Jesus ONLY – in His Word.
Jesus ONLY – in whom we are baptized into His death and resurrection.
Jesus ONLY – who feeds us with His body and blood.
Jesus ONLY – who fills us with His Spirit that we might grow into Him who is our Head.
Jesus ONLY – who will call us to Himself and raise us to life everlasting.
In the name of Jesus – Only.
First, my assumption: Confession and Absolution, whether we mean confession of sins in general or specific, private absolution with the pastor, is a great gift of God to His Church. Jesus said,
‘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 forgiven the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld’ (John 20:21-23).
When we speak words of forgiveness in Christ to one another, we are not simply talking about forgiveness, not simply imparting information about Jesus, but Jesus Himself speaks through His Word to forgive the sins of the penitent sinner, namely, the one who knows he or she is broken, dying, unless Christ intervenes.
My second assumption is that the word of forgiveness spoken is Christ’s word, no matter who speaks it. So a wife, in her vocation as wife and mother, may speak Christ’s word of forgiveness to her penitent husband, and vice versa. Within our God-given vocations there are many opportunities to bring Christ’s forgiveness into the situation. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us we are forgiven to forgive when we pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Indeed, when we leave the Divine Service with Christ’s word of forgiveness ringing in our ears, we have a never-ending supply of forgiveness to give away to others.
Our Lord Christ, however, is so extravagant in His gifts that He also has established in the church the office of pastor. In fact, His Word commands the church to call pastors, as Paul directed Titus:
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you (Titus 1:5).
So, at Christ’s command, the church calls pastors as servants, men whom God’s Word calls “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), men who are to serve the church and the lost world around the church by giving out the Lord’s gifts as the Lord desires. In essence, then, pastors are given a trust by God through the church. They are accountable to Christ Himself (and to the church) to give out on behalf of all the gifts Christ has for people: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in the Word of Christ.
We call and ordain pastors in order to make it clear both to the people and to the pastors what they are to be and to do: conduct their ministry in accordance with the Word of God and the confessions of the Lutheran church, caring for the people of God within and without by means of that Word of God. Tucked into our ordination/installation rite is a question with an important bearing on our topic. The prospective pastor is asked, among other things, “Do you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you?” “Yes, with the help of God!” he answers.
That implies two things. When a pastor hears a confession, whether public in church or privately, he has no choice, but he is under orders from Christ Himself to announce forgiveness. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ…” is how one form of absolution puts it. Secondly, with private confession, never means never. That’s right. Any pastor who hears a confession of sin within this “confessional seal” must never divulge it to anyone, ever. That’s the vow. Within the context of that pastoral relationship he explores with the penitent confessing the sin whether he or she understands what true repentance entails, including taking responsibility for any consequences of sin under civil law, but he must never divulge to anyone the sins confessed to him. He must not stand in judgment for he, too, is a sinner. If the penitent needs help going to the proper authorities, the pastor ought do that, but he does not divulge what was confessed. He has one thing and one thing only to do for a penitent, truly broken sinner – and that is to speak Christ’s own life-giving Word of forgiveness. As our catechism says,
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when the exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself (Lutheran Service Book, p. 326).
When I served as a district president for 16 years, I recommended to the pastors I served that they find another pastor to whom they might confess sins and hear in the voice of another saying, “I forgive you all your sins.” It’s a great gift of God I have sought to make regular use of myself. When pastors would ask me how they could find a pastor to trust, here was my response: you ask him two questions. Do you have someone to whom you confess your sins? (No one can hear confessions as a pastor without regularly being a penitent himself.) If he answers yes to the first question, you ask him a second: does “never” mean never? If he answers yes (considering what we said above) you can trust him. These things, by the way, would be good questions to discuss with your pastor as well. Personally, I could not function as a pastor without this gift of God, to hear from another the voice of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven you. Go in peace!”
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice-President