Bishop and Christian*, February 2010

What about the General Confession?

The practice at Trinity and St. Paul’s has been to use a general confession and the absolution on Sundays when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, and an announcement of grace on the Sundays when we do not receive the Lord’s Body and Blood.  Before either of those confessions, we have (since I’ve been here) paused for a moment of silence prior to the confession.  Some people have wondered about this, so I’m going to take this space to give a little background to the practice of silence before the confession. 

In his book The Quest for Holiness, Adolf Köberle quotes the theologian Hermann Bezzel: “A general repentance is the death of repentance” (214).  That is, if we are content with the confession that we are “poor, miserable sinners” (which is true!), but forget how that general fact shows itself in specific and concrete sins, we will soon lose the absolute seriousness of our sin before God.  We do not sin generally, so we cannot confess sins generally (although we do confess sin generally).  To avoid the loss of repentance and real confession, we take a short time of silence prior to the confession.  This helps us focus on how our own sinfulness has shown itself in specific, sinful thoughts; in specific, sinful words; in specific, sinful actions.  We have actually damaged our relationships with God and with others, not generally, but specifically.  More than that, Jesus’ death and resurrection do not only forgive us generally; He died for specific sins. 

If you are not used to this time of silence, it may be hard at first to acquire the focus necessary for examination of yourself.  The amount of time may be too short, as well.  But because we know it is coming every single week, we should not wait until the actual moment of the confession to start thinking about what we are doing.  Right before the service starts, you may want to pray the prayer that is printed inside the front cover of your hymnal: “O Lord, my creator, redeemer, and comforter, as I come to worship You in spirit and in truth, I humbly pray that You would open my heart to the preaching of Your Word so that I may repent of my sins, believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior, and grow in grace and holiness.  Hear me for the sake of His name.  Amen.”  You can also meditate on the Ten Commandments according to your vocation (wife, husband, child, etc.  See pp. 321-322, and 326.  (In order to allow people to do this, if you need to talk, please speak quietly in the sanctuary prior to the service.) 

If you are having trouble thinking of the words when it comes to the silence before the confession, try praying another prayer in the front of the hymnal (“Before confession and absolution”): “Almighty, everlasting God, for my many sins [here you may want to say, “especially…”] I justly deserve eternal condemnation.  In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, who won for me forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation.  Grant me a true confession that, dead to sin, I may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution.  Grant me Your Holy Spirit that I may ever be watchful and live a true and godly life in Your service; through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.”

All of this, however, is not meant as theological torture, but it is aimed at the absolution.  The primary reason for examining ourselves individually and recalling specific sins is that the absolution will be heard and trusted more firmly.  If sometimes you cannot recall particular sins during those few seconds of silence, that is okay.  “Do not trouble yourself or search for or invent other sins…mention one or two sins that you know and let that be enough” (LSB 292).  But view it as practice: lament your sin so that you may rejoice all the more in Christ’s absolution.  And if you are burdened by particular sins, individual confession and absolution is available every Saturday from 7-8 pm or by appointment.            

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

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