Confession: “A Sacrament? And the Significance of Individual Confession and Absolution”

Published on September 10, 2015

“To be a sacrament, or not to be a sacrament?”

What is a sacrament? We hear the term fairly often, but can we define it? The term is Scriptural but not written in the Bible as such. Sacramentum is the Latin translation for the Greek mysterion or “mystery.” This term arises three times in St. Paul’s Epistles:

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” 1 Corinthians 4:1
“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:32
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16

In these cases the term deals with the saving truths of the Gospel and faith: the incarnation, redemption, the Trinity and the church. By the same token then, the term was applied to the means by which the Christian receives this faith and the forgiveness of sins.

Apart from the sevenfold sacramental system of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox confessions, the Lutheran church understood two or three sacraments. Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and perhaps Absolution. Philip Melanchthon, a chief teacher of our Confessions, in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states,

If we define sacraments as “rites which have the command of God and to which the promise of grace has been added,” we can easily determine which are sacraments in the strict sense. By this definition, rites instituted by men are not sacraments in the strict sense since men do not have the authority to promise grace. … The genuine sacraments, therefore, are Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution (which is the sacrament of penitence), for these rites have the commandment of God and the promise of grace, which is the heart of the New Testament. Ap. XIII, 3-4.

Luther understood Absolution to be an extension of Baptism, because repentance is above all things a return to Baptism (LC IV, 74-79).
The traditional definition of Sacrament in our theology is:

A sacred act 1) instituted by God, 2) where God has joined His Word of promise to a visible element, and 3) where He gives the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ.

So where does that place the gift of Absolution? God certainly promises the forgiveness of sins to the repentant. He gives the Office of the Keys to the Church through Christ in St. John 20 and in St. Matthew 18. Here the Church is given authority, through the office of the pastor, to pronounce  forgiveness or withhold forgiveness. Thus the absolution is clearly instituted by God. It is joined to the very Words of Christ and it gives forgiveness.
In order to match the traditional definition above, however, many have trouble associating a visible element with this great gift of God. Is it too great of a stretch to acknowledge that the visible element is the voice of the man pronouncing absolution? For some it is and for some it isn’t. Our Confessions leave the door open for such a moniker to be used of the Absolution- a sacrament. For the Absolution is nothing else than the promise of God’s forgiveness pronounced through the Word of Christ in the words of the pastor for the comfort of the penitent.

“Individual Confession and Absolution”

Keys-50Confession and Absolution is one of the greatest treasures of the Church. The term “confession” often brings to mind the confessional booths of the Roman Catholic tradition, the phrase “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” and the requisite works to guarantee forgiveness. But this is not the great treasure of Confession and Absolution. Since the days of the Reformation the Church has freed this gift from the tyranny of the Law alone and returned it to the proper light of Law and Gospel. Repentance has two parts, first that we confess our sins driven to do so by the Law and second that we believe that we are forgiven for the sake of Christ, according to his promises.

We are comfortable with the Office of the Keys, forgiving and retaining sins, with individual Christians. Sometimes it takes extra effort, but most Christians can ask forgiveness from their neighbor when they have sinned against him. We are also comfortable with corporate forms of Confession and Absolution. During the Divine Service it has been our practice to observe a general absolution before continuing with the Introit. But when it comes to Individual Confession and Absolution where the pastor is simply the ears and mouthpiece of God, we are often reluctant to take advantage of such a gift.

Use of Confession and Absolution cannot be urged successfully from anyone outside of the sinner. It is a desire of the Christian to beg pastors to share this great gift and receive forgiveness. As Luther writes,

When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian. If I have brought you to the point of being a Christian, I have thereby also brought you to Confession. For those who really desire to be true Christians, to be rid of their sins, and to have a cheerful conscience already possess the true hunger and thirst. They reach for the bread, just as Psalm 42:1 says of a hunted deer, burning in the heat with thirst, "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God." Luther’s Exhortation to Confession, LC VI, 32-33.

Confession and Absolution is for the benefit of the Christian. Christians are those who cling to Christ and not to their sins. Therefore Christians are those who take advantage of Confession and Absolution. There is, of course, no Law when it comes to how Confession is made or Absolution is received. But there should always be a proper sense of necessity when considering this great treasure.

Our Lord says in St. Matthew, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” St. Matthew 11:28-30 It is without a doubt that this easy yoke and light burden is found in the forgiveness of sins as we receive them in the Sacraments.

When you are oppressed by your sins and find no relief anywhere for your conscience, know that there is such relief and comfort in Confession and Absolution. When you are burdened with doubt, shame, or grief; return to your baptism and confess your sins receiving the glorious words of forgiveness that satisfy those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Our Lord has given us this gift that we might use it and use it frequently. Let us do so in the fullness of Christian freedom exercising our faith as Christians by trusting in God’s promise of forgiveness.

Rev. R. W. Paul
Thursday of Trinity XII
26 August AD 2015
Pastor and Headmaster, Immanuel Lutheran Church and School

Lutheran Hour

Published on September 10, 2015

Note to congregation regarding new local broadcasting arrangements on KBIM.

Immanuel Lutheran Church is co-sponsoring the Lutheran Hour Program with Lutheran Hour Ministries on local radio station, KBIM FM 94.9 every Sunday morning at 7:30 AM. The FM station reaches most communities in SE New Mexico, including Artesia, Carlsbad, Hobbs, Lovington, Portales, and Ruidoso. The Lutheran Hour Program is no longer broadcast on KBIM 910 AM. Lutheran Hour can also be heard on Christian Satellite KAWZ FM 90.5 at 8:00 AM. KAWZ has a limited broadcasting range and only reaches the outskirts of the Roswell.

The weekly cost of transferring the LHM broadcasting to KBIM FM has $90.70 per week. LHM asks that when members & supporters of LHM, make donations to LHM (regardless whether donations are sent directly to LHM or are given through our local church treasurer) that donors write # 3240 in the "memo" space in the left hand corner of your check) This will help Lutheran Hour Ministries determine whether local programming is being supported financially by local listeners.

If any questions please call or email Hugh.

Schedule for Lutheran Hour


From Pastor Paul

Published on September 10, 2015

I trust O Christ in You alone; No earthly hope avails me.
You will not see me overthrown When Satan’s host assails me.
No human strength, no earthly pow’r
Can see me through the evil hour,
For you alone my strength renew.
I cry to You! I trust, O Lord, Your promise true.
LSB 972:1, Conrad Hubert

It is a deep joy and pleasure to be here at Immanuel to serve both the church and school. Classes are now underway, with only a few more groups to join us after Labor Day. Our school year has been off to a great start. Please see the school newsletter this week for more information on what has gone on with our school this summer and how the school year is shaping up. Thank you for your support of our school. It is your school, for without Immanuel Lutheran Church we would have no need to teach our children the faith. Since the church is here, it is right that we also have such a wonderful place to educate our children and raise them in the faith. Feel free to visit at Matins and during the school day. We would love to have you come.

It is encouraging to see many of you week in and week out even as the summer has waned and the school year began. Please take great joy and comfort in God’s gifts of preaching and the Sacraments. The Divine Service is God’s chief service for you where he delivers you the bread of life, the Word for repentance and faith and the Holy Supper for the strengthening of that faith. For those who travel throughout the year, please let me know where you might visit so that I can help you find a congregation to visit and perhaps commune at if they are in fellowship with us. Attending the Divine Service to receive God’s gifts is of the utmost importance and it shows confidence in God’s promises fulfilled and delivered by our Lord, Christ Jesus.

As I continue to try to balance both roles as headmaster and pastor please do keep me in your thoughts when you need the help or support of your pastor. I appreciate many of your concerns for my personal time and family time; but I still am your pastor and desire to be with you in pastoral needs. We will balance these. But when you are going into the hospital, or are in need of someone to talk to, or have questions about the faith: I am here for you.

Bible Studies have gone very well so far and I hope that they continue to do so. Last Monday’s Gemütlichkeit (Beer and Theology) was a great success. We have decided to do a survey of the writings of Martin Luther starting at his earliest lectures (1513) and then to follow his development theologically through his writings until his death (1546). It will be quite the undertaking. We also hope to dive into the books of the Scriptures that he comments on in order to further our own studies of the Scriptures while we also study on a crucial teacher of the Christian faith. Men, please join us this month! For dates and times, see the newsletter and bulletins.

Ladies, the Tuesday morning class studying 1 Corinthians begins on the 8th. In addition our Friday study of the Catholic/General Epistles, beginning with 1 Peter, is off to a great start. If you are free please join us!

Finally, choir starts up again this Wednesday, September 2nd. I am delighted to see that our choir is returning for another year. Singers and aspiring singers are all welcome! If you have thought about choir but are not sure, please see me. It is my intent this year to not only prepare sacred pieces for the offering but also to continue to enrich the service with choir support during the hymns and liturgy. If you can join us for the fall, please do so! We would love to have you.

Opportunities abound here at Immanuel to grow in the faith that God has given to us by His Word and Spirit. God grant that we pursue them to the benefit of our faith, our love of God and the neighbor.

God bless you!

In Christ,

Pastor Paul

The Sacrament of Baptism (Part II): “Godparent, Sponsor, Witness; What’s the Difference?”

Published on August 18, 2015


This issue of our Catechism newsletter is devoted entirely to the subject of “godparents” or “sponsors.” So often when it comes to baptism, this is a topic that is only discussed right as babies are born. It is an important issue, especially when we consider what the history of “godparents” or “sponsors” has been within the Christian Church.

When we hear godparent, we usually think of an esteemed family member who was a witness to our baptism. Perhaps they are of the same faith, most likely not though. The “godparent” also might be that family member entrusted to take care of the child in the case of the death of the parents.

Within the Lutheran Church, the issue of Godparent or sponsor is even more serious than this. Historically, godparents or sponsors served as those who watched over adult catechumens (those desiring baptism and communicant membership) and helped them remain faithful during their time of catechesis. For Lutherans since we predominately baptize infants, the choosing of godparents should be specifically those family members, friends, or church family members who are able and willing to raise your children in the Lutheran faith. The Lutheran distinctives: Justification by grace alone through faith alone, the significance of a baptism that regenerates, Confession and Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, and the clear preaching and teaching of Law and Gospel; are all treasures that we should seek to preserve for our children. If we aim to do these as parents, we should also make sure that those who are “godparents” are ready to do the same in our stead and alongside us.


The explanation to the Small Catechism says this about sponsors,

“Sponsors witness that those who receive this sacrament have been properly baptized. They also pray for them and in the case of children, help with their Christian upbringing, especially if they should lose their parents. Only those of the same confession of faith should be sponsors, cf. Matt. 18:16; Eph. 4:16.” Explanation of Small Catechism, 208.

The Lutheran Church also has a rite for the enrollment of sponsors. Sponsors can certainly fulfill the traditional role of godparents too. If you have relatives who are Missouri Synod Lutherans in good standing (those who faithfully attend church and commune regularly), these are certainly good candidates for godparents and sponsors. Many of us however do not come from exclusively Lutheran families. In these cases it is important to have sponsors and witnesses, as will be discussed below.

Sponsors are to be members of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (or perhaps a sister church body). I am more than willing to keep a roll of sponsors, members of the church who wish to serve as sponsors to candidates for baptism that do not have eligible family members. If you would like to serve as one, please let me know.


If church members and Lutheran family members are now sponsors/godparents, what about non-Lutheran family members or friends whom we wish to honor? In the past our church body has called these persons “witnesses.” One may also call them godparents, if one so chooses. The important difference really is in the function. If those who serve as godparents really are only there to witness the baptism and have the title in an honorary fashion, then witness is a suitable title.

If we are supposed to take the matter of raising our own children in the faith seriously, then we should also invite our families and friends to honor our wishes. This title of “witness” seems to be helpful in this regard. In the past here at Immanuel, I have stressed that non-Lutheran family can serve as “godparents;” but Lutheran family and church members are properly “sponsors” in the faith. I think that understanding honorary “godparents” as “witnesses” does help to clarify the matter.

The Catechetical Nature of "Remembering Your Baptism”

Now perhaps we can set our terms straight: sponsors are godparents within the Lutheran faith who vow to raise children in the Lutheran faith; witnesses are “godparents” outside the Lutheran faith that families seek to honor. Ideally of course all godparents should be sponsors. We should all desire that our children be raised as Lutherans and understand the importance of this crucial aspect of their upbringing. But what ought godparents do once they have become sponsors and been party to the baptism of their godchildren?

This is where sponsors are important in helping children to remember their baptisms. Baptism is a lifelong event. You are baptized. Sponsors should remind godchildren of their baptismal birthdays. Encourage them to light their baptismal candle and recite the creed, sing baptismal hymns, recite verses of the Scriptures on Baptism, or recite from the Catechism on Baptism. Baptismal birthdays are an ideal time for Lutheran gifts: hymnals, bibles, “My First Catechism,” crucifixes, biblical art, etc.

Also in the case of negligent parents it is the duty of sponsors to bring their godchildren to church. They need to be fed with God’s Word and church is where they receive this. Encourage the parents of baptized children to come to church and when all else fails offer to bring the children so that they may hear God’s Word and receive the forgiveness of sins.

Of course it is salutary to pray for your godchildren, as well as to talk about the Lutheran faith with them. Engage them as they prepare for confirmation. Assist them in memorizing the catechism. The baptismal life is the whole life of every baptized Christian. Sponsors have the important duty of ensuring firm catechesis, instruction in the Christian faith. It is of course the duty of every Christian parent to raise their children in the faith. But as every parent knows, helping hands are very useful. Especially in our age when raising our children in the faith has become increasingly more difficult in a hostile culture, we ought to give more attention to the Lutheran Christian upbringing of our children and godchildren.

Baptism is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us. We receive the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting from water and the Word. We are united in Christ’s death and resurrection and we are made a new creation in the Second Adam. These truths are always worth remembering as we grow in the Holy Spirit and faith. God grant us that we will be able to equip ourselves to raise our children in the faith.

Rev. R. W. Paul
Festival of Mary Magdalene
22 July AD 2015
Pastor and Headmaster, Immanuel Lutheran Church and School

From Pastor Paul

Published on August 18, 2015

God’s Word is our great heritage And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way, In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure, We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations.
LSB 582, Nikolai Fredrik Severin Grundtvig

Dear family at Immanuel, I hope that you have enjoyed your summer months! As August begins we make our preparations for the school year, Sunday School, the regular battery of Confirmation and Bible Studies and hopefully continuous participation in God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. For those who continue to travel please do contact me if you are in need of a faithful church on the road. It is important to be well fed as Christians. Please do not neglect God’s gifts, as many of us are wont to do when we travel. This has been a busy summer for us here at Immanuel, but please remember that the gifts of God are here for you to receive for your nourishment and refreshment. Every Sunday in the Divine Service, forgiveness, life, and salvation are offered in Word and Sacrament that you might be forgiven and filled with the bread of life. Remember this throughout the whole year and be mindful of the spiritual needs you and your family have.

As Bible Studies return in full swing over the next month, below are reminders as to what classes are being offered at this time. The sermon provides Law and Gospel for you in the service, but one cannot ever hear enough of God’s Word. Each class is meant to strengthen your faith and enliven you as you live in your God-given vocations. Please take advantage of as many of our classes as you are able.

  • Sunday: On Sundays we currently are studying Galatians. This letter of St. Paul concerns itself wit 5the early controversy over the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of Christ. It is an incredibly important book of the Bible when we consider our identities as Lutherans. Please join us! Following our study on Galatians the topics will consist of Prayer, “Singing the Faith,” The Gospel of John.
  • Monday: New Study Opportunity! : Join me this August at Gemütlichkeit (Ge – mut – lick – kite): Beer and Theology, a monthly gathering for men of all ages in order to read and discuss theology and enjoy tasty Lutheran beverages. Gemütlichkeit (Ge – mut – lick – kite) is the German word for friendliness and good cheer, often associated with German Beer Gardens. My hope is to have a good time and be able to discuss the wonderful richness of Lutheran theology with all those interested. Our first meeting will be at Pastor Paul’s house on 24 August (4th Monday of the Month) at 8pm. See you then!
  • Tuesday: At our Adult Bible Breakfast we have been studying the Large Catechism. This has been an invigorating study. The Large Catechism, based in Luther’s Catechism sermons from 1528, reminds Christians of the importance of knowing by heart the basics of the faith and how clarity of doctrine reinforces our relationship with God and our neighbors. The Ladies’ Bible Study will meet in the Bible Study room, down the hall from the Parish Hall, Tuesdays at 9:45, starting September 8th. They will be studying 1 Corinthians. Please see Lorraine or Joyce for more information.
  • Friday I will also offer a Ladies’ Bible Study on Friday mornings at 10 am, starting August 21st. We will meet in the Bible Study room, down the hall from the Parish Hall. We will begin by looking at some of the Catholic Epistles, that is the Epistles to the whole church, specifically 1 and 2 Peter. Please join us for this as well.

Do not forget also that starting August 17th Matins services will begin again, Monday through Friday at 8:05. If you are available please join us to receive God’s Word and confess the faith in hymns and the catechism. Every service of the church is for you to receive God’s gifts!

Finally, even if you are able to make it to every service and study, and even if you cannot; there is never an adequate replacement for regular home devotions. Whether it is through the Portals of Prayer or the Congregation at Prayer sheet printed weekly, please get in the habit of praying regularly as a family at breakfast or at dinner, or both. Time for family devotions allows for study of the Scriptures, the Catechism, hymns and time also for prayers that address your daily needs and those needs of the congregation and church at large. For those who already regularly attempt these, please keep up the good work and do not lose heart! For those who have yet to try, it is never too late. A regular private devotional life in addition to the corporate devotional life we have at Immanuel is yet another tool for Christians to live their faith and confess the truth of Christ crucified!

God bless you as we begin the new school year!

In Christ,

Pastor Paul