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"Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches, although in confession an enumeration of all sins is not necessary." —Augsburg Confession, Article 9

Confession in the Lutheran Church (also called Holy Absolution) is the method given by Christ to the Church by which individual men and women may be freed from sins committed after receiving Holy Baptism and taking a catechism class.



The Lutheran Church practices "Confession and Absolution" [referred to as the Office of the Keys] with the emphasis on the absolution, which is God's word of forgiveness. Indeed, Lutherans highly regard Holy Absolution and consider it the "third" sacrament. They, like Roman Catholics, see James 5:16 and John 20:22-23 as biblical evidence for confession.[1] Confession and absolution is done private to the pastor, called the "confessor" with the person confessing known as the "penitent". In private confession (also known as Holy Absolution), the penitent makes an act of contrition, as the pastor, acting in persona Christi, announces the formula of absolution. Similar to the Roman Catholic practice, following the formula of absolution, the pastor is to assigns the penitent a penance. In the Lutheran Church, like the Roman Catholic Church, the pastor is bound by the Seal of the Confessional. Luther's Small Catechism says "the pastor is pledged not to tell anyone else of sins to him in private confession, for those sins have been removed." If the Seal is broken, it will result in excommunication.[1]In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, private confession and absolution fell into disuse; at the present time, it is encouraged to be done yearly (specifically before Easter) and for those about to receive First Communion or Confirmation.

Lutherans also practice corporate confession with the assembled congregation making a general confession (similar to the Roman Catholic Penitential Rite). This form of confession plays a role in the Divine Service, where the entire congregation recites the Confiteor, as the pastor says a Declaration of Grace.

Martin Luther on Confession

In his 1529 catechisms, Martin Luther praised private confession (before a pastor or a fellow Christian) "for the sake of absolution," the forgiveness of sins bestowed in an audible, concrete way (see John 20:23; Matthew 16:19; 18:18). The Lutheran reformers held that a complete enumeration of sins is impossible (Augsburg Confession XI with reference to Psalm 19:12) and that one's confidence of forgiveness is not to be based on the sincerity of one's contrition nor on one's doing works of satisfaction imposed by the confessor. The medieval church held confession to be composed of three parts: contritio cordis ("contrition of the heart"), confessio oris ("confession of the mouth"), and satisfactio operis ("satisfaction of deeds"). The Lutheran reformers abolished the "satisfaction of deeds," holding that confession and absolution consist of only two parts (Large Catechism VI, 15): the confession of the penitent and the absolution spoken by the confessor. Faith or trust in Jesus' complete active and passive satisfaction is what receives the forgiveness and salvation won by him and imparted to the penitent by the word of absolution. Luther also states that a person should use Absolution and the Lord's Supper frequently in a year.[2]

Form of Confession


Private Confession

A modern confessional at a Lutheran church in Columbus, Georgia, United States.

Holy Absolution (in the same manner as confession in the Catholic Church), which is done in the church chancel with the pastor sitting near the communion rail far enough away from being overheard or in the privacy of the pastor's office (though some churches use a confessional). Private confessions can be heard almost anywhere [hospital room, outside, etc]. The words below, taken from the Lutheran Service Book and used in most private confessions, say:

The penitent begins by saying:

Please hear my confession and pronounce forgiveness in order to fulfill God's will. I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord's name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I have failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been spoiled with sin. What troubles me particularly is that...

Here, the penitent is to confess whatever they have done against the commandments of God, according to their own place in life. The penitent continues.

I am sorry for all of this and ask for grace. I want to do better.

The pastor continues:

God be merciful to you and strengthen you faith. Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?

The penitent will say:


The pastor places his hand on the head of the penitent and says the following:

In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The pastor may assign the penitent an additional penance, such as Scripture passages to read to strengthen their faith. Then the pastor dismisses the penitent.

Go in peace.

The penitent responds:


General Confession

Pastor: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
People: But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Pastor: Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.
People: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of your Holy Name. Amen.
Pastor: In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become the children of God and bestows on them the Holy Spirit. May the Lord, who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. [3]



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