Saturday, September 22, 2007

Confession on the Comeback Trail

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal talking about the Holy Sacrament of Confession and Absolution that not only mentions the Missouri Synod in a positive light, but also quotes a well-known LCMS pastor, Rev. Bruce Kaseman - who not too long ago was a visitor (with his family) to Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana, where I serve.

Here is a quote from the article:

"Protestant theologians are also rethinking the rite. This past summer, the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, a 2.5 million-member branch whose members are spread across North America, voted to revive private confession with a priest. Some theologians have pointed to the writings of Martin Luther and argued that the Protestant reformer, while criticizing the way the rite was administered, never advocated abolishing it. "Some of us were saying, 'Why in the world did we let that die out?'" says the Rev. Bruce Keseman, a Lutheran pastor in Freeburg, Ill.

The Rev. Keseman has sought to revive confession in his congregation by bringing it into pastoral counseling, giving demonstrations to youth groups and preaching about its benefits. Leslie Sramek, 48, a lifelong Lutheran and financial manager who lives near St. Louis, says she never heard about private confession and absolution in church when she was growing up. But two years ago, when the Rev. Keseman announced he would be taking confession privately, she decided to give it a try. At these sessions, the pastor wears vestments and stands near the altar while she kneels and recounts her sins. "I won't say that looking at my sins is pleasant, but they have to be dealt with," says Mrs. Sramek."

It should be noted that we Lutherans never actually abolished Confession and Absolution - rather people just stopped going to confession and pastors stopped emphasizing it. In the decades following World War I, as Lutherans abandoned the German language and became assimilated into the American way of life, we began to mimic our Protestant neighbors - who themselves had abolished private confession (as well as other "catholic" things, such as priestly vestments, altar candles, crucifixes, and the sign of the cross).

Today, we're seeing an interesting phenomenon. One part of the synod is moving further toward Protestantism, with radical and non-liturgical neo-Evangelical worship styles and emphasis on the very-Protestant Ablaze!(tm) program - as evidenced by the recent "official" LCMS youth gathering that featured dancing girls at the contemporary worship service. At the same time, another part of our synod is recovering the reverent and historic Lutheran "Evangelical Catholicism" that emphasizes the Gospel through the liturgy and the sacraments of the Church - typified by the recent Higher Things youth conference that featured a solemn Mass with incense. A tale of two synods!

The fact that there wasn't more opposition to the synodical overture concerning private confession and absolution is a good sign. Now, getting people to come to confession is a little tougher than simply voting for it. But this is encouraging news indeed.


Jim Roemke said...

It is very encouraging and I have been emphasizing it in my own parish since I got there. So far no takers for the scheduled time, but, I think I am making some head way at least in getting them comfortable with the idea of private confession. Another thing that I think helps is that I, as their pastor, regularly make confession and receive Holy Absolution. It is a great comfort and blessing that God has given His Holy Church.

Lawrence said...

It is good to see us getting back to basics. We need that. We really do.