Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bad Confession

"Bad Confession" sounds like the name of a rock band.  I couldn't think of a better title for today's reading, because that is what Calvin was discussing for the most part.  You will see what I mean if you have not yet read these sections.

There were people in Calvin's day who read more into the story of the raising of Lazarus in John 11 than what was originally intended.  In verse 44, Jesus says, "Loose him, and let him go."  It is not clear to whom Christ is speaking, it just says "to them," but there was Mary, the disciples, and some Jews who were there.  Some people argued that Jesus was speaking to the disciples.  They read into this story that Jesus was giving the disciples the power to unbind people from their sins and set them free.  Calvin says that Jesus was most likely speaking to the Jews who were present, so they could fully see Christ demonstrate His power without even having to touch Lazarus himself.  Even if Jesus were speaking to the disciples, this could be better allegorized as meaning that Christ has forgiven the sins of someone and the others around the forgiven man should not treat him more harshly than Christ himself had treated the man.

James 5:16 begins, "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed."  Some use this verse to argue that we must confess our sins to a priest.  How can this be when the text clearly reads "to one another."  Calvin demonstrates the flaw in their logic when he breaks down the Greek word "allelon" which means "mutually", "in turn", or reciprocity".  The NKJV version translates it as "to one another."  If only priests are fit to hear confessions, Calvin argues, then only priests are able to confess as well.  This is something that we are supposed to do with each other, not everyone with a priest.

Auricular confession, or the requirement to confess sins to a priest, was not a requirement of the Catholic church until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, during the time of Pope Innocent III.  So for nearly 1200 years after Christ, believers were not required to confess their sins to a priest, but all of a sudden it became necessary.  There were witty people at the time who had some fun with the way this church law was written.  It says that people of both sexes are required to confess their sins to a priest.  Calvin joins in the fun when he too declares that only those who are hermaphrodites are required to confess their sins to a priest.  If you are either male or female, this rule does not apply.  (Who says that Calvin doesn't have a sense of humor?)  This was obviously not a standard implemented by Christ or even by the early church.  The Eastern church for a time had a particular priest who was given the role to hear confessions, but that practice had been abolished because of a scandal.

The 4th century theologian Chrysostom writes many times that men are to confess their sins directly to God.  He was not saying that men are free to do what they want with no repercussions, but that we should not be filled with guilt at all times for the sins we have committed.  If we confess our sins to God and repent of them, we are forgiven.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.4.9-3.4.13

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