History of Auricular Confession and the 'Sacrament of Confession'

By COGwriter

Does the Bible teach confession of sins? Did Christians always practice the "sacrament of confession"? What does the Catholic Church really teach about auricular confession? What do the early records associated with church history actually teach? Does the Catholic Church admit change here?

These questions and more are answered in this article. Auricular means "of or pertaining to the ear or to the sense of hearing" (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/auricular). (A related sermon is Confess to God and truly repent.)

Confess Your Sins to One Another

The Bible does say to confess sins, but has the Church of Rome taken this beyond the practices recorded in the Bible or any found in early Christian documents?

Let's start by reading a passage from the Douay-Rheims Bible (a Catholic version, abbreviated herein as DRB):

16 Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much. (James 5:16, DRB)

Notice that this was not a command to confess sins to the clergy/ministry.

For those who prefer a more modern version, the following is the same verse from the New Jerusalem Bible (a Catholic version, abbreviated herein as NJB):

16 So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another to be cured; the heartfelt prayer of someone upright works very powerfully. (James 5:16, NJB)

Both versions teach confession of sins to lay members of the church as opposed to auricular (essentially audible) confession to a priest.

Here is the other time the Bible specifically talks about confessing sins:

7 But if we walk in the light, as he also is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:7-10, DRB)

The above says that Christians are to confess sins, and Jesus will forgive them. There is no discussion of penance here or in James 5:16.

According to other scriptures, God/Jesus again is the one we are to confess to:

11 For it is written: As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 Therefore every one of us shall render account to God for himself. (Romans 14:11-12, DRB)

1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly vocation, consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus (Hebrews 3:1, DRB)

14 Having therefore a great high priest that hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God: let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we have not a high priest, who can not have compassion on our infirmities: but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin. 16 Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid. (Hebrews 4:14-16, DRB)

Notice also the following:

18 And many of them that believed, came confessing and declaring their deeds. 19 And many of them who had followed curious arts, brought together their books, and burnt them before all; and counting the price of them, they found the money to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:18-19, DRB)

The above people apparently repented of their sins and destroyed certain wicked books, but this was not penance in the sense that the Church of Rome now advocates.

Sin No More and Pray for Forgiveness

Jesus told sinners to "sin no more" (John 5:14; 8:11).

Jesus taught that Christians are to pray to God to be forgiven:

12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:12-15, NKJV )

Jesus is teaching that we are to ask God to forgive us, to help us not again go the way towards temptation, and that Christians who wish to be forgiven their sins need to forgive others. He did not add a list of penances to be done.

Catholic Claims About Early Confession and Penance vs. Actual Quotes from Historical Documents

Despite what the Bible teaches, many who profess Christ apparently do not believe that one can confess their sins to God and be forgiven without paying a penalty specified by a priest.

Notice some claims from The Catholic Encyclopedia about confession and penance:

Penance is a sacrament of the New Law instituted by Christ in which forgiveness of sins committed after baptism is granted through the priest's absolution to those who with true sorrow confess their sins and promise to satisfy for the same...the Council of Trent declares, Christ principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance after His Resurrection, a miracle greater than that of healing the sick. "As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained' (John 20:21-23)...

Clement I (d. 99) in his Epistle to the Corinthians not only exhorts to repentance, but begs the seditious to "submit themselves to the presbyters and receive correction so as to repent" (chapter 57), and Ignatius of Antioch at the close of the first century speaks of the mercy of God to sinners, provided they return" with one consent to the unity of Christ and the communion of the bishop". The clause "communion of the bishop" evidently means the bishop with his council of presbyters as assessors. He also says (Letter to the Philadelphians) "that the bishop presides over penance". (Hanna, Edward. The Sacrament of Penance. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 18 May 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11618c.htm>)

But is that quite true?

First of all, there is no discussion in the New Testament that Jesus ever instituted penance for "forgiveness of sins committed after baptism." So, while it is true that Jesus taught forgiveness of sin, that bold assertion about penance being instituted by Jesus is false (John 20:23 will be addressed later).

Although The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that the Letter to the Corinthians (which they it calls I Clement) indicates it version of confession and penance, the reality is that Letter specifically teaches the following about confession and repentance:

Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.  Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him. Noah preached repentance, and as many as listened to him were saved...The Lord, brethren, stands in need of nothing; and He desires nothing of any one except that confession be made to Him... You therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. (Letter to the Corinthians (Clement), Chapters 7,52,57.  Translated by John Keith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 9. Edited by Allan Menzies. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1896.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1010.htm>)

What about Ignatius? Well, he also did not teach penance in the modern Roman Catholic sense of the term. Notice what he really taught:

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, which is at Philadelphia, in Asia, which has obtained mercy, and is established in the harmony of God, and rejoices unceasingly in the passion of our Lord, and is filled with all mercy through his resurrection; which I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal and enduring joy, especially if [men] are in unity with the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom He has established in security, after His own will, and by His Holy Spirit...

3...For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. (Ignatius. Letter to the Philadelphians, Chapters 0,3. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm>)

Basically, Ignatius was teaching that those who left the church should be allowed back if they repent. That is not the same as teaching that the individuals who left have to fulfill a form of prescribed penance.

Now, Rome had a fairly corrupt Bishop, named Callistus, who a Catholic saint named Hippolytus said bribed his way and bought the bishopric of Rome (Hippolytus. Refutation of All Heresies, Book IX, Chapter VI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight) (in violation of scripture, see Acts 8:20-23).

Well, it seems that Bishop Callistus was a factor in getting more involvement from some of the clergy.  The Catholic Encyclopedia reported:

Pope Callistus (218-22) published his "peremptory edict" in which he declares: "I forgive the sins both of adultery and of fornication to those who have done penance." Thereupon Tertullian, now become a Montanist, wrote his "De pudicitia" (A.D. 217-22)…: "I blush not at an error which I have cast off because I am delighted at being rid of it . . . one is not ashamed of his own improvement." The "error" which he imputes to Callistus and the Catholics was that the Church could forgive all sins:.. 'The Church can forgive sin, but I will not do that (forgive) lest they (who are forgiven) fall into other sins" (On Pudicity 21.7). (Hanna, The Sacrament of Penance)

So, Tertullian seems to be teaching that he feels that the Church can forgive certain sins, but whatever Callistus was doing in this realm was wrong. It should be noted that Tertullian had problems, including possibly not understanding that nearly all sins are pardonable by God (see also What is the Unpardonable Sin?). 

Although the Church of Rome cites Tertullian as proof of that the sacrament of confession was in widespread existence then, it needs to be understood, that according the Catholic saint and Bishop Augustine, auricular confession to a priest was not the practice in the 4th/5th century—instead he advised people to pray to God for forgiveness:

15. Forgiveness of sins. You have [this article of] the Creed perfectly in you when you receive Baptism. Let none say, I have done this or that sin: perchance that is not forgiven me. What have you done? How great a sin have you done? Name any heinous thing you have committed, heavy, horrible, which you shudder even to think of: have done what you will: have you killed Christ? There is not than that deed any worse, because also than Christ there is nothing better. What a dreadful thing is it to kill Christ! Yet the Jews killed Him, and many afterwards believed on Him and drank His blood: they are forgiven the sin which they committed. When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What has the Prayer? Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ's body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice.

(Augustine.  Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, Chapter 15.  In: Seventeen short treatises of S. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Volume 22 of Library of fathers of the Holy Catholic Church. J. H. Parker, 1847.  Original from Harvard University, Digitized Sep 28, 2007, p. 575)

Because of Callistus’ decrees and actions, Tertullian, after he discontinued any fellowship with the Roman Church himself, sarcastically dubbed him “our good pontifex maximus” (Tertullian. De Pudicitia, Chapter 1, verse 10. Unfinished English translation by Gösta Claesson, 1950-1980. http://www.tertullian.org/articles/claesson_pudicitia_translation.htm viewed 12/10/07) a title not assumed by the bishops of Rome until late in the 4th century, but a title that the pagan Roman emperors had signifying that they were the bridge between humans and the gods.

It is sad, but true, that lowered standards were major factors in making the majority of those who professed Christ part of the Greco-Roman confederation.  Even Roman Catholic sources admit that Callistus made changes in the standards along that line (Matz T. St. Callistus I.  Copyright 2009 Catholic Online.  http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=31 viewed 06/23/09), hence showing again that the Church of Rome clearly has changed from their practices in the first (and early second) century. Callistus also allowed abortions

This also led to a culture shift in the Greco-Roman churches.

The Catholic scholar E. Duffy reported broad changes that occurred within the Greco-Roman churches during the third and fourth centuries:

…the new worldliness of the Roman church and its bishops was not the sole invention of its clergy.  Since the mid-third century there had been a growing assimilation of Christian and secular culture…With the Imperial adoption of Christianity, this process accelerated. (Duffy, Eamon. Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes. Yale University Press, New Haven (CT), 2002, p. 38)

Bishop Callistus, in this author’s view, was a significant factor in the combining of Roman Catholicism and secular culture.

Mithraism was a major part of secular culture in the mid-third century and as has been mentioned previously, certain practices and beliefs associated with Mithraism and other aspects of paganism affected the Greco-Roman churches.  Some have claimed that both Mithraism and Dionysism (the religion of Bacchus) were competitors to early Greco-Roman Christianity into the fourth century as there were certain similarities. (Princeton University’s E. Kessler, in a symposium Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire, Exeter, 17– 20 July 2006, explained some of this: Cited  in Greek Mythology – Deities. Wikimedia Foundation, p. 216; Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion I: Ter Unus: Isis Dionysus, Hermes Three Studies in Henotheism. Brill Academic Pub., 1990, p. 204).

The fact that the adoption of some of their practices further accelerated after Emperor Constantine allegedly “converted” from Mithraism should be of little surprise.

More More Modern Comments on Auricular Confession

The Council of Trent in the 16th century made a variety of statements about auricular confession. Perhaps the first one to deal with is the following:

CANON VI.--If any one denieth, either that sacramental confession was instituted, or is necessary to salvation, of divine right; or saith, that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Church hath ever observed from the beginning, and doth observe, is alien from the institution and command of Christ, and is a human invention; let him be anathema. (The Council of Trent The Fourteenth Session The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, Ed. and trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), 92-121. Hanover Historical Texts Project Scanned by Hanover College students in 1995. http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct14.html 05/19/12)

Of course, the above is wrong as this most certainly was not the practice of the early Christians nor the Church of Rome from the beginning. And lest someone claim that I am "anathema" for teaching this, the reality is that even the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the “sacrament of forgiveness” was changed:

1447 Over the centuries the concrete form in which the Church has exercised this power received from the Lord has varied considerably. During the first centuries the reconciliation of Christians who had committed particularly grave sins after their Baptism (for example, idolatry, murder, or adultery) was tied to a very rigorous discipline, according to which penitents had to do public penance for their sins, often for years, before receiving reconciliation. To this "order of penitents" (which concerned only certain grave sins), one was only rarely admitted and in certain regions only once in a lifetime.  During the seventh century Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, took to continental Europe the "private" practice of penance, which does not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, the sacrament has been performed in secret between penitent and priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to a regular frequenting of this sacrament.  It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. In its main lines this is the form of penance that the Church has practiced down to our day. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1447. Imprimi Potest + Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Image Books by Doubleday, NY 2003)

So, it took until the 7th century for the modern practice to develop widely, but it seems to have been related to Callistus’ actions combined with a syncretic adaptation of scripture and non-biblical practices that took time to develop (along with the general acceptance of the Greco-Romans to be willing to utilize practices of non-Christian religions with theirs). But the fact is that the Council of Trent was wrong--and this Council put forth many dogmas, all of which had papal approval--thus the Council of Trent disproves the idea of papal infallibility. Catholics really need to realize that.

Furthermore, that same Council of Trent also declared the following:

CANON IV.--If any one denieth, that, for the entire and perfect remission of sins, there are required three acts in the penitent, which are as it were the matter of the sacrament of Penance, to wit, contrition, confession, and satisfaction, which are called the three parts of penance; or saith that there are two parts only of penance, to wit, the terrors with which the conscience is smitten upon being convinced of sin, and the faith, generated by the gospel, or by the absolution, whereby one believes that his sins are forgiven him through Christ; let him be anathema. (The Council of Trent The Fourteenth Session The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, Ed. and trans. J. Waterworth (London: Dolman, 1848), 92-121. Hanover Historical Texts Project Scanned by Hanover College students in 1995. http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct14.html 05/19/12)

But this, too, is wrong, as both the Bible and the Catholic saint and Bishop Augustine taught that confession to the Lord alone can and should be made--and that was the practice of the early Christians--it is heretical to teach that "one believes that his sins are forgiven him through Christ; let him be anathema."

Interestingly, in the late 19th century, Charles Paschal Telesphore Chiniquy, a theologian who originally studied to be a Catholic priest, but left that faith just prior to taking his priestly vows, noted:

Let those who want more information on that subject read the poems of Juvenal, Propertius, and Tibellus. Let them peruse all the historians of old Rome, and they will see the perfect resemblance which exists between the priests of the Pope and those of Bacchus, in reference to the vows of celibacy, the secrets of auricular confession, celebration of the so-called ‘sacred mysteries’ and the unmentionable moral corruption of the two systems of religion. In fact, when one reads the poems of Juvenal, he thinks he has before him the books of Den, Liguori, Lebreyne, Kenric. (Chiniquy CPT.  The priest, the woman, and the confessional.  A. Craig & co., 1890. Original from Harvard  University, Digitized May 19, 2007, p. 289)

And even if he is correct, it seems to have taken a lot of time to get to the current system that Rome now uses. Again, the seventh century is when Rome started to do this. 

Notice something that The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches about confession:

No Catholic believes that a priest, simply as an individual man, however pious or learned, has power to forgive sins. This power belongs to God alone; but He can and does exercise it through the ministration of men... the Lord then principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance…(John 20:22-23)…Matthew 16:19)…(Matthew 18:18)… the power here granted is unlimited…(Hanna, The Sacrament of Penance)

Now, let’s look at how the old WCG understood the limits to the power given to the “ministration of men” in the related scriptures:

Verse 19 of Matthew 16 states, "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The Church was invested with certain powers and responsibilities.      God's true ministers, however, have been given the authority to bind only that which is in agreement with God's laws and which, in reality, WOULD BE BOUND BY GOD. The decisions of God's ministers are based on the Scriptures. In this way, they are led to make the right judgments in accordance with God's will. (L228 Matthew 16:18-19.Personal Correspondence Department, Worldwide Church of God, September 1988)

So, while the old WCG, general Church of God, understanding is consistent with the Bible and early church practices, that of the modern Church of Rome improperly go beyond that.

Does John 20:23 Prove Confession as is Currently Practiced by the Church of Rome?

As mentioned earlier, The Catholic Encyclopedia pointed to John 20:23 as proof that auricular confession is to be made to priests (The Catholic Encyclopedia also pointed to Matthew 16:19, but for more details on that, please see the article Was Peter the Rock Who Alone Received the Keys of the Kingdom?).

Here are two translations of it and the two verses preceding it:

21 He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. 23 Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. (John 20:21-23, DRB)

21 and he said to them again, 'Peace be with you. 'As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.' 22 After saying this he breathed on them and said: Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone's sins, they are retained. (John 20:21-23, NJB)

What is the problem with the above?

Well, for one, no early leader in the Church of God or Greco-Roman Catholic Church believed that this meant that Christians were supposed to confess each of their sins to a priest who would then prescribe penance. This is clear from early church history as well as what the current Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches.

Historically, here is how the Church of God has explained John 20:23:

Some try to use John 20:23 to prove that persons in ecclesiastical offices have the power to forgive sins. This verse reads: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (New King James Version). However, it does not mean that mere men can actually forgive sins in a spiritual sense. God alone can forgive sins (Mark 2:7-10; Luke 5:21-24). Christ spoke these words to His future apostles in the context of the Church authority He was giving them (see John 20:21)--the power to disfellowship those who were dissenters or heretics (see I Corinthians 5:2 and I Timothy 1:20) and bring them back into the congregation upon repentance (II Cor. 2:6-10). (Letter 032-0189, Confession. Personal Correspondence Course. WCG)

Why is the Church of God position correct? Well besides the scriptures cited, and the fact that the Church has the biblical right to "mark" dissenters (Romans 16:17, DRB, KJV), the reality is that is how early professors of Christ seemed to understand the Church of God's authority. And forgiveness was related to allowing the marked or disfellowshipped to return.

Notice again what Bishop Ignatius wrote (early 2nd century):

3...For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. (Ignatius. Letter to the Philadelphians, Chapters 0,3. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm>

This is consistent with what the presbyters of Rome wrote (late 1st century):

You therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. (Letter to the Corinthians (Clement), Chapters 7,52,57.  Translated by John Keith. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 9. Edited by Allan Menzies. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1896.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1010.htm>)

That is the authority that they claimed regarding forgiving dissenters.

And that is consistent with the Church of God position.

Regarding priests, The Catholic Encyclopedia goes so far to teach:

Priest This word (etymologically "elder", from presbyteros, presbyter) has taken the meaning of "sacerdos", from which no substantive has been formed in various modern languages (English, French, German)...In this sense, every religion has its priests, exercising more or less exalted sacerdotal functions as intermediaries between man and the Divinity (Boudinhon A. Transcribed by Robert B. Olson. Priest. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Yet, notice that the Bible teaches:

5 For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus: (1 Timothy 2:5, DRB)

The only mediator in the Christian religion is supposed to be Jesus the Christ. Thus, the opinion of certain Catholic scholars seems to be in conflict with scripture, since the Bible says the one Mediator is Jesus, not some priest or human leader.

It is partially because of this inaccurate "intermediary/mediator" position that Rome now has priests hear private confessions and claim to forgive sins.

Penance vs. Repentance

The true Church of God which existed since the beginning (see, for example, the page The History of Early Christianity) is not Protestant (see, for example, the article Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God differ from most Protestants). It bases its beliefs primarily upon the Bible, which teaches:

38 'You must repent,' Peter answered, 'and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38, NJB)

Repentance was taught for becoming a Christian, and acknowledging our sins to God is taught for remaining one:

8 If we say, 'We have no sin,' we are deceiving ourselves, and truth has no place in us; 9 if we acknowledge our sins, he is trustworthy and upright, so that he will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil. (1 John 1:9, NJB)

Christians are not to inflict punishment on ourselves, thinking that this will force God to hear our prayers (Isaiah 58:2-7). God is not interested in penance, but repentance and change. We should not be like certain Muslims and whip our backs, while effectively saying, "Look at our suffering, God, so hear us."

And while the Bible advocates repentance, penance is from outside of sacred scripture as well as the earliest traditions of the true Church of God. While the Church of Rome tends to claim that its beliefs come from sacred scripture or the traditions of the original apostles, the idea of auricular confession and penance did not come from either source--they are late heresies, essentially adopted from non-Christian sources.

The Bible teaches against a worldly repentance:

10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Here is something that the late Herbert Armstrong wrote related to that:

Admit Your Sins

Prayer and fasting aren't the only requirements in seeking God. If you will read back over the examples of Daniel and Nehemiah as well as any of the other prophets of God, you will notice that in every case they FREELY ACKNOWLEDGED their own sins and shortcomings. It takes a deeply sincere man to say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:23-24).

If we are earnestly seeking God and His way, this is the attitude we will be reflecting. We will freely admit our own sins and shortcomings and be earnestly importuning God to show us the right way. Jeremiah said, "O Lord, I know that THE WAY OF MAN IS NOT IN HIMSELF: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing" (Jer. 10: 23-24).

We as individuals do not know how to live. Once we begin to learn that lesson, and look to God to show us how to live and how to change our lives, we are on our way to real repentance.

The steps are simple. Yet it is not easy to completely give of yourself, to admit your own faults and sincerely ask for God's forgiveness.

Turn From Own Ways

The people of this world outwardly follow many of these steps and yet fall short in the final, most important of all the steps — TURNING FROM THEIR WICKED WAYS. That is why it is so hard to distinguish between the believer and the non-believer. That is why the "distance between our professed faith and our daily performance is astronomical." So many people of this day and age profess to be repentant — profess Christianity and yet still live in all the wretchedness of their sinful ways. So, finally, one of the most important of all the steps in coming to true repentance is to STOP SINNING! Millions CLAIM membership in a church. They loudly proclaim their belief in Jesus Christ. They testify for Christ, BUT THE FRUIT IS NOT THERE.

All too often our repentance is the worldly repentance spoken of in II Corinthians 7:10. What we really need to come to see and understand is the kind of repentance God speaks of. "Therefore also now, saith the Eternal, Turn ye even to me WITH ALL YOUR HEART, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and REND YOUR HEART, and not your garments, and turn to the Eternal your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil". (Joel 2:12-13).

No, God doesn't want the worldly kind of repentance which is manifested by a trip down the sawdust trail. No, He doesn't just want your name on the membership rolls of some church. What God wants and what you should come to deeply desire is to SINCERELY acknowledge your sins and ask forgiveness. God wants you to say, "I'M SORRY" — and mean it! He wants you to repent of breaking and to begin obeying His LAW. (Armstrong HW. Just What Do You Mean -- Repentance?)

Notice, he taught that sins are to be acknowledged and behavior changed. More on this subject is also covered in the article When You Sin: Do You Really Repent?

All Sins that Are Repented of Can Be Forgiven

While some Catholics believe that sins cannot be forgiven without the "sacrament of confession," this is not the case. And, as the Catechism admits (#1447) the current "sacrament of confession" was not an original apostolic practice.

While some people erroneously believe that God could not forgive them and that they have possibly committed the "unpardonable sin," those who feel that way pretty much can be assured that they have not committed it--recall that scripture teaches:

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity. (1 John 1:9, DRB)

For more details about the "unpardonable sin," please see the article What is the Unpardonable Sin?

Summary of Main Points on Auricular Confession

The Bible says to confess sins to one another but mainly to Jesus Christ. It does not say to do so to a priest, nor does the Bible ever authorize penance for sin.

The earliest writings do not show that penance was implemented as a requirement. They also show that the Church of God believed that it had the authority to put someone out of the Church as well as to let the repentant back in.

Bishop Callistus compromised and either implemented penance or possibly extended what may have already existed within the Church of Rome.

Augustine proved that auricular confession was NOT the practice of the Church of Rome in the late 4th/early 5th century. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the practice of confession changed throughout history and the current version did not get adopted until after Irish missionaries utilized it in the 7th century.

The Council of Trent was wrong to declare that confession existed from the beginning and that one cannot go to Christ for forgiveness.

The Church of Rome admits that its current practice of private confession to a priest was not the practice of the original church but a late change.

The Bible clearly teaches repentance, not penance. It also teaches that God forgives sins that Christians should acknowledge to God.

Since it should be clear that auricular confession was not an original Christian practice, those who believe that they should "to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3, DRB) would not want to not practice this late and heretical innovation.

The Bible clearly teaches:

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

We in the Continuing Church of God believe that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. And while there are times to counsel with the ministry, it is not biblically enjoined that Christians are to tell the ministry each and every one of their sins and be given a penalty to atone for them.

A related sermon is Confess to God and truly repent.

An article of related interest may be Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God?

B. Thiel, Ph.D. History of Auricular Confession and the 'Sacrament of Confession.' www.cogwriter.com.auricular-confession.htm (c) 2012/2013/2014 0210

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