Continuing my series on “Where the Roman Catholic Church Went Wrong: Tracking Where Church Leaders Strayed from the Gospel Truth”, brings me to confession. I remember as a kid going every Saturday with my mom (dad only went to church for a wedding or funeral) to confession. We did this so that we could receive Communion in Mass on Sunday. It was a weekly ritual. Problem was, that I was a pretty good kid. What happens when you have no sins to confess?
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession. This week, I lied 3 times, and I stole twice.” I made stuff up. Yes, I lied to the priest. I should be going to hell, right? Or at least, surely, spend some quality time in purgatory?
Alas, no. All my sins, past, present and future were forgiven not by a priest, but by Jesus Christ himself. Because in 1995, I got on my knees and said, “Dear, Jesus, I am a sinner. I’m sorry for my sins. Please, forgive me! I believe you are my savior and died for my sins. Please come into my heart. Amen.” Or something to that effect.
In essence, I confessed — and I was by myself — to Jesus, that I sinned and ask HIS forgiveness. At that moment, I became a Child of God — born again — into a new life with Christ. I was adopted into the Kingdom of God. I had my one-way, non-stop ticket to heaven! I still had to get baptized and work on sanctification, and that did take a little time. I affirmed that Jesus is the Christ and He took my sins away once and for all.
When did the Catholic Church Start Requiring Confessions and Penance?
As I delve into Christian church history, I’m astounded at how many schisms (a breakup) there were. I thought there was only one big schism in 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox Church split, but there were many, many others. There were schisms because one bishop used unleavened bread (no yeast) and another used regular bread for communion. Yes, they’d split over the type of bread. (And you thought today’s different denominations were ridiculous.)
So we know that in 313, Constantine gave the Christians the freedom of religion so they would no longer be persecuted and they could worship freely throughout the Roman Empire. At some point in the 4th century…
… bishops became judges and sin was seen as a breaking of the law, rather than fracturing one’s relationship with God.
A new, more legalistic understanding of penance emerged at episcopal [bishops] courts, as payment to satisfy the demands of divine justice. According to Joseph Martos, this was facilitated by a misreading of John 20:23 and Matthew 18:18 by Augustine of Hippo and Pope Leo I, who thought it was the “disciple” and not God who did the forgiving, though after true repentance. The acts of councils from the fourth to the sixth century show that no one who belonged to the order of penitents had access to Eucharistic communion until the bishop reconciled him with the community of the Church.Wikipedia
Here are the verses they based this on — in context …
19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”John 20:19-23 NLT
15 “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”Matthew 18:15-20 NLT
Gee, in context, they take on a whole new meaning! That’s one thing you have to be careful with — taking scripture verses out of context. Some can and do stand well on their own, but others — most — you need to take into consideration the text before and/or after. I highly recommend the free Bible app, ThroughTheWord.org. They take each chapter of the Bible and dig down deep to it’s meaning. They are excellent studies!
They Preached the Wrong Thing
Rather than teaching people what the true forgiveness of sins that is Jesus’ Good News, they really encouraged sinning with the requirement of penance each time a person fell into sin. That was backwards thinking.
37 Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
39 When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”Mark 15:37-39 NLT (bold emphasis mine)
Separated from God No More
In the Jewish temple, there was a thick curtain that separated the main, public temple area to the Holy of Holies. Only specially designated priests from the tribe of Levi could enter to sacrifice or burn incense at appointed times. It was considered where God hung out. We read about this in Luke 1…
5 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.Luke 1:5-10 NLT
It goes on to tell of the angel, Gabriel, visiting Zechariah and foretelling the birth of John the Baptist. Read it here.
So, let’s get back to the subject of confessing, forgiveness, and penance….
We have three aspects of forgiveness:
- God forgiving us for our sins — which is done when we sincerely repent and vow to follow Jesus.
- Us forgiving each other — from the Lord’s prayer and Matthew 18.
- Us forgiving ourselves.
12 …and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
13 And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”Matthew 6:12-15
The whole idea is because the Father forgives you, you should forgive others when they sin against you. However, we are to live righteously. Avoid temptation.
How do you Become Forgiven?
- Confess to Jesus that you’re a sinner. You can list all your sins if you want to, but it’s not necessary. Jesus knows your sins and once you repent and vow to stop sinning (live righteously), He’ll forget your sins.
- If you’ve sinned against someone, you need to ask them for forgiveness and forgive anyone who sinned against you. That could be hard sometimes and you need to pray about it.
- Forgive yourself. This one is really hard for some folks. Moreover, Satan loves to throw your sins back at you. Out of the blue, a memory comes back of a sinful act in your past and it’s tough to get it out of your head. When that happens to me, I think of Jesus or sing a praise song and usually the memory fades away fairly quickly.
Jesus Died to Set us Free!
Jesus didn’t die so we could have religion! He died so we could have a relationship with God directly! That’s why the curtain was torn in the temple. We no longer needed a priest to be intermediary between us and God. We can go directly to Him! By the way, we don’t need to pray to Mary or any of the saints either! (I’ll be getting into that more deeply soon, but that’s paganism.)
If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven after you die, or that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, this is what you have to do…
Believe. Repent. Be Baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit.
- Believe — have Faith — that Jesus is the Christ and He died taking your sins away forever and that He rose from the dead 3 days later.
- Repent of your sins — stop sinning! Do a complete 180 in your life and surrender your life to Him.
- Be Baptized — show the world and yourself that you have died to your old life and are born again in Christ.
- Receive the Holy Spirit in your heart.
Pray this prayer humbly and wholeheartedly…
“Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins. Please forgive me. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and my life to you. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. I surrender my whole life to you and I will follow you for the rest of my life. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Next Steps in Your New Walk with Jesus…
- Start reading the Bible daily to get to know God. If you don’t have one, I recommend the YouVersion, Bible.app and Through the Word app — both are free and have a lot of great Bible studies.
- Pray every day. Talk to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you daily.
- Find and join a Bible-believing church — preferably a non-denominational one and be baptized!
Jesus Christ is coming back soon! Are you ready?
Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone Be the Glory!