Debate about confession?

hi everyone,
I’m having a debate with my protestant friend about confession and he asked some pretty hard questions that I was hoping for help with.

A) Confessing to priests is no more concrete than confessing straight to God, and requires equal humility. Also, priests confessing to other priests makes no sense, seeing as they could go straight to God… or else, they can’t and have no business forgiving your sins.
B) Reading Philippians 2, I don’t see where you draw the conclusion of Paul being unsure of his faith. The way I understand it, he says to continue being in the fear of the Lord and not to get cocky because being a Christian doesn’t make you “good.”
C) For Galatians 5, to back up my argument on how those are under the condition you continually do it, seeing as Jesus hung out with prostitutes (fornicators), it would imply it’s probably they can get to Heaven, showing that fornication isn’t a sin from which you can’t be saved (I don’t believe there are any).

I’m not sure how to refute this. thanks!

I believe priests are standing in persona Christi during confession. They are hearing the confession and conferring absolution in the place of Christ. However, they cannot do this for themselves since Christ did not sin and therefore did not absolve Himself of sin.

You may want to elaborate more on this debate here. Paul isn’t unsure about his faith at all, what he likely is unsure about is his salvation. Being a Christian doesn’t make a person holy, but it does make a person more good (good meaning that a person is more ordered towards their nature which is to love and serve God). The point of Paul being unsure about his salvation is to teach that once we become baptized we can sin and must continue to work out our salvation so that we can become holy.

There is only one sin which cannot be forgiven which is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:31). Fornication is condemned throughout the entire New Testament. A person who commits fornication may be forgiven, just as Jesus forgave the prostitutes. But He didn’t say anything like ‘You’re fornication is permitted, go in peace’, He said ‘go and sin no more.’. Both the Protestant and you should be able to agree that going against the direct order of Christ is contrary to salvation.


Look at the Catholic Answers tracts on Confession:

*]The Forgiveness of Sins

The argument isn’t whether or not one way is “more concrete” than the other (whatever that means). The question is whether or not it’s true that Jesus set up ministers able to perform these functions. Remember, Scripture says no one has authority to forgive sins but God alone. Jesus said all authority on heaven and earth had been given to Him (Mt 28:18) and Jesus in turn said as the Father sent Him, so He sent the Apostles. He even specifically said to them “whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven…” after He breathed on them. Therefore, there are indeed ministers in this world through whom the authority of Jesus operates.

Does your friend argue “Why do I need a Bible? Why can’t I go straight to Jesus?” A person cannot simply dismiss the validity of an intermediary because God may be using the object of mediation for our sake!

Your friend also is in error thinking a priest can go “straight to God” (for mortal sins anyway—for those, sacramental grace is necessary). A priest can’t mediate for himself. Where does your friend come up with that rule?

First Off… confessing straight to God does NOT require the same humility… anyone who has gone to Confession can attest to that. You need to not let him get away with thinking it is all the same. It is NOT.
If it is sooo easy… let HIM make a confession to YOU and name all the deepest darkness dirtiest sins in his life.
Confessing to another is NOT easy… I think that is precisely why Christ instituted it.
It is MUCH easier to simply say a private prayer when no one is around and ASSUME you are forgiven.

Don’t let him get away with that.


Move away from calling it confession and instead call it “Reconcilliation” that is the name of the Sacrament and a better word to describe what this is REALLY all about.
Sometimes the words we use are VERY important.

When discussing a similar misconception with my Nephew, I found it important to bring in an entirely different aspect of Confession that most people don’t think of.

That is that SIN harms 2 groups simultaneously.
God (the Trinity) and the Body of Believers.
We are being Reconciled back to God and to the Community (body of Christ)

Sin separates us from both. It separates us from our relationship with God, but it also separates us from the body of Believers since we all supposedly love and follow Christ and are part of HIS body…right? If our sin harms Christ in anyway, then it also harms those who share in his sacrifice and are part of his spiritual body of believers. RIGHT?

If you can get them to agree or see this… then move on with…

The role of a Priesthood is always to represent the community… to make offerings to God. Jesus is our Priest, in revelations it says that Jesus continually offers up his sacrifice for us. Jesus also clearly delegates this important role to his apostles, as well, and gives them responsibilities.

In Judaism, the community brought sacrifices to the Priestly order to offer it up to God.

Catholicism continues this because its Priests have an unbroken line back to the Apostles.

Since we can’t go to each member of the Body of Christ… all 2.0 billion Christians, we go to the Priest as a representative (in persona christi) to be RECONCILED back to the community.
So that this act is not secondary and unnecessary or easily ignored… Christ gave the Apostles the actual ability to forgive sins “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”
So they not only act as representative of the community at large, but can also act in persona Christi" and absolve us of our sins through the Christ. That is… Christ forgives as the one mediator.

If we cut out the middle man and confess to Christ alone… we have NOT reconciled to the body of Christ. We assume if Christ is OK with it… then so is everyone else.
Part of Reconciliation goes BEYOND mere forgiveness.

As Marco Polo has pointed out, Our Lord gave the Apostles (and their successors) the power and authority to forgive AND retain sins. Why would He do that if He didn’t intend that people confess their sins to them?

thanks everyone for your replies. I think the problem is that he doesn’t see that it’s any better than confessing to God directly: he thinks both are equal.

Great explanation! :thumbsup:

James 5:13-16

13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

If your friend says, that he can go directly to God, then ask him why is it that it is mentioned in the bible that we should confess our sins to one another? This seems to be contradicting what your friend seems to say. Also note how the verse 16 ends “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”…Ask your friend if he were to confess his sins and ask someone to pray for him, would he go to just anyone or someone who is a man of God? For us Catholics, the priest is a representation of Christ’s authority and hence it makes complete sense to confess to a priest rather than just anybody.

Remember that this verse also talks about anointing of the sick…If we can just go to God and have a one on one with God for everything then why does the bible ask us to call elders from the church to pray for the sick…Why dont the sick go to God directly?

Adding to that, we can go and confess to anyone, but note what your quoted verse does not say: that ANYONE can forgive you your sins. It says they can PRAY FOR YOU. Only one group was given the authority to bind and loose sins, and that was the apostolic priesthood which formed the foundation of the catholic church. I’m sure I could find a righteous person to confess to, who would pray for me greatly and effectively and could give me good council… but that righteous person would be totally uncapable of telling me “your sins are forgiven” unless he belonged to the apostolic priesthood that Christ imbued with authority.

Thanks for adding that note…Thats the reason I said that “For us Catholics, it makes complete sense to confess to priests because they are a representation of Christ’s authority(to forgive sins as well)”…Most of the people who question confession do not believe in Apostolic succession and the authority being passed on and Im sure if we brought that up, thats the next question that they will pose…So it is important to get them to agree on the common ground first that it is important to confess your sins to others…More often than not debates such as these jumps from one topic to another and eventually the whole point of it is lost.

Briliant point…:thumbsup: I hadn’t thought of that. Even as a Catholic, I ASSUMED that saying “confess to one another” IMPLIED forgiveness… but the verse does not say that.
The Protestant and even some Catholics alike, probably assume that if you confess to that person… they OBVIOUSLY forgive you.

But to be quite literal and faithful to scripture… you are correct that it does not literally say “and they will absolve you” – we read into it and assume.

Instead… Scripture says and pray for you – NOT forgive you or absolve you.

Makes sense, that we SHOULD go the one we have harmed and we SHOULD pray for each other… but that forgiveness was reserved for the Apostles and those which they ordained in the early church. (from which the Catholic priesthood is derived)

Thank you for that bit of apologetics… I’ll have to remember that next time if I get into a discussion.

I’ve created a little TEXT file I keep on my Flash Drive with some apologetic notes… I’m definitely going to add your point to my text file on Confession.:thumbsup:

And to further that point here is some more things to consider

Protestantism for the most part believes that your sins affects you and God and hence you ask God to forgive your sins and thats the end of it…but they fail to realize that when we sin, we not only affect God and us but also the Body of Christ- The Church…We are attached to the body through baptism…So if you cannot be Baptized without the Church, how can you return to God in repentance without the Church?

Apostolic succession is another topic but if forgiveness of sins was through God alone, then he would never have given that authority to the apostles.

It is becoming evident to me that many protestants are very lopsided in their teaching. They know a whole lot of Bible quotes from Timothy and use them agaisnt the Church, such as call no man your father, and refusing to eat meat. However they shy away from other parts. I was discussing this same thing with my “Church of Christ” step mother and when I brought up where Jesus told his disciples that the sins they forgive are fogiven and that they should go forth as he has done, she responded with, “There is no such verse in the bible, I guarentee you that!” When I got home I emailed it to her… she didn’t respond and she has never brought it up again. Don’t just assume that your friend knows the whole bible.

That was what I was attempting to get at earlier… this idea that there are 2 offenses. Protestantism only typically addresses 1 of these.

The problem with that line of reasoning is that you may inadvertently jump ship over to debate Baptism. That’s a WHOLE 'nother can of worms.

Many Protestants don’t believe that the Church baptizes… they feel that THEY baptize themselves… because Baptism is only an outward sign of an inward faith. Anotherwards, it is simply making a pledge, committing their life to Christ in a public way.
To them, Baptism is like the beginning of your public ministry, like Catholic confirmation.

They don’t need the Church to Baptize… they can get Baptized by themselves in a river or someone’s pool in their backyard.

Trust me… I have heard of this and my in-laws are all Protestant.

The only time I’d bring up Baptism as part of arguing for Confession, is in discussing this idea of “in persona christi” or in the personhood of Christ.

If you know for a fact that this person believes that only Pastors can baptize…and do so “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” – then you can argue they are acting… “in persona Christi” or “in the name of”

You could then… perhaps argue that Why is it OK for your Pastor to act “in the person of” during Baptism… and not in Forgiveness?

You may win a small side argument if you do it correctly with that one… or at least show them an incongruity within their belief system.

Pride is one of, if not the greatest cause of peoples sins in relation to changing their lives.

God continually uses people to achieve his aims all throughout history.

IF you cannot tell your sins to another person (priest in this discussion) then in effect you are not sorry for them, becasue pride will cause us to stumble again and again due to the fact that deep down we do not accept the wrong of our sins.

If we truly believed in confession and what it achieves then we would confess. Confession pinpoints the the definitive status of our faith to ourselves and allows God through us to show us that we don’t have true faith.

Without confession we convict ourselves and place judgement upon ourselves.

My friend’s dad asked me once, very sincerely, why I would want to be a part of a Church that required me to confess my sins to a man. I gave him just as sincere an answer–because those secret sins I used to be so ashamed of? I don’t have to carry them alone any more.

He understood immediately.

I think it would be a rare person who didn’t have some secret sin that they hate and feel ashamed of but have no way to “fix.” Of course, my answer assumes that the person really wants to know and isn’t just trying to debate.

A priest confessing to another priest does make sense because they are human as well. All humans need help from other people within the Body of Christ to conquer sin we cannot do anything alone. In addition, the Bible tells us to confess our sins to EACH OTHER (Jms 5: 13-16)

B) Reading Philippians 2, I don’t see where you draw the conclusion of Paul being unsure of his faith. The way I understand it, he says to continue being in the fear of the Lord and not to get cocky because being a Christian doesn’t make you “good.”
C) For Galatians 5, to back up my argument on how those are under the condition you continually do it, seeing as Jesus hung out with prostitutes (fornicators), it would imply it’s probably they can get to Heaven, showing that fornication isn’t a sin from which you can’t be saved (I don’t believe there are any).

I’m not sure how to refute this. thanks!

I don’t see how B and C relates to confession. Just because Jesus hung out with prositutes, it does not mean that we can do whatever we want. The reason why Jesus was sitting with the prositute because He is calling sinners to repent. That is what His ministry is all about: reach out to the lost so they can gain eternal life. (I need the verses about the prositute and Galatians 5 to read more about it)

I would ask the person two questions:

*]What was the point of Jesus blowing on His apostles and telling them to receive the Holy Spirit when He told them they can forgive sins (Jn 20: 22-23)?
*]What authority did Jesus give to His apostles after He said that the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sins (Mt 9: 1-8)?

Great message!! You hit the nail on the head.

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