Why Pastors Ought To Go Regularly To Confession: 15 Theses

Dr. Stephen Pietsch presented the following theses to fourth year seminarians attending his Theology and Leadership course.

  1. It is helpful for pastors to go regularly to confession, not so much as a “discipline of the pastoral life,” but to frequently and richly receive the gracious gift of forgiveness for their sins, and a pure conscience, through Jesus Christ. As Luther says, the absolution is the main thing in this practice.
  2. Going to confession introduces an element of spiritual accountability to everyday life, which acts as a deterrent to sin, since it is painful to the heart and conscience to undergo the conviction of the law and the knowledge of God’s judgement.
  3. Pastors are especially subject to the devil’s attacks and deceptions, since they proclaim the gospel of Christ to others, directly opposing the devil’s will. Spiritual attacks and temptations, including those that come via the pastor’s own personal weaknesses, are real, and the pastor must be on guard against them (Ephesians 6:14).
  4. Moreover, while a pastor may declare Christ’s forgiveness confidently to others, the devil’s accusations and deceptive attacks on his conscience may cause him remorse and shame which lead him to question whether Christ’s forgiveness is truly for him too, since he sees himself as a hypocrite.
  5. In confession sins must be freely acknowledged in the presence of the brother. The burden of hiding sins or denying them for fear of exposure and shame is lifted and relieved, as they are brought into the light and healed. Confession and absolution then break the strongholds of self-delusion and self-justification, which may lead the pastor into theological or doctrinal distortions or deceptions.
  6. A pastor is one in spiritual authority over others, exercising the keys on Christ’s behalf. He ought therefore also to be subject to spiritual authority himself, ready to make himself accountable before Christ (1 Corinthians 4:3–4).
  7. Pastors often work alone in ministry but should not be left alone to deal with their sin. Christ became our brother to help and save us. As we kneel in confession, our brother confessor becomes Christ to us, to help us and bring forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace in His name.
  8. Confessing sin is humbling and confronting. The old Adam dies an ignominious death in the presence of Christ and the brother. Confession thus helps guard a pastor against false pride, including spiritual pride in office or ministry.
  9. Confession places the pastor in the position of receiving humbly from Christ, as one who is every bit as much in need of God’s forgiveness and grace as any other believer. This helps him to maintain a clear and necessary distinction between himself and the office in which he serves.
  10. As for all who come to confession, hearing the external word of Christ’s forgiveness through the voice of a brother relieves the fear of self-deception that may continue in the heart when one tells oneself: You are forgiven.
  11. Proclaiming the word of God to others may be compromised for a pastor who has a bad or burdened conscience. In this case the pastor feels the need to hide certain sins from those he serves and is compromised in confronting with the law those who need it, because he knows he is himself guilty of the same offence (1 Timothy 1:5; 3:9).
  12. A pastor with a burdened conscience may also be tempted to transfer or project his own guilt about a besetting or secret sin onto others and become unjustly or immoderately accusatory towards his flock.
  13. When a pastor is carrying sins on his conscience, he may well become sensitive to the possibility that his flock, and those who are perhaps antagonistic towards him, have somehow found him out, in which case he may begin to become wary, fearful, or suspicious in response to others’ comments.
  14. A pastor is, on the other hand, better able to preach the gospel of forgiveness when he himself lives in the reality of that forgiveness and the joy and strength it brings. He is, in this case, able to preach the gospel of Christ freely and joyfully from the heart.
  15. A pastor ministering with a free and pure conscience is better able to see others as Christ sees them, with eyes of mercy and love, because he himself has received mercy and love (Luke 7:47).
Dr. Stephen Pietsch is Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Concordia Seminary-St. Louis.

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