Over at Cyberbrethren and apparently elsewhere, there has been some blogging about the nature of the Gospel. I mention Cyberbrethren in particular, because Pastor McCain seems to have a good handle on the matter, and Pastor Cwirla’s comments included an important observation.
When we use the word “absolution,” we use it in more than one sense. What we can say about “absolution” varies depending upon the sense in which the word is used.
Pastor McCain’s main point is that every Christian can absolve (in a wide sense) his neighbors by speaking the Gospel to them. This can take various forms, including a statement like “I absolve you of your sins.” Whenever the Gospel is spoken, it is effective and true. Hence, such an absolution is a real absolution and bestows God’s forgiveness. See the article and especially the comments at Cyberbrethren.
Some have claimed that the Circuit 8 Revision of the ELS’ doctrinal statement on the ministry denies the authority of individual lay Christians to speak God’s forgiveness to their neighbors. A cursory reading of the Circuit 8 Revision shows that such a claim is either monumentally ignorant and careless, or slanderous. To wit, this is what the Circuit 8 Revision says:
Individual Christians also speak the Gospel of forgiveness to others, forgive the sins of those who sin against them, confront in a brotherly way those who need to repent of their sins, and in “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” comfort one another with the words of the Gospel. This may be called the private or unofficial use of the keys. (1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 18:15-18, Matthew 6:12 — The 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, SA Part III, Art. IV).
- We reject any teaching that denies individual Christians the authority to speak both the law and the gospel privately in their calling as the Universal Priesthood of all Believers.
I realize that the Circuit 8 Revision has only a historical status in the synod at this point, but the inaccurate claims about its content have endured to the present. In fact, those claims have unfortunately and unjustly harmed the reputation of its authors.
It seems to me that the Circuit 8 Revision agrees with the points Pastor McCain has made in these blog posts. In fact, it comes closer than the PMW to recognizing that we use the word “absolution” in more than one sense.