Christian Traditions, Pt. 4

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:9, 1 Timothy 2:5, John 20:23
This is the fourth in a series on Christian unity and church traditions. This talk looks at the ordination of priests and the concept of sins being forgiven by a priest. Is this biblical? What does the Bible say about who alone can forgive sins?
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Announcer: It's time now for Bible Talk. Join Gary Gibbs and John Bradshaw as they open the Bible to deepen our understanding of God's word.

John Bradshaw: Hi, and welcome to Bible Talk, where we talk about the Bible and how the Bible affects you today. I'm John Bradshaw.

Gary Gibbs: And I'm Gary Gibbs.

John: A few programs back, Gary, when we started upon the thread we've been on for a few programs now, you mentioned that some time back the late Pope John Paul II mentioned that in order for Christian unity to come about there are some things that need to be addressed. I think almost anybody would agree that unity among Christians would be a good thing. Most everybody would agree that there's really not that much unity among Christians today.

So let's look at these points that Pope John Paul II mentioned need to be addressed for there to be full unity in coming together. What were they?

Gary: I appreciate what the Pope did because he was articulating what Jesus prayed in John 17, that we all might be one, that the unity of the church is so important. But as the Pope from his perspective looked at the Christian churches, he identified five key doctrines and teachings that needed to be agreed upon if the church was going to be one.

Of course he's relating to this from his position as the head of the Catholic Church. One was the relationship of scripture and tradition, and we've talked about that here recently on Bible Talk.

The church's authority, the authority of the church. We've discussed that as well. But this next one is one that we haven't discussed, that we want to take up today, and that is the ordination of priests.

Every church does this differently, John. How do you determine who's going to be the leaders of your church, your local pastor or your priest or your bishops? Every church does this differently, and the Pope said we need to agree on this if we're going to have full communion where we can trade priests or pastors back and forth.

John: It's a delicate area in some ways because they have to be leaders. Someone's got to appoint them. The self-appointed leaders aren't always bad, but they may not be the safest way to get about doing things. Yet in the church today we have this situation where we appoint leaders and we appoint spiritual leaders. Something I'd like to mention and keep right out front is that the Bible says that no matter where you are in the church you have a role and a very important role.

The Bible portrays the church as being like a body. You may not be the head or you might be the femur. You might be the little stirrup bone. The stirrup bone is the smallest bone in the human body.

Gary: And where's it at?

John: Well, I'll give you a clue. If you didn't have the stirrup bone, you...

Gary: I wouldn't be listening to this program.

John: Well, you might be listening, but you wouldn't be hearing.

Gary: OK. [laughs]

John: You'd be absolutely deaf because the stirrup bone, smallest bone in your body, is in your ear. So what I'm saying is the church is a body, and all the parts are supposed to be doing something. 1 Peter 2:9 says, "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" and so on. The church is to be made up of priests, if you like, active ministers for the Lord Jesus Christ.

It doesn't necessarily mean every church member ought to be on the payroll now, but we shouldn't be sitting in church like bumps on a log just warming the pew. God has given every last one of us a ministry, so in that sense the church ought to be full of priests every week.

Gary: But it isn't. [laughs] So it's usually spectators listening to the priests and the pastors. The issue of the ordination of priests as Pope John Paul II outlined it, what it really comes down to is what is their role? What are they ordained to do? Now in the Catholic communion they are ordained to forgive sins. This is a crucial role of the priesthood. I'm reading here from a Catholic catechism.

"An authorized priest says the words, 'I absolve you from sins.' All bishops and priests have the power to forgive sins or absolve sins." So this is a very critical part of the priesthood and setting them apart in the Catholic communion.

But now when you look at other church communions, they look at this differently. If you look at the Protestant churches, they don't see this as a role of a pastor of forgiving sins.

Now, my Catholic friends will tell me, no, the priest doesn't really truly forgive sins. He acts as a counselor. He acts as a guide, and he prays away the sins. I would just have to say to my Catholic friends who might be listening, that's not what the church really teaches.

Let me read to you from the official Catholic teaching. It's important for us to understand this correctly if we're going to be able to talk and get the churches dialoguing together so we can come up with some sort of conclusion and the churches can come back to God in communion.

John: And the Pope himself did say this is a question that needs to be resolved.

Gary: That's right. He recognized it, and church leaders do even if the members in the pew might not. So here's another quote from a Catholic source. "Who has the power to forgive sin today? All bishops and priests of the Catholic Church can forgive sin. What do you have to do to have your sins forgiven? You have to be truly sorry for them and confess them to a Catholic priest." Now here's the interesting one, John. Does the priest merely pray that your sins will be forgiven?

John: There's a good question. Does he just pray? Or is there more to it?

Gary: Here's the answer. "No, acting as God's instrument, an ordained minister he truly forgives the sins. This is not a mere ritual repetition or psychological exercise." Here's another question. Does the priest really forgive your sins? "The priest really forgives your sins. The priest does not merely pray away your sins."

So we have to look at this because a lot of churches don't follow that. The Catholic Church goes to John 20:23, and it says this is what Jesus is teaching. "Whosoever sins you remit they're remitted unto them. Whosoever sins you retain, they are retained." So what would you say? Are they right on about this?

John: Well, they're right on that that's what it says in John 20:23. Before we address that verse, let's consider something else. The Bible says in 1 Timothy 2:5 that "There is one mediator." You got that? "There is one mediator between God and men, and that is the man Christ Jesus."

We are told in 1 John 2:1, "We have an advocate with the Father, and that is Jesus Christ, the righteous."

In that book of Hebrews we are told to "Come boldly before the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

The Bible doesn't sanction anywhere that a human being can forgive the sins of another human being. In fact, and I say this carefully now, when Jesus forgave a person's sins one time and said, "Your sins be forgiven," they said, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

In fact, they charged him with blasphemy for daring to claim to be able to forgive a person's sins. So there we've got a problem. Irrespective of what John 20:23 might mean, everywhere else you go in the Bible, the Bible says, oh, no. It cannot be that way, that any human being has the ability to forgive sins.

Gary: That's right, and friend, if you'd like to study more about how do you get your sins forgiven, you're going to want to call us at the number we're going to give shortly. Or write us at our address, our email address, our postal address, to get our free offer today, "Rescue From Above." You'll want to get this to learn more about how to find peace and happiness and joy and forgiveness of sins from Christ.

So John, coming back to John 20:23. If Jesus did not mean that priests and pastors can actually remit and forgive people's sins, what did he mean by this?

John: Well, firstly in John 20:23 he said remit. He didn't say forgive. You might say that's a technicality, OK. What Jesus was doing here was speaking to his disciples as representatives of his church on earth. Acting corporately, they were responsible for dealing with the erring and caring for the spiritual interests of the flock. He wasn't saying if someone forgives, you can forgive him. Only God can do that.

But how are you going to deal with the erring? In Matthew 18 he said you deal with him personally, and then if they don't listen you take them to the authority of the church and so on. That's what the church is supposed to do.

You're supposed to work faithfully in restoring an erring member. What did it say in the book of Galatians? I think it's Galatians. Is it Chapter six in Verse one? I'll turn there in my Bible right now.

It says in Galatians six in Verse one that "If a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness considering yourself lest you also be tempted." John 20 isn't going and saying, "OK, priests. Go ahead and wash away or remove people's guilt."

He's saying, as a church body, as leaders of this church, you've got to faithfully deal with the erring. There is a place for appropriate church discipline and for redemptively reaching out to restore people back to Christ.

Gary: If you read the context, right there in John 20 Jesus has just told the disciples, "As my Father has sent me, even so send I you." Well, how did the Father send Jesus?

In John 12:49 Jesus said, "I've not spoken of myself, but the Father which sent me, He gave me a commandment what I should say, what I should speak." He said, "I can do nothing of myself, but as my Father has sent me, I speak these things." So he's telling the disciples, you're to go out and declare what God has done.

They're not actually doing the forgiving. What they're doing is they're preaching how to find forgiveness. You never find the Apostles, the Disciples, in the book of Acts or in the writings of Paul or John or Peter saying that they're actually forgiving sins.

What you find them doing is pointing people to the Lamb of God and saying, "Here's how you get forgiveness" like at what Paul says in II Corinthians chapter five.

John: Yeah, that's correct. What was the good news of the Gospel? "Repent. Be forgiven of your sins." We don't repent to human beings. We repent to God. See, two things I want to say here, and this comes back to the whole question of tradition. You can look at John 20:23, and if you I want to believe that that's saying that the priest has power to forgive you of your sins and remove the guilt, you go right ahead and believe that.

The problem is though the rest of the Bible disagrees with that statement. So you can stubbornly cling to it like a barnacle to the bottom of a boat if you like, but you're out of step with the rest of the Bible.

Then all you've got to stand on is tradition, and tradition's OK as long as it doesn't contradict what the Holy Bible says. In this case it does. Now I said I had two things I wanted to say, and I forgot the second one. So you say something here.

Gary: Well, this thing about "Whosoever sins you remit, they are remitted." I think it's really clear here in II Corinthians 5:18. Paul says, "God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation..."

John: Amen. That's a wonderful verse.

Gary: " wit, that God was in Christ. Now it's God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself not imputing their trespasses to them, and He's committed unto us," watch this, "the word of reconciliation. Now that we are ambassadors for Christ as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." That's how we help people find remission of sins, is we're ambassadors. An ambassador doesn't speak in his own authority. He speaks in the authority of his President.

So an ambassador for Christ goes, and we don't have the power or the authority to institute new laws or to forgive sins. But we can say if you go to Jesus, if you go to my President, He will forgive your sins. I have that on the authority of His word.

John: That's correct. This was the other thing that I was thinking of. It came back to me. James 5:16, "Confess your faults one to another." I've had people say, "There it is!" Now sure, it says "Confess your faults." It doesn't say, "Confess your sins." See, if you back into my car and you come to me and say, "Brother, I backed into your car. I'm real sorry," well, I'll say, "Hey, I forgive you."

If you say, "I did this wrong," I'll say, "Man, I forgive you." But that's personal forgiveness. That's how often should I forgive my brother? That's got nothing to do with taking away your sin and taking away your guilt.

Gary: I'm so thankful, John, and our listeners, you can be thankful, too, [music begins] that Jesus is there ready to forgive your sins. All you have to do is come to Him and confess your sins to Him. He'll freely forgive you, embrace you, and fill you with His love and forgiveness.

John: We want you to be encouraged by that today, and we are so glad that you've taken the time to be with us this time around. We invite you to join us again here next time for more on Bible Talk. [music]

John: If you'd like more information on what we've been studying today, we have a comprehensive Bible study guide we'd love to share with you that's absolutely free. This study includes many of the texts we've just discussed and expands on the subject, including information you'll want to know. To receive this free informative Bible study guide, simply call, write, or email and ask for "Rescue From Above."

The toll-free number is 866-BIBLESAYS. That's 866-242-5372. You can write to us at Bible Talk, P. O. Box 1058, Roseville, California 95678. That's P. O. Box 1058, Roseville, California 95678.

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