XIX: Confession – Public & Private
Q: Does the Lutheran Church permit private confession?
Lutherans confess their sins publicly (and receive forgiveness) at the beginning of each Divine Service. The Lutheran reformers taught that it was not necessary for people to enumerate all their sins in order to receive forgiveness. In fact, the reformers believed that it was impossible for a person to do so and that, if it were required, it would only burden a person's conscience unnecessarily. As a result, the reformers suggested a general form of confession, like that used in the Divine Service.
Nevertheless, the Augsburg Confession teaches "that Private Absolution ought to be retained in the churches" (Article XI). Private confession is encouraged for all members of the church and is a relief to those who have a troubled conscience and desire individual absolution (forgiveness). Private confession may take place in the context of a pastoral counselling session and typically utilize the liturgical form from the small catechism (see LSB p. 292-293). The pastor is obligated before God to keep your confession private.
Whether public or private, confession offers the opportunity for reconciliation between God and His people. In confession God's people admit their fallen state, their failings, and their need for forgiveness. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17 ESV. When the words of absolution are pronounced, the person should think of them as the very words of Christ Himself.
Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.