Sunday, June 29, 2003

Defining Repentance and Re-Numbering the Sacraments

Article XII: Of Repentance.

Of Repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism
there is remission of sins whenever they are converted and that
the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to
repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts:
One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through
the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the
Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ's sake,
sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from
terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits
of repentance.

They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified
can lose the Holy Ghost. Also those who contend that some may
attain to such perfection in this life that they cannot sin.

The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve such as had
fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance.

They also are rejected who do not teach that remission of sins comes
through faith but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of
our own.

Here is some help in our deepening understanding of the distinction between Law & Gospel. The results of repentance are two-fold: contrition (related to terror), which is a function of the Law. And faith, which hears the absolution as it is spoken. Since the Gospel is this very announcement of the forgiveness of sins, we can rightly say that the preaching of the Law produces contrition (2nd use), and the gospel produces faith (not a use at all, but a new thing ".

We can note that this definition of repentance walks a middle line between any model of confession and absolution that requires further deeds of penance after the confession of sin and contrition of heart, and those who understand true repentance and faith as the end of the matter, a state of perfection one can then only fall away from.

In the modern setting, these two confessional positions would be represented, on the one side, by Roman Catholicism, and on the other, by Baptist theology. This may or may not be a fair characterization today, but I'd love to hear from people in those communities how they would define repentance over-against the one quoted above from Article XI. of the Augsburg Confessions.

To summarize in my own words, repentance is the place where one, through terror at one's sinful condition, dies to their sin, and in faith at the hearing of the absolution, comes to new life in Christ as a forgiven sinner. It is why confession & absolution can and should still be called a 3rd sacrament within the Lutheran tradition (along with the other three, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and preaching). To add fuel to the fire, I have re-defined the Lutheran sacraments as being these four. Anyone want to bite?

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