Sometime ago, a neighbor of mine, a member of the so-called “Deeper Life Bible Church” located in Nigeria said he wanted to see me urgently. When I got to his flat he said that I am risking my soul believing in the doctrines on men instead of the doctrines of God. He said he wanted a Catholic to help him understand why human beings will go and confess their sins to a man who we call a priest.
I referred him to the Gospel of John and how Christ gave the authority to his apostles to forgive sins. I then told him that the apostles handed over this authority to those coming after them through the process of laying of hand which we call Holy Orders, as in order of priests of God.
These modern day apostles are Catholic Bishops who then appoint priests to help them in this apostolic mandate. This is akin to the 72 Christ appointed to help the Apostles. The 72 were not apostles themselves, but through a process of laying of hand, can assume the mantle of some apostolic functions thereby helping the apostles. I then added that the Church is Judeo- Christian and that we have not abandoned the Old Testament completely and that things in the Old Testament days still inform our actions in Church today. I also told him that throughout our relationship with God, he approaches us sacramentally, through what we can see.
Going to a priest to confess is a sacramental process, an approach through what we can see. I then told him that if you do not confess your sins to a priest duly appointed by God through the Church, your sins are never forgiven.
The man was baffled but he looked convinced but he asked me to write the whole thing down for him to digest further and raise possible further questions. This is what I wrote to him. Please read carefully and SHARE!
On Catholics confessing their sins to a human being
We confess our sins to priests because God wants us to do just that and God himself has always approached us sacramentally, that is through things we can see or touch. Christ himself established the sacrament of confession in the Gospel of John chapter 20: 23 when he appeared to His apostles after the resurrection and said to them
“receive the Holy Spirit, any sin you forgive in this world is forgiven in heaven, any sin you do not forgive in this world is not forgiven in heaven”.
This means that Christ gave his authority of forgiving sins to the apostles. Since these apostles are not going to be in this world forever, and the MISSION of Christ has to continue, they handed this authority over to those other apostles coming after them. You must remember that the name ‘apostle’ is an office in the Church of Christ.
Christ did not make everybody apostles; he just selected 12 people to occupy that office. So these original apostles selected their own successors through the sacrament of ‘laying of hands’ (Holy Orders).
You remember the case of Mathias who replaced Judas (Acts 1:26). He became an apostle showing that the ‘apostle’ is a special office and also St. Paul was made an apostle too, by God and was confirmed by the apostle through laying hands on Paul(See Acts 9:17). So, it is not a matter of someone waking up one day, as people do these days, to say that God has called him and he will start to call himself “pastor” or “bishop”.
If God calls someone, the Church will still confirm that call through laying of hands! It is these apostles that we confess to today through their successors, our Bishops who, because they cannot be everywhere at the same time, appointed priests to carry out these functions of forgiving sins.
It must be noted though that the apostles are not as persons forgiving sin.
They are forgiving the sins through Christ! It is Christ that forgives through the apostles! So the apostles cannot just forgive sins without knowing what sins they are forgiving this is why we must approach a priest to tell him the sin in a sacramental manner.
God uses the sacramental approach, that is through what can be seen, to show us himself. This is why we CANNOT go inside our rooms and tell God our sins before they are forgiven. When our first parents sinned, God could have forgiven everything but he decided to send his son so that we can see him and touch him and through him be freed of sin, Original Sin.
If God want us to confess directly to him, he will not have appointed the apostles to do this job for him.
You must also remember that the Church is Judeo-Christian. This means that we have not totally abandoned things in the Old Testament. Some of these things in the Old Testament still inform our actions in Church. If this be true, you can even see that in the Old Testament, sins are forgiven through the actions of priests and people go to priests to offer sacrifices for sins. So a priest is VERY important in the process of forgiveness of sin.
In Leviticus 5:5-6, we read, “then whoever is guilty in any of these cases shall confess that sin that he has incurred, and as his sin offering for the sin he has committed he shall bring to the Lord a female animal from the flock, a ewe lamb or a she-goat. The priest shall then make atonement for his sin.”
And in Numbers we read, “And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that men commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person is guilty, he shall confess his sin which he has committed; and he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it, and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. But if the man has no kinsmen to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for the wrong shall go for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him. And every offering, all the holy things of the people of Israel, which they bring to the priest, shall be his; and every man's holy things shall be his; whatever any man gives to the priest shall be his.”” (Nm 5:5-10)
So, what are we seeing in the quoted Old Testament passages are: We see (1) confession of the sin committed, (2) a form of penance, specifically in these cases a “sin offering” AND “restitution” for the sin and (3) the person is NOT to go straight to God, but through a priest!
God set it up so that they were to go through a priest for confessing their sins, and this going through a priest is a foreshadowing of things to come when Christ establishes his priesthood (cf. Hebrew 10:1, Mt 5:16-18).
So, what do we see in the New Testament? Apart from what I have already told you about the Gospel of John and about when Christ asked the apostles to forgive sins on his behalf, there are some more New Testament passages you need to consider.
“...and they were baptized by him [John the Baptist] in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mt 3:6). Okay, so it looks like the Jews are still observing the confession of sins to a man...whom they believe is a prophet...a man whom God works through, in this case John the Baptist. Let's look further, in Mt 9:2-8, along with Mk 2:7, which is the same story.
Jesus tells a paralytic to “take heart”, that his “sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2). But the people were astounded by Christ’s forgiving a man’s sin. Remember that people did not at that time know that Christ is the Messiah so they protested saying: “This man is blaspheming” (Mt 9:3, Mk 2:7), “who can forgive sin but God alone?” (Mk2:7).
But we know that it is the Scribes that made this objection, and as Christ points out, while it is true that God alone forgives sins, this statement betrays a limited understanding of God's Power. Jesus shows them the shallowness of their words when he told them, “that you may know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mt 9:6). What happened then after Christ have said this? “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men” Which means they now understood that God can give authority to men to forgive sin! (Mt 9:8). It says, “to MEN”, plural...not just to “a Man” (Jesus) but to MEN.
Sir, are these typographical error in the Scriptures?
Please Sir, the Catholic Church is that Church established by Christ for the salvation of humans and which you read about in the Acts of the Apostles. It has always been the true Church and her teachings are never wrong because she is guided by the Holy Spirit. All other religions, claiming to be “Churches” are man-made and therefore false!
We pray that God will continue to open his words to us.
Raise more questions for me please sir.
Malachy Mary Igwilo
Given today, in the year of the Lord, 22nd of April, 2016 on the feast day of Sts. Soter and Caius