During Lutheran Confession, can the confessor refuse to absolve the sins of the penitent, if he or she thinks that the penitent is not being sincere? What if the penitent is sincere but cannot resist laughing at the many things that he or she has to say and is ashamed of?

  • 2
    Don't know about Lutherans, but a Catholic priest once complained a bit about people who come to confession, tell him they're doing something sinful (e.g. living with someone they aren't married to) and ask to be forgiven. "I can't forgive someone who's still doing something sinful." Feb 11, 2014 at 7:08
  • @Ward Well, whether it's Lutheran or Catholic, the process seems to be so formulaic. I am just wondering if it's really so or whether the priest/pastor has a real choice in the matter in determining whether or not to absolve the sin.
    – Double U
    Feb 11, 2014 at 13:12
  • @Anonymous perhaps someone who laughs uncontrollably at their own multitude of shameful behaviors needs to check in with a psychiatrist first. :) youtube.com/watch?v=AexVBs09bjA
    – user5286
    Feb 21, 2014 at 3:42

2 Answers 2


First and foremost, nobody - neither Catholic nor Protestant - believes that a priest "forgives" sins. At best, they act as an intermediary, supplicating to Jesus, who alone forgives sin.

As the Cathecism of the Catholic church states:

Only God forgives sins. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God's merciful love for the sinner. The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ

Whether or not a priest chooses to exercise this role, in any form of Christianity, is up to the priest.

As an intermediary between man and God, Lutherans do not believe that a priest has an absolute lock on forgiveness. Indeed, as with most Protestants, Lutherans do not believe that the priest is doing anything except for incarnating the action that Jesus himself performs in forgiveness.

Put another way, Luterhans would not see the priest as having any particular monopoly on the granting of forgiveness. As a practical matter as well, the priesthood of all believers means that in reality, any believer any seek forgiveness from any other. (Note: While this doctrine is usually associated with Baptists, Luther himself subscribed to the notion, if not the term.)

As such, if a priest didn't pronounce absolution, it would be a trivial matter for the penitent to secure another "priest" who would, or even find his forgiveness directly through prayer with the Lord.

  • In that case, what is the purpose of going to Confession when a penitent can ask God directly for forgiveness?
    – Double U
    Feb 20, 2014 at 23:24
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    And now you know why most Protestants think that Confession is just a weird Catholic thing :) Feb 21, 2014 at 2:36
  • @Affable Geek hmm...interesting.this answer has exposed a theological blind spot I've had (which means it's a good one). Since Lutheran confessor are for all practical purposes trivial...Why on earth have holy absolution at all. Nostalgia perhaps. It's a pre reformation thing
    – user5286
    Feb 22, 2014 at 9:11
  • "First and foremost, nobody - neither Catholic nor Protestant - believes that a priest "forgives" sins" you need to speak to more lay Catholics. (Maybe not now, but invent a time machine and go back 35-40 years ago. Good Catholic laypeople acted like Priests forgave sin, and actually said they were praying to Saint Whomever.)
    – RonJohn
    Nov 10, 2017 at 0:59

I'm not a theological expert, however, the Lutheranism that I know identifies the confession with the affirmation of a person's baptismal covenant. Confession witnesses to our faith in God to forgive and make us new in the new covenant with Jesus. It would be very improper for a Lutheran to go to communion without identifying themselves (i.e. confession) as a sinner that sincerely desires to change. My understanding is that those that are not sincere (and only God know's our hearts) reject the covenant and risk having their heart progressively blinded to God's truth. The people that are sincere, should find that the gift of communion causes real action toward being a new person.

  • 1
    The question asks specifically about what the confessor may do. This response does not answer that question.
    – Confutus
    Mar 17, 2014 at 2:39

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