(Pardon the length - my original post was more concise, but wasn't clearly conveying my question.)


I am currently studying the Spiritual Disciplines at a Protestant seminary. For those unfamiliar with this term, I will give a very brief explanation. Paul instructs Timothy to:

discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness... For it is for this we labor and strive - 1 Timothy 4:7-10

For example, one Spiritual Discipline which is generally recognized among Protestant theologians is fellowship (or regular church attendance).

let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some - Hebrews 10:24-25

Basically the idea is that there are certain disciplines which followers of Christ are called to practice regularly. Despite the overwhelming witness from "Church Fathers" regarding the extreme importance of such disciplines, many Protestant theologians have called this the single greatest weakness in modern Protestantism. (Complete rejection of the doctrine of Spiritual Disciplines is a very modern position.) For the record, this is not "works-based salvation"; it is not "earning God's acceptance"; it is not church-mandated religion; it is simply a mature personal response to God's call for followers of Christ to be serious and intentional in following Him in all the ways which He has called us to follow Him.

Please note: My question has nothing to do with whether we should practice Spiritual Disciplines, or what value they have.

Confession as a Spiritual Discipline

One commonly recognized Spiritual Discipline is confession. The following passage is used to draw attention to the importance of confession.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. - James 5:16

Although Scripture does not (to my knowledge) explicitly command us to make regular practice of this, the idea behind the Protestant doctrine of Spiritual Disciplines is that we practice right behavior intentionally and diligently, including things like confession.

Rejection of the Catholic implementation

My impression is that:

  • Luther took issue with how the Catholic Church viewed confession. (i.e. working your way into right standing with God, intermediary "Priests", etc.)

  • Luther did not take issue with confession as a practice (Discipline)

  • Luther rejected practices which he deemed heretical, while retaining others

  • Somewhere along the line, the practice of confession in Protestant churches took a completely different form than in Catholicism. (Perhaps when Luther's band split?)

  • Protestant theologians have long regarded confession as an important Spiritual Discipline

  • Modern Protestant believers are generally very undisciplined about confession

My question

I began to wonder if there might be aspects to the Catholic implementation which Protestants should have retained (from a Protestant perspective, of course). For example, Catholic confession seems to be any time, any sin (and indeed every sin), private, anonymous, etc. As a Protestant, this sounds like a very good idea - if Protestant churches had such a "booth" available, I wonder if Protestants wouldn't be more disciplined in this practice.

I became very curious... Why didn't Protestants just replace the "Priest" with a Pastor, guard against thinking of it as "working your way up to God", and retain the rest of these potentially valuable elements? Furthermore, if a Catholic Priest was a believer, and didn't think of confession as "earning salvation", what would be wrong (from a Protestant perspective) with Catholic confession in that case?

What I am specifically looking for:

  • When did the Protestant church reject the Catholic method of practicing confession? (Again, not the views, but the elements I just mentioned.)

  • Why were these methods originally rejected?

  • Are there any reasons why the Catholic methods should still be rejected today (according to Protestant doctrine)?

    • If not, would a Protestant find value in participating in Catholic confession today? (I am of course asking about the church's doctrinal position, not personal opinions.)
  • Are there modern Protestant groups which participate in confession at Catholic churches?


  • I'm sure someone who is actually Orthodox will have more detail but my understanding from Orthodox friends is that -- at least for the purposes of this question -- their practice of the sacrament is substantially the same as the Catholic practice. Externals are different (the Orthodox don't usually have confessionals [i.e., booths], for example) but the basic practice is much the same.
    – Ben Dunlap
    May 15 '12 at 14:44
  • 2
    Also I'm 97% certain that some wings of the Anglican Communion practice this discipline, although they might not consider it a sacrament. My understanding is that C.S. Lewis confessed to an Anglican priest, for example.
    – Ben Dunlap
    May 15 '12 at 14:46
  • Aaaaaa, bold blindness! I've seen flashing neon signs that were easier to follow. Seriously the usage of bold here is so distracting I can't concentrate on reading actual sentences. I would suggest that if words need this much formatting help in order to convey the right meaning, you would be better off using different words.
    – Caleb
    Jan 8 '13 at 9:37
  • Secondly, from what I can make out this should probably be split into at least 4 separate questions. The "when" and "why" questions as well as the one about current denominational practices can all stand on their own. Your question about whether it should still be rejected today could be asked, but you should be careful to keep it away from being a truth question.
    – Caleb
    Jan 8 '13 at 9:40

As believers in the priesthood of all believers, it is not that Baptists (and many other Protestants) reject confession per se- it's that we reject the idea that said confession must be mediated through the local priest. Ideally, we should be confessing our sins in a "small group" type setting if we are being faithful to what Luther, Calvin, et. Al proscribed, but the truth is that most Peorestants (myself included) like to pretend that we need absolutely no "intermediary" between ourselves and God.

I say this not out of arrogance, but more as one who knows he should do real confession with a priest, but sadly justifies himself instead.

  • 2
    I find it odd that in dropping the required mediation of a local Catholic Priest, the entire practice seems to have been dropped along with it. Is this a "baby with the bathwater" situation?
    – Jas 3.1
    May 13 '12 at 15:35
  • In practice, yes. May 13 '12 at 22:44
  • I did appreciate this insight, but it didn't completely answer my question, so I'll have to forgo a vote on it for now.
    – Jas 3.1
    May 14 '12 at 15:38
  • 1
    @Jas3.1: Completely answering your question is an unreasonable expectation because it's got a dozen different things going on and would require a doctorate thesis on the subject to cover it all. Per my other comment, I think this will be much more useful broken down into pieces.
    – Caleb
    Jan 8 '13 at 9:42

I think the most direct Bible verse on this subject is:

1 Tim 2:5 "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus"

Christians do not need any mediator besides Jesus. Specifically, we do not need a priest to stand between us and Jesus. Jesus is the mediator. We don't need a mediator to speak to the mediator.

1 Peter 2:9 "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;"

We are all priests, not just a special class.

Matthew 23:8-9 "But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ,and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven."

In context, I don't think Jesus meant that we should not call our male biological parent "father", but rather, that we should not consider anyone our spiritual father.

I don't know of anything in the Bible that commands or even suggests that we should confess our sins to a priest. The only instruction I can find to confess to anyone other than God is:

James 5:16 "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."

But this doesn't say anything about having a special class of priests to hear these confessions, much less a specific ritual of confession booths, penance, etc. It says to confess your sins to each other. The phrase "one another" implies that any believer might at one moment be confessing and the next moment hearing confessions.

Personally, I would ask the opposite question from yours: What scriptural basis do Catholics offer for requring people to go to a priest to confess?

The primary reason why Protestants reject confession today is the principle of Sola Scriptura: that all doctrine must ultimately originate in scripture, and we see no scriptural basis for this practice.

I guess a case could be made that it is a good thing to do even if it is not required by scripture. There are many things that are good to do even though they are not required. (Like, the Bible does not command me to brush my teeth, but that doesn't make tooth-brushing a sin.) But I would say that is wrong to tell Christians that it is required, or that confessing to a priest offers any benefit greater than confessing directly to Jesus, or confessing to another believer. Well, perhaps it could be argued that among the qualifications or training of priests is that they are better than the average Christian at hearing a confession in some practical way. So maybe you could argue that it is better to confess to a priest in the same sense that it is better to seek advice on auto repair from a professional mechanic rather than a random friend.


On the issue of confession as a Protestant who was a former Catholic I wish to say that we don't need an intermediary other than Jesus however that does not mean that confessing does not have healing psychotherapeutic value . The other 2 matters which raise doubts in my mind are John 20:23 and where Jesus tells Peter that he is his rock and goes on to as in John 20:23 say that the church or apostles have the authority to withhold forgiveness for sins , now I wonder who has inherited such power now and in what circumstances .

  • 1
    Welcome to Christianity.SE! I'd like to encourage you to continue participating, but as you do please check out our faq and I'd like to specifically point you to some posts on our meta site, particularly this one, which might help clarify some things. One confusing point for most new folks is that we're not really looking for posts that try to forward and defend the "truth" of a matter so much as ones that show what various Christian traditions think of an issue.
    – Caleb
    Jan 8 '13 at 9:47
  • Unfortunately this question has some problems that lend itself to answers that don't fit our guidelines. We'll be working to sort those out. Don't be discouraged, we do realize there is a bit of a steep learning curve because this isn't a normal internet forum.
    – Caleb
    Jan 8 '13 at 9:49

I don't know of any Protestants that practice "Catholic confession," but you may or may not be implying "private confession." Dr. James Nestingen, a Lutheran seminary professor, is part of a North Dakota congregation that still practices private confession and absolution. Here is an link to talk by him on the topic, with some articles by other Lutherans.

  • Anglicans can also have confessions in like manner.
    – user4060
    Jun 29 '13 at 17:10

As family medicine physician I believe many people now use doctors as "confessors". Believe medical system has become form of national "religion".

Discipline process of Matthew 18.15-20 is a way church actually determines what is "sin". It is "democratic" process. Don't see any priests there.

Believe priests functioning with total power of confessor is part of pedophile problem et al in church.

Woman with a hemorrhage in Bible "suffered much under many physicians". Think priests are similar "legalistic" "physicians".

AA started by church disaffected physician has form of "confession".

Another physician Karl Menninger also wrote book, Whatever Became of Sin?

Another psychiatrist, John White, wrote Healing the Wounded: The Costly Love of Church Discipline. The appendix, "Binding and Loosing", was written by John Howard Yoder, Mennonite & Notre Dame professor.

How many priests & ministers carry form of malpractice insurance & send sheep for psych counseling if they "confess" too much?

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    – Nigel J
    Oct 28 '20 at 19:25
  • aaaaaa'When did the Protestant church reject the Catholic method of practicing confession? (Again, not the views, but the elements I just mentioned.) Why were these methods originally rejected?" Oct 28 '20 at 23:53
  • I see very little that actually addresses question.Luther's Large Catechism has article "Brief Exhortation To Confession". "Concerning confession, we have always taught that it should be voluntary and purged of the pope's tyranny." worldcat.org/title/large-catechism-of-martin-luther/oclc/963602 Oct 30 '20 at 17:21
  • Historian W. Robert Godfrey addresses penance/confession in podcast on sacraments & need to reform church now. podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/reforming-the-sacraments/… Fr John Paul mentions "penance/confession" at 16 min mark of Mass youtube.com/watch?v=PUt6ilXURUY&t=4s Need for kindness of priests as in Ephesians 4.32 Oct 30 '20 at 17:41
  • An example of "Good Confession" is biblegateway.com/passage/… "(she)came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth". Oct 30 '20 at 17:49

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