In the Catholic church, members are required to confess their sins to the priests. They go to the church building, and enter a small room or something more like a booth, and inside will sit a catholic priest, who will listen to the confession of sin. The place they go into to confess is called a confessional and then the priest forgives the person’s sins.
In more recent times, the rules have been updated to allow the confessional to be in a room. But whether in a room or a booth, there is usually some form of screen between the lay member and the priest. They do not see each other’s face, but hear each other’s words.
If it is necessary to walk by a confessional, it is considered polite to cover one’s ear with one’s hand, to show respect for the sanctity of the confessional. This is a pious practice even when no one is in the confessional.
So it seems that in the Catholic church, the confessional is a very important place which people have a lot of respect for.
But, if we as repentant Christians are feeling guilty over our sins, why is it that in the Church of God we do not have a confessional? Should we confess our sins to a priest or minister?
Let’s look more at what the Catholic church does and the origins of the confessional, and what we as Christians should do when we sin and need to repent and get forgiveness.
I am going to quote from a well-known book called The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hislop. Some of you may have read this book or have a copy on your bookshelf. This book looks at how the rituals and beliefs of ancient Babylon have continued down to our present age and how they are especially apparent in the Catholic church.
This is what the book says about the confessional:
“The clerical power of the Roman priesthood culminated in the erection of the confessional. That confessional was itself borrowed from Babylon. The confession required of the votaries of Rome is entirely different from the confession prescribed in the Word of God. The dictate of Scripture in regard to confession is, ‘Confess your faults to one another’ (James 5:16), which implies that the priest should confess to the people, as well as the people to the priest, if either should sin against the other... In [the Roman system] secret confession to the priest, according to a prescribed form, was required of all who were admitted to the ‘Mysteries’; and till such confession had been made, no complete initiation could take place.”
The confessional was not an invention of the Catholic church. They got it from ancient Babylon. Some of you may know how the Catholic church got started. It was the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century A.D. who started the Catholic church, in part as a means to unite the religions of the Roman Empire, using the themes and ideas of Christianity but the days and customs of the pagan religions, including that of the Babylonian Mystery Religion.
Quoting again from The Two Babylons, about the practices of the Babylonian Mystery Religion:
“In requiring the candidates for initiation to make confession to the priest of all their secret faults and shortcomings and sins, was just to put them entirely in their power of those to whom the inmost feelings of their souls and their most important secrets were confided... in the same way, and for the very same purposes, has Rome erected the confessional. Instead of requiring priests and people alike, as the Scripture does, to ‘confess their faults to one another,’ when either have offended the other, it commands all, on pain of perdition, to confess to the priest, whether they have transgressed against him or no, while the priest is under no obligation to confess to the people at all.
In conformity with the principle out of which the confessional grew, the Church, that is, the clergy, claimed to be the sole depositories of the true faith of Christianity. [that’s referring here to the Catholic church of course rather than the true Church]. As the Chaldean priests were believed alone to possess the key to the understanding of the Mythology of Babylon, a key handed down to them from primeval antiquity, so the priests of Rome set up to be the sole interpreters of Scripture; they only had the true tradition, transmitted from age to age, without which it was impossible to arrive at its true meaning. They, therefore, require implicit faith in their dogmas; all men were bound to believe as the Church believed, while the Church in this way could shape its faith as it pleased. As possessing supreme authority... over the faith...”
In other words, the Catholic priests decided they had supreme authority over the faith of the people, copying the way it was done in the Babylonian Mystery Religion. The people had to confess their sins to the priests, but the priests did not have to confess anything to anyone.
James 5:16 was quoted, which reads in full:
“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.”
Looking at the context, this is in reference to being anointed when sick. Admitting sin is linked to healing, including spiritual healing. So we should be confessing our sins, to one another, and not just to a minister. We should also pray for one another, so we can be healed. We can forgive others for what they do against us personally, but not to the point of removing the death penalty for sin — only God can do that.
God expects us, if we sin against a person, to apologise and confess what we did. Otherwise we cannot be healed if we are sick. In the Catholic church, a person must go to the priest in a confessional, where no one is really seen, and confess sins to the priest. The priest does not have to confess his sins to anyone. And the person does not confess their sins to other lay members in the Catholic church.
But God says we should confess our sins to each other. Christians are never to stop praying, particularly for each other. We should never hesitate to turn to our fellow believers with our prayer requests and needs, nor should we neglect to pray for them regularly.
The Message translation of the Bible has James 5:16 as
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.”
It is good for us to pray for each other, and knowing what problems and trials each person is going through. This is quite different to the Catholic approach, where you just confess to the priest and hope that the priest is going to do something on your behalf to put you right with God, believing that your sins are forgiven because the priest forgave you.
If we sin and want forgiveness for sin, as we should want forgiveness, remember Christ’s words in Matthew 6:12 in regards to how we should pray to the Father:
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
In the Catholic church, the lay member does not have a relationship with God the Father. They have a relationship with the priest, who acts as a go-between, which is probably why they call their priests “father”. Of course, Christ said in Matthew 23:9:
“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.”
In God’s Church, we can pray to God the Father, we do not need a go-between, certainly not a human priest. We can confess our sins to God directly and ask for forgiveness.
In the Catholic church, the people put their trust in men, but Jeremiah 17:5 tells us:
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD.’”
Catholic priests regard themselves as being able to forgive people of their sins, as if they were God. But God warns us not to trust in men in that way. No man can save you from sin.
According to the website Catholic.org, “The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is a Sacrament in which we are sorry for our sins, confess them to a priest, receive forgiveness for them and are reconciled with God and the Church.”
But, no priest can forgive anyone’s sins. He can’t even forgive his own sins! And who can forgive the priests sins? Does he go to confession too? If the priest goes directly to God, then why can’t you? Even the corrupt religious leaders of Jesus’s time knew that only God can forgive sin, as we read in Mark 2:7 “...who can forgive sins but God alone?”
I mentioned earlier that going to the confessional is a “sacrament of penance”. so what is a Sacrament that the Catholic church refers to? It’s not found in the Bible. The definition of “Sacrament” is: “A formal religious act conferring a specific grace on those who receive it.” The Catholic teaching is that there is a “power” to the Sacraments. So the catholics go to the confessional, confess their sins, and the priest says the person is forgiven, and then that person goes away happy. And probably goes away, sins again, and goes again to confession to get forgiveness again. All without any true repentance, and true understanding of what they did wrong, and no desire to live a sinless life. And believing that the priest has the power to forgive them of their sins.
But who died for us so that our sins could be forgiven? It is none other than Jesus Christ. He died for our sins. As we read in 1 Corinthians 15:3:
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
No Catholic priest has ever died for our sins, nor for his own sins. Only Christ’s death can pay for our sins.
Turn to 1 John 1:9, which reads:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Christ died so we can be forgiven by God.
But what about John 20:23, someone might ask? Doesn’t that say that the Church can forgive sins? The Catholic church states: “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave the Church the power to forgive sins when he breathed on the Apostles and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven.’ (John 20:22-23).”
But what do the verses actually say? Turn to John 20:22-23:
“And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ ”
If what the Catholic Church teaches is true (i.e., that priests have been given the power to forgive sins), then it must also be true that they have been given the power to REFUSE to forgive your sins. If this is true, then it creates a serious doctrinal contradiction in the teachings of Christ, who said in Matthew 6:15, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Today’s NIV).
Clearly, we have a discrepancy here. If priests did have the power to forgive your sins, but refused to do so, then it would still be a sin. So what did Jesus mean in John 20:23? To understand John 20:23, you need to consider Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God to salvation to every one who believes...”
Jesus simply explained to the Apostles that by preaching the Gospel, they held the keys to salvation. Those who believed the Gospel were forgiven; those who did not believe were not going to be saved. The Gospel is the key to salvation, depending on whether you believe it or not.
It is wrong to claim that Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sin. There is only ONE MEDIATOR between God the Father and men, and that’s Christ Jesus — Look at 1 Timothy 2:5:
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”
We’ve also read in Matthew 6:15 that God requires us to forgive others who seek our forgiveness.
In addition, not one mention is made anywhere in the New Testament of an Apostle ever forgiving someone’s sins. This fact alone speaks volumes against the Catholic religion.
In the New Testament not one mention is ever made of an Apostle having the power to forgive someone’s sins. When Stephen preached the Gospel in Acts 7, he never offered to forgive anyone’s sins. When Peter preached the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he never offered to forgive anyone’s sins. When Paul preached to King Agrippa in Acts 26, he didn’t offer to forgive the king’s sins.
Notice what Peter said to Simon, the former sorcerer, when Simon tried to buy God’s power, in Acts 8:22:
“Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.” (NIV)
The Apostle Peter told Simon to pray to God for forgiveness! Peter didn’t claim the power to forgive Simon’s sins, nor did Peter tell him to go find a confessional booth. In all the Epistles which the Apostle Paul wrote, he never mentioned or taught anything about the power to forgive another person’s sins.
Only God can truly forgive sins. Sins incur the death penalty, and only the sacrifice of Christ, who became our mediator, takes that death penalty away.
We must repent of our sins and confess them to God, and forgive those who sin against us, to receive the forgiveness we need.
The Bible does not support the Catholic system of the Confessional and in God’s Church we do not need to confess to a priest as we have direct contact with God through prayer, and only God can forgive us and give us eternal life.