THEO 681 - Penance and Penitence
Discussion Summary 11/26/96

I. Corporate Confession and Forgiveness: A Tool for Sociopolitical Conversion
Presenter: Craig A. Satterlee

In this essay we have presented the service of Corporate Confession and
Forgiveness found in Lutheran Book of Worship as a tool for sociopolitical conversion. We have seen that, sociopolitical conversion is an indispensable dimension of Christian conversion, and that, when Corporate Confession and Forgiveness is carefully crafted and observed, this liturgy has the potential to serve as both a liturgical agent for and a liturgical celebration of the community of faith and its members moving toward an increasing commitment to collaborate with others in the reform of unjust social, economic, and political structures. This service, like Gelpi's notion of sociopolitical conversion, exercises this potential in a holistic, relevant, and less threatening way. This invitation into the corporate dimension of Kingdom-living provides a powerful witness to the true nature of Christian conversion as the movement from forgiveness of sin to a new way of life. It is left to pastoral liturgists and those committed to issues of justice and peace to use this liturgy to engage their communities, testing and improving upon the innovations we have proposed.

II. Penance in Contemporary Lutheranism
Presenter: Jeffrey A. Truscott

With regard to penance, contemporary Lutheran theologians raise the issue of ecclesial authenticity: can the church practice penance in a way that gives the church credibility in the world? In "Life Together" Dietrich Bonhoeffer stresses the "breakthroughs" of confession: to community, to the cross, to new life, to the assurance of knowing that our confession is real because it is confessed to a fellow Christian. Confession is a way of preparing for the Lord's supper, as per Matt. 5:23-24. In "The Cost of Discipleship" Bonhoeffer urges the church to fight against "cheap grace" by taking confession and absolution seriously. The church must "retain" sins when necessary so that the church's proclamation of God's forgiveness is taken seriously by the world.
Peter Brunner discusses penance in "Worship in the Name of Jesus." For Brunner salvation must be preserved, and that preservation process takes place through the preaching of the Word. Absolution is the Word and God and must not be doubted. Brunner offers suggestion on how penitential rites should be structured. He also takes seriously the reality of excommunication. With regard to the question of confession as a preparation for the Eucharist, Brunner insists that there be freedom. We can only insist on confession and absolution when reconciling a person who had been excommunicated.
Martin Marty discusses confession under the rubric the "Hidden Discipline" in a book of this title. The forgiveness of sins is at the heart of the Christian life. Confession and absolution is connected to baptism and the Eucharist. Marty urges the church to take confession and absolution seriously because it is the church's therapeutic and disciplinary "treasure."

Robert Jenson discusses penance in "Visible Words," and "Christian Dogmatics" vol. 2. Baptism mandates: 1. the necessity of community discipline, 2. the necessity of mutual forgiveness, 3. the connection between the community's discipline and those of the Lord Jesus, and 4. The need of believers to seek forgiveness when not publicly convicted. The church needs two sacraments of penance: 1. individual confession and absolution, and 2. excommunication and reconciliation. Jenson is critical of penitential rites used within the eucharist that have only a general confession of sin and a statement of forgiveness. Such tends to trivialize penance.

Underlying the penitential theology of these Lutherans are certain ecclesiological assumptions. One can note affinities with Dulles' models: the church as sacrament, the church as herald, and the church as a community of disciples. The Lutherans discussed in this paper all call the church to be a community of disciples--a community where there is individual appropriation of the Gospel, i.e., each lives out the Gospel in his/her daily life, and so thereby the Church is able to be an authentic presence in the world.

The penitential liturgies of Lutheranism (ELCA, that is) to some extent
invite the church to be this community of disciples, moving beyond Sunday
morning christianity and living out the Gospel in daily life. But these
liturgies tend not to be too specific. The latest sacramental practices statement of the ELCA mentions confession as a means of preparing for the Eucharist. The statement, however, seems to equate the use of the pre-Eucharistic "Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness" with individual confession and absolution, something this author finds highly questionable.