I recently shared Angelo Stagnaro’s article, Indulgences are a Part of God’s Plan of Salvation, on Facebook and was thrilled when, a couple days later, I received a message from my good friend and staunch Southern Baptist seminarian containing a 10-point rebuttal – including Scripture references!
So with no further ado, I present his first point (in blue), and my rebuttal, below. All Scriptures are RSVCE.
On Repentance and Confession to a Priest
“Jesus is our Great High Priest and the only one we must confess our sins to. While having someone to confess our sins to (a priest) is great, it’s not a requirement and is definitely not the way anyone is reconciled to God. To be reconciled, we repent of our sins (ask forgiveness and turn away from them) to God and trust in Him (Mark 1:14-15, Luke 24:46-48, Acts 3:19, Acts 11:18, Acts 20:21). He is the only way that the nail is removed and the hole mended. No one else.”
“Jesus is indeed the high priest, and as such, he has ordained from among men ministers of his grace and arbiters of His authority. This is clearly established in Matthew 16:13-19, 18:15-18, Luke 24:44-49, and John 20:19-23.
On the other hand, none of the verses you provided actually contradict confession to a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation (self-examination/confession/penance), rather, they affirm what we know to be necessary – the we repent of our sins. In fact, let’s begin with the scripture that you provided, Luke 24:46-48, which states that repentance and forgiveness of sins (reconciliation) was to be preached (ministered) to all nations.
46 And said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
And so regarding this as the ministry of reconciliation that St. Paul later refers to in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20:
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
we are compelled to look to John 20:21-23, in which the disciples, now the apostles, exclusively are given the authority from God to forgive sins.
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Can we consider this to be a light matter? In the Gospels we understand that, in the eyes of a Jew, such a thing would be blasphemous to even suggest, as demonstrated in Luke 5:20-21:
20 And when he [Jesus] saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?“
And yet God, Christ Jesus, then ordains his ministers and vests in them that divine authority.
The rest of the verses you provided come closer to affirming the authority of the apostles to forgive sins and the practice of doing so as well. In Mark 1:14-15, Jesus has begun his ministry, preaching repentance.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
However, if we go to the John 4:1-2, we see that the disciples were actually the ones baptizing the penitents, not Jesus.
1 Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples)
Note that it is specifically pointed out that Jesus (through the disciples) was baptizing more people than St. John the Baptist, who preached “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and heard the peoples’ confessions and baptized them (Matthew 3:1-2 & 6).
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan…
6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Now, this is especially important, noting that even John the Baptist did not have authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness for sins, which was not given to any man until much later in Christ’s ministry when he exclusively ordained the disciples, making them apostles.
Acts 3:19, furthermore, is St. Peter preaching: one who is not only one of the ordained, but more notably the Prince of Apostles and head of the Church.
19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord
This passage would sooner affirm St. Peter’s authority to forgive sins than the alternative. In these occasions, St. Peter is fulfilling the Great Commission and exercising the authority given him by Jesus, including baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and forgiveness of those sins through the power of God. Notice also that in Acts 10: 1-5, the household of Cornelius was not reconciled to God, despite his prayers and devotion until verse 48, after St. Peter was brought to him by the Holy Spirit.
1 At Caesare′a there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, 2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter…
The angel specifies the necessity to send for St. Peter: he does not declare that Cornelius’ sins have been forgiven.
And lastly, Acts 20:21 addresses finally who we repent to: God, namely.
20 I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Paul could even be understood in this verse as testifying to the ministry of reconciliation by his own actions, that is to say, absolving penitent Jews and Greeks of their sins! But it would be a twist and a stretch to say that he was dismantling the apostolic Ministry of Reconciliation.
Furthermore, it cannot be suggested that to confess one’s sins to the Apostles or even to John the Baptist or their successors today is not the act of confessing to God, considering that the very authority to forgive sins was given directly to them by God Himself! They have been vested with such authority to forgive, as we say, in persona Christi, that is, in the person of Christ. To say that we need not confess our sins to an apostolic minister, however, directly opposes the two scriptures that clearly provide us a method of confessing our sins.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
So in conclusion, based on Scripture, we can see that not only do we truly confess all our sins to God when it is through his ordained ministers, but to argue that we need not confess to “anyone else” is actually, in itself, non-scriptural.