Today, we continue with our series responding to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Karlo Broussard. With this next chapter, the Catholic apologist continues his section on Sacraments and the specific topic of confessing sins to a priest as he attempts to counter evangelical Protestants’ argument that “God Alone Can Forgive Sins.”
The Catholic church claims that its priests have been empowered by God through their ordination to forgive people of their sins:
“Only priests who have received the faculty of absolving from the authority of the Church can forgive sins in the name of Christ.” – CCC 1495.
However, evangelical Protestants argue that only God can forgive sins and point to Mark 2:7 as one of their proof texts:
“Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Broussard responds with three arguments:
(1) First, Broussard claims that Catholic priests do not forgive sins by their own authority, but only by the authority of Jesus Christ that has been granted to them. He follows with three examples by which he argues that human agents were authorized by God to effect His will:
- Apostolic healings (Acts 3:6)
- Illumination of truth/spreading the Gospel (Matthew 28:20)
- Divine inspiration to write Scripture.
Broussard notes that Protestants readily acknowledge that God used human agents for the above three purposes. He then argues that (A) since God used men for those divine purposes, then (B) He can also use ordained ministers to forgive sin.
(2) Broussard continues his rebuttal by presenting the proof text below from the Old Testament.
“When he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” – Leviticus 5:5-6.
Broussard argues that (A) since God ordained Levitical priests to forgive sins under the Old Covenant, then (B) it is reasonable to think He would ordain priests to forgive sins in the New Covenant.
(3) Broussard saves his “heavy artillery” for the final round. For his last argument, he appeals to John 20:21-23:
21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending 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 them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Broussard argues that this passage proves conclusively that Jesus authorized His apostles (and ordained priests) to forgive sins.
Okay, let’s now respond to Broussard’s rebuttal.
(1) While evangelicals certainly concede from the teaching of Scripture that God sometimes uses humans to achieve His will, it is quite another thing to argue that God authorizes humans to forgive sin. This belies a fundamental difference between Catholics and evangelicals on the understanding of sin and redemption. Catholics believe their justification is dependent on perpetually confessing their (mortal) sins to a priest in order to “keep the slate clean” so that they can hopefully merit their salvation at the moment of their death. In contrast, evangelicals believe as the Bible teaches that when a person repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone, ALL of their sins are forgiven, past, present, and future, and they are re-born as children of God and justified by the imputed perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. We then confess any sins thereafter directly to God as an act of obedience in our daily walk with the Lord, but our salvation is sure in Christ Jesus.
In counter-argument, Broussard must concede that ONLY God is able to do certain things (e.g., creation, sustaining creation) and forgiving sin is one of those things. And God has ordained that forgiveness of sin unto salvation is ONLY through trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone, NOT by perpetual trips to the confessional.
“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” – Proverbs 17:15
(2) Broussard stumbles badly by claiming Old Testament priests forgave sin. This is ATROCIOUS, self-serving hermeneutics. The Levitical priests DID NOT forgive sin, but only offered up sacrifice on behalf of the guilty person. To “make atonement for” and to “forgive” are NOT equivalent.
(3) Broussard believes John 20:21-23 is irrefutable proof for Catholicism’s claim that Jesus authorized His apostles (and ordained priests) to forgive sin. Not so fast my Catholic apologist friend. Let’s take a look at two very revealing Bible passages that speak directly to this discussion:
“To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:43
38 “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” – Acts 13:38-39
The above passages clearly state that forgiveness of sins is through belief/trust in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone. That was the Good News that the apostles proclaimed. The forgiveness of sins or the retaining of sins that Jesus spoke of in John 20:21-23 would be according to whether people responded to the Gospel that the apostles preached, as we see in Acts 10:43 and Acts 13:38-39.
Some closing thoughts:
- Catholic historians admit that private, “auricular” (relating to the ear or hearing) confession to a priest didn’t actually become the mandatory standard practice throughout the RCC until the Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215 AD. Broussard omits this information.
- Over the centuries, the confessional booth became a snakepit of immorality, with young women and children confined in close proximity with predatory celibate priests. Priests were taught in seminary to ask probing questions on issues of personal morality, supposedly in order to ensure that the penitents provided a “good” (i.e., full) confession. Many victims of pedophile priests have testified that the abuse began in the confessional booth when they were children.
- Yearly confession, at the minimum, is mandated by the RCC under threat of mortal sin. However, church statistics reveal that seventy-five percent of the membership flouts this obligation. Broussard attempts to convince his readers of a practice that his fellow Catholics have largely abandoned.
See the excellent articles below for more information:
How Auricular Confession Developed
Only God Forgives Sin, Part 1
Next up: “We Confess Our Sins Directly to God”