Forgive us our debts – on the forgiveness of sins
Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider recently invited all District Apostles and District Apostle Helpers to Zurich (Switzerland) for a session of the International District Apostle Meeting. In the divine service that he conducted on the occasion, he addressed the importance of the forgiveness of sins several times.
What exactly takes place there? Has Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross not overcome the sinful condition? Following is a theological classification.
“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, your sins are forgiven.” This is pronounced in every divine service of the New Apostolic Church following the Lord’s Prayer. This liturgical part is referred to as the absolution. Already the name indicates what it is: the believer’s sin and the individual guilt he incurred before God are washed away. No sooner have we been liberated from our latest sins, we sin again—despite all our efforts not to. The forgiveness of sins is therefore of great significance. Although it is not a sacrament, it is very important for the worthy partaking of Holy Communion.
A fundamental element of Christian faith
Belief in the forgiveness of sins is a fundamental element of Christian faith. It is expressly mentioned in the early church creeds—in the Apostolicum and the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople—as well as in the Third Article of our creed. These attest that forgiveness of sins is made possible through the sacrifice of Christ. He gave His life so that mankind could be freed from sin. The liberation from the rule of sin occurs through Holy Baptism, in which original sin is washed away. Nevertheless, neither the baptism with water nor the absolution in the divine service can liberate us from the inclination to sin (concupiscence). Human beings will continue to sin.
The requirements for absolution
The forgiveness of sins is preceded by an intensive self-examination: becoming aware of one’s mistakes, confessing one’s sins before God, feeling remorse, and finally, taking the path of reconciliation with one’s neighbour. The forgiveness of sins therefore is not automatic: it is effective only if the sinner is willing to repent and forgive. Within the Church, the Apostles have the commission to bindingly proclaim the forgiveness of sins, but of course it is God who forgives. The Apostles act as messengers: through them, Jesus Christ Himself proclaims the absolution to the believers. The forgiveness of sins is authoritative, irrespective of the opinions or agreement of other human beings. Sinners can receive forgiveness from God even if other people continue to accuse them.
And without Apostles? The Catechism says: “God in His omnipotence has always been able to forgive sins” (Catechism 220.127.116.11). God can forgive sins quite independently of ministry and church! However, only those who have received the pronouncement of forgiveness of sins through the apostolate can be certain that their sins have truly been forgiven.
Photo: Malyeuski Dzmitry - Fotolia