Vol. 4, No. 1
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Jesus said to his apostles, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:23). A passage of Scripture should be studied in light of all other passages that speak on the same subject.
Some affirm that the apostles had successors, and that there continues until the present a religious hierarchy consisting of men who are successors of the apostles, and that these men are endowed as were the apostles with power to forgive sins. It is said that through the "sacrament of confession" these "clergymen" forgive sins.
The Bible says nothing of confession as a "sacrament"; it says not one word about anything being a "sacrament." The apostles did not have successors, and they could not have had successors. They were witnesses of the risen Christ. Witnesses cannot have successors, unless other witnesses of the same things succeed them.
Matthias was selected to be an apostle to take the place of Judas who fell by transgression. Matthias was selected because he possessed certain qualifications. These qualifications were: (1) he had been with the apostles while the Lord Jesus was in and out among them, and (2) he saw Jesus Christ after Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 1:21-22).
The Holy Spirit guided the apostles of Jesus into all truth (John 16:13). "All truth" is recorded for us in the New Testament and, therefore, we do not need successors to the apostles!
The apostles of Jesus remitted sins only in the sense that they preached to sinners the doctrine of Christ or the Gospel, which when those sinners believed and obeyed, God remitted or forgave their sins. The apostles remitted sins by bringing people to a knowledge of what God required of them in order to have their sins forgiven! The apostles did not work through something called "the sacrament of confession" or any other so-called "sacrament."
The apostles preached and taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and when sinners believed that Gospel and obeyed it, God remitted or forgave their sins. Dear Friend, please look into the lives and work of our Lord's apostles as recorded in the New Testament and you can easily see that is the only way they remitted or forgave sins!
The apostle Peter told people to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). The Lord added to his church all those who did this (Acts 2:41, 47). Simon of Samaria was one of those thus added to the Lord's church. After he was added to the church, he sinned and Peter told him to repent and pray for remission or forgiveness of his sin (Acts 8:18-24). Therefore, the way the apostles remitted the sins of those in the church who erred from the truth was by telling them how to get God's forgiveness. If those who sinned did what God required of them to be forgiven, they were forgiven.
Paul told Timothy to live and to preach in such a way that he would both save himself and those that heard him (1 Timothy 4:17). Yes, Timothy was told he could save himself and others. This could only mean that through godly living and through preaching the Gospel, Timothy could save himself and others.
Being saved and having sins remitted are the same. The apostles did not have any "special power" within themselves to remit sins in the sense that some teach; they could only forgive or remit sins in the sense that they preached the doctrine of Christ, which, when obeyed, brought God's forgiveness and salvation to the obedient (Hebrews 5:8-9).
How did the apostles retain sins? "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized…" (Acts 2:41). This implies that some did not receive the Word and were not baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). Therefore, their sins were retained.
The apostles retained sins only in the sense that they preached the way of salvation or remission of sins, and if one rejected that way, his sins were retained or held against him by God in heaven.
Minister's Marriage Manual