Can Priests and Bishops Forgive People’s Sins on God’s Behalf?
Since becoming a Catholic I often saw priests and bishops in alb holding Mass for parishioners. After committing sins, the parishioners would kneel down before the priests and say confession to them, and then the priests would say the formula of absolution and pardon their sins on God’s behalf. I could not help but hold bishops and priests in high esteem. Every time I committed a sin, I hurried to make confessions to the priest; I pinned all my hopes of entering into the kingdom of heaven onto the priests. Once, when a big church celebrated Easter, 6,000 parishioners all knelt down before the priest together to beg for his blessing. Seeing such a grand scene, I venerated the priests even more and thought, “In order to enter the heavenly kingdom, I have to rely on bishops and priests—they are my guide.”
One day, I met Brother Cheng, who had done work in foreign areas for many years, and he actually told me that priests and bishops could not forgive our sins on God’s behalf. After hearing this, I stood up and said angrily, “What? Priests and bishops cannot forgive our sins on God’s behalf? How could it be possible? For thousands of years, Catholics have always thought this way.”
Brother Cheng didn’t get angry about my lack of reason, but instead smiled and said, “Brother, don’t worry. We should believe in God according to God’s words. You should seriously consider whether or not there is any evidence in the Bible for this claim that priests and bishops can forgive people of their sins on God’s behalf. Did the Lord Jesus ever say such a thing? Did the Holy Spirit ever say such a thing? Which prophet, priest, and bishop can absolve people’s sins on God’s behalf?”
I replied, “How can there be no biblical basis?” Then I took out my Bible and said indignantly, “In Matthew 16:15–19, it says, ‘Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.’ From these verses we can see that Peter was selected and established by God, and that God gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the authority to forgive sins. The Catholic Church has a hierarchy, and the popes are successors of Saint Peter. The number of the popes has been 264 so far. The popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests are all selected and established by God. Priests and bishops have the authority to forgive sins, so as long as I kneel down before them and make confessions after committing sins, they will absolve my sins on God’s behalf. Catholics have been holding on to this view for nearly two thousand years—could that be wrong?”
Hearing me say this, Brother Cheng fellowshiped, “The words of God you mentioned were said when God selected and established Peter. Also God indeed asked him to shepherd the churches, but God didn’t say that the authority given to Peter could be handed over to the Popes. When the Lord Jesus said these words, the popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests hadn’t been established. Those doctrines were drawn up by later generations, not by God. The Lord Jesus never said anything like that, nor did the Holy Spirit, and the prophets also didn’t make those statements. We apply the words spoken by God when He selected and established Peter to priests and bishops. Does this hold up? Is it in line with God’s will? If this isn’t God’s original intention, aren’t we offending God’s disposition?”
Hearing Brother Cheng fellowship in this way, my heart began to thump, and I thought, “When the Lord Jesus said these words, there were only twelve disciples who followed the Lord, and there was no bishop or priest at all. Could it be that the Lord Jesus’ giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven doesn’t mean that they were also given to bishops and priests? But this kind of saying has existed in Catholicism for two thousand years. How could this be wrong?”
Seeing that I stayed silent, Brother Cheng went on. “Actually, in every age of God’s work, He personally bears witness to and establishes the man whom the Holy Spirit uses. Aside from Peter we just mentioned, there is also Moses in the age of the Old Testament who was established by God. In Exodus 3:7–10, God personally said to Moses that God would send him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Peter and Moses were established by God because they were confirmed by God’s words. However, bishops and priests don’t have the confirmation of God’s words nor do they have the testimony of the Holy Spirit. This shows that God didn’t personally establish them, so we cannot say that way.”
After hearing his fellowship, I was at a loss for words and thought to myself: “It can be seen from what is written in the Bible that Peter and Moses God establishes and uses indeed have the confirmation of God’s word. Could it be that the view that I’m clinging to is wrong?”
Brother Cheng went on, “Brother, in respect to this issue, let’s read a passage and then we’ll understand it better.” His words broke through my reverie. I saw that he pulled a tablet out of his bag and read in earnest, “The work carried out by the one who is used by God is in order to cooperate with the work of Christ or the Holy Spirit. This man is raised up among man by God, he is there to lead all of God’s chosen ones, and he is also raised up by God in order to do the work of human cooperation. With someone such as this, who is able to do the work of human cooperation, more of God’s requirements toward man and the work that the Holy Spirit must do among man can be achieved through him. Another way of putting it is like this: God’s aim in using this man is so that all those who follow God can better understand God’s will, and can attain more of God’s requirements. Because people are incapable of directly understanding God’s words or God’s will, God has raised someone up who is used to carry out such work. This person who is used by God can also be described as a medium through which God guides people, as the ‘translator’ who communicates between God and man. Thus, such a man is unlike any of those who work in God’s household or who are His apostles. Like them, he can be said to be someone who serves God, yet in the essence of his work and the background of his use by God he differs greatly from the other workers and apostles. In terms of the essence of his work and the background of his use, the man who is used by God is raised up by Him, he is prepared by God for God’s work, and he cooperates in the work of God Himself. No person could ever do his work in his stead—this is human cooperation that is indispensable alongside the divine work. The work carried out by other workers or apostles, meanwhile, is but the conveyance and implementation of the many aspects of the arrangements for the churches during each period, or else the work of some simple provision of life in order to maintain the church life. These workers and apostles are not appointed by God, much less can they be called those who are used by the Holy Spirit. They are selected from among the churches and, after they have been trained and cultivated for a period of time, those who are fit are kept on, while those who are unfit are sent back to where they came from” (“Concerning God’s Use of Man”).
Brother Cheng continued speaking, “From these words we can see that many people rise up in coordination with God during His work, and that they can generally be divided into two categories: One kind is those who are used by the Holy Spirit, that is, they are personally selected and established by God. No one can replace the men used by the Holy Spirit in doing work. Because the Holy Spirit maintains and guides their work, they can lead us to understand God’s will and practice and enter God’s words. By accepting their guidance and watering, our spirits must be satiated and we shall have constant life progression, understand more of the truth, gain a closer relationship with God, and attain more and more knowledge of God. The other kind is workers and apostles. Bishops and priests are also included in this category, but they cannot be said to be the men used by the Holy Spirit, because most of them have been trained within seminaries for several years or are promoted and consecrated by their higher-ups. They mostly preach about biblical knowledge and theological theories, and don’t receive much of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and illumination. They can just do some simple work related to maintaining church life, which can in no way be compared to the effects and nature of the work done by Moses or Peter. So they are not personally established by God.”
Just then, my heart suddenly felt enlightened. That’s right, bishops and priests don’t have the confirmation of God’s words, instead they are selected from churches or graduated from seminaries, so how could it be that they are established by God? With this in my mind, I said to Brother Cheng, “What you are saying is that although bishops and priests can lead parishioners to follow God, they are not established by God, nor can they forgive people’s sins on God’s behalf.”
After hearing what I said, Brother Cheng nodded and said happily, “Brother, every one of us has been corrupted by Satan and is full of Satan’s corrupt disposition. We are full of self-rightness and arrogance, don’t submit to anyone, want to have the final say, and all that we live out is corrupt satanic disposition and represents Satan. So how can bishops and priests represent God? Let’s read a couple more passages and it’ll be clearer.” I took the tablet computer and saw these words, “Religious heads are merely leaders, and cannot stand equal to God (the Creator). All things are in the hands of the Creator, and in the end they will all return to the hands of the Creator. Mankind was originally made by God, and regardless of the religion, every person will return under the dominion of God—this is inevitable. Only God is the Most High among all things, and the highest ruler among all creatures must also return under His dominion. No matter how high the status of a man, that man cannot take mankind to a suitable destination, and no one is able to class all things according to kind. Jehovah Himself created mankind and classed each according to kind, and when the end time arrives He will still do His own work Himself, classing all things according to kind—this work cannot be done by any apart from God” (“Knowing the Three Stages of God’s Work Is the Path to Knowing God”). “All of the actions and deeds of Satan are manifested in man. Today, all of the actions and deeds of man are an expression of Satan and hence cannot represent God. Man is the embodiment of Satan, and the disposition of man is unable to represent the disposition of God. Some people are of good character; God may do some work through such people’s character, and the work they do is directed by the Holy Spirit. Yet their disposition is unable to represent God. The work God does upon them is nothing more than working with and expanding on what already exists within. Be it prophets in ages past or those used by God, no one can directly represent Him. … Only the love, the will to suffer, the righteousness, submission, and humbleness and hiddenness of the incarnate God directly represent God. This is because when He came, He came without a sinful nature and came directly from God, without having been processed by Satan. Jesus is only in the likeness of sinful flesh and does not represent sin; therefore, His actions, deeds, and words, up to the time prior to His accomplishment of the work through crucifixion (including the moment of His crucifixion), are all directly representative of God. The example of Jesus is sufficient to prove that anyone with a sinful nature cannot represent God, and that the sin of man represents Satan. Which is to say, sin does not represent God, and God is sinless” (“Corrupt Man Is Incapable of Representing God”).
Brother Cheng fellowshiped this, “We can see from these words that religious heads are corrupted people and cannot represent God at all; they just guide us in how to worship God during a certain period but cannot forgive our sins on God’s behalf. Only God—the Creator—can absolve people’s sins. In the age of the New Testament, for example, the Lord Jesus Christ didn’t experience the corruption by Satan and had the essence of holiness, so He could do the work of redemption on God’s behalf. Contrarily, we human beings have experienced the corruption by Satan, and live in the corrupt disposition of the flesh. We all live in sin, are full of arrogance, self-rightness, self-importance, and conceit, and our living out represents Satan. If someone says that his disposition represents God, he is saying arrogant things and that is an insult to and a blasphemy against God. So, only Christ incarnate can represent God and do the work of redemption, because Christ is not sinful. All those with a sinful nature cannot represent God, and that’s why bishops and priests cannot absolve people’s sins on God’s behalf.”
After hearing Brother Cheng’s fellowship, I could not help but remember that, some time ago we invited a priest of a nearby church to support our church because we were very busy with the work of the church. But after our church’s priest knew that, not only did he not thank the priest we invited, but instead he wanted to turn him away, saying that the priest from the other church forcibly occupied his church. That priest didn’t show any weakness and wanted to take away the money he got from the parishioners during that mass. Because of this the two priests argued with each other fiercely. I realized, “Wasn’t what they two did contending for the stage? Didn’t they want to take power and have the final say? It seems that the priests haven’t cast off sin and still have satanic corrupt disposition. So how can they represent God? This is really blaspheming God. It appears that the view I’m clinging to indeed doesn’t hold water.”
Then I said, embarrassed, “Brother Cheng, now through today’s fellowship I’ve learned that, bishops and priests are not selected or established by God, they are also people corrupted by Satan, and they themselves are sinful. They argue with each other over some small things and even contend for the stage, and they also need to make confessions to other priests after committing sins. So how can they pardon our sins on God’s behalf? Only Christ can absolve people’s sins on God’s behalf.”
Brother Cheng said, “Thank God. It’s wonderful that you’re able to understand this.”
I said happily, “Thank God!”