In Luther’s Brief Admonition to Go to Confession, he seems to indicate that Private Confession may take place before any Christian and in fact, that any Christian may absolve another. See what you think:
Besides this public, daily, and necessary confession, there is also the confidential confession that is only made before a single brother. If something particular weighs upon us or troubles us, something with which we keep torturing ourselves and can find no rest, and we do not find our faith to be strong enough to cope with it, then this private form of confession gives us the opportunity of laying the matter before some brother and receiving counsel, comfort, and strength when and however often we wish. That we should do this is not included in any divine command, as are the other two kinds of confession. Rather, it is offered to everyone who may need it, as an opportunity to be used by him as his need requires. The origin and establishment of private confession lies in the fact that Christ Himself placed His absolution into the hands of His Christian people with the command that they should absolve one another of their sins. Thus any heart that feels its sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.
Now, I find this very interesting on several different levels. First of all, it definitely appears as though Luther sees Absolution as something all Christians are commanded to do. The true and chief confession, Luther insists, is the confession made to God in the Lord’s Prayer, and the confession that is made between those who are at odds. When we speak of Confession today we tend to put the most emphasis on the oral and private confession that takes place before a pastor, and we are almost adamant that one should confess to a fellow (non-ordained) Christian ONLY in the case of an emergency, when there is no clergyperson available. So what gives here? Are we, in our desire to get back on the horse of Confessional Lutheranism, jumping too far when we make such a big deal about Private Confession & Absolution before a Pastor only? Or is Luther just railing against the Papacy here? I am inclined to think this is just what he really thinks. And yet, he is so boggling. In one breath he can say: “Private Confession has no divine command, and is necessary only if you don’t have a strong enough faith to cope with your sins.” In the next breath he can say: “But, if you don’t go to Confession, we’re not going to consider you a Christian.” Okay, so it is free, and not free. Which is it????