Introduction

Interview with Apostle John - Forgiveness of sins
John the Apostle

Today I speak with the apostle John in an interview on the subject of forgiveness of sins

Matzo:
Johannes, I have to say I’m pretty excited to have you join me today. When I think of all the things you’ve experienced with the Lord Jesus, that’s really powerful!

John:
Matze, what I was able to experience with the Lord was pure grace, an undeserved gift of Jesus’ love for me.

Matzo:
John, I’d like to ask you a few questions that have been on my mind for some time. I’m curious what you’re going to say in response.

John:
What’s it all about, Matze?

Matzo:
It is about the problem of forgiveness of sins.

John:
What’s the problem?

Matzo:
Well, our church believes that Jesus only gave you apostles the commission and authority to forgive sins in his name. Is that right?

John:
How does your church justify this view?

Matzo:
It invokes what you wrote in your gospel in chapter 20:23. There you write that Jesus told the apostles at that time: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

John:
How this word of the Lord is to be understood, I will explain to you in a moment. But first I would like to know where you got it from that Jesus only said this word about the remission of sins to the apostles?

Matzo:
That’s what my New Apostolic Church used to tell me.

John:
Well, Matze, that’s not right. If you read carefully what I actually wrote, you will not read anything about my claiming that only we apostles had been told by the Lord this word about the remission of sins. For fear of the Jews we had shut ourselves up in a house in Jerusalem in the evening on the day of the Lord’s resurrection. There were not only us apostles in that room, but quite a number of other disciples. And Jesus addressed this word to all of us. It is a mystery to me how your church thinks that Jesus would have addressed this word of remission and retention of sins only to us apostles.

Matzo:
But why did you not write in your gospel that not only you apostles were together in that room when Jesus appeared to you, but a whole number of other disciples?

John:
Why should I write something that, at the time I wrote my gospel, had already been known for a long time through the account of brother Luke?

Matzo:
By Luke’s account?

John:
Yes! Luke writes quite clearly that on that day when we were gathered together and Jesus appeared to us, it was not only we apostles who were in that room, but also a whole number of other disciples. Read for yourself in Luke 24:33.

Matzo:
Sorry, Johannes, what does it say?

John:
Then two disciples from Emmaus come to us all excited and tell us that they have seen the Lord. Our brother Luke then writes in verse 33, “And they arose at that same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them!

Matzo:
In fact, you eleven apostles were not alone in the room when Jesus appeared to you!

John:
As you can see. And that is why I deliberately wrote in my Gospel, “… when the disciples were gathered together!” Otherwise I would have had to write: “when the apostles were gathered together.” But you see, we apostles were not gathered alone.

Matzo:
This means that the Lord did not address the word of remission of sins to you apostles only, but to all the disciples present!

John:
Like I told you before! He said this word to all the disciples who were present at that time. Any disciple of the Lord can therefore promise forgiveness of sins to a penitent sinner in the name of Jesus. He can do so because the Lord Jesus has obtained for every sinner the forgiveness of his sins before God through His death on the Cross. We disciples of Jesus may proclaim this remission of sins to every person who sincerely repents of his sins and asks Jesus for the forgiveness of his guilt. This is the commission the Lord has given to each of His disciples. That’s why I wrote in the book of Revelation, in chapter 1 verse 5 + 6: “Unto him that loveth us, and washed us from our sins in his blood, and hath made us a kingdom, and priests unto his God and Father: to him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Matzo:
That is, all who are washed from their sins by the blood of Jesus are priests for God?

John:
Yes, that’s right!

Matzo:
That’s interesting. If what you say is true, that the commission to grant someone forgiveness of their sins in Jesus’ name is not tied to the apostleship, but that every disciple received this commission from Jesus, then yes our church is wrong on this point.

John:
Yes, unfortunately! Perhaps I can give you an example to make it clear that God did not make the forgiveness of sins dependent on apostleship. Imagine the following situation. Someone’s dying. Far and wide there is no apostle around who could forgive his sins according to the New Apostolic view. Nor is there any other priest or minister who can do this service on behalf of an apostle to the dying person. So no officer could be found in this situation. The poor man would be lost, because he would have to go into eternity without the forgiveness of his sins. Therefore, God did not make the forgiveness of sins dependent on the forgiveness of an office.

Matzo:
Of what?

John:
In the first place, by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins. Jesus himself said, “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” Well, he who has eternal life through faith in Jesus, of course, also has the forgiveness of his sins, otherwise he would not have eternal life.

Matzo:
That is, by faith alone in Jesus and what Jesus did for us on the cross, can one receive forgiveness of sins and thus be saved?

John:
You bet! I will say it again that the Lord Jesus said over and over again, “He who believes in me has eternal life!” (John 5:24) There are still many passages of Scripture that testify to just that. Some read for yourself in the Bible, which I give you here: Eph. 3, 17; Joh. 1, 12; Acts. 16, 30-31; Acts. 10, 43; 1 John. 5, 13; Rom. 5, 1; Eph. 2:8-9. And read what I specifically wrote in the 3rd chapter in verse 16 of my gospel.

Matzo:
Yeah, I know that verse. There it says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten (only begotten) Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John:
What did I write? “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The apostle Paul also says this in many places in his letters, that we are children of God through faith in Jesus alone (Gal. 3, 26). In Romans 5:1 Paul even says: “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and boast of the hope of the glory to come, which God shall give.”

Matzo:
That’s hot, Johannes! Paul is not saying here that we have access to this grace through apostles, but through our Lord Jesus Christ!

John:
Of course, Matze, by whom else? To the jailer in Philippi Paul said: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you and your household will be saved” (Acts 16, 31). He did not say: Believe in the apostleship and you will be saved!

Matzo:
But what is the use then of an acquittal of sins by apostles?

John:
You’ve got a point. Nowhere in my Gospel is there any mention of the absolving of sins by apostles alone, or by a priestly office commissioned by an apostle to do so. I think I need to explain something basic to you here that I think your church really misunderstood.

The Lord Jesus said: “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them. Whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” If you look at this word carefully, you will see two things: First, the Lord is talking about disciples here. “Which one of you…”. That is, he is talking about a church situation here, because where there are disciples, there is church. Second, he is talking about specific sin. That is, sin that happens in the church that needs to be cleansed and forgiven.

Matzo:
What does that mean in concrete terms?

John:
Now, as I made clear to you earlier, everyone who believes in the name of the Lord Jesus has forgiveness of their sins. This forgiveness, then, is not through apostles or any disciples, but through faith alone in Jesus, the Son of God, who died for our sins, and who forgives them when we confess them to him. (1. Joh. 1, 9)

This is the forgiveness of sins that brings about justification with God. It happens through faith alone, as the apostle Paul also writes in his letter to the Romans: “Having therefore been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1 a) So if this is true with God, that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life through faith in Jesus alone, then Jesus must have been right when he said “Whomsoever ye remit the sins of” meant something else than this general forgiveness of sins that is valid before God.

Matzo:
This stands to reason.

John:
Consequently, then, there is a forgiveness of sins which must be clearly distinguished from this general forgiveness of sins.

Matzo:
How is that to be understood?

John:
Now, even those who are already saved by faith in Jesus can still sin, of course. When people who have come to believe in Jesus join a congregation, it means that they want to walk together with many brothers and sisters in the way of the Lord. But no one is immune from sinning again. Even as faithful Christians, we are always guilty of one another. Especially where one lives more closely with others, such as in a congregation, the temptation to sin is especially great.

Matzo:
You mean the negative talk behind other people’s backs?

John:
For example. Some Christians sin so grievously that the peace of the church is destroyed, and as a result the reputation of the church before the world suffers serious damage. In such a case, the church can no longer be a witness to the world. Here the Lord has commissioned His disciples to watch over such things. It is about calling sin even sin, and holding the perpetrators of sin accountable to repent and turn to the Lord.

If this happens, then we as disciples of Jesus may say to such a penitent sinner: “In the name of Jesus, your sins are forgiven!“So this is about the remission of sins in a very concrete situation. But if such a one does not repent of his sin, we must unfortunately exclude him from the fellowship of believers. Such an exclusion is then not only binding on the congregation on earth, but also has its validity in heaven. God binds Himself to such a decision, which has come about under the guidance of His Spirit on earth.

Matzo:
So this is what Jesus meant by saying, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven!”

John:
Yes, that’s right. But such a special situation has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins proclaimed by God, which is given through faith in Jesus alone. The great debt of sin that every human being has before God can only be forgiven by God Himself. It is given to us the moment we receive Jesus into our hearts, that is, when we come to believe in him.

Matzo:
So we are dealing here with two completely different situations, which our New Apostolic Church lumps together, in a sense not distinguishing them from one another at all.

John:
Yes, it is. Jesus’ word in chapter 20:23 is about church discipline. Here, at this point, we disciples have been given the responsibility by the Lord to preserve the purity of the church and thus its testimony before the world.

Matzo:
According to this, the general forgiveness of sins for all people happens firstly through faith in Jesus. This means that our New Apostolic opinion that “forgiveness of sins only happens with us and nowhere else” is untenable. For as you have clearly shown, John, the general forgiveness of sins is not dependent on apostles, but on faith in Jesus alone. And secondly, the passage from John 20:23 can only be applied to a very specific situation, namely when it is a question of specific sin in the congregation, and not to the general forgiveness of sins before God.

John:
Yes, that’s right! And that is why there is forgiveness of sins also in other churches, because the conditions for it are there. The claim to absoluteness of your church, which believes that forgiveness of sins is only possible with it, is therefore false in two senses. On the one hand, the forgiveness of sins is given to every human being through faith in Jesus, that is, completely independent of apostles or any other offices. And secondly: when it comes to concrete sin in the congregation, the Lord has not only commissioned the apostles to remit sins in his name, but all disciples.

Matzo:
John, I know many members of our church who have long had grave doubts that our church is the ‘only beatific’ one. But they dare not take the step out because they are afraid that by leaving their church they will lose the forgiveness of their sins with God. They have only ever heard that forgiveness of sins is only possible through their church.

John:
Now, Matzo, as I have shown you, the forgiveness of sins is not dependent on membership of any church, nor is it dependent on any office. There have been people at all times who have claimed: if you do not get your sins forgiven through us, you will be lost. With such scary claims people have always tried to exercise power over others. But such claims are unbiblical and untrue.

No, the forgiveness of sins is entirely dependent on conversion to Jesus, not on conversion to any church. But conversion to Jesus presupposes faith in Jesus. That is why Jesus says, “He who believes in me” – not in an office or a church! – „he has eternal life!” In my first letter to the early church, I wrote it the same way to the brothers and sisters of that time: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have everlasting life”. (1 John 5:13).

Matzo:
John, what you said gives me a lot to think about. Thank you for being here today and making time for us. God bless you richly for that!

John:
You too, Matze. May what has been said bring you closer to the truth, and thus closer to the Lord Jesus. For he is the way, the truth, and the life. And no one comes to God except through Him.


Bibliography:
We recommend the translation of the Bible by Franz Eugen Schlachter in the 2000 version

Photo credits:
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_(Apostel)