Question for you: obviously we know only God can forgive sins….so how then do you explain John 20:23 to say, a Catholic, who regularly goes to a priest for forgiveness?
The question is good. Here are a few thoughts:
When looking at similar concepts, we must look at Matthew 16:18-23. Christ was saying that Peter was Petros, while He Himself is Petra. Two different words with two different meanings. Peter, or Petros, means a piece of, or a fragment of a rock. Rock, or Petra, means not a piece, but the rock itself. Then He states what sounds like whatever Peter does and says, God obeys and does as well. The “keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” does not mean total access to anything at any time. This is not what was being said. For example: Christ states that He would be killed. Peter rejects that. Christ turns from him (Mark 8:33) and says, “Get thee behind me satan…” Now, if what Christ had just said in verse 18 were true, that the gates of hell would not prevail against Peter, than Christ’s promise had just been broken! Peter was overcome!
Notice also Matthew 18:14-18. If someone sins, go to him personally. If he doesn’t listen, take another. If he still rejects your offer of reconciliation, take it to the church. THEN we have the similar thoughts as found in John 20:23… The church members must work together with prayer, Bible counsel, personal interaction and corporate decisions to come to the conclusions of what God’s thoughts are about a matter. So, when doing these type of disciplinary actions, we are to find out what God has already known about that someone or situation, and do what we can to work together with what we believe God’s will is in that case.
We are not called to forgive sin that God must then forgive also because we forgave it first. No! We are to prayerfully search out a situation, doing what we can to reconcile, before concluding that God has either already forgiven someone, or has not, because of that persons decisions.
There are similar ideas behind ordination. We don’t ordain someone to be accepted by God for ministry. We ordain someone because we believe God has already accepted them and is using them in ministry. Or, we don’t baptize someone to be accepted by God, but do so because God has already accepted that person and we’re showing a public demonstration of what we believe has already happened.