John 20:21-23 is so important.
"21 He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. 23 Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."
My thinking is that if our Lord had not intended to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a means of grace unto salvation, then why in the world would He have made this statement and given both this power and command to the presbyters of His church?
James 5:16 & 1st John 1:9 also offer us more insight into this doctrine.
James 5: 14 Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. 16 Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved. For the continual prayer of a just man availeth much.
1st John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all iniquity.
All these passages expressly speak of confession of sins and so I have to ask, then just how will those outside the Catholic Church explain the obvious link between these passages.
Here is a further outline for study on this sacrament courtesy of John Martignoni and his Bible Christian Society
A. Confess your sins to men
~ Leviticus 5:5-6 (“All scripture…”: 2 Tim 3:16)
(Law is a shadow: Hebrews 10:1)
~ 1 John 1:9
~ James 5:16
B. Can men forgive sins?
~ Only God has the power to forgive sins but He exercises this power through men.
~ Mark 2:7
~ Matthew 9:1-8
When the crowds saw it, they were afraid , and the glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
- Matthew 9:8
To me, the scriptures are clear, and I can't help but praise and thank God for His wisdom and mercy that (knowing the weaknesses of mankind) equipped His church with the means to help His children overcome our weaknesses and sins.