There is today much stress placed upon auricular confession of sin; that is, the confession one makes into the ear of another person. It is also called private confession. This has been fomenting for decades, until it is now to the point where other words have wrongly become synonymous with confession, such as repentance, putting away sin, and laying sin aside. The term "forgiveness of sins" is tied almost exclusively to private confession. Also many places in Scripture are misunderstood to speak of auricular confession, and are taught in such a way as to require such confession. Luther teaches, however, that this confession is nowhere demanded by Scripture, but is of human rite, and is beneficial in the church as a comfort for troubled consciences. Not that one can breath a sigh of relief that they finally met the requirement of confession, but that they are able to hear the gospel, or absolution, preached. Herein is our comfort, that we are reassured and strengthened to believe that by faith in the blood of Christ we are in a state of forgiveness wherein God does not impute our sin unto us. Private confession is but one of the many ways by which God pours out abundant absolution upon His church. He desires that we be confident of His good will toward us through Christ.
Many who today demand private confession use the very same arguments as did the Roman Catholic church against Luther. I'm afraid many are far from Reformation doctrine and are rather in bed with the Pope in this matter.
One of the passages often used to teach private confession as a scriptural requirement is I John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Let us look briefly at what Luther writes in his commentary on this passage, taken from the American Edition of Luther's Works:
"God is faithful because He keeps His promises. He is just when He gives righteousness to him who confesses that He is just. It is as if God were saying: 'Because you say that I am just, which I am, for this reason I shall show you My justice and justify you.' Therefore if you can say: 'We have no righteousness,' you should persuade yourself with certainty that God is faithful, cling to His promises that He wants to forgive sins because of Christ, and is just, since He gives to everyone that which belongs to him, presents the righteousness acquired through the death of Christ to him who confesses his sins and believes, and in this way also makes him righteous. David confesses his sin, but Saul excuses his sin before Samuel and could not say: 'I have sinned' in the way David did (I Sam. 15). All he wanted was to be honored before the people. This is what we do when we defend our sins in order that we may not be shamed before men. It was Saul's wish that the prophet pray for him before the elders of Israel. For he certainly did not want to seem to have sinned against the Lord. But for this reason he, together with all our hypocrites, was shamed before God. Furthermore, this statement cannot be understood as referring to auricular confession, although I do not reject that confession either. No, this statement must be understood as referring to confession before God by which we ourselves confess our sins as well as our faith. Thus God finally forgives sin and grants grace and a pacified conscience by taking away the sting and the bite of conscience." End quote.
Notice that Luther says this cannot be understood as referring to auricular confession. He instead speaks of much deeper matters which pertain to the condition of the heart, of the knowledge of sin and of grace; the knowledge of self and of God.