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Archive for March 24th, 2017

The Office of the Keys is the office of confession and absolution. This authority is located in Christ which He gives to His Church.  The proof texts of the Keys are these Bible verses:

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (St. Matthew 16)

“…He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (St. John 20)

18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (St. Matthew 18)

The Matthew 16 passage is in the narrative of Peter’s Confession of Christ.  Since Scripture interprets Scripture, the John 20 Resurrection narrative shows us that Jesus gave this authority in the Holy Spirit to all the apostles.  Peter is the representative of the Apostles but he is not superior to his brother apostles as the Lord made clear:

St. Matthew 20:  “…Jesus called them (the disciples)  to him and said,“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…

 St. Matthew 18 in its entirety is Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness, one of five such sermons in this Gospel.  The Matthew 18:18 passage is the culmination of the preceding verses 15-17 which are His teaching about brother forgiving repentant brother.  It is clear that the binding and loosing is for the whole Church, that is, all the baptized. It is clear from the Lord that His perfect will is to have His forgiveness permeate all of the Church.  The Keys are not a personal possession dangling from the cincture of a pope or a priest, and for that matter, a pastor in his parish.   If pastors and priests use the Keys to lord it over their brothers and sisters in Christ, then they are abusing them. They are the possession of the whole Church as the Church is the Lord’s own body.  The Church is the land of reconciliation in an unforgiving world.  

There are two aspects in the use of the Key and who uses them.  “…the use of the keys is twofold, public and private”, as Luther makes plain based upon Scriptures.  The Apostles used the keys publicly in the midst of the Church as there are public sinners known by the Church (St. Matthew 18 17).  The goal is always forgiveness but if the baptized sinner is not repentant, then his sin is bound or retained.  This does not mean the end though, since the goal is always forgiveness and reconciliation.

Probably, the most commented upon type of public transgression within a congregation is adultery, such as living together.  The authority to bind is part of the mark of the Church that demonstrates publicly this is the true Church as these Gospel passages form and inform the Church. Too many congregations might have more empty pew spaces if the Gospel was lived out this way.

 Luther called The Office of the Keys one of the seven marks of the Church. This means that retention/binding of sin is also a mark of the Church. When forgiveness is withheld because of the person’s unwillingness to repent, then we become afraid this won’t be good for public relations.  Yes, that’s right:  it won’t be good for p.r.  This could be a reason that so much of the Church is in such disease/dis-ease:  we are not faithfully obedient to the Lord in also when needed retain sin.  Now, the goal is not  to get rid of the unrepentant since the Lord desires all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9;  1 Timothy 2: 3-5).   The disease in the Church is we do not preach, teach  and practice repentance!  Without repentance, then forgiveness, God’s own Cross-formed forgiveness, is then denied.  We excuse a brother’s sin and we leave him in it.  Jonah had to go to Ninevah as Christ had to come to us all.  The Lord does not want to leave a sinner in his prison rotting. We are good at excusing sin, but we are remade good by sin forgiven. 

A key unlocks a door.  Sometimes the poor sinner, knowing his own most grievous fault, which is known only to him, needs to meet privately with the Pastor  for confession and absolution. The man needs to hear from God’s own mouth His Word of absolution from the Pastor.  This is the private use of the Keys by the public minister in Christ’s Church.  What binds the sinner is unlocked in the Word of Absolution, Christ’s own forgiveness flowing from His riven side.

 Psalm 107

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

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