Would you believe it? We are on the final leg of our journey through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. And the final stretch is a consideration of “The Office of the Keys” which includes a consideration of Confession and Forgiveness.
“The Office of the Keys” you say, and what exactly is this? Well I’m glad you asked. And I will let the Good Doctor Luther answer that for you. “It is that authority which Christ gave to his church to forgive the sins of those who repent and to declare to those who do not repent that their sins are not forgiven.”
As usual Luther excels at memorable, pithy, summary statements. But you may be asking, where does he find Scriptural support for the idea that the church is authorized to forgive sins, or in certain other cases to withhold forgiveness? There are two passages especially that teach this.
The first is from John’s Gospel the 20th chapter, verse 23 where our Lord Jesus Christ said to his disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And the second is from Matthew’s Gospel the 18th chapter, verse 18 where our Lord said to Peter and the disciples: “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.”
Now to be sure, Jesus spoke these words to his appointed Apostles. They are in fact the ones who recorded Jesus’ words, his life, indeed his death and resurrection. They represent, as the foundation (see Eph. 2:20 ), the Church, indeed Christ’s Body, that carries on the mission of Jesus!
Note that it is while we speak the Apostolic Word faithfully that the entrusted work of the Apostles, indeed that of Christ himself, continues to be carried on. Just so the Church forgives and retains sins…
Since You Asked…
What is an Alb? And why does our Pastor wear one?
Alb (from the Latin “white”): a white ankle-length vestment with sleeves, often gathered at the waist with a cincture, worn by all ranks of ministers, ordained and unordained. The classical tunic became a specific church vestment about the fifth century. One of the functions of an ordained minister in our tradition is for that person to represent Christ to the people. Christ is pictured in the Book of Revelation with a white robe. The white robe is also a symbol of his righteousness. For this reason, the alb is a proper covering for the presiding minister with the function of representing Christ to the people. (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)