Saturday, June 21, 2014

Do lay people "have the power to forgive sins (the office of the keys)"?

I recently heard from a lady attending a convention for Lutheran women.  There was a pastor there who gave a presentation articulating that the laity "have the power to forgive sins (the office of the keys)."  She snapped a picture of the Powerpoint slide on the big screen that included this statement and sent it to me.

Now, the office or power of the keys is explained in the Book of Concord in the Smalcald Articles, 3:7:1-3:

1] The keys are an office and power given by Christ to the Church for binding and loosing sin, not only the gross and well-known sins, but also the subtle, hidden, which are known only to God, as it is written in Ps. 19:13Who can understand his errors? And in Rom. 7:25 St. Paul himself complains that with the flesh he serves the law of sin2] For it is not in our power, but belongs to God alone, to judge which, how great, and how many the sins are, as it is written in Ps. 143:2Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified3] And Paul says, 1 Cor. 4:4For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified

So far, so good.  The keys are given "by Christ to the Church."  But does this mean that every individual member of the Body of Christ, pastor and layman alike, has the authority to make use of the power of the keys in his vocation?

Augsburg Confession 28:5-9 also addresses the keys, what this office entails, as well as who is authorized to use them:

5] But this is their [our teachers'] opinion, that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. 6] For with this commandment Christ sends forth His Apostles, John 20:21 sqq.: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. 7] Mark 16:15: Go preach the Gospel to every creature.  8] This power is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, according to their calling either to many or to individuals. For thereby are granted, not bodily, but eternal things, as eternal righteousness, the Holy Ghost, eternal life. 9] These things cannot come but by the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, Rom. 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.

Of course, the life of all Christians is a life of giving and receiving forgiveness.  But this personal forgiveness is something entirely different than the sacramental office of the keys ("the power of the bishops") as explained in our Symbolical writings.

Unless someone can explain how the statement that the laity "have the power to forgive sins (the office of the keys)" can be reconciled with AC 28, it seems to me that one cannot believe what this pastor is presenting and be authentically Lutheran.


Timothy C. Schenks said...

Are they confusing a declaration of Grace with Holy Absolution from a Pastor (by the command and in the stead of Jesus Christ)?

Stephen asked God to forgive his unbeliever murderers. He didn't forgive them himself.

The Large Catechism quoted Augustine where a Christian baptized a catechumen so that he could receive Absolution -- an extreme emergency situation...

Rev. Paul L. Beisel said...

Christ giving the keys to the church is like God giving the "power" to conceive to the whole world. "Be fruitful and multiply," he tells Adam and Eve (and, by extension, all their children). But does God intend for that command to be carried out by all regardless of station? No. It is to be carried out by those who have the "office" of holy marriage. So it is with the Keys. In giving the keys to the Church, which possess all things, Christ does not intend that all are to be exercising this power as private persons, but he wills that it be carried out by those who have been granted the office of loosing and binding.