The Lutheran Difference: The Office of the Keys

So let’s take a brief moment and talk about the Office of the Keys. If you’re not familiar with this term, it comes from Matthew 16, specifically this verse:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

We see echoes of this idea elsewhere in the New Testament as well, such as in John 20:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

We Lutherans believe that this special power, the ability for forgive the sins of others, has been given to all of Jesus’ disciples. Each of us have the right and ability to assure each other that our sins are forgiven because of what Christ has done for us on the cross. Borrowing from the imagery that Jesus uses in that passage from Matthew, we call this ability the “office of the keys.” It means that, while our sins may have been “locked” to us, Christ’s forgiveness allows them to “unlock” those sins and remove them.

Like I said, this ability is given to all Christians. But from the Lutheran way of understanding things, a local congregation can entrust these “keys” to a trusted representative to use them on their behalf. Those trusted representatives are called “pastors.”

So far as I know, most Lutherans require their pastors to receive special training to become one. That means schooling beyond college. Speaking for my little corner of Christendom, we require pastors to get a bachelor of the arts degree in…well, something (not necessarily theology or Biblical studies; personally, I majored in theatre). Then we move on to seminary, a graduate school. We require pastors to learn Greek and Hebrew so we can go back to the original languages and suss out as much as we can from the texts.

Basically, Lutherans believe that the pastor is the representative for the congregation, who operates with their authority on their behalf. We administer the Sacraments, we preach, we teach, we minister to those in our care.

I could probably go on, but again, my experience is kind of limited, especially when it comes to how pastors receive their assignments and so on. I can talk to how it happens in my synod, but that’s a limited sampling.

Maybe I should keep going, but I feel like moving on. Next week, we’re going to backtrack a little to cover something I should have talked about a while ago. We’re going back to the Word, and specifically, Law and Gospel.

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