Dissecting the 6th Improvement

I was wrong — at least partly — in my understanding of what was happening where the PMW says “This public use of the keys is the Public Ministry of the Word,” at the beginning of the second section.

(You might wonder why I waited so long to write this. Well, I’ve been busy with other things. Yes, even pastors who write on blogs have other priorities. I apologize if my timing has made you impatient.)

I had suggested to replace it with the wording “The Lord Jesus established the Public Ministry of the Word for the public administration of the Office of the Keys.” That was because I thought the PMW was stating scriptural truth here, and that’s where I was wrong.

It’s not stating scriptural truth here. It’s not even making the attempt. That’s not to say that it’s being unscriptural. Instead, it’s being ascriptural. In other words, this sentence is orthogonal to the Word of God. Neither has any bearing upon the other.

You may think that’s a risky and bold statement to make. Not really. You see, the sentence “This public use of the keys is the Public Ministry of the Word” is really not a statement of doctrine at all. It’s a definition for a term that does not occur in scripture.

Do you remember algebra and geometry, where you had to show something step by step? It was also useful in some science classes, too. At the beginning, you might have had something like this:

Given that X is the product of A2 and B, …

Of course, that doesn’t mean that X is always whatever it says. It only applies in the context of the proof or problem. It’s a provisional definition of X.

In this sentence of the PMW, we also have a provisional definition. One might suppose that it’s a provisional definition of the subject, “this public use of the keys,” but it’s not. You see, that was already defined in section I. This sentence is a provisional definition of the predicate nominative, “the Public Ministry of the Word.” It’s not really trying to say anything. It was my mistake to think it was.

So we see that this part of the PMW needs more work than I originally thought. Not because there’s anything wrong with defining our terms. In fact, a repeated criticism of this very PMW document has been that it fails to define many of its terms, so we should be (and I am) happy to have discovered a definition. No, the problem is that this definition doesn’t look like a definition. It looks like it’s trying to state some kind of biblical doctrine.

So, assuming we want such a definition, I have a new suggested replacement for this sentence:

In this document, the term “The Public Ministry of the Word” refers to the public administration of the keys.

On the other hand, this sounds pretty abstract, and it might not be such a good idea to use an abstraction as the basic foundation of the public office that we find concretely instituted by Christ. It may introduce unnecessary confusion on the question of what, exactly, Christ instituted. I’ll have to ponder this some more, but I think Adolph Hoenecke’s dogmatics may be helpful, because he writes some about the ministry considered abstractly versus the ministry considered concretely. It’s worth another read.

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