Explaining the PMW: The Keys

The fifth point summarizing my longer explanation of the new ELS doctrinal statement is rather simple. Yet it’s a much-needed clarification, to ensure a consistent understanding of what is meant.

When the statement uses the term “keys,” it means the application of God’s mercy or judgment to a sinner.

Please note that “keys” refers particularly to the application of God’s mercy or judgment, to a sinner. God’s mercy or judgment may well exist in the abstract, without application to any sinners, but these things only become the Keys in their application to a sinner.

Sometimes we speak of the Keys as though this is synonymous with Law and Gospel. That can work, to a point. But it breaks down inasmuch as Law and Gospel may be abstracted from their application to sinners. In other words, the Gospel as a message is not the loosing key until it becomes absolution, or until it is proclaimed to the hearers of a sermon, etc. Likewise with the Law.

2 thoughts on “Explaining the PMW: The Keys

  1. Can “keys” then mean “means”? Would it be accurate to say the keys are the “means’ by which God applies mercy and judgment? And how is that different or similar to the means of grace?


    #### Response from J.J.:

    Whoa. Maybe. That takes some thought.

    Looking in my handy dandy dictionary, 2003 Wordnet, it lists three different senses for the word “means.” Here are the first two.

    *1: how a result is obtained or an end is achieved; “a means of control”; “an example is the best agency of instruction”; “the true way to success” [syn: {agency}, {way}]*

    *2: instrumentality used to achieve an end*

    In the first sense, I think you can call the Keys “means” by which God imparts His mercy and judgment. But it’s not exactly the same sense of “means” as in the means of grace. That, I think, is like the second sense from Wordnet. (See the wording of AC V, “as through instruments.” Also, note the comment from William Weedon about that very phrase — als durch Mittel — and the term “means of grace” in the recent [discussion on AC V][disc] on the Blog of Concord.)

    [disc]: http://bookofconcord.blogspot.com/2007/02/roundtable-6-ministry.html

    That’s a pretty fine distinction, I know. I’m also not sure of the usefulness in calling the Keys a means of God’s mercy and judgment. To me, it would seem more confusing than enlightening. Or, maybe I need some enlightening myself.

  2. I appreciate these entries greatly.
    So, in your view, is an absolution spoken by a layman valid? Is such an absolution included in with the Keys as they are given to the Church?


    ##### Response from J.J.:

    I’ve been back and forth about answering these questions right away. The thing is, subsequent points will have some bearing upon them. The best thing to do is probably to put you off for now.

    But what’s life without risk?

    So I’ll give you some simple answers now, with the caveat that further explanation will follow in due time. Answer to the first question: Yes. (Witness the oft-cited example in the [Treatise](http://www.bookofconcord.org/treatise.html) of the two Christians in a ship. Note well the whole sentence.) Answer to the second question: Yes. (But for context, witness Luther’s sermon for Quasimodogeniti in the Church Postils.)

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