Explaining the PMW: The Office of the Keys

The sixth summary point summarizing my full explanation of the newest ELS doctrinal statement builds upon the fifth point.

When the statement speaks of an “office of the keys,” it refers sometimes to the office of ministry in the narrow sense (the pastoral office), which belongs to the Church, and through which the Church exercises the keys. Other times, it refers to the authority Jesus gave both to His apostles and to His Church to bind and loose the sins of sinners.

The context must determine which of these two meanings applies in each case. As I read the PMW, I do so in the context of the orthodox, Lutheran and ecumenical doctrinal expressions that have preceded the PMW. This context is even more important than the internal context of the PMW itself, because it defines what was already accepted by the ELS when the PMW was formulated and adopted.

One might ask, “How can the pastoral office be called the office of the keys?” The answer seems exceedingly obvious to me, but here it is anyway. The office of the ministry in the narrow sense was explicitly and specifically instituted by our Lord through His command and promise for the very purpose of applying Law and Gospel to sinners, and for no other purpose. In other words, it exists to administer the keys. To put it yet another way, the characteristic duties of the pastoral office (the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and the administration of the sacraments) are exhaustive examples of the application of Law and Gospel to sinners. Hence, the office may be called the office of the keys.

The pastoral office belongs to the Church, which means it belongs to every Christian. This does not mean that every Christian is in the office, but it does mean that every Christian possesses the office. This is also the same God-given office through which the Church exercises the Keys. When a congregation calls a pastor, it demonstrates that the pastor’s ministry is its own ministry.

On the other hand, sometimes “office” is used in a different sense. Sometimes it means an authority, without reference to a specific position which uses that authority. “Office of the keys” is sometimes used in the PMW to mean only the authority that Jesus gave both to His apostles and to His Church, to apply Law and Gospel to sinners.

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