Explaining the PMW: Unofficial or Private Use of the Keys

The Ninth point summarizing my longer explanation of the PMW says:

“Unofficial or private use of the keys” describes those times when individual Christians speak for Christ, giving His forgiveness to sinners without having received a regular call to do so. Though it is called “unofficial” or “private,” such an act is really public in the sense that Jesus has given Christians the authority to do this in times of special need. In effect, the individual Christian is acting as the pastor of the one being forgiven.

Personally, I would prefer that our use of terms like “public/private” and “official/unofficial” were more consistent. Such things are hard to standardize, so we end up needing to clarifying the sense we mean almost every time we use them. This makes our expressions more unwieldy, but maybe it has the advantage that the uninitiated can more easily understand what we’re saying, as long as we explain what we mean sufficiently.

I think this point is pretty self-explanatory. Let me know if you disagree.

The Mirror of God’s Law

In confirmation class, our students learn that God’s moral Law is like a mirror. When we look into it in view of our own lives, we see reflected an accurate moral understanding of our own lives. The conclusion for every human on earth is that we are morally guilty, and in need of rescue from the punishment we deserve.

Recently, I’ve noticed how some people consider Lutheran theology to be “hateful” or “hate-filled.” It seems that these words are used in the same vein as the recently-coined concept of a “hate crime.” That alone should make Christians uncomfortable with this trend in the legal system of our states and nation. But that’s beside the point.

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Is there any such thing as Fellowship?

I’ve just had a complex thought, but I’m not sure I can express it in words. BTW, that’s one of the great values of writing those thoughts down. When you try to express them, as happens on a blog, they tend either to crystallize or evaporate. Please be patient, and we’ll see what happens this time.

A key part of the context of my thoughts on fellowship is the Werner Elert book Eucharist and Fellowship in the First Four Centuries. It shows how Holy Communion as an expression of fellowship was practiced so differently in the early church than it is practiced today — even in the ELS — and yet there are so many parallels and similarities. Read it if you have the chance.

Is there any such thing as Fellowship? What an odd question to ask. But I ask it anyway, for the sake of discussion, because our doctrine and practice of fellowship seems to be self-contradictory.

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You, the Readers

Like Pastor Abrahamson at The Abrahamsons, I find it interesting to see where the readers are. I’ve been surprised to find how many people actually view The Plucked Chicken, for starters. Lately I’ve also noticed a spike in traffic on Thursdays. What’s happening on Thursdays? I don’t know. But there are about twice as many visits Thursdays as there are Wednesdays.

Here are the approximate places where some of our readers access The Plucked Chicken. If you recognize this as your home town, or at least where your ISP is located, feel free to send me an email and let me know who you are. You can use jmjac at gorge dot net. Just fix the address first. The following visitors were all from yesterday. I can guess who some of you are, but not all. And don’t worry about me publishing your names. Unless you tell me it’s OK with you, I won’t do it. You could give me an alias, though. 🙂

In Minnesota:

  • Minneapolis

  • Mankato

  • Madison Lake

  • Bagley

  • Kasota

  • Lismore

  • Trail

  • Winger

In Washington:

  • Everett

  • Snohomish

  • Klickitat

In Oregon:

  • Hood River

  • Portland

  • North Plains

  • Beaverton

In Arizona:

  • Phoenix

  • Prescott

And more… But I’ll mention the others another time.

Explaining the PMW: the Church

You might think that it should be easy to tell what we mean by the word “church,” but it’s not. It turns out, we use the word in plenty of different ways. Is there a best or most proper way? That depends if you’re asking a language question or a theology question.

In terms of language, you can use the word church in any way you like that effectively communicates your message.

In terms of biblical doctrine, the word is most properly used to describe the communion of saints. In other words, the church is “the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (S.A. III, XII). In still other words, the church is “the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered” (A.C. VII). Some people, by convention, spell it with a capital C when they are using the word this way.

Colloquially, the word “church” usually refers to a civic organization of people which may be associated with at least one fixed piece of real estate. That’s not the same thing as what I wrote in the previous paragraph. Martin Luther’s Roman opponents believed that “the Church” was the organization of people headed by the Pope, associated with real estate all over the world. We make the same mistake when we think of our congregation or the synod as “the Church.” We play with that fire a bit when we ask questions like, “Is synod Church?” We must be careful. (“Get out the sticks and matches, boys!”)

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Another Possible Memorial: Membership Changes

While I would be very happy if the convention adopted a resolution like the previous sample memorial, realism/pessimism sets in early. Is the ELS capable of anything resembling sorrow over anything it’s done? Can it possibly show the public humility required to admit that its own doctrinal statements are not holy scripture? We’ll see. Or at least, someone will see. (“We” may not all be around by that time.) Or maybe the Lord will return before then, rendering all of the plans within plans utterly irrelevant. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

I’ll do some gardening in the meantime. The soil is tilled, and the next seed is a badly-needed resolution. As it is now, the synod bylaws (Chapter 2) require an action by the synod convention to receive a congregation as a member of the synod. Similarly, they require an action by the synod, without using the word “convention,” to receive an individual as a member. There is no similar requirement when a membership is terminated, be it the membership of a congregation or an individual.

Compare that to the membership of your congregation. Certainly the procedure varies. But in nearly all cases, I would venture to guess that the church’s duly installed representatives (Voters, Council, etc.) have to approve membership changes. That’s only half true for the synod.

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Interpreting the PMW: Limited Public Use of the Keys

The seventh point summarizing my longer explanation of the PMW is the first one in which I would expect some disagreement. There are several ways in which the PMW’s expression is a bit lacking on this topic. For example:

  • A doctrinal statement should express the Bible’s doctrine. If it must describe our merely human arrangements too, this should be explicitly distinguished from the Bible’s doctrine. The word “limited” denotes a human arrangement, because the limitation is not characterized or imposed by God, but rather by human beings. Yet the PMW could give the impression that the “limited public use of the Keys” was handed down by God from heaven. This is neither true nor biblically supported.

  • The use of the Keys is specified by God. The Keys are used to bind and loose the sins of sinners. (Matthew 18:18 — See point 5 of this summary explanation.) If the term “limited public use of the keys” is taken to mean that the use is limited, then the PMW’s doctrine becomes hopelessly muddled. It would mean that by human limitation, a person may bind but not loose, or a person may loose but not bind. Or it could mean that a person could loose and bind certain sins but not others. Or, that a person could loose or bind the sins of certain people but not others.

  • Someone could say that this phrase really means “limited public administration of the means of grace.” If that’s how it should be taken, then why doesn’t it say that? We have to work with the document the way it’s stated, or we have to fix it.

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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.

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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.

Interpreting the PMW: The Wider Sense

To what does the wider sense of “The Public Ministry of the Word” refer in the newest ELS doctrinal statement? In answer to that question, here is the fourth point from the summary of my explanation of that document. Again, comments are welcome.

The wider sense refers to the Church’s God-given freedom to establish other offices that carry some of the responsibilities which belong both to the Church as a whole and to the pastoral office. It may be considered “divinely instituted” insofar as we recognize that God wishes these duties to be performed. This is not the same kind of divine institution as we find in the narrow sense.

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