Faith musings from the seat of a forklift.
Keys are quite useful. Keys are very useful for unlocking doors and starting vehicles. Imagine arriving at work and finding the building locked. Now what? If you don’t have the proper key, you don’t get in. Really, it is just that simple.
What about forgiveness?
Wait. Are you saying that there is a key to forgiveness?
Yes and no. Let me explain.
There is one thing in particular that I have noted in many churches I visit, and it is something that I have written of, in brief, on this blog, is a lacking in the declaration of forgiveness of sins. I don’t mean the generic tripe declaration of “Christ died upon the cross to forgive your sins”, which is not completely correct (though a discussion for another time, the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross goes much deeper). No. I mean the more important declaration of “In the stead of and by the authority of Christ Jesus I hereby declare unto you the forgiveness of all your sins”, which I hear regularly at the church I normally attend.
Are you joking? How can a man forgive sins?
Ever read John 20:22~23?
“Jesus breathed on His disciples and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”
In context, there is nothing else in to read from this verse. Nothing. Christ Jesus very plainly gave his disciples the authority to forgive sins. Yes, he did say that as the father has sent him, so too is he sending the disciples, but that is also why he gave them, and us who would also follow, the authority to forgive sins.
Wait! You must be kidding. My pastor has never said this.
You must not be Lutheran or Roman Catholic.
Lutherans and Roman Catholics have long acknowledged that Christ Jesus gave his church the authority to forgive sins. That is precisely what we see in the text quoted from John’s Gospel. I can’t speak for the Roman Catholic church, but in the Lutheran church, we call this the “Office of the Keys”.
What is this? Quite simply, is the authority Christ gave his church to forgive sins. The simple truth of the matter is that we are all sinners. Not a single one of us is truly righteous. I can not say that I know anyone who is not a sinner. That includes myself. Indeed, much like the Apostle Paul, I count myself the chief of sinners. Thus, we all need to hear that our sins are forgiven.
Simply put, it is too easy to fall away when you don’t have that declaration of forgiveness. As ashamed as I am to say it, I know this all to well. I actually stopped going to church for a period of several months. Why? Because I felt so beset by sin that I began to feel as if my entering a church would cause it to burst to flames. The simple fact that nobody was actually telling me that my sins are forgiven, and that communion was also for the forgiveness of my sins (see Matthew 26:28).
The simple truth is that without that declaration of our sins being forgiven, it is too easy to become overwhelmed by our sinful nature, and start to think we don’t need to go to church. Let me just give you a little hint, it is only in the church that we can ever hope to find forgiveness of sins. I’m sorry, but nature and work don’t forgive sins, in fact, they tend to multiply them.
By having your sins declared as forgiven, you are unlocked from the pain and despair that they can bring. This is what the Office of the Keys is for. It is to free you from the burden of your sin. Christ does not want us to be kept from his grace because of sin, thus he gave his church this command to forgive sins.
Just as the Office of the Keys can unlock us from the burden of sin, letting us truly live our lives, and in a manner that is pleasing unto God, so too do normal keys unlock building so we can do the work we must do. Indeed, the Bible does commend those who work.
Forgiveness is what the church, by the authority of Christ, has to offer. We just need to take Christ at his word.
From the Small Catechism and for your review:
THE OFFICE OF THE KEYS AND CONFESSION
What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is the special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth: to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners, but to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent.
Where is this written?
The evangelist writes, John 20:22-23: “Jesus breathed on His disciples and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; and if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”
What is Confession?
Confession consists of two parts: one, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the pastor or confessor as from God himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.
What sins should we confess?
Before God we should acknowledge ourselves guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know about, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But before the pastor or confessor we should acknowledge those sins only which we know and feel in our hearts.
Which are these?
Here consider your own situation according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, employer, employee; whether you have been disobedient, dishonest, lazy; whether you have injured anyone by word or deed; whether you have stolen, neglected, wasted anything, or done any harm.