9.1 What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is a unique power God has given to His church to forgive the sins of those who confess their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior. Two parts make up the Office of the Keys: Confession (admitting our sins) and Absolution (receiving forgiveness from God). We are drawn by God's Law to confess, and by His Gospel we are forgiven or absolved.
9.2 Where does the phrase "Office of the Keys" come from, anyway?
The words are drawn from the imagery and directive Jesus shared with His 12 apostles.
9.3 What is a confession, exactly?
In a broad sense, a confession is a truthful statement publically made by an individual, or group of individuals. A confession of sin is admitting to God what you have done wrong according to His Law-the Ten Commandments. A confession of faith, such as the Apostles', Nicene, or Athanasian Creeds, is a public witness made by Christians to the faith they believe and teach.
Here we speak of confession in the sense of admitting our sins to God and trusting His promise of forgiveness. This confession can be made publicly or privately.
9.4 Why do we need to repent of our sins?
God calls us to confess and, ultimately, it is God whom we have offended with our sins.
9.5 What will happen if we don't repent?
Guilt has a way of exerting a powerful pressure on us. If we hide our sins or unwisely attempt to justify them in God's eyes, a destructive stress grows on the mind and even the body. We long to "come clean" as it were. God truly offers complete forgiveness to all who believe that Jesus carried all their sins to the cross.
9.6 What is the difference between public and private confession?
In public confession, all the members of a congregation publicly confess their sins together. These sins are summed up in general and confessed to God. Then the pastor announces God's forgiveness or absolution-since Jesus paid the full price for all sins in His suffering and death on the cross.
Sometimes a specific sin weighs heavily on your conscience. When this is the case, private confession gives you the chance to confess that specific sin and be assured that God forgives that very sin for Jesus' sake.
9.7 When a congregation confesses its sins during a church service, does that mean they are all forgiven?
On the cross Jesus won forgiveness for every sin of each person who has ever lived or will ever live. In the church service God indeed offers that complete and free forgiveness to each person there. Those who trust in Jesus are completely forgiven. If people are merely pretending, denying in their hearts, or "going through the motions," then no, God is not fooled, and their sin remains.
9.8 To whom should we confess our sins privately?
Any fellow Christian can offer you God's forgiveness. A pastor may be preferable because he knows the expectations of God's Law and passages of Scripture to reassure you God has forgiven your sin no matter how grievous. Also, he has publicly taken an oath before God to never repeat sins confessed to him.
9.9 I am not sure I like the idea of another person "forgiving" me of my sins. Isn't God the only one who can forgive sins?
Like Baptism, Absolution is anchored in Jesus' saving work on the cross. Jesus paid the full price for all sins when He suffered and died, meaning God offers forgiveness to every man, woman and child. So it is not the person who is forgiving you of your sins. He or she is merely a vessel, a vehicle, delivering the forgiveness-filled Word of God to you. It is actually God who is forgiving you in that moment. One of the ways God shares His Word is through the office of the pastoral ministry, delivering grace and mercy to His people. This is as valid, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, stood before us and spoke those words of forgiveness with His own lips.
9.10 How can I trust my pastor not to reveal the specific sins I confess to him privately?
Pastors take a public oath when they take office not to reveal or repeat specific sins confessed to them privately. This is based on a promise God made in the book of Isaiah,
Martin Luther spoke a lot about having a "Father Confessor," someone to regularly and genuinely listen to your confessed sin and personally provide you with the comfort of forgiveness of God's Word. Quite simply, any pastor who would reveal a privately confessed sin is not fit for the office of pastor or overseer.
9.11 Can I forgive people who confess their sins to me too?
Yes, you can! It's not uncommon for people to wrestle, struggle, and even find themselves tormented by their own personal dark, innermost sins. Any Christian that understands the power of Confession and Absolution can serve as an instrument of God's Word, and assure a struggling individual of God's wonderful forgiveness.
9.12 What was that part about withholding forgiveness? If forgiveness from God is such a wonderful thing, then why are some people not to be forgiven?
The Office of the Keys works both ways. While God gives His church the key to unlock the door to salvation, it also has the power to lock the door to salvation. This is not a quick, abusive process that happens flippantly or emotionally. It is a slow, gradual process, which must be done in love and genuine concern for the salvation of the unrepentant sinner.
9.13 What is the purpose of excommunication and church discipline?
While the terms conjure thoughts or images of painful exclusion, the intention and purpose is actually the complete opposite! God is deeply concerned about His straying child. He knows if this person continues in unrepented sin he or she will exclude him or herself from God's forgiveness and peace, from fellowship with God in heaven itself. The purpose of church discipline and excommunication is to show how serious God is about sin, and to bring the sinner to recognize and repent of his or her sins now, so God can forgive and restore him or her.
God openly declares, "The wages of sin is death" (see Romans 6:23). Who among us wants to have that hanging over his or her head? We can either hold onto our sin and be eternally doomed, or ask God to take it away by His Word of grace and forgiveness, as He did for David: