The following is the 5th part of the Catechism from

Thorough Explanation
Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism.

Presented as Questions and Answers
Dr. Johann Conrad Dietrich,
Former Superintendent in Ulm, Germany.

With additions from the Dresden Cross Catechism and the
Evangelical Lutheran Church's Confessional Writings
together with quotations from the Holy Scriptures
and with two Appendices.

Abridged Version.

Decorah, Iowa.

The Norwegian Synod's Publishing House.
Printed in the Synod's Book Printing House.

Concerning the Fifth Chief Part in the Catechism


Concerning the Office of the Keys and Confession

509. With what does the Fifth Chief Part Deal?

It concerns the Office of the Keys and Confession.

510. What is the Office of the Keys?

The Office of the Keys is the special power, which Christ has given to His Church on earth, to forgive repentant Sinners their sins, but to bind the unrepentant to their sins, as long as they do not repent.

511. So how many kinds is the power of the Keys?

It is are twofold:

    The first is the Loosing Key, which absolves from sin and unlocks Heaven; from this is Absolution or Acquittal;

    The second is the Binding Key, which binds Sinners and locks up Heaven for those who are tied to sin's leash; from this is Excommunion or Exclusion, which is also called the Ban.

    Matt. 16:19: And I will give to you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth, that shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth, it shall be loosed in Heaven.

512. Why is the Office of the Keys called a special power of the Church?

Because, outside the Church or Christendom, where the Gospel is not, neither is there any forgiveness of sins.

Ephesians 2:11-12: Therefore remember, that formerly you were Gentiles after the flesh, who were called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision", that in the flesh which is done by the human hand-- that you were at that time without Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and were strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
Deut. 4:7: For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?
Ps. 147:20: He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the Lord!
Acts 4:12: And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.
John 14:6: I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by Me.

513. Are thus the Keys not given to a particular individual man alone?

No; "It is necessary to acknowledge that the Keys do not belong to nor are given to an individual man alone, but rather to the whole Church. For just as the promise of the Gospel undoubtedly and immediately belongs to the whole Church, in this way the Keys are the direct possession of the whole Church." [S.A. Tr.§ 24 Triglot p 511 German text p. 510]

514. Why is this?

"In as much as the Keys are nothing other than the Office, by which this promise is communicated to everyone who desires it." [SA. Tr. 24]

515. Shall then in accordance with this any Christian be so bold, though himself having no call, as to administer the Office of the Keys?

By no means; for "No one in the Church shall teach or preach or administer the sacraments without a proper Call". [Augsburg Confession, Article 14]

516. Who are those that are properly the Church's servants?

Those who by a proper Call from God are ordained can rightfully teach others God's Word and legitimately administer the Sacraments.

517. How many kinds of a legitimate Call are there?

There are two kinds, non-mediated and mediated.

518. What is an non-mediated Call?

That which comes from God himself without man's participation.

519. Should one in our days still expect an non-mediated Call?

No: For we have concerning this neither any command nor any promise; for this reason those who pretend to have such a call should be condemned and reckoned as false prophets.

520. What is a mediated Call?

It is that call which goes out from God through His church's participation in a certain manner and according to certain rules which are prescribed in God's Word.

521. Who has, then, the power to call a Pastor?

The whole church:

    because the Office belongs to the whole church;

    because the whole church has the duty to determine who conducts all of its teaching, both as a body and to the delinquents.

522. How do our Lord Jesus Christ's words of institution read concerning the Office of the Keys?

Thus the Holy Evangelist John writes in the 20th chapter: "The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit! Whosoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. Whosoever's sins you bind they are bound to them."

523. What do you believe according to these words?

I believe, therefore, that when Christ's called servants deal with us according to His divine command, their dealings are valid.

In particular I believe that when they shut out those manifest and impenitent sinners from the congregation and, on the other hand, when they unloose those who repent of their sins and will amend themselves, so this is also likewise powerful and certain in Heaven as if our dear Lord Christ had done it in person.

524. So can a pastors forgive sins?

Yes; certainly God alone can forgive sins by His own power, but Pastors forgive them only as God's instruments or on account of the external Preaching Office, through which the Holy Spirit works.

525. But what if the pastor who pronounces absolution is an ungodly person?

Absolution is valid in the same way as the Sacraments, that is, "neither does the fact that they are administered by the unworthy detract from their efficacy, because on account of the call of the Church, they represent the Person of Christ, and do not represent their own persons, as Christ testifies, Luke 10:16 'He who hears you, hears Me'". (Apology of the Augsburg Confession 4, §28, Triglot, p. 237.)

526. Will then also those that only for the sake of appearance and out of hypocrisy go to Scripture, by the absolution become free of their sins?

Since the servant of Christ does not know the heart, he uses his office for the benefit of all of those who show contrition outwardly; but since there are those who are impenitent and hypocrites, make themselves unworthy before God, such as these the holy Office cannot exercise its power on them, and they will therefore remain in their sins and their condemned state.

527. What do you understand by the Ban?

It is:

    The proclamation of a sinner's binding, which a legitimate servant of the Church pronounces in Christ's Name to those unbelieving and obstinate sinners and their exclusion from the Church until they repent.

528. Dare anyone use the Ban according to his own particular pleasure?

Far from it! Much more should one specifically bear in mind that the Ban must not be used arbitrarily, but that its proper use is precisely decreed by God's express Word.

529. Can a sinner become freed of the Ban and be readmitted to the Church?

Yes certainly; The purpose of the binding key is not the soul's destruction, but its salvation. Therefore, when a sinner who was hardened up to now repents, makes true repentance and earnestly amendmends his life, he shall again be assured of God's grace and helped up with the Gospel's comfort.

530. What is Confession?

Confession consists of two parts: One, that one confess sin; the Other, that one receive absolution or the forgiveness of sins from the Father Confessor as from God Himself, and finally in no way doubt, but firmly believe that sins are thereby forgiven before God in Heaven.

531. What sins shall we confess in Confession?

Before God we should confess ourselves guilty of all sins, also even those we do not know about, just as we do in the Our Father. But before the Father Confessor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in the heart.

532. Which are these sins?

Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted anything, or do other injury.

533. What short form of confession has Luther set up in his Small Catechism?

Thus you shall speak to the confessor:
Reverend and dear sir, I beseech you to hear my confession, and to pronounce forgiveness to me for God's sake.

Then you shall say:
I, a poor sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all sins; especially I confess before you that I am a man-servant, a maid-servant, etc. But, alas, I serve my master unfaithfully; for in this and in that I have not done what they commanded me; I have provoked them, and caused them to curse, have been negligent in many things and permitted damage to be done; have also been immodest in words and deeds, have quarreled with my equals, have grumbled and sworn against my mistress, etc. For all this I am sorry, and pray for grace; I want to do better.

A house father or house mother may say:
In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully trained my children, domestics, and wife, or family, for God's glory. I have cursed, set a bad example by rude words and deeds, have done my neighbor harm, and spoken evil of him, have overcharged and given false ware and short measure. And whatever else he has done against God's command and his station, etc.

534. But when he does not find himself burdened with such or greater sins, what should he do according to Dr. Luther's instructions?

But if any one does not find himself burdened with such or greater sins, he should not trouble himself or search for or invent other sins, and thereby make confession a torture, but mention one or two that he knows. Thus: In particular I confess that I once cursed; again, I once used improper words, I have once neglected this or that, etc. Let this suffice.

But If you know of none at all (which, however, is scarcely possible), then mention none in particular, but receive the forgiveness upon the general confession which you make before God to the confessor.

Then the confessor shall say:
God be merciful to you and strengthen your faith! Amen.

535. How does the General Confession go?

O almighty God, merciful Father, I a poor, miserable, sinner confess before you all my sins and all my wrong doings, by which I ever have offended you and by which I have earned your temporal and eternal punishment. But all my sins cause my heart pain, and I repent of them sincerely and beg you, that out of your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, blameless, bitter sufferings and death your dear Son Jesus Christ be willing to be merciful and graceful to me a poor sinner.

536. Which other form of Confession could one also use?

Say this:
I, a miserable sinner, confess before God and you on His behalf, that I was conceived and born in sin and in many ways have transgressed God's Will with thoughts, words, and deeds. Should God now desire to deal with me according to his mighty righteousness, then I should die in my sins, perish and be damned eternally. All this gives my heart pain, and I repent of them greatly. Therefor I confess my sin and flee to God's boundless mercy and my Savior and Ransom, Jesus Christ's dearest merit, because I live in the certain hope that God, out of Grace, for the sake of His Son will pardon me of all my sins. I beg you, reverend sir, that you will on God's behalf release me from all of my Sins; and I promise, also, that I hereafter will, with the Holy Spirit's help in dutiful obedience better my life and become more faithful.