DC Thesis I on the Ministry: from the revised form mailed December 2001

"The office of the keys has been committed to the entire Holy Christian Church and therefore to each Christian. Believers have the authority to exercise the keys individually and collectively---the universal priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:15-20;Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:22-23; Revelation 1:6; AC XXVIII 5-6, p. 81, 82; SA Part III VII 1, p. 311; Treatise 22-24, pp. 323-324; Treatise 65-70, p. 331-332)"

Look at the citations in context. And judge if those citations actually bear up the claim in the theses.

This thesis contends that each Christian has the office of the keys and that each Christian has "the authority to exercise the keys individually and collectively."

This thesis also blurs the distinction between the power of the keys and the office of the keys. The power of the keys is the power to forgive and retain sins. Christ gives this power to his church to be exercised through the office of the keys, otherwise termed, the ministry of word and sacrament. Christ has established the office of the keys, or the office of the ministry of word and sacrament to exercise the keys on his behalf for the benefit of the church.


"But this is their opinion, that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. For with this commandment Christ sends forth His Apostles, John 20, 21 sqq.: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. Mark 16, 15: Go preach the Gospel to every creature."

The Church has the right through the power of the keys to call its own pastors/ministers. (Tr. 70) The idea that the keys have been given to believers as individuals is foreign to the biblical text. If individuals were given the keys then any individual could use the binding key. The very idea of this is preposterous. It is contrary what Christ teaches us in the Lord's Prayer ("Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.") to suggest that an individual may refuse to forgive the sins of another.

We must not confuse the Gospel with the ways in which God has commanded that the Gospel be administered.

The DC thesis tends to confuse the use of the gospel by all believers in the various estates with the specifically commanded administration of the Gospel and the Law in the estate of the Church.

1 Peter 2:9

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Which, if read in context, shows that it is because we are priests that we should live godly lives within our vocation, endure ridicule and persecution, but it does not give every individual the priest the office of the keys. There is a contrast between all believers addressed in this passage and the pastors as they are specified in ch 5 of 1 Peter:

5:1 So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ's sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: 5:2 give a shepherd's care to God's flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God's direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. 5:3 And do not lord it over those entrusted to you but be examples to the flock. 5:4 Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away.

Matthew 16:19 is discussed in detail in Tr 22-24 below, as is Matthew 18:17-20.


"The keys are an office and power given by Christ to the Church for binding and loosing sin, not only the gross and well-known sins, but also the subtle, hidden, which are known only to God, as it is written in Ps. 19, 13: Who can understand his errors? And in Rom. 7, 25 St. Paul himself complains that with the flesh he serves the law of sin. For it is not in our power, but belongs to God alone, to judge which, how great, and how many the sins are, as it is written in Ps. 143, 2: Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified. And Paul, 1 Cor. 4, 4, says: For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified."

"The keys are an office" is a description repeated and clarified below. The keys are the Amt. The Amt exists to administer the Keys.

Tr 22-24

"But they cite against us certain passages, namely, Matt. 16, 18 f.: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; also: I will give unto thee the keys; also John 21, 15: Feed My sheep, and some others. But since this entire controversy has been fully and accurately treated elsewhere in the books of our theologians, and everything cannot be reviewed in this place, we refer to those writings, and wish them to be regarded as repeated. Yet we shall reply briefly concerning the interpretation [of the passages quoted].

I"n all these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of apostles [and does not speak for himself alone, but for all the apostles], as appears from the text itself. For Christ asks not Peter alone, but says: Whom do ye say that I am? And what is here said [to Peter alone] in the singular number: I will give unto thee the keys; and whatsoever thou shalt bind, etc., is elsewhere expressed [to their entire number], in the plural Matt. 18, 18: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc. And in John 20, 23: Whosesoever sins ye remit, etc. These words testify that the keys are given alike to all the apostles and that all the apostles are alike sent forth [to preach].

"In addition to this, it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church, as many most clear and firm arguments testify. For Christ, speaking concerning the keys, Matt. 18, 19, adds: If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the Church, just as also for this reason the Church has principally the right of calling. [For just as the promise of the Gospel belongs certainly and immediately to the entire Church, so the keys belong immediately to the entire Church, because the keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to every one who desires it, just as it is actually manifest that the Church has the power to ordain ministers of the Church. And Christ speaks in these words: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc., and indicates to whom He has given the keys, namely, to the Church: Where two or three are gathered together in My name. Likewise Christ gives supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church, when He says: Tell it unto the Church.]

"Therefore it is necessary that in these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of the apostles, and for this reason they do not accord to Peter any prerogative or superiority, or lordship [which he had, or was to have had, in preference to the other apostles].

"However, as to the declaration: Upon this rock I will build My Church, certainly the Church has not been built upon the authority of man, but upon the ministry of the confession which Peter made, in which he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He accordingly addresses him as a minister: Upon this rock, i.e., upon this ministry. [Therefore he addresses him as a minister of this office in which this confession and doctrine is to be in operation and says: Upon this rock, i.e., this preaching and ministry.]"

The keys do not belong to any individual. They belong to the church entire. The keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise [of the Gospel] is communicated to everyone who desires it. He indicates to whom He has given the keys. Namely, to the Church, Where two or three are gathered together in My name. The Church as a body holds the keys. They are not held by each individually, but only as the believers gather together in Christ's name. The keys are the office by which the Gospel is administered. Believers do not have the right to exercise the keys without a call or case of need, nor are the keys given to each individual as if they were not the corporate possession of the whole Church. They are given to the Church as a body.

Tr 65-70

"But since by divine authority the grades of bishop and pastor are not diverse, it is manifest that ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine law [if a pastor in his own church ordains certain suitable persons to the ministry, such ordination is, according to divine law, undoubtedly effective and right].

"Therefore, when the regular bishops become enemies of the Church, or are unwilling to administer ordination, the churches retain their own right. [Because the regular bishops persecute the Gospel and refuse to ordain suitable persons, every church has in this case full authority to ordain its own ministers.]

"For wherever the Church is, there is the authority [command] to administer the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers. And this authority is a gift which in reality is given to the Church, which no human power can wrest from the Church, as Paul also testifies to the Ephesians, 4, 8, when he says: He ascended, He gave gifts to men. And he enumerates among the gifts specially belonging to the Church pastors and teachers, and adds that such are given for the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Hence, wherever there is a true church, the right to elect and ordain ministers necessarily exists. Just as in a case of necessity even a layman absolves, and becomes the minister and pastor of another; as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after Baptism then absolved the baptizer.

"Here belong the statements of Christ which testify that the keys have been given to the Church, and not merely to certain persons, Matt. 18, 20: Where two or three are gathered together in My name, etc.

"Lastly, the statement of Peter also confirms this, 1 Ep. 2, 9: Ye are a royal priesthood. These words pertain to the true Church, which certainly has the right to elect and ordain ministers since it alone has the priesthood."


It is clear from these citations that the Office of the Keys is to be equated with the Office of the Ministry in Confessional Lutheran Doctrine. And, just as AC 14 states, only a properly called and ordained male may occupy that office. These passages also make clear the distinction between the Ordinary ministry and the Need Ministry. These are not different offices or ranks. They are manifestations of the same office in different contexts. The Ordinary Ministry is manifest wherever the Church regularly calls a man to be its Officer of the Keys. The Need Ministry exists where such an officer is unavailable, or where the only officer available teaches false doctrine.

It is also clear from these citations that the keys are not given to each Christian to use at their own prerogative. Tr 22-24 makes it manifestly clear that such an interpretation is un-Lutheran. What is given, is given to the church entire, as the Treatise points out so clearly. It is not given to any individual for they "belong not to the person of one particular man". The pastor or minister does not own the keys except as he is part of the Body of Christ. It is the Body of Christ which owns them and must exercise them by calling Ministers.

Notice also what is lacking in this First Thesis of the DC. No reference to the issue of AC 5, or AC 14 is made. The unwarranted inclusion of "and therefore to each Christian" re-opens the door to the heterodox lay preaching issue which is patently contrary to the Scriptural sources and Confessional sources listed above, and which had already put to rest in our Synod in the last century.

A corrected revision of thesis 1 will state something like the following:

"The Keys have been committed to the entire Holy Christian Church on earth. Believers have the authority to exercise these Keys by calling and ordaining ministers to administer the Keys to them where two or three gather in His name. Those who hold the Office of the Keys are to administer the means of grace, the keys, to bind and to loose sin. They do so not by virtue of their own person, but by virtue of the Call of God through the assembly of believers and by the authority of God who instituted this ministerial office."