Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reconciling the world—but not without means

I offer here another piece of Lutheran history on the Lutheran Church's historical understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.

Some assert that God "finished" reconciling the world to Himself 2,000 years ago, and that He justified all people at that time ("not imputing to them their sins").  Now, they say, He has entrusted the ministers of the Word with the task of announcing that God finished reconciling the world to Himself in the past, and in this way, they say, people become "individually" or "subjectively" reconciled to God.  They claim that Paul is teaching two separate things in these verses:  (1) that God finished reconciling the world (i.e., all people) to Himself at the cross, and (2) that by preaching this truth, ministers of the Word enable hearers to become "subjectively" reconciled as well.

But that this is not how 2 Corinthians 5 should be understood is made clear by Martin Chemnitz's treatment of it in the Examination of the Council of Trent.  He ties the reconciling of the world to the means of grace, specifically to the Ministry of the Word.  God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself through the preaching ministry of Christ.  So also Christ is present in the authoritative preaching ministry of the apostles, still reconciling the world to Himself.

It is not as if God actually "completed" the reconciling of the world to Himself 2,000 years ago, and then gave the Apostles the ministry of telling the world that the reconciliation was completed.  Instead, God even now continues His work of reconciling men to Himself through this ministry. 

I sense that some who balk at this understanding do so, for one reason, because the thought of such an authoritative Office of the Holy Ministry is repulsive to them.  They would rather see the Pastoral Office as simply announcing the fact that pardon has already been issued, so that the pastors are simply passing on information or communicating what was already true.  They don't like the fact that God actually and personally works through the ministry of the Word to pardon sins and to effect reconciliation.  But this is exactly what God says of the Office of the Holy Ministry, not that the apostles/pastors are to announce something that was already done in heaven long ago, but "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:18).

10 Now this power of forgiving sin must not be understood to have been given to the priests in such a way that God had renounced it for Himself and had simply transferred it to the priests, with the result that in absolution it is not God Himself but the priest who remits sin. For Paul expressly distinguishes between the power and efficacy of reconciliation which belongs to God, and the ministry which was given to the apostles, so that it is God who reconciles the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19) and forgives sins (Is. 43:25), not however without means but in and through the ministry of Word and sacrament.

Ministers indeed are said to loose and remit sins on account of the keys, that is, because they have the ministry through which God reconciles the world to Himself and remits sins. Thus Paul says (2 Cor. 1:24) that although he has authority, he nevertheless does not lord it over their faith but is a servant and steward of the mysteries of Christ (1 Cor. 4:1), so that he who plants and he who waters is nothing, but He who gives the increase, namely God (1 Cor. 3:7). Nevertheless, he shows that the use of the ministry is useful and necessary, for, says he, we are co-workers, that is, assistants, whose labors God uses in the ministry, but where nevertheless all the efficacy belongs to Him. We are servants, says he, through whom you have believed. Likewise: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul treats this distinction clearest of all in 2 Cor. 5:18–20. It is God who reconciles us to Himself through Christ, not counting our sins against us. To the apostles, however, He gave the ministry of reconciliation. But how so? “He entrusted to us,” says Paul, “the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Thus this distinction honors God and gives Him the glory that properly belongs to Him; it also claims for the ministry the honor and authority it has according to the Word of God. For even as it is Christ who baptizes through the ministry and also imparts His body and blood, so also it is Christ who through the ministry absolves and remits sins.

Chemnitz, M., & Kramer, F. (1999). Vol. 2: Examination of the Council of Trent (electronic ed.) (559–560). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.


Brett Meyer said...

Ministers indeed are said to loose and remit sins on account of the keys, that is, because they have the ministry through which God reconciles the world to Himself and remits sins.

In the doctrinal conflict over Scripture's teaching concerning justification it is critical to address the Office of The Keys. The quote in italics is significant since the Office of the Keys has not been addressed by those promoting and defending the doctrine of Objective Justification.

The Office of the Keys was given by Christ to the priesthood of believers - all those who have the Holy Spirit's faith in Christ alone. They contain the power to forgive sins of the repentant and to retain sins in the unrepentant - in the name and in the stead of Christ.

Since all variations of the doctrine of UOJ erroneously teach that, in Christ, God has forgiven the whole unbelieving world, declared them righteous and worthy of eternal life - what then is the effect of retaining an unrepentant unbelievers sins in the name of Christ? It creates another insurmountable contradiction to say that in Christ the whole unbelieving world is forgiven all sin - and that those same sins are retained in the unrepentant in the stead of Christ. UOJ creates yet another dilemma with it's teaching that God has made a declaration that in Christ the whole unbelieving world is justified: forgiven, righteous and worthy of eternal life.

The same dilemma is created regarding the Key to forgive sins. The Christian Book of Concord contends against UOJ concerning the Keys to forgive and retain sins here:
6] Let any one of the adversaries come forth and tell us when remission of sins takes place. O good God, what darkness there is! They doubt whether it is in attrition or in contrition that remission of sins occurs. And if it occurs on account of contrition, what need is there of absolution, what does the power of the keys effect, if sins have been already remitted…"

The entire doctrine of UOJ not only lacks harmony with Scripture but severely contradicts Scripture throughout.

Anonymous said...

WELS mis-interprets Matt.16:19; 18:18;John 20:23
• Martin Luther's Small Catechism explains the authority and use of the "Keys"; however, Martin Luther did not write this section of the Catechism so this teaching used by many Lutheran churches is giving Luther credit for something he did not say, “The three questions of Office of the Keys are not by Luther. The second and third questions are taken from the Nuernberger Kinderpredigten of 1533, and this first is still of later origin.”)
• The "Keys" are the Gospels and they authorize a believer or the church on earth to announce or proclaim the Gospel message only. Accordingly, as they shut or open the door to anything that should be believed or rejected in the church on earth, it must be in agreement with what God has already ordained in heaven. God granted no authority for man to forgive sins as God has the ultimate authority to do so (Mark 2:10).
• The "Keys" open the door to salvation through the Gospel, and close the door to salvation by believer's who recognize man's decision to reject the Gospel message.
• Believers of the Gospel message are already forgiven, so no one needs to forgive them again. (they need constant reminding however, and they need to diligently study the Bible)
• Can we conclude that today's church has the same level of authority as Jesus gave to his apostles who could perform miracles, lay hands giving the Holy Spirit, etc.???? The apostles talked with God, he breathed the Holy Spirit on them and empowered them. No apostles forgave sins, they only pointed people to Christ. The "Keys" authorize the church to preach the means that leads to forgiveness, but is given no authority to actually grant final judgment. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
• Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:37-38 did not himself forgive the sins of those who crucified Christ, but offered the Gospel message regarding repentance, baptism and the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins that the crowd received in verse 41. This is a good example of using the "Keys" Jesus gave to Peter and the apostles in Matthew 16:19.
Donald N. Gretel

Brett Meyer said...

Mr. Gretel states, "The "Keys" are the Gospels and they authorize a believer or the church on earth to announce or proclaim the Gospel message only"

Christ's declaration to His disciples:
John 20:23, "Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brett,
You need to go to the Greek to translate the passages I referenced in my comment. There is no reference made here to the binding or loosing of persons. One can note that this speaks exclusively of things because of the neuter gender of the indefinite pronouns hó (3739), “whatever,” in verse nineteen, and hósa (3745), “whatever,” in Matthew 18:18. Believers cannot make conclusive decisions about things, but can only confirm those decisions which have already been made by God Himself as conclusive in the general context of His kingdom both on earth and in heaven. The two verbs, dedeménon (from déō [1210]) and leluménon (from lúō [3089]), are both indicated to be perfect passive participles which should have been translated respectively “having been bound” and “having been loosed” already in the heavens.
Now if you add Mark 2:7 and Mark 2:10 you will see man has no authority to forgive sin. Some Study Bibles explain what I just summarized. John 20:23 is used by the Roman Catholic Church to support confession and I think that during the Reformation, Lutheran writers just picked up on it as man's authority to forgive sins. It makes no sense that we as sinners even quickened in the spirit could have authority to forgive sins, especially when pastors forgive congregations with street walkins present.

Donald N. Gretel

David Boisclair said...

This quotation from Martin Chemnitz does not exclude the doctrine of Objective Justification as Pastor Rydecki asserts in his caricature of it. Chemnitz is pointing out that in the office of the holy ministry absolving sins such action is not separable from Christ as the Romanists believe. When the pastor absolves in the stead and by the command of Christ it is Christ absolving. As you read the quotation you will see that the distinction made by "the Lutheran synods" is not obviated.

Nicholas Leone said...

Don Gretel, you say "it makes no sense." Then how do you explain John 20:23?

Are you still a Lutheran? You seem to have rejected the Lutheran view of Confession and Absolution.

Anonymous said...

Brett, David and Nicholas,
My wife and I left WELS over this issue of man forgiving sins every Sunday. This was one of several teachings our own study concluded was false. Some of what I will explain here is directly related to my previous post here so please re-read it along with this comment.
First of all, Mark 2:7 and Mark 2:10 make a very clear statement about Christ being the only one on earth who can forgive sins. Secondly, every sin is a sin against God; therefore, man is authorized and encouraged to forgive sins of other men (Luke 17:3), but man is not authorized to forgive sins against God. The Roman Catholic Church uses John 20:23 as man’s authority and the Lutheran Church adopted this teaching. As an interesting side note Objective Justification is under major discussion here at Intrepid Lutherans blog. God forgave the sins of the world; therefore, it is done and does not need man’s intervention. Forgiveness of sin is the heart of the Bible and should be preached as a completed gift of Christ, not as a gift of man. The” Keys” as I explained in my first post are the gospels that open and close doors to salvation. “Binding” is the law, “loosing” is the gospel message of absolution to the sinner who repents, is quickened in spirit through the Holy Spirit working through the word and believes through the power of God (2 Cor. 4:6).
Let us look closely at John 20:23. Jesus himself is present with his apostles (v.19). In verse 20 Jesus showed them his hands to prove his resurrection (V.17). Verse 21, “as my Father hath sent me, even so sends I you.” (KJV) The Father sent Jesus to preach so Jesus is saying he intends on the same for the apostles, see Luke 24:46-47. Verse22, Jesus himself breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. This is the same power used when breath was blown into man at creation, Genesis 2:7 and Jesus was breathing new life into his apostles to prepare them, strengthen their discernment and empower them on their mission to preach the law and the gospel. The full power of the Holy Spirit came as Pentecost in Acts. Verse 23, carries the Greek perfect tense making it clear that the apostles were authorized to announce the terms of forgiveness. This is demonstrated by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:37-38. The Greek perfect tense expresses the continuance of completed actions, or it implies a past action and affirms the existing result. According to my study, this definition is pretty much unanimous among all Greek grammarians. The apostles in every case of scripture considered and treated as forgiven only those whom Christ had already forgiven. There is no evidence in scripture of an apostle or prophet forgiving sins. Now if you consider what Jesus said in Mark 2:10, it would be a contradiction of scripture for man to forgive sins without Christ first forgiving them, and we know scripture has no contradictions. Using the Pentecost experience, look at Acts 2:47. It says the Lord added, not the apostles.
As stated in my first post, Matthew 16:19, 18:18 and John 20:23 are all interrelated; the first two verses according to the Greek state “shall be” as “having been.” Martin Luther’s translation has the future perfect passive in Matthew 16:19, “shall have been bound.”
Conclusion, The apostles (and everyone since) were only authorized to declare forgiveness in accordance with the law and gospel teachings and consistent with what the Lord had already determined. It is also possible that John 20:23 only applies to the apostles due the context of the verses but it is more likely that the verses mean that believers are responsible for church discipline. An example being, closed communion. On the other hand, Lutheran pastors state forgiveness of sin to the entire Sunday congregation, including street walkins. Who can see a man’s heart but God?
Donald N. Gretel

Anonymous said...

I argued this issue with WELS to no avail and I might mention it is also closely tied to the fact that WELS teaches that John the Baptist forgave sins. WELS never answered my letter explaining why I believed this to be false teaching, but my discussions with them included this issue of it use of The Keys.

I have a number of Bibles and one of them is a Lutheran Concordia Self Study NIV Bible. The General Editor of this Lutheran Bible endorsed by WELS is Robert G. Hoerber. Go to page 1647 and read Rev. Hoerber's note on John 20:23. Here is what is says, LIT. "Those whose sins you forgive have already been forgiven; those whose sins you do not forgive have not been forgiven." God does not forgive people's sins because we do so, nor does he withhold forgiveness because we do. Rather, those who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearers believe in Jesus Christ or not.
When I raised this study note to WELS I got no response except to remain firm in its teachings.
John the Baptist did not forgive sins (he pointed his followers to the one who does, Jesus Christ) and the Keys are not the authority for man to forgive sin, but it is the authority to preach the law and gospel and to enforce church discipline.
Donald N. Gretel

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