Forgiveness and FORGIVENESS

In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ commands all Christians to forgive their erring brothers from their heart. We do not have the option of witholding forgiveness from someone or of being unforgiving toward them, even if they never repent. Our duty as Christians is spelled out in that prayer and the words of Jesus that follow. It is also spelled out, illustrated in fact for us in Matt 18 and the Parable of the Unforgiving servant. Our forgiveness from God through Christ is forfeit if we fail to forgive those who sin against us.

This forgiving heart that is to characterize all Christians is not the same as the Office of the Keys. If someone sins against me, I have only one command, one option as a Christian: forgive them. I have no command to withhold forgiveness from that person. If they come to me and ask me to forgive them, I do so, but not in the name of the Church but in my own name. I, Paul, forgive my erring brother because Jesus has forgiven me.

When, however, someone commits a sin, and is impenitent, the person who was offended is still required to forgive from the heart. But as far as the Church goes, the sinner’s forgiveness is conditional upon repentance. The Office of the Keys is that “peculiar Church power…” which Christ has given to his Church on earth. Here the Office of the Keys comes into play: when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command. When we, as ministers of the Gospel, forgive sins of repentant sinners and withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant, we are exercising the Office of the Keys.

If, in the case where no pastor is found, a Christian absolves another Christian in the name of Christ, this too is the Office of the Keys, but it is done outside of the divine order. Ordinarily this duty belongs by divine right to the Office of the Ministry. Christ calls a man to act in His stead, and for the sake of the other members of the Body of Christ, to bind and loose sins.

It may happen that the sin is committed against the pastor himself. When this happens, and the offender is impenitent, the pastor as a believing Christian must forgive the man (or woman) from his heart. Which simply means, he cannot harbor anger or resentment against the person. As the called servant of Christ, however, the pastor may have to use the binding key, and withhold forgiveness from that person until he or she repents.

I suppose the point to be made here is that there is forgiveness, and there is FORGIVENESS. There is the forgiveness that all Christians are called to speak in the Lord’s Prayer and elsewhere. This, however, is not the Office of the Keys. When they forgive, they are simply doing what Christians do. The Office of the Keys, on the other hand, is that loosing and binding of sins that is administered by the called servants of Christ based on the spiritual condition of the person in question.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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