Keys are Given to the Church, But Administered only by those Legitimately Called

I appreciated these words of Martin Chemnitz in which he explains Luther’s teaching that Christ has given the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the Church:

Against these tyrannical opinions Luther taught from the Word of God that Christ has given and committed the keys, that is, the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments, to the whole church, not however in such a way that everyone might usurp and appropriate this ministry to himself by his own will and personal rashness, without a legitimate call, but that, after the immediate calling ceased, God sends ministers of the Word and of the sacraments through the call and choosing of the church, if it is done according to the command of His Word, so that the highest power of the Word and of the sacraments is with God; then, that the ministry belongs to the church, so that God calls, chooses, and sends ministers through it. Thirdly, then, it is with those who are legitimately chosen and called by God through the church, therefore with the ministers to whom the use or administration of the ministry of the Word and the sacraments has been committed.

It is interesting to me that Chemnitz equates the office of the keys and the ministry of the Word and the sacraments with those words, “that is.” So often they are spoken of as though they are something different. Chemnitz speaks of no “public” vs. “private” administration, as in, “Pastors are called to exercise the keys publicly, but all Christians use them privately in their vocations.” The ministry of the Word and sacraments is carried out only by those who are legitimately called through the Church. And yet, Chemnitz affirms (as do our Confessions) that the keys have been given to the whole Church. He speaks not of an individual possession, but a collective possession. The keys belong to the whole Church, through which God calls and chooses ministers to use and administer.

Chemnitz further explains:

With this distinction, which is true and plain, Luther meant to restrain the arrogance of the priests who were puffed up by the opinion that they alone possessed all power with respect to the Word and sacraments, so that the sacraments were valid on account of the imprinting on them some kind of character from ordination…This is also the reason why they wanted to quote and condemn certain mutilated and falsified words from that disputation of Luther’s in this canon. (Examination of the Council of Trent, vol. 2, pp. 96-97.)


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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One Response to Keys are Given to the Church, But Administered only by those Legitimately Called

  1. Carl Vehse says:

    Chemnitz speaks of no “public” vs. “private” administration

    Oh, but he does, including in Examen concilii Tridentini (Secunda Pars, Sectio I, 1.):

    Sunt quidem omnes Christiani Sacerdotes, 1. Petr. 2, 2. Apoc. 1 eo quod spirituales hostias Deo offerant: quisque etiam domi suae, verbum Dei docere potest, et debet. Deut. 6, 1. Cor. 14. Non tamen quivis Christianus , publicum verbi et Sacramentorum ministerium sibi sumere et arrogare debet. Non enim omnes sunt Apostoli non omnes Doctores, 1. Cor. 12 sed qui peculiari et legitima vocatione a Deo ad hoc ministerium segregati sunt, Actor. 13, Jer. 23. Rom. 10 idque fit vel immediate, vel mediate. Et quae sit legitima ratio vocationis, quae fit voce Ecclesiae, Paulus 1. Tim. 3 et Tit. 1 praescripsit. Et quidem ipse Christus, immediate quosdam ad hoc ministerium vocavit: ut ostenderet, se probare eorum ministerium, qui voce Ecclesiae juxta regulam ab Apostolis praescriptam, eliguntur et vocantur: quod postea latius explicabitur. Addita vero est etiam promissio, Deum vere efficacem esse per hoc ipsum ministerium docentium Evangelium: quod ipse filius Dei, perpetua vocatione vult in Ecclesia conservare, sicut Paulus inquit Eph. 4. Ascendit, dedit dona hominibus: et ipse dedit quosdam Apostolos, quosdam Prophetas, alios Evangelistas, alios autem Pastores et Doctores, ad consummationem Sanctorum, in opus ministerii, in aedificationem corporis Christi. Ad hujus igitur ministerii usum, quod Deus instituit, et in Ecclesia conservat, deducendi sunt homines: et docendi, per hoc ministerium exhiberi nobis aeterna bona, ut quidem hoc modo Deus nos recipiat, ac a peccato et potestate Diaboli et aeterna morte nos eripiat, ac justitiam et vitam aeternam nobis rcstituat. Hoc vcro ministerium, potestatem habet divinitus concessam, 2. Cor. 10 et 13 sed illam certis officiis et limitibus circumscriptam: praedicare scilicet verbum Dei, errantes docere, peccantes corripere, segnes hortari, anxios consolari, infirmos erigere, contradicentibus resistere, falsam doctrinam taxare et damnare, vitia morum arguere, sacramenta divinitus instituta dispensare, peccata remittere et retinere, esse exemplar gregis, orare pro Ecclesia, et privatim, et publicas preces Ecclesiae praeire, pauperum curam agere, contumaces publice excommunicare, et vicissim resipiscentes recipere, et Ecclesiae reconciliare: instituere miuistros Ecclesiae, juxta Pauli praescriptum: constituere cum consensu Ecclesiae ritus servientes ministerio, qui non puguent cum verbo Dei, nec onerent conscientias, sed faciant ad ordincm, gravitatem, decorum, tranquillitatem, aedificationem, etc.

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