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.)