Confession and Absolution
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What is the Office of the Keys?
The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.
The jingling keys on the school janitor’s belt caught the children’s attention when he passed them in the hallway. They often asked which door a specific key would open. He’d always smile and say, “One you aren’t allowed to enter.”
Keys not only open doors, but close them too. And so it is with the Office of the Keys.
When Christ gave His disciples these keys to His kingdom, He gave them the authority to forgive or retain sins, to open or close heaven (Matthew 18:18; John 20:22–23). This great responsibility of the Church passed from the apostles to churches today, exercised through the pastoral office.
God’s overflowing grace reaches out to the whole world through the spoken Word of the Gospel. Each person receives the promised forgiveness of sins personally from Christ Himself in corporate worship, private confession, Baptism, Holy Communion, the Power of the Keys, and the comfort and assurance of other Christians.
When Churches through our pastors retain sins, the goal is to restore an impenitent unbeliever. This action is not to punish, but rather to provoke repentance and faith in Christ so sinners can once more receive forgiveness and restoration in Him.
The Office of the Keys opens and closes doors, always with the goal to restore sinners through Christ, our Redeemer.
Catechism quotations are from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, copyright © 1986 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used by permission.