The Key to the Renewal of the Church Is the Office of the Keys

In a paper presented to the Central Region Pastors’ Conference of the Northern Illinois District in 1975, the Reverend Dr. Kenneth Korby urged that “the key to the renewal of the church is the Office of the Keys.” Following the lead of Pr. Wilhelm Loehe, one of the founding fathers of the Lutheran Church—Misouri Synod, Pr. Korby had in mind the active use of both the binding and the loosing keys, that is, the actual exercise of Church discipline and the lively practice of Individual Confession & Absolution. Such use of the Law and the Gospel in practice is beneficial and essential to the life of the Church on earth, both in general and in particular, as it not only sets the tone but provides the central foundation for the preaching and ministry of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus (St. Luke 24:47).

These things come to mind this week as we remember Johannes von Staupitz (8 November), Dr. Luther’s own father confessor. Dr. Luther credited Father Staupitz with teaching him to know and understand the Gospel and to focus on Christ Jesus and His gracious work of forgiveness. Indeed, in a letter to Elector John Frederick in March 1545, Dr. Luther wrote that Staupitz “has been, first of all, my father in this doctrine and he has given birth to me in Christ.” It is surely no accident or coincidence that such things were revealed, taught, and given within the context of confession and absolution. There, Father Staupitz directed Luther away from himself – away from his doubts and fears and guilt and shame – to the Lord Jesus, to His Word and gifts and promises of the Gospel.

The Office of the Keys, centered in Confession & Absolution, remains fundamental to and definitive of the Office of the Holy Ministry, and so also to the life of the Church. For the Lord has so arranged His Church and Ministry on earth for the preaching of repentance and the forgiving of sins in His Name. So, too, as Dr. Luther received and learned the Gospel from his father confessor, and as he was unwilling to let Individual Confession & Absolution to be taken away from him or from the people of God, it is vital that pastors not only hear confession and speak absolution, but that they also seek it out and avail themselves of this means of grace from their own father confessors.