The Voice of Zion January 2024 - Doctrine and Life Article --
This writing is an excerpt from Miten minä uskon (How I Believe), edited by Ari-Pekka Palola and published by SRK in 2020. The writings are not attributed to a certain author since they are compiled from a variety of texts originally published in Christ is the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever: Writings on the Basics of Faith and Doctrine (LLC 2022), which was translated from the original Finnish version published in 2018.
Installment 12 of 19.
The work of Jesus continues on earth as the work of the Holy Spirit in His congregation.
Sermon of the Word
The Word and sacraments are instruments of grace. Luther mentioned the proclaimed word as the true church’s most important attribute. The Holy Spirit sanctifies the congregation with the Word. In the Word, Christ himself comes into a believer’s heart and unites the believer unto himself. According to Luther, God’s Word and God’s people are inextricably linked.
God’s Word must be distributed correctly: there must be differentiation between the law and the gospel. When the Holy Spirit distributes the Word, each person gets precisely the portion allotted to him or her. In the hearing of the Word, differentiation between the law and gospel happens in a people’s hearts.
The Lutheran church has two sacraments, baptism and communion. They have been instituted by Christ Himself. The Word of God makes water, bread, and wine a sacrament. The significance of the sacrament does not depend on the one administering it.
Baptism is based on Jesus’ Mission Command. In the mission that Jesus gave, the proclamation of the gospel and baptism were closely tied together. Baptism joins with the promise of salvation, which requires faith. The sacrament of baptism is received by faith. Faith saves without baptism, if the sacrament is not available (Matt. 3:13–17, 28:19–20; Mark 16:15–16).
In the sacrament of baptism, God calls everyone by name to be His own. In baptism God receives us into a covenant of good conscience and the Christian teachings of His congregation.
In baptism, God joins us in unity with Christ’s death and resurrection. For Christians, baptism signifies the daily death of the old person and the daily resurrection of the new person. We fulfill our baptism every day in our endeavor and in preserving a good conscience (Gal. 3:26–27; Rom. 6:3–4).
Nowadays most baptisms are infant baptisms. A child’s faith is not conscious in the same way as an adult’s faith is, but as a gift from birth the child does have faith and trust in God (Matt. 18:6; Ps. 22:11).
Baptism need not and must not be renewed. On God’s part the covenant of baptism is in effect once a person is baptized. A person who has lost faith returns through repentance into the grace covenant of baptism.
Communion is the meal in remembrance of Jesus’ death. Communion is intended for all believers, for Christ died on behalf of all and shed His blood for all (Matt. 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke. 22:19–22; 1 Cor. 11:20–34).
For the Lutheran Church, a characteristic belief is Christ’s real presence in the bread and wine. Communion is a mystery and remains as such to human reason. It is intended to strengthen weak faith.
In the words of institution there is a new covenant promise. Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine are the sign and remembrance of this promise. Because God’s promise can only be received in faith, communion is also partaken properly only in faith.
Power of the Keys
The concept of “the power of the keys” means the authority to use the keys of the kingdom of heaven. This is a duty of service because Christ did not appoint rulers in the congregation but rather servants. The power of the keys is based on Jesus’ words to the disciples (Matt. 16:19; John 20:22,23).
The keys are the authority given by God to Christendom to remit and retain people’s sins. The duty of the key of binding is to reveal to the sinner his or her sins by exhorting him or her to fear God and to penitence. The key of loosing offers God’s grace and mercy and promises life and salvation through the forgiveness of sins. The keys do not command or exhort to do any works, rather they either remit sins or retain them.
The keys are connected to God’s congregation. God works through His congregation, binding and loosing from sins.
The use of the keys has great significance in soul care. Christ did not give His keys to burden His congregation, but rather for its benefit and to aid it. Instructions for the correct use of the keys in the life of God’s congregation are given in a Bible portion called the Church Law of Christ. This Christ-given order must be followed in encountering and caring for a child of God that has fallen into sin (Matt. 18:15–18).
Especially in the case of binding it’s important to proceed according to the Christ-given order. The prerequisite for binding is that actual sins contrary to God’s Word have been committed, of which the individual does not want to repent. In cases of binding, the congregation declares that the faith of the bound individual is dead. Binding a sinner seems unloving, but its purpose is that the individual could eventually be free from sin.
General Priesthood and Special Office
All Christians are priests of the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 2:9). Each believer has an equal right to proclaim the gospel, but no one should preach publicly unless called by the congregation. The congregation cannot exist without the Word of God. Therefore, it has the right to call and appoint those to preach who are deemed suitable to serve with God’s Word.