#19 Fourth, the Church Is Recognized by the Office of the Keys

Fourth, God’s people or holy Christians are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly.  That is, as Christ decrees in Matthew 18 [:15–20], if a Christian sins, he should be reproved; and if he does not mend his ways, he should be bound in his sin and cast out. If he does mend his ways, he should be absolved. That is the office of the keys. Now the use of the keys is twofold, public and private. There are some people with consciences so tender and despairing that even if they have not been publicly condemned, they cannot find comfort until they have been individually absolved by the pastor. On the other hand, there are also some who are so obdurate that they neither recant in their heart and want their sins forgiven individually by the pastor, nor desist from their sins. Therefore the keys must be used differently, publicly and privately. Now where you see sins forgiven or reproved in some persons, be it publicly or privately, you may know that God’s people are there. If God’s people are not there, the keys are not there either; and if the keys are not present for Christ, God’s people are not present. Christ bequeathed them as a public sign and a holy possession, whereby the Holy Spirit again sanctifies the fallen sinners redeemed by Christ’s death, and whereby the Christians confess that they are a holy people in this world under Christ. And those who refuse to be converted or sanctified again shall be cast out from this holy people, that is, bound and excluded by means of the keys, as happened to the unrepentant Antinomians.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.153)

Picture:  Beehive, A symbol of the unity of the communion of saints.

21.5 – Teaching for Lenten Preparation

“…on this day(Ash Wednesday) the Church begins a holy season of prayerful and penitential reflection.”  The season of Lent is a 40-day season in which God’s baptized people dwell confidently upon God’s Word giving attention “to the holy sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  As we study God’s Word, we examine ourselves so that with repentant hearts we may practice self-denial and put away any obstacles to God’s grace that His kingdom may come.

All of this repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is done with a specific goal in mind.  “…that we may come to Easter with glad hearts and keep the feast in sincerity and truth.”  That feast for us is the Lord’s Supper at the break of day on Easter morning.  On that sacred {Saturday} night we passover from sin and death to holiness and new life in the Resurrection of Our Lord.

Lent is nothing new to us.  Our entire Christian life is a daily drowning of the old man in our baptism that through Christ’s resurrection, we may live a new life and when our last day comes pass over from death to eternal life.

Our own Catechism acknowledges, “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training” (Sacrament of the Altar).  Though we must constantly stress that it is faith alone which makes a person worthy, we should not disdain or at least not ignore the bodily preparation or discipline.

If you do choose to fast during Lent, understand that Christians do not fast to be like Jesus or to undergo some pseudo-religious suffering or discomfort.  Christians don’t fast to give up something sinful, just so they can pick it up again later.

FASTING IS DONE AS AN AID TOWARD REMEMBERING AND MEDITATING ON OUR LORD’S PASSION, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.    We fast on Friday as a reminder that this is the day that our crucified Savior died.  We refrain from red meat as a reminder of his flesh that hung on the cross.      Prayer:  “Blessed Savior, on this day(at this hour) You hung upon the cross, stretching out Your loving arms.  Grant that all the peoples of the earth may look to You and be saved;  for Your mercy’s sake.  Amen”(Hymnal Supplement, p.30).

Collect for Lent

Merciful and everlasting God, who has not spared Your only Son, but delivered Him up for us all that He might bear our sins upon the cross, grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him that we may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.


#18 Third, the Church Is Recognized by the Holy Sacrament of the Altar

Third, God’s people, or Christian holy people, are recognized by the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly administered, believed, and received, according to Christ’s institution. This too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession left behind by Christ by which his people are sanctified so that they also exercise themselves in faith and openly confess that they are Christian, just as they do with the word and with baptism. And here too you need not be disturbed if the pope does not say mass for you, does not consecrate, anoint, or vest you with a chasuble. Indeed, you may, like a patient in bed, receive this sacrament without wearing any garb, except that
outward decency obliges you to be properly covered. Moreover, you need not ask whether you have a tonsure or are anointed. In addition, the question of whether you are male or female, young or old, need not be argued—just as little as it matters in baptism and the preached word. It is enough that you are consecrated and anointed with the sublime and holy chrism of God, with the word of God, with baptism, and also this sacrament; then you are anointed highly and gloriously enough and sufficiently vested with priestly garments.

Moreover, don’t be led astray by the question of whether the man who administers the sacrament is holy, or whether or not he has two wives.  The sacrament belongs to him who receives it, not to him who administers it, unless he also receives it. In that case he is one of those who receives it, and thus it is also given to him. Wherever you see this sacrament properly administered, there you may be assured of the presence of God’s people. For, as was said above of the word, wherever God’s word is, there the church must be; likewise, wherever baptism and the sacrament are, God’s people must be, and vice versa. No others have, give, practice, use, and confess these holy possessions save God’s people alone, even though some false and unbelieving Christians are secretly among them. They, however, do not profane the people of God because they are not known; the church, or God’s people, does not tolerate known sinners in its midst, but reproves them and also makes them holy. Or, if they refuse, it casts them out from the sanctuary by means of the ban and regards them as heathen, Matthew 18 [:17].  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.152-153)

Picture:  The left pane of the Good Shepherd window includes the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.  I-III. Love God, IV-X Love Neighbor

#17 Second, the Church Is Recognized by the Holy Sacrament of Baptism

Second, God’s people or the Christian holy people are recognized by the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance. That too is a public sign and a precious, holy possession by which God’s people are sanctified. It is the holy bath of regeneration through the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5], in which we bathe and with which we are washed of sin and death by the Holy Spirit, as in the innocent holy blood of the Lamb of God. Wherever you see this sign you may know that the church, or the holy Christian people, must surely be present, even if the pope does not baptize you or even if you know nothing of his holiness and power—just as the little children know nothing of it, although when they are grown, they are, sad to say, estranged from their baptism, as St. Peter laments in II Peter 2 [:18], “They entice with licentious passions of the flesh men who have barely escaped from those who live in error,” etc. Indeed, you should not even pay attention to who baptizes, for baptism does not belong to the baptizer, nor is it given to him, but it belongs to the baptized. It was ordained for him by God, and given to him by God, just as the word of God is not the preacher’s (except in so far as he too hears and believes it) but belongs to the disciple who hears and believes it; to him is it given.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.151)

Picture:  The right pane of the Good Shepherd window includes a picture of the Holy Bible (German: Heilige Schrift.)

#16 Where The Word of God is Believed, Professed and Lived is the True Church

Now, wherever you hear or see this word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, “a Christian holy people” must be there, even though their number is very small. For God’s word “shall not return empty,” Isaiah 55 [:11], but must have at least a fourth or a fraction of the field. And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s word. Otherwise, who would preach or hear it preached, if there were no people of God? And what could or would God’s people believe, if there were no word of God?

This is the thing that performs all miracles, effects, sustains, carries out, and does everything, exorcises all devils, like pilgrimage-devils, indulgence-devils, bull-devils, brotherhood-devils, saint-devils, mass-devils, purgatory-devils, monastery-devils, priest-devils, mob-devils, insurrection-devils, heresy-devils, all pope-devils, also Antinomian-devils, but not without raving and rampaging, as is seen in the poor men mentioned in Mark I [:23–26] and 9 [:17–29]. No, he must depart with raving and rampaging as is evidenced by Emser, Eck, Snot-nose, Schmid, Wetzel, Bumpkin, Boor, Churl, Brute, Sow, Ass, and the rest of his screamers and scribes. They all are the devil’s mouths and members, through whom he raves and rampages. But it does them no good. He must take his leave; he is unable to endure the power of the word. They themselves confess that it is God’s word and Holy Scripture, claiming, however, that one fares better with the fathers and the councils. Let them go their way. It is enough for us to know how this chief holy possession purges, sustains, nourishes, strengthens, and protects the church, as St. Augustine also says, “The church is begotten, cared for, nourished, and strengthened by the word of God.” But those who persecute and condemn it identify themselves by their own fruits. (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.150-151)

Picture: The sheaf of wheat is a symbol of the unleavened wheat bread used in the Lord’s Supper.

#15 The Word of God is the True Holy Ointment

Yet this holy possession is the true holy possession, the true ointment that anoints unto life eternal, even though you cannot have a papal crown or a bishop’s hat, but must die bare and naked, just like children (in fact, all of us), who are baptized naked and without any adornment. But we are speaking of the external word, preached orally by men like you and me, for this is what Christ left behind as an external sign, by which his church, or his Christian people in the world, should be recognized. We also speak of this external word as it is sincerely believed and openly professed before the world, as Christ says, “Every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father and his angels” [Matt. 10:32]. There are many who know it in their hearts, but will not profess it openly. Many possess it, but do not believe in it or act by it, for the number of those who believe in and act by it is small—as the parable of the seed in Matthew 13 [:4–8] says that three sections of the field receive and contain the seed, but only the fourth section, the fine and good soil, bears fruit with patience. (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.149-150)

Picture:  The Sickle Rake and Sheaf refers to Mt 13:24ff where the believers are gathered like wheat and brought into God’s barn.

#14 First, the Church Has Possession of The Holy Word of God

First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God. To be sure, not all have it in equal measure, as St. Paul says [I Cor. 3:12–14]. Some possess the word in its complete purity, others do not. Those who have the pure word are called those who “build on the foundation with gold, silver, and precious stones”; those who do not have it in its purity are the ones who “build on the foundation with wood, hay, and straw,” and yet will be saved through fire. More than enough was said about this above. This is the principal item, and the holiest of holy possessions,385 by reason of which the Christian people are called holy; for God’s word is holy and sanctifies everything it touches; it is indeed the very holiness of God, Romans 1 [:16], “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith,” and I Timothy 4 [:5], “Everything is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” For the Holy Spirit himself administers it and anoints or sanctifies the Christian church with it rather than with the pope’s chrism, with which he anoints or consecrates fingers, garb, cloaks, chalices, and stones. These objects will never teach one to love God, to believe, to praise, to be pious. They may adorn the bag of maggots, but afterward they fall apart and decay with the chrism and whatever holiness it contains, and with the bag of maggots itself. (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.148-149)

Picture:  The Alpha and the Omega are from Revelation

#13-Heathen Enlightened by the Gospel

That the wise men came to Jerusalem and inquired after the newborn king signifies nothing else than that the heathen were enlightened through the Gospel, came into the Christian church and sought Christ. For Jerusalem is a figure of the Christian church, into which God’s people are gathered, which in German may be called, vision of peace, because in the Christian church peace is seen, that is, when all have a good conscience, and peaceful confidence of heart, who, being in the Christian church and being true Christians, have forgiveness of sins through the grace of God. 133. Now in this peaceful place, Herod the devourer of men, would reign at all times; for all the doctrines and works of men, have in them this vexatious evil, that they in their very nature mislead, oppress, and destroy the true Jerusalem, ensnaring good consciences and pious hearts, teaching them to trust in themselves and in their good works, thereby causing faith to perish, peace and a good conscience to be destroyed, while the rule of Herod with its great show and clamor and faithless works, alone remains. This is what our Gospel wishes to say, that thus Christ was born and sought after at the time of Herod, in the very city of his kingdom. For evangelical truth wages its whole warfare with the false holiness of Herod, and every time it renews the strife it finds Herods, who rule the people with their doctrines and human works, and these things are so for no other reason than that the truth condemns these doings of theirs and teaches the pure grace of God instead of works and pure faith instead of law, in order to rescue the people of God from the reign of Herod, and save them for the true Jerusalem. (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #132-133, p. 371-372).

#12 Where can such a Christian Holy People (the Church) be Found?

Well then, the Children’s Creed teaches us (as was said) that a Christian holy people is to be and to remain on earth until the end of the world. This is an article of faith that cannot be terminated until that which it believes comes, as Christ promises, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” [Matt. 28:20]. But how will or how can a poor confused person tell where such Christian holy people are to be found in this world? Indeed, they are supposed to be in this life and on earth, for they of course believe that a heavenly nature and an eternal life are to come, but as yet they do not possess them. Therefore they must still be in this life and remain in this life and in this world until the end of the world. For they profess, “I believe in another life”; thereby they confess that they have not yet arrived in the other life, but believe in it, hope for it, and love it as their true fatherland and life, while they must yet remain and tarry here in exile—as we sing in the hymn about the Holy Spirit, “As homeward we journey from this exile. Lord, have mercy.” We shall now speak of this.  First, the holy Christian people are recognized by their possession of the holy word of God.  (Luther’s Works, v.41, p.147-148)

Picture:  Noah’s Ark teaches God’s salvation through water, a symbol of baptism, which saved us (1 Peter 3:18-22).

#11-The Star

123. Now, what is the “star”? It is nothing else than the new light, the oral and public preaching of the Gospel. Christ has two witnesses of his birth and kingdom; the one is the Scripture, the written Word; the other is the voice or the word preached orally. The same word Paul calls in 2 Cor. 4, 6, and Peter in 2 Pet. 1, 19, a light and lamp. 124. The Scriptures are not understood until the light is risen, for through the Gospel the prophets arose; therefore the star must first arise and shine. In the New Testament sermons must be preached orally, with living voices publicly, and that which formerly lay concealed in the letter and secret vision must be proclaimed in language to the ear. Since the New Testament is nothing else than a resurrection and revelation of the Old Testament, as Rev. 5, 9 testifies, where the Lamb of God opens the Book with its seven seals. We furthermore see that all the preaching of the apostles was nothing else than a presentation of the Scriptures upon which they built. Christ did not write his doctrines himself as Moses did, but he gave them orally, and commanded that they should be published abroad by preaching, and he did not command that they should be written. Likewise the Apostles wrote very little, except Peter, Paul, John, Matthew and a few others; from the rest we have nothing, for many do not consider the epistles of James and Jude apostolic writings. Those who have written do nothing more than direct us to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, just as the angel directed the shepherds to the manger and the swaddling clothes and the star led the wise men to Bethlehem. (Luther’s Church Postil, V. 1.1, #123-124, p. 371-372).

Picture:  The Good Shepherd Window