What is the Truth about the Ministry of the Keys and Confession?



Christ Jesus commissioned his church to preach the gospel of salvation to all people.  But to whom specifically has he given this authority?  Who should be actively preaching his gospel?  Who should receive the gospel’s assurance of forgiveness and salvation?  Who should be denied its assurance?  What instructions does Christ give us about confessing our sins and forgiving sins?  The purpose of this lesson is to discover the answers to these questions.

1. What is the Ministry of the Keys?

Mt.16:19  (Jesus said), “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you may bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you may loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.

  1. The ministry of the keys is the authority to bind and loose sins.
  2. In the first lesson, question #10, we learned the law shows us our sins and the gospel forgives our sins.  The law is the key that binds a person’s sins to him and the gospel is the key that frees a person from his sins.

Jn.20:23  Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they have been forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.

  1. In this verse Jesus explained that the ministry of the keys is the authority to forgive a person’s sins or to not forgive a person’s sins and to retain them.
The Truth Is:

The Ministry of the Keys is the authority from Christ Jesus to forgive (loose) or to retain (bind) a person’s sins.

2. To whom has Christ given these keys?

Mt.16:15-19  He (Jesus) said to them (his disciples), “But who do you say I am?” Then answering, Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And replying, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. Now I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

  1. As the spokesman for all the disciples Peter confessed the faith they had in Jesus.  To Peter, a believer, Jesus gave the power to forgive and to retain sins.
  2. That Jesus gave the authority to forgive and to retain sins to Peter, the believer, and not to Peter, the individual, is clear from the following passages in which Jesus gave this same authority to his other disciples who also believed in him.

Mt.18:18  (Jesus said), “Truly I say to you (plural form in the Greek), whatever you (plural form) bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you (plural form) loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

Jn.20:21-23  So Jesus said to them (his disciples) again, “Peace be with you (Greek plural form).  Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” (plural form).  And after he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive (plural form) the Holy Spirit.  If you (plural form) forgive the sins of any, they have been forgiven; if you (plural form) retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

1 Pet.2:9  But you (plural form) are a CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION, in order that you (plural form) may proclaim the excellences of him who called you (plural form) out of darkness into his marvelous light.

  1. All believers in Jesus are a royal priesthood and God’s holy people, who may proclaim the excellences and powers of God who delivered them from sin and hell.
The Truth Is:

Christ Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to all who believe in him, his church of believers.  Individually each believer has the authority to use law and gospel in his personal life to forgive and to retain the sins of others.

3. Through whom does the church administer the keys publicly?

Eph.4:11,12  And he (Christ), it is he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ (the church), . . .

  1. The risen and ascended Lord Jesus gives pastors and teachers and the office of the public ministry to his church to build it up and to prepare its members for their works of service.
  2. Not every Christian serves as a pastor in the public ministry to use the keys of law and gospel for the church.  Only a few do.  The following passages tell us how certain Christians do become pastors in the church.

Acts 13:1-3  Now there were at the church that was in Antioch prophets and teachers: not only Barnabas and Simeon who was called Niger, but also Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen – a childhood companion of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were serving the Lord and fasting the Holy Spirit said, “Now then set aside for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, after they fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

  1. Through the church the Holy Spirit calls men to serve in the ministry as pastors to do the work that he has prepared for them.  They then serve as ministers in the church to complete the work set before them.
  2. Since the Holy Spirit calls these men through the church, the call given to them is a divine call from God himself, through which he makes known the men he has chosen to serve in the public ministry in behalf of the church.

Acts 20:28  Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased by means of his own blood.

  1. The Holy Spirit makes the men overseers, or pastors, of the church.  The word pastor means shepherd.  It is in this capacity that they serve the church of God.

Tit.1:5 & Acts 14:23  For this reason I left you in Crete, that you may set in order the things that remain undone and put elders in charge in every city, as I directed you, . . . Now after they elected with a show of hands elders for them in every church. . .

  1. Through the elections of the churches the Holy Spirit calls men to serve as their pastors.

Heb.5:4  And no one takes this honor to himself, but is called by God, just as Aaron was also.

  1. Like the high priests of the Old Testament, no man takes the office of the ministry upon himself.  He must be called by God to serve in this office.

1 Cor.4:1  Let a man look upon us in this manner as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

  1. The men whom the Holy Spirit calls to be pastors should be looked upon as servants and ministers of Christ.

2 Cor.5:20  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us. We beg you in Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

  1. The pastors serve as Christ’s ambassadors who speak in his behalf.  When they pronounce God’s Word and the forgiveness of sins to their congregations, it is the same as Christ himself proclaiming those messages to the congregations.

1 Cor.14:40  Let all things be done decently and in an orderly manner.

  1. To insure the preaching and administering of the sacraments are done in a decent, orderly fashion without chaotic confusion, the church calls pastors to administer the keys for it.
The Truth Is:

The church administers the keys publicly through pastors, or ministers:
1. For Christ has given pastors and the office of the ministry to the church.
2. For the Holy Spirit has called them to serve the church as pastors.  This is known as a divine call.
3. They are regarded as servants and ministers of Christ who speak in his behalf, for which reason we should believe the Word they preach as though Christ himself proclaimed it.
4. They are called to also serve in behalf of all the believers within their congregations, so that all things may be done decently and in order.

4. May women serve as pastors?

1 Cor.14:33-37  As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silent in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak; but let them subject themselves, just as the law also says. And if they wish to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you the word of God went out? Or has it come to you only? If someone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I am writing to you are the Lord’s command.

  1. Women are not permitted to speak publicly in the church.  They are to remain silent.  Thus they cannot serve as pastors in the church, nor can they serve in the governmental bodies of the church, such as the church council, elders, trustees, or on the boards for stewardship, education, and evangelism.
  2. This was the practice within all congregations, not just within the congregation at Corinth.  This is, therefore, the practice of the whole Christian church.
  3. This practice was not just a custom at the time of Paul, nor had he made the policy himself.  This was the command of the Lord.  Being the Lord’s command, this practice is applicable to the church of all ages.  It should be remembered that this letter of Paul, as all his other letters too, are called “Scripture” in 2 Peter 3:15,16.  These instructions regarding women speaking publicly in the church, then, are God’s Word and were written by his authority.

1 Tim.2:11-13  Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority, over a man, but to remain silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

  1. Following the Lord’s command, a woman is not permitted to teach or exercise authority over a man.  It is this situation of women teaching or exercising authority over men which is not permitted.
  2. As evidence of the correctness of this instruction, Paul pointed to the order of creation.  Adam, the male, was first created and given the leadership role, not Eve.  Reversing the order would be contrary to the order God established and willed.

1 Pet.2:5  . . . you yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

  1. Christians, men and women alike, are built up in their faith to offer spiritual sacrifices to God.  While women cannot speak publicly and exercise authority over men in the church, it is absurd to conclude that this prohibits women from joining the congregation in praising the Lord, singing, praying, and participating in the Bible studies.  In their relationship with God in his kingdom of grace the women are equal with the men, being co-heirs of his grace and salvation, see 1 Peter 3:7.

1 Cor.11:5  But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head.

  1. In Corinth the women’s wearing a veil expressed their submission to the men.  If a wife or daughter appeared in public without her veil, she disgraced the man who was her head, namely her husband or her father.
  2. This verse reveals that while the women were in submission to the men in the church, they did pray in the church and were prophetesses whose services were performed in such a way that did not violate the headship of the men.

Tit.2:3-5  Similarly older women are to be. . . teaching what is good, in order that they may encourage the young women. . .

  1. One instance where women can speak publicly and teach is training other women.

Acts 16:1; 2 Tim.1:5, 3:15  Then he (Paul) came to Derbe and to Lystra. And behold, there was a certain disciple there by the name of Timothy, a son of a believing Jewish woman and a Greek father, . . . I have had the remembrance of the sincere faith in you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and I am convinced that also dwells in you. . . And that from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

  1. Pastor Timothy learned the Scriptures first from his mother and grandmother and was brought to faith through their teaching him.  Women can be active teaching the children.

Acts 18:26  And he (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

  1. Priscilla was an evangelist with her husband, who proclaimed the message of Jesus.  The great commission to preach the gospel to every creature applies also to the women in the church.  They too can serve as evangelists who bring the gospel of Jesus to others, as did Anna, see Luke 2:36-38, and the woman at the well in Samaria, see John 4:28-30 & 39-42.

Acts 9:36  Now there was in Joppa a certain female disciple by the name of Tabitha, which, when it is translated, is called Dorcas. She was abounding in kind deeds and was continually making charitable gifts.

1. Like Dorcas, women can perform charitable acts of service that are invaluable.

The Truth Is:

1. Women are not permitted to speak publicly in the church to teach or to exercise authority over the men, which means they cannot serve as pastors or in the governing bodies of the church.
2. Women are certainly to participate in the worship services and the study of God’s Word with the rest of the congregation.
3. Women may serve their Lord and church in many ways, such as in teaching other women, teaching the children, sharing the Word of God with others as evangelists, and performing charitable acts of service.

5. In administering the keys whose sins should be forgiven and whose sins should be retained?

Lk.18:9-14  Then he also told this parable to some who put their confidence in themselves that they were righteous and despised the rest. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying these things to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week. I give one tenth of all that I acquire.’ But the tax-collector stood at a distance, not wanting to even lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

  1. The sins of the self-righteous and impenitent are not forgiven but are retained.  The sins of the penitent are forgiven.

2 Sam.12:7,13  Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”. . . And David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord has also taken away your sin. You will not die.”

  1. When David did not confess his sin, he was told he was guilty.  His sin was retained.  As soon as he confessed his sin, he was assured his sin was forgiven and that he would not be punished by God.

1 Jn.1:8-10  If we say that we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous -- he forgives our sins and purifies us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

  1. The penitent who confess and admit their sins are forgiven; the impenitent who deny their sins and claim not to have sinned are not forgiven.

Jn.3:18  He who believes in him (Jesus, the Son of God) is not condemned; but he who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.

  1. The unbelievers who do not believe in Jesus do not have their sins forgiven; they are condemned.

Acts 16:31  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.

  1. The believers in Jesus have their sins forgiven and are saved from hell.
The Truth Is:

The sins of the self-righteous, impenitent, and unbelievers are retained.  The sins of penitent believers in Jesus Christ are forgiven.

6. What is the truth about church discipline and excommunication?

Mt.18:15-17  Now if your brother sins against you, go, correct him when you and him are alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two others with you, so that ‘BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY MATTER MAY BE ESTABLISHED.’ But if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. Then if he also refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you just as the heathen and the tax collector.

  1. The first step of church discipline consists of the Christian who is aware of another Christian’s sin going and talking to him privately about it.  He does not report it to others, like the pastor, nor gossip about it.  With gentleness, see Galatians 6:1, he shows the erring brother his sin from the Word of God and urges him to repent and to trust in Christ for forgiveness.
  2. The second step of church discipline consists of the Christian taking one or two other Christians along with him to talk to the erring brother who had refused to listen before.  Together they admonish him with loving gentleness to repent of his sin.  In the process the additional witnesses can see for themselves the erring brother is guilty of his sin and verify the matter if he again refuses to listen.
  3. The third step of church discipline consists of taking the matter of the erring brother’s sin to the church.  The erring brother is invited to attend the voters meeting so the men of the church can point out his sin to him from the Word of God and urge him to repent.  If he refuses to listen to the church, the church must excommunicate him for his sinful impenitence and remove him from its membership rolls.

1 Cor.5:5  Hand such a man as this over to Satan for the destruction of the sinful nature, in order that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

  1. Excommunication declares the impenitent sinner has removed himself from the kingdom of God by his sin and that he belongs to Satan.
  2. The motivation behind excommunication is love.  In love the impenitent sinner is excommunicated in the hope that it will bring him to his spiritual senses to put off his sinful nature and repent, so his soul will be saved when Christ comes in judgment.  Excommunication is the congregation’s final manner of showing him that his sin has removed him from the true invisible church and that he stands lost and condemned with a need to repent and to seek God’s merciful forgiveness in Christ.

1 Cor.5:6,7  Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old leaven, in order that you may be a new batch of dough, . . .

  1. Under the Old Testament Ceremonial Law it was a sin during the celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover for the Jews to have yeast in their homes.  All yeast had to be removed from their homes or they would be defiled by the sin.
  2. Leaven, or yeast, is here a figure of speech for sin.  As yeast works through a whole batch of dough, so a sin will work its way through a whole congregation.  Just as yeast had to be removed from the homes of the Jews, so sin must be removed from the church.
  3. Excommunication, which removes the erring brother and his sin, prevents the whole congregation from becoming infected with that same sin.

Mt.18:18  Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.

  1. An excommunication that binds a sin is valid before God in heaven, as if Christ himself had bound the sin.

2 Cor.2:6-8  Sufficient for such a man is this punishment that was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you ought to rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow this man be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. For this reason I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.

  1. The Corinthians had handed the sinful man referred to above in 1 Corinthians 5:5 over to Satan and had excommunicated him.  The excommunication led to the man’s repenting of his sin.  The Corinthians, however, refused to accept him back into the church.  Paul, therefore, wrote these verses to them.
  2. When a sinner repents after he has been excommunicated, the congregation is to welcome him back, assuring him of God’s forgiveness and of their love for him.
The Truth Is:

1. There are three steps to carrying out church discipline which ends in the excommunication of the impenitent: admonishing in private, admonishing before witnesses, and admonishing by the church.
2. Excommunication is an act of love to save a soul, which informs the impenitent sinner he has fallen from grace and stands condemned if he does not repent.
3. Excommunication prevents the entire congregation from becoming infected with the sin.
4. Excommunication which binds the sin of the impenitent is valid in heaven.
5. An excommunication is lifted when the person repents of his sin.  The church then assures him of God’s forgiveness and their love.

7. What does God teach us about confession and absolution?

1 Jn.1:8,9  If we say that we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous -- he forgives our sins and purifies us from all unrighteousness.

  1. We all have need to confess our sins and that we are sinners by nature.  If we should think we are without sin, we are deceived and fooling ourselves.
  2. When we confess our sins, we receive the Lord’s full forgiveness and are cleansed from all our sins.

Ps.19:12  Who can discern his errors? Pardon my sins of ignorance.

  1. In addition to the sins we know and feel in our hearts, we are guilty of sins we are unaware of.  These sins of ignorance we will also include in our confession of sins and pray for the Lord’s forgiveness of them.

Lk.11:4  Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who sins against us.

  1. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins.  Such a prayer for forgiveness is at the same time a confession that we have sins that need God’s forgiveness.

2 Sam.12:13  And David said to Nathan (God's prophet), “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord has also taken away your sin. You will not die.”

  1. We can confess our sins privately to our pastor to receive the assurance and comfort that God has forgiven our sins.

Js.5:16  Therefore confess your sins to one another. . .

  1. When we have wronged someone, we should confess our sin to that person to be reconciled to him and forgiven.

Mt.5:23,24  Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there in front of the altar and first go, be reconciled to your brother, and thereafter come, present your offering.

  1. Before confessing our sin to God and seeking his reconciliation, we should confess our sin to the person we have wronged and become reconciled to him.
The Truth Is:

1. We all have need to confess our sins to God, for we are sinful by nature and guilty of many sins against him, even sins of which we are ignorant.
2. When we confess our sins, we are assured by the gospel that our sins are forgiven.  This is called absolution.
3. Besides confessing our sins to God, we may confess our sins to our pastor to be assured of God’s forgiveness.  We should confess our sins to those we have wronged to be reconciled to them.

Review Questions

1. With what key does the church retain or bind sins and close the door of heaven?
2. With what key does the church forgive sins and open the door of heaven?
3. Which of the following statements are correct?

 a. The keys were given only to Christ’s ministers.
 b. The keys were given to the whole Christian church on earth.
 c. The keys were given to each individual believer.
 d. The church administers the keys publicly through its called pastors.
 e. Any Christian can administer the keys publicly for the church.
 f. A Christian man can begin to serve as a pastor when he feels he has the inner call.
 g. A Christian man can begin to serve as a pastor only when he has received a call to  do so from a Christian congregation.
 h. The Holy Spirit calls men into the ministry.
 i. Pastors are ministers of Christ who serve the Lord.
 j. Pastors are servants of the church.
 k. Only God can forgive sins.
 l. The Christian church can forgive sins.
 m. Pastors can forgive sins.
 n. Individual believers can forgive sins.

4. Many denominations ordain women into the public ministry.  They claim this practice is justified because the Bible is not the inspired Word of God and because Paul’s instructions applied only to the church of his day and to a situation unique to ancient Corinth.  Evaluate their practice and their reasons for it based on what you have learned from the Bible.  What passages can you cite to verify your answer?
5. In what ways may women actively serve their Lord and fellow Christians in the church?
6. Fill in the blanks.  The church is to forgive the sins of the _____________________, and to retain the sins of the _____________________.
7. What are the three steps of church discipline?


8. Which of the following statements are correct?

a. The church excommunicates impenitent sinners because God told it to do so.
b. Whatever the sin, impenitence is the cause for excommunicating the sinner.
c. Love for the sinner is the motivation for excommunicating him.
d. Excommunication, or the threat of it, is a club the church can use to compel its  members to do what it wants.
e. An excommunication that was improperly carried out still locks the door of heaven to the person who was excommunicated, and he is left to the mercy of the church to  change its decision.
f. An impenitent sinner is excommunicated to keep other Christians from committing the same sin.
g. Once a person is excommunicated he can never regain membership in the church.

9. Must we confess each sin we are guilty of before we can obtain forgiveness for it?
10. What services can your pastor provide to you?