Ichabod explores the Age of Apostasy, predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, with an emphasis on UOJ, Church Growth, and Emergent Church heresies. The antidote to these poisons is trusting the efficacious Word in the Means of Grace. John 16:8. Most readers are WELS, LCMS, ELS, or ELCA. This blog also covers the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the mainline denominations.
I offer here another piece of Lutheran history on the Lutheran Church's historical understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.
Some assert that God "finished" reconciling the world to Himself 2,000 years ago, and that He justified all people at that time ("not imputing to them their sins"). Now, they say, He has entrusted the ministers of the Word with the task of announcingthat God finished reconciling the world to Himself in the past, and in this way, they say, people become "individually" or "subjectively" reconciled to God. They claim that Paul is teaching two separate things in these verses: (1) that God finished reconciling the world (i.e., all people) to Himself at the cross, and (2) that by preaching this truth, ministers of the Word enable hearers to become "subjectively" reconciled as well.
But that this is not how 2 Corinthians 5 should be understood is made clear by Martin Chemnitz's treatment of it in theExamination of the Council of Trent. He ties the reconciling of the world to the means of grace, specifically to the Ministry of the Word. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself through the preaching ministry of Christ. So also Christ is present in the authoritative preaching ministry of the apostles, still reconciling the world to Himself.
It is not as if God actually "completed" the reconciling of the world to Himself 2,000 years ago, and then gave the Apostles the ministry of telling the world that the reconciliation was completed. Instead, God even now continues His work of reconciling men to Himself through this ministry.
I sense that some who balk at this understanding do so, for one reason, because the thought of such an authoritative Office of the Holy Ministry is repulsive to them. They would rather see the Pastoral Office as simply announcing the fact that pardon has already been issued, so that the pastors are simply passing on information or communicating what was already true. They don't like the fact that God actually and personally works through the ministry of the Word to pardon sins and to effect reconciliation. But this is exactly what God says of the Office of the Holy Ministry, not that the apostles/pastors are to announce something that was already done in heaven long ago, but "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:18).
10 Now this power of forgiving sin must not be understood to have been given to the priests in such a way that God had renounced it for Himself and had simply transferred it to the priests, with the result that in absolution it is not God Himself but the priest who remits sin. For Paul expressly distinguishes between the power and efficacy of reconciliation which belongs to God, and the ministry which was given to the apostles, so that it is God who reconciles the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:19) and forgives sins (Is. 43:25), not however without means but in and through the ministry of Word and sacrament.
Ministers indeed are said to loose and remit sins on account of the keys, that is, because they have the ministry through which God reconciles the world to Himself and remits sins. Thus Paul says (2 Cor. 1:24) that although he has authority, he nevertheless does not lord it over their faith but is a servant and steward of the mysteries of Christ (1 Cor. 4:1), so that he who plants and he who waters is nothing, but He who gives the increase, namely God (1 Cor. 3:7). Nevertheless, he shows that the use of the ministry is useful and necessary, for, says he, we are co-workers, that is, assistants, whose labors God uses in the ministry, but where nevertheless all the efficacy belongs to Him. We are servants, says he, through whom you have believed. Likewise: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul treats this distinction clearest of all in 2 Cor. 5:18–20. It is God who reconciles us to Himself through Christ, not counting our sins against us. To the apostles, however, He gave the ministry of reconciliation. But how so? “He entrusted to us,” says Paul, “the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Thus this distinction honors God and gives Him the glory that properly belongs to Him; it also claims for the ministry the honor and authority it has according to the Word of God. For even as it is Christ who baptizes through the ministry and also imparts His body and blood, so also it is Christ who through the ministry absolves and remits sins.
Chemnitz, M., & Kramer, F. (1999). Vol. 2: Examination of the Council of Trent (electronic ed.) (559–560). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.