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John 20:23

Posted 01/13/22, by Dan Vis

The charter for the Christian church (found in Matthew 16) includes a foundational truth, a call to build structure, and a sense of invincible mission. It then gives the means by which the church would be able to carry out its work.

In particular, Jesus promises to give His church "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:19And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.). These keys have not been well understood, but they are critical to our mission. Consider for example, today's verse:

John 20:23
Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

These words were spoken by Jesus shortly after His resurrection--during His first post-crucifixion appearance to the disciples. And it was directly connected to His mission instructions. Two verses up, He tells them: "as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.). And in the preceding verse: "receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:). Clearly it has something to do with the work of the church.

The language is very similar to that used in His promise to give the keys of the kingdom to His church, where He promised: "whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.). Clearly, these verses, are describing the same keys. Keys that seem to have some important purpose.

Unfortunately, these verses have been widely distorted by the Catholic church for centuries, which used them to claim divine prerogatives for its pope and priests--prerogatives that belong only to God. Other verses refute those claims, making it quite clear we can go to Christ directly for forgiveness, without the need for some priestly intermediary. Nor does Scripture teach God has abrogated the final judgment to any individual, as if fallen man could overrule some divine verdict. No, God is still on the throne.

But how then are we to understand these verses? I believe the key is found in the one other place in the Gospels that Jesus talked about the church: Matthew 18. Here he describes the process by which believers are to resolve their differences, and preserve their unity: First, seek to work things out individually with our brother(Matthew 18:15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.). If that isn't possible, bring in a mediator or two to work out some reconciliation (Matthew 18:16But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.). And then, only as a last resort, bring it to the church and let the church as a body work out some binding resolution (Matthew 18:17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.). In this context, Jesus immediately repeats His statement about the keys of the kingdom, that our decisions here will be recognized in heaven (Matthew 18:18Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.). Put together, it just seems to suggest that the decision of the world church is authoritative.

In other words, the keys of the kingdom are this process of dialog, communication, mediation, reconciliation, resolution, and wise judgment. And everything the church does should flow from this process. Our statement of beliefs develops through careful and deliberate discussion. Policies and procedures, develop through negotiation and consensus. And ultimately, church membership itself, as well as church discipline, and tests of fellowship, are all a function of the church as a whole.

It's amazing, if you think about it--that every facet of our current church structure has been built up over time through these exact keys. That somehow millions of believers could voluntarily choose to associate together, and manage vast sums of money, resources and facilities, through a simple, free, and deliberative process. That a worldwide unity could be achieved for all who commit to working together via these keys. And all without the need for violence, force, or oppression.

It doesn't mean the church is infallible. Or even that it will always follows this very specific decision-making process. It can certainly make mistakes. But when that process is followed, Jesus is making clear, those result needs to be respected. That heaven itself recognizes our need to make decisions to preserve and protect church unity--even in difficult or confusing situations at times.

Jesus gave that authority explicitly to the church. More specifically, He gave it to the whole church--distributing it broadly, and equally to each individual. And when that authority comes together through elected representatives from all over the world, it is recognized by heaven.

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Posted by Dan Vis on 01/13/22
There is a lot of powerful lessons we can draw from the "church manual" found here in Matthew 18 Valerie. I love the careful, deliberative, wisdom of God's system, and the fairness and equality intended by it. It's true our systems sometimes fall short of God's ideal, but even then, we are to use His specified approach to correct things. It's a beautiful and amazing thing really.
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 01/13/22
Dan,

It is important to remember this fact (And when that authority comes together through elected representatives from all over the world, it is recognized by heaven). God does everything "decent and in order" so we are to do as Christ did while here on earth-obeyed the laws of man as long as they did not interfere with the Law of God. I have come to understand this more clearly in recent years. Very thoughtful post for today.


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