Welcome to the Cornerstone Baptist church podcast. My name is Justin Wheeler, I am the preaching pastor for Cornerstone and today we are in week 31 of our journey through the Heidelberg Catechism. Today, I will be talking to you about questions 83-85.
This week, we are talking about the keys of the Kingdom. Last week, we read in the answer to question 82 that, “According to the instruction of Christ and His apostles, the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such people, by the official use of the keys of the kingdom, until they reform their lives.” The question had to do with whether or not unbelievers and ungodly people could come to the Lord’s Table and the answer is no! The authority to withhold the Table from such people falls to the church and something to do with the administration of the Keys of the Kingdom.
It all sounds very mysterious and important, but what does this mean? That is what we will be discussing today.
Lord’s Day Focus...
Question 83: What are the Keys of the Kingdom?
Answer: The preaching of the Holy Gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.
First of all, where does this language of the Keys of the Kingdom come from? It comes directly from Jesus and it was first discussed with the disciples as a symbolic description of the authority that Jesus was giving to the church.
Matt 16:16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The imagery here is clear. Jesus is going to build His church upon the truth that Peter confessed (You are the Christ, the Son of the living God) and Jesus is going to give authority to that church to open the doors and to close the doors. The door to the Kingdom of Heaven swings in both directions, it opens and it closes.
Now what does this have to do with Jesus’ mission? And why does He use this language?
Many ancient peoples believed that heaven and hell were closed by gates to which certain deities and angelic beings had keys. In Greek mythology Pluto kept the key to Hades. Jewish writings near the time of Jesus give God the key to the abode of the dead. In the Book of Revelation John sees Christ holding the keys of Death and Hades (Rv 1:18; see 3:7).
The words “bind” and “loose” were used by rabbis near the time of Christ to declare someone under a ban (“binding”) and relief of the ban (“loosing”). Sometimes this referred to expulsion or reinstatement at a synagogue. At other times binding and loosing indicated consignment to God’s judgment or acquittal from it. The “power of the keys” (or binding and loosing) of which Jesus speaks is a spiritual authority like that he gave the disciples in John 20:23: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Now, the Catechism understands that these keys are symbolic of two functions: the preaching of the gospel and the administration of church discipline. But how does this work?
Question 84: How does preaching the gospel open and close the Kingdom of Heaven?
Answer: According to the command of Christ: The Kingdom of Heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to all believers, each and every one, that, as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith, God, because of what Christ has done, truly forgives all their sins.
Not only is the preaching of the gospel one of the keys of the Kingdom, it is also one of the marks of a true church. Historically, the marks of a true church have been defined as: (1) the true preaching of God’s Word, (2) the right administration of the sacraments, and (3) the practice of church discipline.
It is not a coincidence that we looked at the Sacraments over the past few weeks and that we have now begun to look at the preaching of the word and discipline. These things hold together as responsibilities given to the church. We have a responsibility to preach the Word of God faithfully and when we do so our preaching will not fail to be punctuated by the clear teaching of the gospel.
Calvin stated that, “It is not to be doubted that church of God exists…wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard.” Luther made the distinction that the true preaching of the Word consisted of “the gospel being rightly taught” as by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone and in Christ Alone. He was distinguishing a Protestant understanding of the gospel from a Catholic understanding of the Gospel.
When the gospel is preached faithfully, it is a summons for all to come to Jesus in repentance and faith. All who accept Christ in true faith will receive forgiveness for all their sins. The Kingdom of Heaven is open to them. But to all the reject the gospel, who refuse to believe and repent, the Kingdom is closed.
The kingdom of heaven is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony.
Preachers, like myself, have been granted a certain authority and with that authority comes the responsibility to be bold and faithful. We must preach the gospel to all without discrimination or differentiation. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13).” But we must also preach that apart from repentance and faith no man will be saved.
Preaching the gospel is the first key and the second is church discipline.
Question 85: How is the Kingdom of Heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?
Answer: According to the command of Christ: Those who, though called Christians, profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives, and after repeated and loving counsel refuse to abandon their errors and wickedness, and after being reported to the church, that is, to its officers, fail to respond also to their admonition – such persons the officers exclude from the Christian fellowship by withholding the sacraments from them, and God himself excludes them from the kingdom of Christ.
As a church elder/pastor, there are few responsibilities that weigh more heavily on my soul than church discipline. It is a weighty responsibility and I am thankful that I do not bear its weight alone. God is good to instruct us to appoint multiple elders/pastors in every church (Titus 1:5) so that by a plurality of men these responsibilities can be undertaken.
The Practice of Church Discipline does not refer exclusively to the excommunication of wayward believers, but when viewed as a whole it refers to the careful exercise of Biblical leadership within the church. Within the context of discipline, we understand that the Word of God is to be active among us: making us more like Christ, equipping us for the work of the saints, exhorting, correcting, rebuking and training us in righteous. Discipline is aimed to restore a sinning believer, to deter sin within the body and to protect the purity of the church.
We think of church discipline in two ways: Formative and Corrective. Formative discipline takes place all the time because it involves the regular and faithful building up of the church. For us at Cornerstone, formative discipline happens in Sunday school, In Bible study and in worship. It takes place in Community groups and prayer meetings. It is the overall process of the church to disciple believers by helping them grow in Christian maturity.
But corrective discipline is a specific type of teaching. It involves correction, admonishment and rebuke. This occurs when a brother or sister is either believing or living in contradiction to the clear teachings of Christ. Jesus outlines for us the way He would have us walk through this in Matthew 18:15-20. It involves a process of seeking to reconcile the person back to faithfulness and away from error. But in some cases that repentance and reconciliation never come.
At those times, it is the responsibility of the church and her leaders to remove a person from fellowship with the body and to bar their way to the Lord’s Table. In this way the Kingdom is being closed to them. But that is not the end goal as the final line in answer 85 shows us.
Such persons, when promising and demonstrating genuine reform, are received again as members of Christ and of His church.
Genuine reform is the goal. Full restoration is what we pray for. We are called to close the doors to the kingdom in the hopes that repentance and faith will result and on that day we throw open the doors again.
Next week we will continue our study of the ordinances and I hope that you will join me again next week as we look at Lord’s Day 32 and questions 86-87.
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Thanks for listening.