The Church’s Exercise of the Keys of the Kingdom: What Sort of Authority Does the Church Have?

God has created various institutions within creation. To each one he gives particular domains of authority (e.g., parents/fathers over the home, elders the church, the government the state, etc.), and particular ways of enforcing their authority fitting to their particular type of authority.

In other words, not all institutions exercise or enforce their authority the same way. For instance, God has authorized the state to wield the sword (Rom 13). In other words, the state can coerce its citizens by threat of material punishment. The church however is a voluntary society. It doesn’t coerce; rather it persuades. People willingly believe and join, submitting to Christ’s rule.

But Christ did not leave the church without a means of exercising and enforcing its authority. Whereas he gave the state the “sword,” he gave the church the “keys of the kingdom” by which to state who is in and who is out of Christ’s kingdom (see Mt 16:18-19; 18:15-20; Jn 20:23).

The church is like an embassy of heaven that issues passports declaring who belongs to Jesus. Word (teaching, preaching) and sacrament (baptism, Lord’s Supper) are the means by which the church positively exercises this authority, persuading people to believe and obey (Word) and then marking off those who do (sacrament). And church discipline is the way the church negatively exercises this authority—declaring that one in fact is not a citizen of Christ’s kingdom.

But the church can’t make anyone believe and obey. The church doesn’t possess that sort of authority. We can only persuade (Word). And when persuasion fails and someone is unrepentant, which is characteristic of an unbeliever, we declare them so (church discipline). That’s the only authority we have; more importantly, the only authority Christ has given us, and so we dare not overstep those bounds.

Marks of a Church (Diagram)

The following is a chart that seeks to capture the logic of the following confession from Article 29 of The Belgic Confession:

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church—and no one ought to be separated from it.

Marks of a Church

Preaching the Gospel – What creates the church, a community of those who believe the gospel.

Administration of the Ordinances – What marks out and makes known the boundaries of that believing community.

  • Baptism = the initiating rite to mark off those who belong to Christ and his church.
  • The Lord’s Supper = the ongoing rite which continually marks off those who constitute the church.

Exercising Church Discipline – What maintains the proper boundaries of the church, i.e., those who demonstrate lives consistent with their profession of faith in Christ.

Jonathan Edwards on God’s Affecting Design of Corporate Worship

Jonathan Edwards on “the nature and design of the ordinances and duties, which God hath appointed, as means and expressions of true religion.

To instance in the duty of prayer: it is manifest, we are not appointed, in this duty, to declare God’s perfections, his majesty, holiness, goodness, and all-sufficiency; our own meanness, emptiness, dependence, and unworthiness, our wants and desires, in order to inform God of these things, or to incline his heart, and prevail with him to be willing to show us mercy; but rather suitably to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask. And such gestures and manner of external behaviour in the worship of God, which custom has made to be significations of humility and reverence, can be of no further use, than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.

And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.

The same thing appears in the nature and design of the sacraments, which God hath appointed. God, considering our frame, hath not only appointed that we should be told of the great things of the gospel and the redemption of Christ, and be instructed in them by his word; but also that they should be, as it were, exhibited to our view in sensible representations, the more to affect us with them.

And the impressing of divine things on the hearts and affections of men, is evidently one great end for which God has ordained, that his word delivered in the Holy Scriptures, should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And therefore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and expositions on the Scripture, and other good books of divinity; because, although these may tend, as well as preaching, to give a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men’s hearts and affections. God hath appointed a particular and lively application of his word, in the preaching of it, as a fit means to affect sinners with the importance of religion, their own misery, the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; to stir up the pure minds of the saints, quicken their affections by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance, and setting them in their proper colours…. God has appointed preaching as a means to promote in the saints joy.” (Religious Affections, I.II.9)

And if this be the case then…

“If true religion lies much in the affections, we may infer, that such means are to be desired, as have much tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the word and the administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshipping God in prayer and praises, as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means, is much to be desired. … Indeed there may be such means, as have a great tendency to stir up the passions of weak and ignorant persons, and yet have none to benefit their souls: for though they may have a tendency to excite affections, they have little or none to excite gracious affections. But, undoubtedly, if the things of religion in the means used, are treated according to their nature, and exhibited truly, so as tends to convey just apprehensions and a right judgment of them; the more they have a tendency to move the affections, the better.” (I.III.2)

 

The Church: Identity, Mission, & Cultivation

The below is a Gospel Life Course taught during May 2018 at CrossWay Community Church.

Week 1 — Introduction, Identity, & Mission
May 6th, 2018

Week 2 — Cultivation, pt. 1
May 13th, 2018

Week 3 — Cultivation, pt. 2
May 20th, 2018

Week 4 — Cultivation, pt. 3
May 27th, 2018

Understanding the Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace

This past week, at our church plant’s Thursday night gathering, we took some time to talk about the importance of the Lord’s Supper in the life of the believer and the church.

We looked at our philosophy of ministry, which says,

The ordained rites of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are faith-nourishing signs that tangibly portray Gospel realities to believers. As such, they are not to be neglected, devalued, or misused, but, rather, are to be guarded, administered conscientiously, and cherished as gracious gifts from Christ.

Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20; Acts 22:16; Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:23-27; Gal 3:27; Col 2:12; Tit 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21.

I want to follow up on that discussion here in this post.

Often times, in the more baptistic, non-denominational, believers’-church-tradition circle in which I find myself, the Lord’s Supper is seen as nothing more than a cognitive aid for rehearsing the sacrificial death of Jesus. We call this the memorial view of the Supper: the Supper is a means of remembering (hence “memorial”) the death of Christ.

Now, I don’t want to downplay the importance of simply remembering Christ’s work on our behalf. But I do want to ask, What is that “remembering” suppose to look like and involve? What does the New Testament have in mind when it talks of this “remembering.” Is it merely a recall, a cognitive exercise like running scenes from the Passion of the Christ in your head? Or is it something more like what we refer to today as “preaching the truths of the Gospel to yourself”?

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