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.

All Scriptural Sermons Ought to Be Evangelistic (J.I. Packer)

“Insofar as the preaching at our Sunday services is scriptural, those services will of necessity be evangelistic. It is a mistake to suppose that evangelistic sermons are a special brand of sermons, having their own peculiar style and conventions; evangelistic sermons are just scriptural sermons, the sort of sermons that a man cannot help preaching if he is preaching the Bible biblically. Proper sermons seek to expound and apply what is in the Bible. But what is in the Bible is just the whole counsel of God for man’s salvation; all Scripture bears witness, in one way or another, to Christ, and all biblical themes relate to him. All proper sermons, therefore, will of necessity declare Christ in some fashion and so be more or less directly evangelistic. Some sermons, of course, will aim more narrowly and exclusively at converting sinners than do others. But you cannot present the Lord Jesus Christ as the Bible presents him, as God’s answer to every problem in the sinner’s relationship with himself, and not be in effect evangelistic all the time. The Lord Jesus Christ, said Robert Bolton, is ‘offered most freely, and without exception of any person, every Sabbath, every Sermon, either in plaine, and direct terms, or implyedly, at the least.’ So it is, inevitably, wherever the Bible is preached biblically. And there is something terribly wrong in any church, or any man’s ministry, to which Bolton’s generalization does not apply.”

—J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012), pp. 62-63.

Expository Preaching (with Mike Bullmore)

What does it mean and look like faithfully to preach the Bible itself rather than use the Bible as a launchpad for our own message? In this episode, Kirk sits down with seasoned pastor Mike Bullmore to talk about what’s called “expository preaching” and why it’s so important.

Access the episode here. (Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and more.)