Lord’s Day Thirty-One

Question 83-85

Matthew 16:13-20 provides the context for understanding the entrusting of “the keys of the Kingdom” to the church. Points to recognize – what rock is it that is the foundation of the church? However it is understood in this passage must be consistent with what is taught in 1 Corinthians 3:11 “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” and Ephesians 2:19-22 “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

The foundation is Peter’s confession, not Peter; it is that which all the apostles and prophets had in common with Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone. Jesus instructed his disciples in Matthew 16:20 not to divulge his true identity; he did not instruct them to keep Peter’s future papacy secret.

Principle of the Keys

The principle is not new in the New Testament. Old Testament regulations forbade aliens from participating in certain aspects of covenant community life. Biblical principles made a distinction between aliens and strangers, those who refused to become part of the community as distinct from non-natives who had “converted to Judaism”. Aliens or outsiders who could at times be legitimately considered enemies were barred from worship (Numbers 1:51; 3:10; 3:38) and from the Old Testament sacraments such as Passover (Exodus 12:48) while strangers who had been circumcised were permitted to worship and enjoy the Passover. Similarly, discipline for willful or presumptuous sin was carefully regulated (Numbers 15:30-31).

Need for the Keys

Keys are given by the master to the steward for use during the master’s absence or occupation with other affairs. It is the steward’s responsibility to use the keys as the master would and be faithful in exercising those responsibilities. To do otherwise is to risk consequences from the master and loss of the keys – example: a young person’s misuse of the family car, inappropriate activities (wild parties, etc.) at home while parents are away.

The master’s over-arching goal with respect to the steward’s use of the keys looks in two directions – inward and outward.

  • Inwardly

    • Sanctity and safety within

      • Purity of doctrine and worship

      • Salvation of sinners

      • Safety from the evils of men and the punishment of an offended master

  • Outwardly

    • Reputation for faithfulness and holy living without

      • Faithful to:

        • God

        • His commands

        • Each other (brothers and sisters in Christ)

      • Holiness of life in the community

        • Preservation of the master’s reputation

Goal for using the Keys

  1. Repentance from sin

    1. Initial change of mind and behavior following conversion

      • accomplished through faithful preaching

    2. Change of mind and behavior following “backsliding”

      • accomplished through the exercise of church discipline

  2. Faithful exercise of civic duties within the Kingdom

    1. encouraged by consistent Biblical instruction

      • following conversion

      • following restoration

Nature of the Keys

The keys open and shut as a door the Kingdom – opening the door to those who believe and behave, closing the door to those who reject and rebel.

Gracious preaching is characterized by both results; the Gospel opens the door to those who are truly seeking after God and his righteousness while at the same time barring entrance to those who would try to enter the Kingdom by any other than Christ and remain in it by any other than grace through faith. The same message will have the same results depending on the condition of the hearer – see Isaiah 6:9-10 and Matthew 13 10-17; also 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. We must be careful that it is the “aroma of Christ” which we are spreading; our message must be true, yet gracious; it must be firm, yet gentle. Remember: keep our eyes on the goal!

Church discipline when exercised Biblically is just that: discipline, that which makes disciples or followers, not destruction. While there are facets of discipline that are punitive, those aspects cannot overwhelm and prevent opportunities for further instruction. 1 Corinthians 5:5 “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” must be practiced in concert with 2 Corinthians 2:5-7 “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent – not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.” and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

“…it is the office of the church …to denounce upon the wicked the wrath of God and exclusion from the kingdom of Christ, and to exclude them from the church as long as they shall show themselves estranged from Christ in doctrine and life; and to receive them into the church again when they promise, and show real amendment.”

“Not sinners,. But such as are obstinate and continue impenitent are to be excommunicated.”

“Admonish him as a brother, that is as one who was a brother, and who, if he repent, must again be viewed as a brother. Those who are excommunicated are not so entirely cut off from all hope of salvation, but that they may return to repentance, and again be included in the fold of Christ.” Ursinus

Five important points to keep in mind:

  1. We must follow Matthew 18 and the forms of admonition in their given order.

  2. The admonition must be given in love with a desire to benefit and secure the salvation of the erring brother.

  3. Formal discipline should only occur when absolutely necessary and for grievous cause – subversion of the faith or flagrant sinfulness that endangers the safety of the church.

  4. It must be a joint and considered decision of the elders confirmed by the church, not a unilateral one by a single individual.

  5. It should be exercised so as not to knowingly cause schism or further scandal.


Ursinus’ argument in support of credo-baptism (unbelievable!) – “…John admitted none to his baptism but such as confessed their sins and repented. …Christ commands that all submit themselves first to God, according to all his commandments, before they approach any of the sacraments. (Acts 2:37; 8:37) Therefore, if thou dost not believe, it is not lawful.” “Avowed infidels, blasphemers, and such as are notoriously wicked, are not to be baptized; for none but such as believe with all their heart ought to be baptized. Hence Philip said to the Eunuch: ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may be baptized.’ Nor did John baptize any but such as confessed their sins.”


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