Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone 7.5.12
Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2012 6:00 pm
The Keys of the Kingdom
By DEON BARNES
Continuing through the Heidelberg Catechism, we come to 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 (Matt. 16:18-19, 18:18; Luke 24:46-47; John 20:21-23; 1Cor. 1:23-24).
Question 84 asks: 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. 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 (Isa. 58:1; Matt. 16:19; John 3:31-36, 8:24, 20:21-23; Acts 10:43; 2Cor. 2:15-16).
Question 85 continues: 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. Such persons, when promising and demonstrating genuine reform, are received again as members of Christ and of his church (Matt. 18:15-20; 1Cor. 5:3-5, 11-13; 2Thess. 3:14-15, Luke 15:20-24; 2Cor. 2:6-11).
A key, simply defined, is a tool used to unlock and lock access to a particular area. The keys to the kingdom are not some newly discovered mysterious code for unlocking a supernatural realm. We read often of men and women who claim they have found the “key” to heaven or to the afterlife, and such people lead many astray.
What “keys” has God given to lock and unlock the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom that exists here and now on earth with Christ sitting on the throne? As the Heidelberg Catechism states, these keys are the preaching of the gospel and the administration of church discipline.
Who holds these keys? God, as creator of the kingdom and the keys, holds ultimate authority. Christ, the king of the kingdom, is the doorway through which the kingdom is entered. God, through Christ, entrusts His church — the manifestation of His kingdom here on earth — with the keys to the kingdom. What an awesome responsibility!
The keys to the kingdom are not my keys; they are not your keys; indeed, no one person can lay claim to the keys of the kingdom. The keys belong to the Church. The Church possesses the ability to unlock and lock the kingdom of heaven.
The use of these keys must always be accompanied with fervent prayer and diligent meditation upon Scripture. When Christ speaks in Matthew 16:19 of the church “binding and loosing,” what does He mean?
First, we must understand what the church is not doing. The church is not changing the mind of God: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). The church is not making decisions for God: “Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?” (Isaiah 40:13) Rather, when the church makes decisions and those decisions agree with the revelation of God’s will in Scripture, those decisions are acknowledged in heaven as being true and binding. This is to what “binding and loosing” refers.
We see that preaching the gospel and administering church discipline — the “keys to the kingdom” — must rest completely and solely on the Word of God. Without the Word, its careful consideration, and adequate knowledge of its contents, there can be no keys to the kingdom.
The keys are only found in the Church. The opinions of your friends cannot grant you entrance into the kingdom. Your own opinions about yourself cannot grant you entrance into the kingdom. Your good deeds cannot grant you entrance into the kingdom. Christ states, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Christ is the entrance.
Seek the kingdom of heaven. Do you stand before locked gates, or have you found the gates thrown open to welcome you? The Church holds the keys!
Editor’s note: Deon Barnes serves as a ruling elder of Grace Community Church (PCA) in Troy and is a candidate for the ministry in Covenant Presbytery.
Published in The Messenger 7.5.12
Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone