The Keys Given
Jesus in speaking directly to Peter
Matthew 16:19 “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then speaking again two chapters later, Christ reiterated to the disciples (where the keys are NOT mentioned):
Matthew 18:17, 18 “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The words “thee” and “ye” are distinctly different. “thee” is singular object, while “ye” is plural. When Jesus said “I will give unto thee…” (Matthew 16:19) Christ is speaking in a singular object form. The only possible conclusions then are that He either gave the keys (a metaphor showing the passing of authority) only to Peter, or that He gave them to the disciples corporately; which makes no sense by definition.
What does it mean to bind and loose?
It seems quite clear in this passage the keys were given directly to Peter (“thee”). To bind is to forbid and to loose is to allow. Simply put, that is authority regarding discerning what should be allowed and forbidden regarding evangelism. It appears Christ in this passage gave transitional, apostolic authority to Peter. This does not take away the fact Christ had established an earthly institution (i.e., the church) to carry on the evangelism (Matthew 18:18, 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 1:8), but it appears Peter was to ‘take the lead’ regarding the general activities of evangelism (i.e., The Great Commission) after Christ’s absence. If anything, this passage upholds pastoral authority.
Peter distinctively chosen
We can ascertain through certain passages as to Peter being ‘handpicked’ by the Lord.
- It appears Peter was a personal target of Satan. Why would that be? In Luke 22:31, 32 Jesus references that Satan desired to sift Peter as wheat, and that he was to “strengthen” his brethren (i.e., the other apostles, but by inference the disciples in general). Satan would have certainly recognized the leadership role Peter was to have as lead pastor of the church upon the Lord’s departure.
- In John 21:15-19 we see Jesus and Peter once again having an intimate exchange regarding what Peter must prepare to do regarding the church. Peter was to feed the flock, which is clearly the role of pastor.
- In Acts 1:15 we see that it is Peter who takes the lead regarding the events leading up to Pentecost, and on Pentecost itself.
- Regarding the role of the church evangelizing and accomplishing the task by reaching the various people groups mentioned in Acts 1:8; it was Peter who was present each time these groups (Jew, Samaritan and Gentile) received the Holy Spirit.
There is confusion among brethren today of who has authority, and what that authority is over.
Clear scriptural distinctions regarding authority are:
– Pastoral authority over local NT Churches (I Timothy 3:5; Hebrews 13:7,17; I Peter 5:1-4).
-NT Church authority over ‘false churches’ in evangelizing (Matthew 18:18; 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 1:8).
- Some take pastoral authority to an extreme: Making the office equivalent to that of an OT prophet, an aspect of reformed (covenant) theology that came out of the reformation. These individuals like power and want to be dictator. This is one reason of many, why I believe a ‘plurality of pastors’ is the scriptural norm for church leadership.
- Some take church authority to an extreme: The church has the sole authority, always usurping the pastor’s authority. Why then even have pastors? (I personally believe this is a symptom of interpreting Matthew 16:17-19 as ‘the keys’ being given directly to the church, and not Peter). A scriptural NT church only has authority over ‘false churches’ regarding the Great Commission. Nowhere, do I see authority over it’s pastors.
There is no denying the role and authority of each; especially when viewed properly as to what that authority is over.
Also, I believe part of the problem is a skewed approach to church government. Basically, is it a Congregational democracy?
No. Many think that for a church to be Congregational in form automatically makes it a democracy. That, I believe is not the case. We need to be careful in viewing the church as a democracy, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of the church. The concern isn’t with congregationalism or the idea of churches voting on major decisions, but with the fact that understanding the church as a democracy makes us think of the church as being all about the people (democracy literally means “rule of the people”), whereas we must always remember that the church belongs to Christ and is ruled by Him, and Him only. Essentially, the democratic impulse formulates a desire to shirk responsibility and be our own highest authority. For obvious reason, pastoral authority is negated since the people; i.e., the church, always have the defining rule.
Conclusions on Peter and the Church’s role
- Jesus is clearly addressing Peter directly and solely after Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Christ (verse 17).
- Jesus uses singular pronouns throughout verses 18-19, showing He is referring to a singular object noun, i.e., Peter.
- Peter was given the keys “of the kingdom” (not of the church) indicating that his authority and responsibility lied in carrying out the Great Commission, not in having authority over the local congregation (It was Jesus’ church, not Peter’s).
Peter, in this passage, is apparently Jesus’ handpicked successor to pastor the Jerusalem church. Knowing that the pastor is responsible for bringing the congregation to maturity so they can carry out the Great Commission (Ephesians 4:11, 12), and that the congregation has the same “binding and loosing” authority and responsibility ‘in the Kingdom’ as the pastor leading them does (Matthew 18:18) shows that Peter, as the 2nd pastor at Jerusalem, would simply be responsible for ensuring the church carried out the Great Commission.
It in no way implies authority over the church beyond that (except as the pastor is the under-shepherd being led by, and directly responsible to Christ as Head of the church (1 Peter 5:1ff).
The Catholic argument (typically raised by those who believe “the keys” were given the church) is weak regardless. The problem is Catholics see Peter as “the rock” upon which the church is built. Ephesians 2:20 clearly says the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the Chief Cornerstone.
That is the closest Catholic doctrine can ever get to being correct.