WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?

Who’s in charge here? If you are a member of Parker Hills, you are!

In last week’s column, I argued that the New Testament puts final earthly authority in the hands of the whole church. Ultimately, neither the elders nor a higher governing body is in charge; the members are. Although the elders have responsibility to lead and teach, the hand on the emergency brake belongs to the congregation itself. The theological term for it is “congregationalism,” and it means the assembled congregation is responsible to render judgment together on the “who” and the “what” of the gospel—that is, what the gospel is and who is rightly confessing it.

This authority vested in the congregation is recognized by heaven itself. Speaking about church discipline, Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18). When it comes to the “who” of the gospel, what the church says goes.

Jesus said something very similar about “binding and loosing” when Peter confessed his faith in Jesus’ identity as the Son of God: “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:18-19) “The keys of the kingdom” is this same God-given responsibility mentioned in Matthew 18:18—namely, the authority of the church to speak on the who and the what of the gospel.

Practically speaking, this means the members of my local church—that is, this group of believers who have mutually affirmed the genuineness of each other’s allegiance to Jesus and have recognized each other as members of this one body—these fellow church members of mine have authority from Jesus to speak for me about what the gospel is and who is rightly confessing it. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “I give you the keys of the kingdom.” It means the church isn’t just a voluntary association of Christian friends; rather, it’s the earthly embassy of the kingdom of heaven, chartered with Jesus’ own authority to speak in His name. To speak in His name for me, with me, and to me. And the same for you.