Jesus empowered His Church “to bind and to loose,” promising that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). His words sound more like a Boy Scout lesson on knots than profound spiritual truth. What did Jesus mean?
Jesus spoke of Church discipline, teaching that the decisions of the Church on earth reflect eternal truths. Church discipline represents just one of three tools Jesus called the “keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19). Keys lock and unlock, and the Scripture teaches that preaching, the sacraments, and Church discipline all lock and unlock the Kingdom of Heaven.
Every time a pastor preaches the Gospel, he promises life eternal to those who repent and believe. He also promises judgment and punishment to those who refuse. His preaching therefore unlocks heaven to all who believe and locks it to all who don’t. The same is true when he administers baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To those who trust Jesus, heaven’s doors stand open. To those who don’t, they swing shut. Church discipline offers the same choice. Repent and heaven opens to you. Harden your heart and it closes.
No man controls the eternal destiny of another, and the Church never twists God’s arm by its pronouncements. Rather, the Church binds and looses that which already has been bound or loosed in heaven, pronouncing in this realm the truth of that realm. Long before Jesus commanded the Church to bind and loose, the Scripture declared that repentance is necessary for salvation and hard-heartedness reaps judgment. Heaven has bound—that is, condemned—sin and rebellion, and has loosed—that is, blessed—repentance and faith. The Church employs the keys of the kingdom faithfully when it binds and looses that which heaven has already bound and loosed.
No knots needed.