Conferred authority or commandeered?
In examining the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to be the visible authority of Christ on earth I asked, did Jesus even intend to establish an institutional church with global authority and a governing body with one man at the head? I don’t believe there’s any Scriptural evidence that he did.
Last time I addressed the Church’s claim based on Matthew 16:18 that Jesus founded his church on the apostle Peter as the “rock.” Crucial to that claim is how they understand Jesus’ words directed at Peter in the verse following, “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.”
Catholics believe and teach that the “keys” are symbolic of a particular and supreme authority given to Peter, and consequently to each of his “successors” the popes. Now, keys can be symbolic of authority or ownership, as when the owner of a sold company hands over the keys to the buyer. But they can also be symbolic of other things, like unlocking what was hereto inaccessible, or having the answer to a puzzle or problem. In order to establish that the keys signified singular authority we should expect corroborating evidence in the Scriptures and there is none.
Peter’s role in being the first to proclaim the Gospel to the Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2) and the one whom God first directed to preach it to the Gentiles (Acts 10) can easily be seen as a fulfillment of Christ’s promise of the keys. The Gospel is the “good news” of the entrance to Heaven now unlocked because of the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, and Peter had a “key” role in revealing that to the world.
Binding and loosing
What about the second part of Matthew 16:19? Exactly what “binding” and “loosing” refer to here is debated. All I want to establish is that whatever Jesus meant by them, he wasn’t singling out Peter, or even the apostles. Because only two chapters later Jesus is speaking to his “disciples,” which probably encompassed more than the twelve, and in teaching them how to deal with a brother who sins against them says this, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 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. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”- Matthew 18:17-19
Here it seems most plausible that the binding and loosing parallel the asking in agreement, in which case it is a promise given to all followers of Christ from the Head of the church to give divine affirmation of our activities done in his name as his representatives on earth.
Some may see in the above passage evidence that works against my argument in that Jesus references “the church” as a body with some authority to correct or censure. But all this suggests is a local body of believers assembling as a group united by faith. That there were chosen leaders in each local church is clear, and they had responsibilities over their flock. But there is nothing in the New Testament implying the formation or expectation of a continuing, centralized government over all churches. When the risen Jesus spoke to the apostle John as recorded in Revelation, he gave him seven messages for “the seven churches” and none for a singular, united church.
I’m just scratching the surface here, but this is enough for one post. I’ll scratch a little deeper next time.