Taking the Keys: H.C. Lord's Day 31

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 31

Q 83. What are the keys of the kingdom? 
A 83. The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both of them open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.

Q 84. How does preaching the holy gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven? 
A 84. 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 Christ’s merit, 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 wrath 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.

Q 85. How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline? 
A 85. According to the command of Christ: Those who, though called Christians, profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives, and who after repeated personal and loving admonitions, refuse to abandon their errors and evil ways, and who after being reported to the church, that is, to those ordained by the church for that purpose, fail to respond also to the church’s admonitions—such persons the church excludes from the Christian community by withholding the sacraments from them, and God also 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.

The language “keys to the Kingdom” is very foreign to us.  We don’t often use it.  Rarely do we talk about the Kingdom “being opened” or “being closed” to people, especially in a culture where we don’t want to offend or turn people off to “church” or the Gospel.  However, in practice, we see this happen in our worship services all of the time.

Scripture says that the “Kingdom” is opened when the preaching of the Gospel is present.  In fact, this is part of the Great Commission of Christ’s followers, to “preach the Gospel to every creature.”  We are called to be heralds of the “Good News,” ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  When we “preach” this Good News, whether it be in church on Sundays, or in conversations or actions throughout our daily lives, we are opening the gates of the Kingdom and welcoming others in.

Sadly, the preaching of the Gospel, the very thing that makes us distinct as Christians in the world, is not something that is always happening in churches anymore.  The very news that Christ came to this earth, died in the place of sinners, and offers salvation by grace through faith has been obstructed by moralistic teachings and alternative theologies.  The “good news” has been transformed into a social agenda, even a political movement that has very little to do with the Gospel message.

Granted, some of these things are quite Biblical.  God does call His people to stand against oppression.  He also calls us to serve others, feeding the hungry and caring for the poor.  Scripture encourages us to turn away from things like racism, sexism, and any other manner of judgmentalism that divides people and excludes them from God’s love and knowing their true identity in Christ.  However, these are the effects of lives transformed by the Holy Spirit in response to the Gospel message; they are not themselves the Gospel.

While they are important things for Christians to talk about, they do not necessarily “open up” the Kingdom.  Without the Gospel at their center, and the understanding (and acceptance) of Salvation in Jesus Christ by God’s grace through faith, these calls to action become nothing more than works righteousness and self-motivated pursuits.  Even the best of works, without the cleansing of Jesus Christ, is nothing more than ashes and filthy rags in the eyes of God.  We NEED the Gospel; we NEED a Savior.  We NEED JESUS.

Similarly, the Catechism talks about discipline.  This too has become an unpopular subject in churches and is rarely practiced anymore.  Again, the pushback has come because of a wrong focus on things and a desire not to offend or elicit controversy.  Yet discipline, in all its awkwardness, if done in the right context and with the right heart, under the authority of Christ, is not meant to be mean spirited or harsh.  Rather, its intention is also restoration, repentance, and a deeper understanding of grace.

We like grace.  We’d rather be shone it than “the rod.”  However, Scripture is very clear about discipline when it comes to parenting and when it comes to the people of God: corrections need to be made.  We don’t make them out of our own moral authority or because of some sort of self-righteous, “holier-than-thou” attitude.  Rather, we do it to teach the Gospel and thereby once again “open the Kingdom.”

“Teach the Gospel?” You might be thinking, “How does that even make sense?”

In fact, it quite simply brings us back to the beginning of the Catechism.  The section on guilt reminds us all too clearly that we are indeed guilty through sin.  We have offended God, turned our back on Him; we are His enemies through sin.  And the Gospel doesn’t sweep sin under the rug and forget about it.  The Gospel also doesn’t worry about offending people when they are wrong.  Instead, the Gospel teaches that the punishment for sin, that being death, was put on Christ rather than on us and that because Jesus bore that punishment for us, we no longer have to.

So how does discipline teach the Gospel?  When discipline is done correctly, with an emphasis on repentance and forgiveness, we are reminded of what Christ has done for us and the great love that God shows us through Him.  We, as His children, still need to be corrected, just like our own children need correction from time to time.  But this correction is done with an eye on the cross, reminding us that, even though we sin, we always find forgiveness and grace in Jesus Christ when we turn from our sin.  No matter what we’ve done, you will always find a loving Father waiting for you, His child, to run back into His arms again.



Opened and Closed Discipline: H.C. Question 85

How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline? 

Matthew 18:15-20 – “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5 – For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:11-13 – But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 – Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.

Luke 15:20-24 – So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

2 Corinthians 2:6-11 – The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.



2 Corinthians 13 – Self Examination

Read 2 Corinthians 13

Photo Credit: Unsplash.com

Photo Credit: Unsplash.com

When I argue, I like to win.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who is readily willing to admit that.  No one likes to defend themselves knowing that they are going to lose.  Sometimes, though, that means a careful examination of what I am saying to make sure that I actually have firm ground to stand on.  Whether I like it or not, sometimes I have to admit that I’m wrong… or sheepishly remove myself from the conversation.

After all of what Paul has said to them, he now encourages them to examine themselves and what they have done so that may know whether they are in the faith or not.  In doing so, he is inviting God into this as well.  Paul can make an argument and tell them what it is that they have done, or not done, that is wrong.  However, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts and who restores.  We must always be open to the work of the Spirit in our hearts and minds.

Often, this is the most difficult place for us to be physically and spiritually. It is the true place of weakness and humility, the place where we are completely vulnerable, open to accepting reproof, even discipline, but also where we find the most growth and maturing.

Paul doesn’t call the Corinthians to self-examination out of fear, but our of desire to be in the Truth and in Christ.  In that, we find true power and true freedom.  Paul encourages the church in Corinth to strive for this, not so that they would attain their own salvation, but so that they would be open to the full measure of grace that God has shown us in Jesus Christ.  When we are open to this, unity and peace abound.



1 Corinthians 9 – All Things to All People

Read 1 Corinthians 9

Over the last several chapters, as Paul has been addressing specific issues, whether we realized it or not, he has been maintaining the same two themes: appropriate use of Christian freedom, and not being a hindrance to the message of the Gospel.  Now, in chapter 9, he brings it full circle.

Paul points to his own position as one that would offer him a profound amount of freedom.  In fact, understanding the full scope of his freedom could have allowed Paul the excuse to act however he wanted, say whatever he wanted, and most of all, refuse the deplorable conditions that he faced whenever he wanted.

Instead, Paul models the attitude and actions of Christ, not using his freedom for self-indulgence but “becoming all things to all people” in order that the message of the Gospel may advance.  This doesn’t mean that Paul subjected himself to their rules, though he wasn’t under the law, but he respected them for the sake of the spread of the Gospel.

Now, this may sound simple on paper, but Paul points out that it isn’t.  This posture of service and self-denial is not one that comes naturally to anyone.  It takes training and self-discipline far beyond any normal or natural behavior that we may exhibit.

I often think of the mission trips that I have been on.  Places that we went to went to extraordinary lengths to make accommodations for us middle-class kids.  We were there, in a foreign place with a foreign culture, but we were never really there… we always had water, food, and air mattresses to sleep on.  I often wonder how our creature comforts may have impacted the message of love that we came to bring.

What about your neighbors?  Does the way you act / live impact your witness to them?  If we are called to use our freedom to serve one another in love, what does that mean for how we live at home?  At work?



1 Corinthians 5 – Are you Proud?

Read 1 Corinthians 5

Paul warns his audience at the end of chapter 4 that, should the not change, he would be coming to them with a “rod of discipline.”  Here begins some of the reasoning for the need of that rod.  As we move forward here, it is important for us to recognize that Paul is covering some difficult topics, made more difficult by the current cultural trends that are taking place in the world today.  Yet, despite their difficulty, Paul is able to speak both sternly and lovingly at the same time.  This too is the posture that we, the church, should be taking, never losing sight of our continual call to love others as God has loved us.

The presence of sexual immorality in the city of Corinth was not unusual.  In fact, it was quite common.  But the presence of it, and more importantly, the acceptance of it within the church community, was completely out of line.  Paul points out that sin this extreme would not have even been accepted by those outside of the church and yet the people in there were proud.

For Him, this was a blatant abuse of the understanding of Christian Freedom and a total affront to the Gospel.  Why?  Because of the type of sin?  No.  Scripture is quite clear that no one sin is worse than another.  The issue here comes in the pride that has led to more sin rather than transformation in Christ.  Jesus’ call was to “go and sin no more,” and instead, these folks were basking in it.

One thing to note at the end here as well: Paul’s words about judgment are directly pointed toward us as Christians holding each other accountable.  This does not place us in the seat of judgment for others but instead is a call to build each other up.

**One other thing: It is important to note here the way in which Paul talks about Christian discipline.  Yes, he uses words that seem harsh: “Hand this man over to Satan…”  However, the tone of that whole statement is ultimately restorative in nature: “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”  Christian discipline within the church… and at home… should always be restorative at its very core, upholding the Truth of grace and forgiveness that Jesus Christ brings and the love that He shows to us… a love that we cannot be separated from (even by our own sinful actions), no matter what.