Question: Jesus said, “I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…if two of you shall agree on anything it shall be given you….” Why can’t we make this work today?
Response: The Catholic Church teaches that the “keys” were only for Peter (and his “successors,” the popes) and that the “binding and loosing” authority was for all of the apostles (including Peter) and their “successors,” the bishops et al. But what does the Bible say?
Jesus promised Peter, “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” (Mt 16:19). But He also said virtually the same thing to the rest of the apostles (18:18). Clearly the “keys” in Matthew 16 are connected with the “binding and loosing” authority given to Peter at that time, and later to all the disciples in Matthew 18. And, again, to all of the disciples after His resurrection Christ declared, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (Jn:20:23).
Surely, the gospel and sound doctrine (which all true disciples are to preach) are the “keys” to the Kingdom. Peter used these keys to unlock the Kingdom to the Jews through his sermon on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and in Acts:15:7 Peter seems to indicate that he used these keys again when he preached the gospel to the Gentiles in Cornelius’s house in Acts 10. Every Christian is a successor to the apostles, and we have the same authority they had to bind and loose. What does it mean?
The “binding and loosing” in Matthew 16 is further illustrative of “keys.” Keys are used both to lock (bind) and unlock (loose). The gospel of Jesus Christ that we preach sets free from sin (looses) those who receive it and condemns (binds) those who reject it. Furthermore, in Matthew 18, “binding and loosing” is linked with the promise, “Where two or more are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” That promise applies not to some special “prophet” or “official church hierarchy” but to all Christians.
The context and the entire tenor of Scripture make it clear that Jesus is not handing His disciples a magic power to wield as they please. He is telling them that as His representatives they are to act in His name. This is no different from His promise that “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (Jn:16:23). Invoking His name in prayer is not a magic formula whereby we receive automatic answers to our requests. His name must be stamped on our character and engraved in our hearts, not just on our lips. To ask in His name means to ask according to His will and to His glory. The same is true with “binding and loosing”—it must be in His name and through His Word.