Churches Have Clout
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 18:18 (Holman) “I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”
We are in the midst of some of the Bible’s most informative verses about the nature of the Church, which is made tangible in this world by local churches. Verse 18 deals directly with church discipline, and shows us how extremely important a local church’s decisions are in God’s eyes.
Churches have a God-ordained responsibility to state what Heaven forbids (“bound”) and permits (“loosed”). The same authority Jesus had given to Peter (MT 16:19b) was here granted to churches, thereby proving Peter did not hold a monopoly, or have some exalted position of exclusive favoritism, resulting in a succession of followers sharing his privileged role.
When a church’s deliberations conform to the Scriptures, it has clout, awesome ethical authority. Churches may be ridiculed as paper tigers, but if we make right decisions, we bring to Earth the verdict of Heaven’s court.
What is done fairly and lovingly by a few here, confirms what a large court above is rendering. A church’s verdict does not cause Heaven’s action. We respond. We affirm decisions made in Heaven before we acted.
No preacher, priest, or local church can forgive or absolve sin. Nor can they condemn sinners to eternal wrath. We can at best warn those who won’t repent, and comfort those who will repent. “In the primitive church, absolution meant no more than a discharge from church censure” (Wesley).
If our will conforms to God’s will, a church is endorsing and enforcing what Heaven would say and do. Thus, an offender would be wise to heed the disciplinary injunctions of a church. As obnoxious as sinners may deem its declaration, it may be right. Beware flying in the face of a local church.
Matt. 18:19a “Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, . . .”
When we misunderstand, and wrongly explain, this verse, it causes God’s dear people much unnecessary heartache and disappointment. Our text, wrongly taught, can lead to anger, frustration, and giving up on God.
Our text, out of context, is a pretext. Often two believers earnestly and sincerely agree to both pray for something without it being granted.
People regularly have prayer requests denied. Don’t teach people to expect the unrealistic or what’s not promised. God does answer every request, but we can’t be sure His answer will be yes, rather than no or wait.
To prevent misunderstanding, let’s set our text in its context. “Any matter that you pray for” is given in two qualifying contexts: one, of loosing and binding (v. 18), the matter is for sure God’s will; two, of gathering in Jesus’ name (v. 20), which means they have come together to glorify and honor Him. When these conditions triangulate—two of you agree with God’s will for His glory—there is power in the granting of prayer requests.
The word translated as “agree” is a strong word. Sumphoneo means to symphonize, to blend sounds. Group praying is most powerful if offered in harmony with fellow believers who are in harmony with God’s will.
Prayer thrives best in an atmosphere of concord, mutual trust, and love. We hear little from Heaven if our lives here are filled with discord.
Christianity is social. Jesus did not found an order of hermits, but a church, a gathering of people who share much in common: love for God and each other, sinners saved by grace, feeding on the Bible, focused on the same ministry and missions. Jesus in each of us calls out to Jesus in all of us.
Wherever there is Christianity, however rudimentary it may appear to us, there is a church. Believers by instinct, due to the new birth, know to gather together in groups. We can make our Christianity solitary only if we make a conscious decision to deny our own inner sense of need to belong.
In our text, Jesus was saying we especially need and help each other when praying. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encouraged private prayer (MT 6:6), but didn’t say we are limited to secret prayer. Sometimes more is required. Jesus called us to the increased power of united praying.
In the Old Testament, God and the prophets called His people together in solemn assemblies to pray collectively for God’s blessing and forgiveness. In our text, Jesus confirmed our need to pray collectively.
Together we pray stronger prayers. One person’s fear can be bolstered by another’s confidence. A person’s selfishness can be checked by someone else pointing it out. One’s emphasis on the temporary and physical can be lifted up by another’s emphasis on the eternal and spiritual.
Praying alone can easily lead to trying to bend God’s will to ours, rather than bending ours to His. We know the same flaw is possible in united prayer, but it is less likely due to the presence of accountability.
A person we pray with can remind us we should want to receive not the answer we desire, but the answer God knows is best for us. If we pray alone, it’s easy to habitually pray only prayers of escape: from sicknesses, trials, sorrows, hard situations. A prayer partner can massage our words, and say, “Rather than escape, maybe God’s will is to work in us a miracle of acceptance for what we can’t understand, of enduring the unbearable, of wisdom to handle difficult people.” The answer must ever be His, not ours.