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What is a Church? Matthew 18 Study 6



Text:  Matthew 18:17ff

What is this ‘Church’ that Jesus is talking about?  Surely at this time the church hadn’t been instituted, for this event takes place well before Pentecost, when most evangelicals will tell you that the the church was born.  BUT, the church predates Pentecost!  Ancient Israel was as much part of the church as we are.  In the Septuagint, (The Greek version of the OT) the assembling of God’s people is the ‘ecclesia – the Gk word for church – Jesus certainly knew that the people who were listening to Him would know that.  In the passage Jesus quotes the OT, in verse 15, Deuteronomy 19:15.

Deuteronomy 19:15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.

When we look at these verses we will see plenty of opportunity for proof-texting, lifting verses out of context to make them say something that fits with our own ideas, so we must be careful with this passage…. So, what are the characteristics of the ‘Church?’

1 There will be DISCIPLINEVerily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

These verses are frequently misunderstood.  What does it mean to be ‘binding and loosing.’  Who is to exercise this ‘power’ or authority, whatever it is?

This passage on binding and loosing has nothing at all to do with the charismatic notion that our words can bind the devil, or improve our milking yields, or stop satanic attacks or anything else of that nature.  And don’t forget, Satan was bound at Calvary and there’s nothing we can add to that work. This reference is about CHURCH DISCIPLINE.


There’s a passage we should consider in this context. In Matthew 16. Jesus gives Peter the ‘Keys of the Kingdom’ and that is directly connected with this idea of binding and loosing. Here’s the passage, Matthew 16:17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar–jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19And 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.

The Heidelberg Catechism deals with this head on…

H/C 83. What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven?

  1. The preaching of the holy gospel and church discipline. By these two the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and closed to unbelievers.

H/C 85. How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by church discipline?

  1. According to the command of Christ, people who call themselves Christians but show themselves to be un-christian in doctrine or life are first repeatedly admonished in a brotherly manner. If they do not give up their errors or wickedness, they are reported to the church, that is, to the elders. If they do not heed also their admonitions, they are forbidden the use of the sacraments, and they are excluded by the elders from the Christian congregation, and by God himself from the kingdom of Christ.

They are again received as members of Christ and of the church when they promise and show real amendment.

The withdrawal of Christian fellowship from a Christian living in persistent and unrepentant sin, the withdrawal of the comfort of confession of sin and forgiveness, hearing the good news of comfort in Christ, withdrawal from the sacraments that point us to Christ, so that we lose sight of him, will in effect be so detrimental to the soul that it will not only suffer spiritually on earth but in heaven.  RC Sproule, “Ultimately, there is only one sin for which a church member is excommunicated, – impenitence.  When repentance is apparent the church is to declare the sin remitted and receive the offender into fellowship again.”


2 There will be AGREEMENTAgain I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven

Is this a charter for manipulating the will of God?  For getting health or healing?   How many times does this verse get mangled to justify making God our slave, to do what we want, to confirm to our will?  If we both agree that I should get a mansion, or a new better job, or revenge on my enemies, or pay rise…  Because we both agree, will God have to bend to my desires and wishes, to conform to my will?

If that’s what we think we are sure to be disappointed.  How many times do we sit in prayer meetings and pray together, in agreement for a friend to be healed, or a loved one to be saved, or a situation to be reversed, and we don’t get the answer we want.  Instead our friend dies, our loved one hardens his heart, the situation becomes worse…  and then our charismatic brethren will tell us that the reason our prayers haven’t been answered is because of our lack of faith!

Let’s see:-

  1. a) What will we agree about? The Bible actually tells what things we are to agree on! Paul explains this to us in 1 Corinthians 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: We AGREE ON THE GOSPEL!
  • The Inspiration of the Scriptures.
  • The utter sinfulness of man, and his inability to save himself.
  • Salvation – by grace through faith alone.
  • Substitutionary atonement through the death of Christ.
  • The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
  1. b) What will we pray about? We will of course, pray as Christ taught us! Whether you consider the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer that should be included in worship, or as a model for our prayers, it insists that our prayers will include the phrase or at least the understanding that, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Every prayer is made with that underlying consideration and belief, – that ultimately what we want is subordinate to what He wants.
  2. c) What response will we get to our prayers? When we pray in this manner we must surely understand that whatever happens, God’s way is always best.

So when we pray as Christians pray, agreeing on the essentials of the faith, understanding that God’s will supersedes ours, then our prayers will surely be answered. We will be satisfied with what God in his divine providence has ordained for us.


3 There will be the PRESENCE of ChristFor where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

This is something we should be careful to be aware of.

  1. Note the QUORUM for a church. Two People!   What number of people are required to form a worshipping community of Christian believers?  Just two or three!  (Incidentally – one commentator applies this verse to the home as well – pointing out the responsibility of Christian homes to be worshipping communities too, where Christ is the head of the house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener to every conversation).
  2. Note the UNIFYING FACTOR in a church. They are gathered together in the name of Jesus.  They are CHRISTIANS, meeting together to bring honour and glory to Christ, to worship him, to proclaim his word.  They are the family of God, not a social club or a concert audience or a lodge meeting.  They are met together to honour Jesus our saviour, and him alone.
  3. Note the AUTHORITY of the church. How do we know Christ is in our midst?  Because we hear his voice, get ‘liver-shivers?’ we ‘feel or ‘sense’ His presence?   NONE OF THOSE THINGS.  We know that when we meet together in His Name he is with us, BECAUSE HE HAS TOLD US SO IN HIS WORD!  His written word is our authority to be a church. We don’t need a bishop or a pope or a denomination or a synod.  And that church can exercise church discipline, teaching and admonishing its people and ensuring correct doctrine and a humble penitent lifestyle, and so be the church that Jesus speaks about in v17.


When Jesus speaks about a church, what does he mean?  He means a group of Christians, believers, no matter how few, who meet together in the name of Jesus.  There will be a discipline about those meetings, not just a free-for-all, and because they are united in truth and submission to God’s will, when they pray together they will always be content that God knows what is best for them, and will bring His own purposes to pass.

From → Bible Study, Matthew

One Comment
  1. Raymond Stewart permalink

    Brilliant Robert and very well put

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