Are you a Christian? If you answered yes did you know you have a job? I don’t mean what you do for a living, I mean a job given to you by Jesus Himself. Whether you realize it or not, according to Jesus every Christian has a job to do inside the local church. When I say that your mind might immediately think of working in the nursery, teaching Sunday school, signing in a choir or on a praise team, or something to that effect. But none of these are what I’m referring to. You have a job that far exceeds all of these things in importance.
As a pastor I often hear people say things like, “I don’t feel needed. I used to serve in this one program, but now we don’t do that program anymore. I feel like I have no purpose; and to be honest, I don’t really feel connected either since I’m not serving in that ministry anymore.” I certainly sympathize with any church member that feels this way, but I can’t help but think that if we as Christians better understood the job that Jesus gave us then we wouldn’t feel this way.
So what is this job that I keep talking about? To answer that we’ll have to look at the Gospel according to Matthew.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 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.”
Ever since the first century people have been arguing about what Jesus means in Matthew 16 when He says, “on this rock I will build my church.” Some argue that it is Peter himself, others argue that it’s Peter’s confession of faith—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But an honest look at the text seems to imply both. Jesus builds His church on the rock of a right confessor and a right confession. Jesus says as much in the Gospel according to Mark. He says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). To believe in the gospel is to have the proper confession or statement of faith—to believe rightly, and to repent is to be a proper confessor, one whose life shows that he truly believes the gospel—that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And this is the rock upon which Jesus will build His church—people who repent and believe—a right confessor and a right confession.
So, those who are right confessors with the right confession, those who repent and believe in the gospel, are the rock—those who Jesus calls His church. Elsewhere we read, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). In giving Himself up He saved His church from sin, Satan, and death, and satisfied the wrath of God on their behalf. As Matthew 16 says, Jesus does the work to build His church; He saves, and the Father through the Spirit gives the confessor the right confession, as Jesus says of Peter, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Or as Jonah put it, “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9)! But, once He saves He doesn’t stop there. He gives His people a job.
Jesus says to those who are right confessors with a right confession that He will give them, “the keys of the kingdom.” Here He doesn’t literally mean physical keys; he’s using this language as a metaphor for authority. For example, a store manager has authority and along with that authority he has keys to everything within the store. So keys represent authority. After telling us this then He says what the keys are for. He says, “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.” So the keys are for binding and loosening. But what does that mean? To answer that we’ll have to jump to Matthew 18:15-20.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
In this passage Jesus uses the same language. After having gone through the steps that need to happen in order to rightly call someone to repentance who is caught up in sin, if that person still refuses to repent Jesus says to, “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” and by this He means an outsider/unbeliever. After this Jesus says again, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is the same language we see in Matthew 16, and this is intentional. Here Jesus is showing us what the keys to the kingdom are for. When Jesus says to let the unrepentant sinner be to you as an unbeliever, He’s saying this is what it means to loosen someone.
Notice He gives the final authority to the church; they get the final say in this situation, and that’s because the church (right confessors with a right confession) is whom Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom to. Whoever has the keys to the kingdom has the final authority to bind and lose on earth. So, in part, the keys to the kingdom are for loosening someone from the church. And now that we know this we can better understand what Jesus was telling us in Matthew 16, and see what the other part of the keys are.
When Jesus asked His disciples who He was, He was checking to see if they had a right confession and were true confessors. And when Peter answers correctly Jesus affirms Him. This is what it means to bind as Jesus said. To bind is to hold in, to strap down, to take into something. We bind things together, like books and the like. And to loose is to let go of, to discharge, to unbind, to send out from something. We loosen things when we separate them. The keys of the kingdom then, are for the binding in, or accepting people into the membership of the church by accessing and affirming their confession. Are they a true confessor with the right confession? Are they actively repenting and believing in the gospel? This is what is known as church membership.
And what Jesus shows in Matthew 18 is what it means to loosen, to put out a person from membership in the church because they are not living as a true confessor with a right confession. Either what they believe is off, how they are living is off, or most likely both are off; and after being confronted and called to repentance in the manner in which Jesus lays out in Matthew 18, if they still refuse to repent, the church must loosen them from their membership because they can no longer affirm the legitimacy of their confession of faith. Christians sin, but Christians also repent; and when someone refuses to repent they are not acting like a Christian. Therefore, because binding into membership is an affirmation of a person’s Christianity by the church, the church must loosen them from membership by excommunicating them for the good of their own soul, for the reputation of the church, and for the reputation of Christ, so that they and the world know that the church does not affirm their Christianity because they don’t believe or live as Christians do. The hope in doing this is to gain our brother as Christ said, to see them restored through repentance and faith. This is what is known as church discipline.
From this we can see that every Christian—no matter their gifting or whatever programs a church may or may not have—has a job given to them by Jesus Himself. And that job can only be done in the context of a local church, because only in a local body of believers can this kind of accountability happen, and likewise we know Jesus isn’t merely speaking of the church as in all Christians no matter where or when they are, because in the context here the church knows who is a part of them and who isn’t. Paul implies this same idea when he tells the church in Corinth to do church discipline on someone. He says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). For them to do this they had to know who was in the church and who was outside; they had to know who was among them.
Therefore, every Christian must be a member of a local church where they can do the job that Jesus gave them. The job they are to do is to guard the “who” and the “what” of the gospel. They are to evaluate confessors (the who) and their confessions (the what) and make sure it lines up with the gospel. When a church affirms someone’s profession of faith they are declaring that person a citizen in Christ’s kingdom, because that is what all true Christians are, citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). And if a so called confessor does not line up with the gospel, either through the way they live or what they believe, then the church must call them to repentance; and if after going through the proper steps (Matthew 18) they refuse to repent, the church has no choice but to remove them from the membership of the church. True citizens of heaven do not choose sin over Jesus; they count all things as loss for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8).
In doing this the church is not making people Christians or making them unbelievers; as Jesus teaches in Matthew 16, He builds His church—the Father gives confessors a right confession. The church merely strives to discern what God has or hasn’t already done in a person. So when Jesus says, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” we should understand that to mean, whatever we bind on earth is what has already been bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth is what has already been loosed in heaven. Just as every earthly institution makes mistakes, the church will not do this perfectly, but by God’s grace the church must pursue these things in love. But nevertheless, these two (church membership and church discipline) are the way the church uses the keys, the authority that Jesus has given them; in essence in giving the church the keys to the kingdom Jesus has given His church the authority to represent Him on earth. Therefore, meaningful church membership and church discipline are a necessity for every church striving to be Biblical and every Christian striving to be faithful, to neglect these things is to neglect our own souls and the glory of King Jesus.
This is the God given responsibility of every Christian, though this is not something every Christian can do on their own. Jesus says, “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.” This is a responsibility given to the church, the corporate assembly, a gathered body of believers, what we call the local church. After accessing confessors and their confessions—making sure what they believe and how they live lines up with the gospel—we gather together to affirm them through baptism and voting them into membership. And after these brothers and sister join the church, we seek to do them spiritual good that will help them grow in Christlikeness and stay steadfast in the faith through our relationships with them, and affirm that they are fighting sin and pursuing holiness—staying steadfast in the faith—by coming together to partake in the Lord’s table together through communion. And if they fall away from faithfulness and refuse to repent then we—together as a local church—have no choice but to do corporate church discipline, excommunicating them from the church. To excommunicate is to remove a person from the membership of a church and bar them from partaking in communion. This doesn’t mean they are not welcome at a corporate gathering, but that we would treat them as we would an unbelieving guest.
So every member has a role to play in this as the church is made up of individual members. Individual members cannot bind or lose on their own, but together they have this responsibility and privilege to do so. But that doesn’t mean that what we do as individuals scattered about and in the church gathering doesn’t matter or doesn’t play a role in all of this. As we can see in Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus has called the whole church to make disciples of all peoples. Every Christian is called to share the gospel in hopes of seeing people repent and believe and become a right confessor with a right confession. This typically happens in personal relationships. After this happens the church corporately affirms the confessor and their confession through baptizing them into the church (also prescribed by Jesus in Matthew 28), and then it’s the church together and scattered that takes on the responsibility of teaching these disciples to observe all that Jesus has commanded.
This last step takes a lifetime. And this is ultimately the job that every Christian has. Every Christian is called to make disciples. We do this by guarding the “who” and the “what” of the gospel by doing our part in making sure our churches have meaningful membership and biblical church discipline. And in so doing we do our part in helping our brothers and sisters make it to the end of this life as faithful Christians, and they do the same for us. Yes, it is God who preserves our faith, but He uses means. And one of the means He uses is the church. That’s why it takes a lifetime to make disciples.
With the responsibility of guarding the gospel the church must likewise hold their leaders accountable, meaning they must not tolerate false doctrine or sinful leadership. Paul says as much in Galatians 1:6-9. Anyone preaching a false gospel must not be tolerated; and it is the church’s job to make sure it isn’t tolerated. But in so far as their leaders are faithful they must be submitted to (Hebrews 13:17). Guarding the gospel, doing evangelism, making disciples, being discipled, holding each other accountable—seeking to fight sin and pursue holiness… These are all the job of every Christian.
Even singing plays a role in all of this. In Colossians we read, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (3:16). When we gather we come together to be equipped by our leaders to do our job (Ephesians 4), and through this equipping we are also edified. But we are not only edified by the preaching and teaching of our leaders, but also through the fellowship and song of our brothers and sisters. We come together and read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and see the Bible (through baptism and communion). And when we sing the Word of God we not only worship God in song, but we also minister to one another. Through song we preach the gospel to one another, stirring each other up to greater love and affection for Christ.
Christian, whether you serve in a ministry, help out in some program, or not, you have a job to do. You have no reason not to feel connected. You have been called by Christ to make disciples—to be an active member in a local church. Your attendance at the weekly gatherings and regular member’s meetings are of upmost importance, as is your being involved in the lives of other Christians in your church throughout the week. Your role is crucial in the life of the church, for your own good, for the good of your brothers and sisters in Christ, and for the good of the fame of Christ in the world. You have a job to do Christian, and by God’s grace you can do it.
Are you doing your job?
For further reading on this subject see What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile, Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman, Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman, and Don’t Fire Your Church Members by Jonathan Leeman.
For help in understanding the role of baptism in all of this see Jonathan Leeman’s post here https://9marks.org/article/must-baptism-precede-membership-of-course/ or Bobby Jamieson’s post here https://9marks.org/article/baptism-is-a-churchs-act/ You may also want to check out the book Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Church Membership by Bobby Jamieson
By Nick Esch