Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Exegetical Insight for Matthew 18:18

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

Does Matthew 18:18 teach that Jesus promised to back up the decrees of the disciples and perhaps those of their successors? Not according to Craig Keener in the Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (William D. Mounce). "The matter is not quite so simple; the actions described in heaven are future perfect passives-which could be translated 'will have already been bound in heaven...will have already been loosed in heaven.' In other words, the heavenly decree confirming the earthly one is based on a prior verdict."

The language being used here is similar to a Jewish law court where elders in the synogogues made decisons on legal issues. "Many Jewish people believed that the authority of Heaven stood behind the earthly judges when they decided cases based on a correct understanding of God's law. (This process came to be called 'binding and loosing')." By obeying God's law, the earthly court upheld what was decreed by the heavenly court (121).

This is the will of God being carried out through the church based off of what has already been done in heaven. It is a matter of the church recognizing the impenitent heart of an individual who has already been seperated from God and reflecting this in the fellowship of the church. When a person refuses to turn from their sin (even after loving confrontation), the church has the responsibility to make the reality of the sin before God clear to everyone.

What are the implications for the church's authority? Church authority must be looked at in terms of recognizing what God has already decreed and in the context of this passage, this must be done with great care! The passage does not assure us that our judgments will be infallible, but if we follow the process laid out (concerning witnesses and going to the person in private) in the will of God (see John 16 also), then the heavenly court will be reflected on earth perhaps even with supernatural action (Mtt 18:19-20 and 1 Cor 5:4-5,13) all of this was of course assuming a correct interpretation of the Scriptures (Colin Brown, Dictionary of NT Theo vol.3 p.781).

This understanding poses a challenge to those Protestant churches that deny the church has any authority. The passage is also often used by the RC and EO as part of a case for their own perspectives on church authority as well. The passage however may not be used in support of church infallibility.

33 comments:

Cypher said...

So what's your point? I take it to mean that 1) Heirarchs in Apostolic Succession do not have the right to make up any dogma they want just by virtue of their hat, and also 2) this verse isn't talking about interpretation anyway, but rather about church discipline, with the general illocution that 'people who quote this passage to grant [themselves] interpretive authority are idiots.' I also assume this is aimed more or less at Orthodoxy, since Protestants don't have Apostolic Succession and Catholics tend to use Mt 16:19 (which uses the same language, but only for Peter).

I am Orthodox, and as far as I know, we affirm point #1. Bishops in Apostolic Succession have been condemned as heretics, not to mention that whole "Great Schism" thing. Tertullian defines Apostolic Succession as applying to anyone who follows the -teachings- of the Apostles (Adv. Haer.), NOT necessarily to anyone who wears their hats--that's one reason why we have Councils, not 12 (well, now 11) (Actually, 15) Monoepiscopates.

As for point #2...remember that Heresy (teaching false doctrine) IS a sin. in order to "make the reality of the sin clear to everyone" the church condemns heresy when it occurs.In the process of doing so, they state what the false teaching was, and formally deny it and/or affirm the opposite; this is the purpose of the councils and, if I read your article correctly, means that a proper verdict by those councils is in fact in line with a "correct understanding of God's [law/revelation in this case]" and thereby sanctioned by heaven, which is exactly what we claim Apostolic Authority means. NOW, if you wanted to say that "true/false doctrine" is only ethical or whatnot in nature and has nothing to do with how many Ousias are in anything, fine...but that's a different argument, which you could not make from this passage, at least as stated.

So, in conclusion, if you were trying to nerf anybody's view of Apostolic Succession, I don't think this argument achieves this, unless maybe that someone is Catholic, in which case I suspect you picked the wrong verse, but they can speak for themselves.

Nathanael Taylor said...

Amen, Catz. I have been saying this for years!

Joe Heschmeyer said...

Catz,

I'm not as familiar with the Greek (although I've heard this argument before), but it seems to be banking an incredible amount on the notion that God is somehow trapped within a temporal and causal reality, as we are.

For example, if I take a test, I may pray afterwards that I got a good grade on it, while I'm waiting for my score. If the prayer is to be effective, it will have to have *already been* effective, which is to say that God would have had to intervened in whatever form in what we would consider anticipation of the future prayer.

All of this seems pretty directly related to the notion that God is in the eternal present, which is why Jesus is able to say, "before Abraham was born, I AM" rather than "I WAS." While to us, He's the One "who Was, and Is, and Is to Come," to Him, He just IS.

So given that, look at the context. It's talking about the final earthly adjudication for this issues being the Church, and that whatever is decided there is binding. And Matthew 18:18 and Matthew 16:19 both say that the Church's (or Peter's) verdict will be identical with God's.

Now, obviously, this is because of the activity of the Holy Ghost in protecting the Church: it isn't as though the Church can just decree some new dogma. But I don't think anyone refutes that, right?

My concern is that this focus on the future perfect-passive will lead you to conclude that the Church can bind and loosen *when* She happens to agree with God's prior verdict. That mentality undermines the verse, which suggests that there's not a second category (that is, there are no times when the Church's verdict DOESN'T agree with God's). The verse does say "whatever" or "whatsoever."

For me, the important takeaway is that an enormous power is being given to the pope and to the Church, an infallible enforcement authority in the binding/loosening (infallible, again, in the sense that it will never render a verdict opposed to God's). Trying to understand how that works related to the temporal realities occupied by a God Who is transcendent of time and space, and basing that argument off of second-hand ancient Greek grammatical structures seems like important by comparison, at least to me.

Still, I enjoy hearing your take on these things, particularly since (if memory serves) you've got some background in studying the Greek language, right?

Joe.

Robert said...

Hi,

My name is Rev Robert Wright, Editor for Christian.com, a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the entire Christian community an outlet to join together and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features like Christian TV, prayer requests, finding a church, receiving church updates and advice. We have emailed you to collaborate with you and your blog to help spread the good word of Christianity. I look forward to your response regarding this matter. Thanks!


Rev. Robert Wright
rev.robertwright@gmail.com
www.christian.com

Jnorm888 said...

What do the fathers, and nonfathers/witnesses, have to say about the passage in question? (both east and west)

And what is the Patristic consensus? (majority interpretation throughout the ages)








ICXC NIKA

Catz206 said...

Apologies for the hurried post, I've added something at the end to clarify where I was going with what I just read from my grammar book:

"What are the implications for the church's authority? Church authority must be looked at in terms of recognizing what God has already decreed and in the context of this passage, this must be done with great care! The passage does not assure us that our judgments will be infallible, but if we follow the process laid out process(concerning witnesses and going to the person in private) in the will of God (see John 16 also), then the heavenly court will be reflected on earth perhaps even with supernatural action (Mtt 18:19-20 and 1 Cor 5:4-5,13)."

Now I will address your comments.

Catz206 said...

“So what's your point?”

The passage should be viewed in its historical context and note the future perfect passive. We should understand the authority to bind and loose in terms of recognizing what has already been done and take care to do so properly. There is no assurance of infallible authority on earth here just as there wasn’t in the Jewish courts. Church members living in postmodern times might also take heed to this passage.

“this verse isn't talking about interpretation anyway, but rather about church discipline, with the general illocution that 'people who quote this passage to grant [themselves] interpretive authority are idiots.'”

Yes, this passage is about church discipline with the aim of restoring those God dearly loves. Interpretation would merely be involved in understanding the Scriptures and correctly Identifying that someone has indeed committed a sin.

“I also assume this is aimed more or less at Orthodoxy, since Protestants don't have Apostolic Succession and Catholics tend to use Mt 16:19 (which uses the same language, but only for Peter).”

This passage may be used along with Mtt 16:19 and no, it is not aimed merely at Orthodoxy although it might have implications for apostolic succession (not to say other parts of Scripture or tradition are not utilized to support this view). Protestants and Catholics might also benefit from further understanding of the passage.

“As for point #2...remember that Heresy (teaching false doctrine) IS a sin. in order to "make the reality of the sin clear to everyone" the church condemns heresy when it occurs.In the process of doing so, they state what the false teaching was, and formally deny it and/or affirm the opposite; this is the purpose of the councils and, if I read your article correctly, means that a proper verdict by those councils is in fact in line with a "correct understanding of God's [law/revelation in this case]" and thereby sanctioned by heaven,”

If a given council is in line with what God has decreed then it is sanctioned in heaven. If it is not, then it is not sanctioned in heaven (you yourselves do not see every council as equally authoritative).

“So, in conclusion, if you were trying to nerf anybody's view of Apostolic Succession, I don't think this argument achieves this, unless maybe that someone is Catholic, in which case I suspect you picked the wrong verse, but they can speak for themselves.”

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this was not a grand scheme to “nerf” your whole view of apostolic succession. It was merely something I found in my reading and decided to include here.

This verse may be helpful in discussions on apostolic succession, but if we were to launch some full scale attack on it, then no, one verse would not be selected and I would probably not try and do it single-handedly.

Catz206 said...

Joe--
I will try and read and respond to what you have said later today or in the next couple of days. I have some Mormons coming to visit and need to do a little reading.

Glad to hear from you again

Cypher said...

"I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this was not a grand scheme to “nerf” your whole view of apostolic succession"

Why would that disappoint me? My comments were based on, IF my reading of your illocution as stated was correct, THEN you didn't do a very good job of it. Since the prodosis does not apply, as demonstrated in your clarifying post, please do not take the apodosis personally.Since I agree with your clarification, consider my comment directed at anyone who would read your post with the illocution I mentioned.

Catz206 said...

Joe-

“I'm not as familiar with the Greek (although I've heard this argument before), but it seems to be banking an incredible amount on the notion that God is somehow trapped within a temporal and causal reality, as we are.”

God is however addressing people in time. If we were to throw out all notions of time as we read, then nothing would make any sense to us.

The idea being addressed here is whether this passage is referring to the church making something true by declaration or trying to conform to what was already declared. The setup looks similar to the whole discussion on biblical canonical authority.Did thechurch “assemble”or “recognize” the canon?

“For example, if I take a test, I may pray afterwards that I got a good grade on it, while I'm waiting for my score. If the prayer is to be effective, it will have to have *already been* effective, which is to say that God would have had to intervened in whatever form in what we would consider anticipation of the future prayer.”

As far as judging a person guilty or not goes…the question for us to ponder would be whether the language leads us to think God declares the person bound because of the church's decision or whether the church declares it because God has said it. This is a question concerning revelation and proclamation. The language leads us to look at the heavenly declared reality first.

“All of this seems pretty directly related to the notion that God is in the eternal present, which is why Jesus is able to say, "before Abraham was born, I AM" rather than "I WAS." While to us, He's the One "who Was, and Is, and Is to Come," to Him, He just IS.”

But people do have a place in history and this is very key. Do you think God does act within time and space?

Also, you might want to check a lengthier post on Mtt 16:19 by Nate Taylor that was created a while back.

“Still, I enjoy hearing your take on these things, particularly since (if memory serves) you've got some background in studying the Greek language, right?”

Yes I am studying Greek, but am by no means a Greek scholar yet.

Catz206 said...

JNorm-

What you are requesting would have to be a whole post (prob more than one) in and of itself. I suspect the interp of the passages evolved along with the evolution of church government and expansion. We may disagree here though.

Catz206 said...

Cypher-

“Why would that disappoint me? My comments were based on, IF my reading of your illocution as stated was correct, THEN you didn't do a very good job of it. Since the prodosis does not apply, as demonstrated in your clarifying post, please do not take the apodosis personally.Since I agree with your clarification, consider my comment directed at anyone who would read your post with the illocution I mentioned.”

Alright, happy to clarify.

MG said...

Catz--

You wrote:

"The idea being addressed here is whether this passage is referring to the church making something true by declaration or trying to conform to what was already declared. The setup looks similar to the whole discussion on biblical canonical authority.Did thechurch “assemble”or “recognize” the canon?

...the question for us to ponder would be whether the language leads us to think God declares the person bound because of the church's decision or whether the church declares it because God has said it. This is a question concerning revelation and proclamation. The language leads us to look at the heavenly declared reality first."

That's not the issue. Catholics of all sorts agree with Protestants that the Church doesn't "make it so" by its declarations. This is obvious to anyone who reads the early Christological and Trinitarian controversies. The Church didn't think it was making doctrines true when it issued decrees.

The real question is whether or not the Church's recognition of these realities is an inherently normative recognition, or whether this recognition is only normative if I agree to it. We both agree that the Church is only recognizing God's truth, not creating it. But what do you as a Protestant who denies that the Church's judgments bind consciences think the significance of the words "bind and loose" is?

Catz206 said...

MG-

“That's not the issue. Catholics of all sorts agree with Protestants that the Church doesn't "make it so" by its declarations. This is obvious to anyone who reads the early Christological and Trinitarian controversies. The Church didn't think it was making doctrines true when it issued decrees.”

I apologize if it looked like I was indicating that under an RC or EO model that the church arbitrarily made decisions and because they said it, it became so…it seems the issue is closer (like I said earlier) to the canonical discussion (the difference between assembling and recognizing). The issue gets pushed back further to: who has the authority and what kind of authority do they have?
Why is a person bound? Is it because the church has the inherent infallible authority (given by God) to do so? Or is the church primarily depending on revelation (Scripture) and trying to conform its decree to that (excluding infallibility)?

“The real question is whether or not the Church's recognition of these realities is an inherently normative recognition, or whether this recognition is only normative if I agree to it.”

This seems way off. Perhaps we are both inadvertently misrepresenting each other’s view (I will look at what I have said again and maybe altar my post if I think I have done so)? Your last statement: “only normative if I agree to it” is a Tradition 0 approach that the usual contributors to this blog reject. We think the church has authority. However we do not hold this authority to be infallible.

“We both agree that the Church is only recognizing God's truth, not creating it.”

Yes.

“But what do you as a Protestant who denies that the Church's judgments bind consciences think the significance of the words "bind and loose" is?”

Just to clarify, I think the Word of God has the power to bind consciences and the church has the responsibility to proclaim that word (sometimes through discipline). What the church proclaims is binding and authoritative as long as it conforms to God’s Word. Ultimately, God is the judge of whether or not she does so.

In the context of this passage, restoration seems to be the goal and how the church and individuals should treat one of their own who has gone astray is in view. Once we get to binding and loosing, we see that the person has refused to repent and is to be put outside of the communion of the church. If we want to see how this was to play out we can consider 1 Cor 5:4-5,13.

The binding and loosing here have to do with being in communion with the church (a question of forgiveness of sins). Forgiveness of sin is through Jesus Christ ( Eph 1:7 and Rev 1:5 [“freed” means to “loose”]).

Since this passage indicates that the church is reflecting an already declared reality, I take it that the binding and loosing refer to the church reflecting the person’s state before God. They are not reconciled before God and so they are not reconciled to His church either.

The church has the responsibility to make the heavenly reality visible on earth.

Catz206 said...

“We both agree that the Church is only recognizing God's truth, not creating it.”

I had said yes, but that is actually not true. I would think we both would acknowledge the part of recognition and deny solo creation, but I would not say that the EO "only" sees itself as recognizing God's truth.

MG said...

Catz,

Before I respond, I would like some clarification.

You wrote:

"I had said yes, but that is actually not true. I would think we both would acknowledge the part of recognition and deny solo creation, but I would not say that the EO "only" sees itself as recognizing God's truth."

When I used the word "only" I was distinguishing the idea that the Church recognizes but does not create ("only recognizes") from the idea that the Church creates (and of course recognizes). So when you say you deny that we only see our Church as recognizing the truth, what do you mean? Do you mean that according to your interpretation of our view, we see the Church as creating God's truth? Or do you mean that according to your interpretation, we see the Church as recognizing God's truth and also we consider this recognition to be normative? Or did you mean something else?

If the second view, then how is that different from the fact that you interpret Protestantism as having a normative component to its concept of church discipline?

Catz206 said...

MG-

“Before I respond, I would like some clarification.”

No problem and if you need more than can be typed feel free to give me a call.

"I had said yes, but that is actually not true. I would think we both would acknowledge the part of recognition and deny solo creation, but I would not say that the EO "only" sees itself as recognizing God's truth."

“When I used the word "only" I was distinguishing the idea that the Church recognizes but does not create ("only recognizes") from the idea that the Church creates (and of course recognizes).”

The idea of the church “assembling” (in the case of the canon) or declaring has to do with (as you said earlier) “inherent” and infallible authority. I am not trying to say that the church arbitrarily declares something and makes it so by mere declaration.

“So when you say you deny that we only see our Church as recognizing the truth, what do you mean?”

I was just saying that it is not as though we both are “only recognize[ing] God’s truth.” One sees itself as having inherent infallible authority and possibly even continuing the revelatory role. If that is so, then the given system is not “only recognizing God’s truth…” there is more involved.I was just trying to be more precise.

“Do you mean that according to your interpretation of our view, we see the Church as creating God's truth?”

I don’t think you believe your church is inventing (creating) truth by yourselves.

Does that answer your question(s)?

Catz206 said...

MG and Joe-

I will be gone to Arizona for a week starting Sunday. Feel free to respond if time permits, but just know that a response will have to wait unless one of my blog mates decide to pick up the question(s) instead.

Hope you all are well

MG said...

Catz—

Thanks for the clarification.

You wrote:

“I apologize if it looked like I was indicating that under an RC or EO model that the church arbitrarily made decisions and because they said it, it became so…it seems the issue is closer (like I said earlier) to the canonical discussion (the difference between assembling and recognizing). The issue gets pushed back further to: who has the authority and what kind of authority do they have?”

No worries; apology accepted. I don't think you were trying to deliberately misrepresent in any case.

Can you explain the difference between assembling and recognizing? It seems like an uncontroversial fact of history that the Christian Church selected and arranged books based on the fact that it claimed to recognize their inspiration. Would you disagree with this? Or would you distinguish our views according to the question of whether or not the Church’s selection/arrangement/recognition is intrinsically normative?

You wrote:

“Why is a person bound? Is it because the church has the inherent infallible authority (given by God) to do so? Or is the church primarily depending on revelation (Scripture) and trying to conform its decree to that (excluding infallibility)?”

Well, would you agree that whatever the Church binds on earth has been bound in heaven? Or would you say that sometimes the Church binds on earth something that has not been bound in heaven?

You wrote:

“This seems way off. Perhaps we are both inadvertently misrepresenting each other’s view (I will look at what I have said again and maybe altar my post if I think I have done so)? Your last statement: “only normative if I agree to it” is a Tradition 0 approach that the usual contributors to this blog reject. We think the church has authority. However we do not hold this authority to be infallible.”

I realize that you deny the tradition 0 approach. Perhaps I am misrepresenting your views in some other way, but I think it would be good to try and clarify what you mean. Here you seem to think that tradition 0 can be characterized as follows:

“The Church’s recognition cannot be normative if I do not agree to it.”

I take you to be disagreeing with this. As a consequence, you affirm the logical opposite of this statement. The logical opposite is:

“It is false that the Church’s recognition cannot be normative if I do not agree to it.”

In other words, you are affirming that:

“It is true that the Church’s recognition can be normative [even] if I do not agree to it.”

If you deny that the Church’s recognition of these realities is only normative if I agree to it, then you deny that the sole conditions for the Church’s judgment to be normative are extrinsic. If you deny that the sole conditions for the Church’s judgment to be normative are extrinsic, then you affirm that there are at least some intrinsic conditions for the Church’s judgment to be normative. So would you then agree that the Church’s recognition is intrinsically normative?

MG said...

(cont')

You wrote:

“Just to clarify, I think the Word of God has the power to bind consciences and the church has the responsibility to proclaim that word (sometimes through discipline). What the church proclaims is binding and authoritative as long as it conforms to God’s Word. Ultimately, God is the judge of whether or not she does so.”

But are there some cases where the Church binds something on earth and it is not something that has been bound in heaven?

Would you say that the binding power of the Bible is the “bind on earth” part of the proposition, or the “bound in heaven” part?

You wrote:

“In the context of this passage, restoration seems to be the goal ... They are not reconciled before God and so they are not reconciled to His church either.”

Is it God or the Church that binds, then? It seems like you are saying only God is doing the binding. What the Church does is acknowledge what appears to be a divine binding. But then what is the earthly binding that Christ speaks of?

You wrote

“The church has the responsibility to make the heavenly reality visible on earth.”

But if the infallible heavenly reality is only extrinsically and accidentally related to the earthly reality, then how is it visible on earth?

Joe Heschmeyer said...

Catz,

Sorry for the delay in following up with you. If I’m not mistaken, I think that the heart of the proposition you’re defending is right here:
I apologize if it looked like I was indicating that under an RC or EO model that the church arbitrarily made decisions and because they said it, it became so…it seems the issue is closer (like I said earlier) to the canonical discussion (the difference between assembling and recognizing). The issue gets pushed back further to: who has the authority and what kind of authority do they have?
Why is a person bound? Is it because the church has the inherent infallible authority (given by God) to do so? Or is the church primarily depending on revelation (Scripture) and trying to conform its decree to that (excluding infallibility)?

Your argument, if I’m following you, is for that last sentence – that the Church tries to conform its decree to the previously revealed Scriptures. And your support for that position is that because of the tense of the Greek in Matthew 18:18, we know that God decrees someone bound or loosed first, and the Church echoes it, rather than the other way, as the English might suggest. If I’m misunderstanding you, please correct me, because that’s what I’m responding to.

If that’s right, you’re really making two arguments. The first is that Matthew 18:18 says that God acts first, and the Church echoes God’s action. The second is that if the Church is echoing God’s actions, She does so primarily by examining Scripture. The third is that if the Church is echoing God’s actions, She may fail. For example, you refer in your comment above to the Church “trying to conform its decree” without having infallibility; in your response to me you distinguish between “the church making something true by declaration” v. “trying to conform to what was already declared”; and most blatantly, you say that “What the church proclaims is binding and authoritative as long as it conforms to God’s Word. Ultimately, God is the judge of whether or not she does so.”

Regardless of the validity of your first two arguments, this third argument is false, and contrary to the plain language of Matthew 18:18 regardless of tense. It presupposes that some things declared bound are really loosed, and some things declared loosed are really bound. I’m going to leave your second argument (about Scripture as the source of revelation by which the Church makes binding/loosening judgments) to one side, because I think it’s a side issue. And I’m going to concede, for the sake of argument, your first point – that Matthew 18:18 refers to God acting and the Church responding, rather than the converse. To be clear, (a) I’m not convinced that the argument is right grammatically; and (b) even if the author is right about the grammar, it doesn’t mean that before-after equate to cause-effect, since God can produce an effect in the past: in my test example, the cause – praying – preceded the effect. But let’s assume that the grammatical argument is right on both counts. God declares the binding/loosening first, and the Church echoes that decree.

(continued)

Joe Heschmeyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Heschmeyer said...

(continued)

Even if that’s true, your third argument is still clearly wrong. Here’s why:
(1) Matthew 18:15-18 deals with the context of excommunication, and excommunicable offenses;
(2) Excommunication involves declaring a certain set of beliefs or behaviors incompatible with Christianity, and holding that anyone who obstinately and knowingly engages in those behaviors is outside communion with the Church;
(3) Christ promises (assuming your grammatical argument is correct) “whatever you bind on Earth already was bound on Earth; and whatever you loose on Earth already was bound in Heaven.” The promise, even understood as you have, still prevents the possibility of failure.
(4) The reason for Christ’s protection is that it’s absolutely vital that excommunication be a reliable guide. If the Church accidentally excommunicates the Christian view, She’s no longer the Deposit of True, or the Pillar of Faith, etc. She no longer has the fullness of Faith that Jesus promised the Spirit would deliver and preserve for all time. (I’ll explain this a bit more below.
(5) To take the obvious concrete example, the Council of Trent declared a number of Protestant beliefs anathema, while leading Reformers declared it was the Catholic beliefs which were in the wrong. Prior to that, the pope declared Luther excommunicated for specific non-Catholic beliefs he proclaimed.

Given this, your first argument is moot. Regardless of whether A leads to B, or B leads to A, the result is the same. It’s like arguing the proposition “it’s wet because there’s liquid on it” v. “there’s liquid on it because it’s wet.” Regardless of which formulation is more accurate, there’s no category of wet without liquid, or liquid without wetness. Likewise, the Church and the decrees of God are in 100% compliance on this issue of excommunication, and it’s as a result of the power of God working through the Church, not the Church forcing God around somehow.

[And to be clear, the Catholic understanding of the binding and loosening is that it refers to those excommunicable offenses, not the spiritual state of the individuals. If the Church declares Smith is excommunicated for Arianism, She can be mistaken that Smith is an Arian, but not that Arianism is wrong. The reason is simple: if the Church is mistaken about an individual subscribing to a particular belief, it’s easily remedied. The individual can denounce a belief in the heresy, or the Church can reverse the excommunication upon reviewing the trial. But if the Church declares Arianism wrong when it’s not, the Church is damning the Truth, and there’s no way for an individual to be simultaneously faithful to God, and to the Church which God requires him to be part of – which is to say that the individual would be put into a double-bind in which it was impossible to serve God.]

Infallibility doesn’t mean that the Church makes up new truth, or makes something true by saying it. But it does mean that the Church isn’t just left guessing. Your canonical example does a good job of showing this. The seventy-three Books of the Bible were each inspired from the moment of writing. But the Church formed something new, an infallible canon. At that point, they were no longer simply inspired, they were canonical. It’s an important distinction: Jerome was of the opinion that not all the inspired books should be canonical, but only those universally accepted by Christians. He imagined a three-tiered system of canonical, ecclesiastical, and rejected writings.

If your view of the Church were right, the binding/loosening power would be worthless. After all, each and every one of us tries to confirm ourselves to God’s revealed will, and yet it’s obviously not true that whatever you and I bind on Earth was already declared bound in Heaven – we might be wrong. So I think regardless of grammatical tense, infallibility is the only way of understanding this that leaves the passage sensible.

- Joe.

Catz206 said...

MG-

“Can you explain the difference between assembling and recognizing?”

Generally “assembling” is used to describe those who believe the church has intrinsically normative power to bring together the canonical writings. Those that speak of mere “recognition” generally place the intrinsic infallible authority in the Scriptures themselves and believe them to be self-attesting (I am not sure about the latter part yet). The corporate body of the Church collectively recognizes what is ultimately authoritative.

“Well, would you agree that whatever the Church binds on earth has been bound in heaven? Or would you say that sometimes the Church binds on earth something that has not been bound in heaven?”

I would say (as is consistent with the Biblical background and use of the future perfect passive) that the church does so when it acts in conformity to the law of God. If the church binds someone for adultery who has not committed adultery then certainly, the person is not bound in the heavenly court.

“I realize that you deny the tradition 0 approach. Perhaps I am misrepresenting your views in some other way, but I think it would be good to try and clarify what you mean. “The Church’s recognition cannot be normative if I do not agree to it.”

A tradition 0 approach would probably say that the church does not have the authority to excommunicate someone and that one’s individual conscience can only be convicted by the word of Scripture. It is not a matter of personal agreement or disagreement (though I personally think this is where it may lead).

I affirm that Scripture is the final authority and that the church has been given the charge to teach it and (according to this passage) reflect the realities of the heavenly court. This is a corporate effort and independent of my personal taste. So, if I commit adultery and do not repent the church has the authority to kick me out even if I personally do not think they should. This ought to be a reflection of my communion with God too.

I think it is better to view the church’s authority in this passage as a matter of “reflection.” If it is not reflecting the heavenly authority then it has no heavenly authority to back it up.

“But are there some cases where the Church binds something on earth and it is not something that has been bound in heaven?”

Yes, if one takes it that they can make a poor decision and still have the status as believers. Perhaps they were not conforming to the will of God (necessary in v20).

“Would you say that the binding power of the Bible is the “bind on earth” part of the proposition, or the “bound in heaven” part?”

I think that the Bible is our ultimate rule and authority and is the "criteria" of which we make our judgments. What is in view in this particular passage is the church (human beings) binding and loosing as a reflection of what has already happened in the heavenly court.

“Is it God or the Church that binds, then?”

Think: reflection...ideally both are binding and loosing.

“It seems like you are saying only God is doing the binding. What the Church does is acknowledge what appears to be a divine binding.”

I think this will clarify several of your questions: They are cast out of God’s communion and so the church casts them out of their communion also. It is a relational thing. It could be that the two of us have a different idea of what it means to bind and loose and this is why we are missing each other.

Catz206 said...

Hey Joe-

Don’t worry about the delay. I have been gone on a trip anyway.

“Your argument, if I’m following you, is for that last sentence – that the Church tries to conform its decree to the previously revealed Scriptures. And your support for that position is that because of the tense of the Greek in Matthew 18:18, we know that God decrees someone bound or loosed first, and the Church echoes it, rather than the other way, as the English might suggest.”

In this passage, a heavenly court would be in view, but as a Protestant I tend to think (as those reading it then might also) Scripture is the tool to use when making judgments on someone’s standing within the church. Overall, I think you got it though.

“If that’s right, you’re really making two arguments. The first is that Matthew 18:18 says that God acts first, and the Church echoes God’s action. The second is that if the Church is echoing God’s actions, She does so primarily by examining Scripture.”

The second part is mostly due to an evolution from the comments to this post. The focus was on the first part you mentioned even though the Biblical background and questions on church authority today does naturally bring up the second.

“Regardless of the validity of your first two arguments, this third argument is false, and contrary to the plain language of Matthew 18:18 regardless of tense. It presupposes that some things declared bound are really loosed, and some things declared loosed are really bound.”

By the way, I am getting part of this from v.20.

“Matthew 18:15-18 deals with the context of excommunication, and excommunicable offenses…The promise, even understood as you have, still prevents the possibility of failure.”

I don't see where the ‘possibility’ of failure is ruled out. However, it does indicate that If the church acts in conformity with the will of God, what is bound in heaven will be bound on earth. Maybe you can clarify and show me where the ‘possibility’ of corporate human failure is ruled out.

“…Likewise, the Church and the decrees of God are in 100% compliance on this issue of excommunication, and it’s as a result of the power of God working through the Church, not the Church forcing God around somehow.”

It might be helpful for you to read the conversation with MG.

“And to be clear, the Catholic understanding of the binding and loosening is that it refers to those excommunicable offenses, not the spiritual state of the individuals. If the Church declares Smith is excommunicated for Arianism, She can be mistaken that Smith is an Arian, but not that Arianism is wrong.”

This passage has to do with individual excommunication though.“If your brother sins…” (15) “If he does not listen to you…” (16) “if he refuses to listen to them…and if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (17) “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…” (18). Corporate judgments on what is heresy aside, this passage is about how to treat individuals who stray within the church, not the church’s ability to infallibly ID heresy (though perhaps one can look elsewhere for that).

“Infallibility doesn’t mean that the Church makes up new truth, or makes something true by saying it.”

I certainly do not think you believe this.

Catz206 said...

“Your canonical example does a good job of showing this. The seventy-three Books of the Bible were each inspired from the moment of writing. But the Church formed something new, an infallible canon. At that point, they were no longer simply inspired, they were canonical. It’s an important distinction: Jerome was of the opinion that not all the inspired books should be canonical, but only those universally accepted by Christians. He imagined a three-tiered system of canonical, ecclesiastical, and rejected writings.”

By the way, just so you know…part of the criteria I use in my canonical posts is the wide acceptance by the church. Our difference comes down to our different conceptions of church authority.

“If your view of the Church were right, the binding/loosening power would be worthless. After all, each and every one of us tries to confirm ourselves to God’s revealed will, and yet it’s obviously not true that whatever you and I bind on Earth was already declared bound in Heaven – we might be wrong. So I think regardless of grammatical tense, infallibility is the only way of understanding this that leaves the passage sensible.”

Not surprisingly, I am not in agreement on the worthlessness of binding and loosing if the church is not intrinsically infallible... I guess I am just not seeing where in this passage the church is being given this sort of infallibility (or in other passages for that matter). Also, just so you know, I am definitely not advocating an individualized notion of authority.

MG said...

MG-

You wrote:

“Generally “assembling” is… is ultimately authoritative.”

Okay, that helps clarify. But you do agree that the Church selected (not specifying whether this was normative, or how it was done) and arranged the books of the Bible?

You wrote:

“I would say (as is consistent … then certainly, the person is not bound in the heavenly court.”

If by “(consistent with…)” you meant those considerations to be thought of as logically consistent (not in contradiction with) your view (“that the church does so when it acts in conformity to the law of God”) then I agree. But are you saying that those considerations *imply* your view in some way?

You are, of course, assuming it is possible for the church to bind someone for adultery who has not committed it. And the language of the text does not suggest this. It says that whatever is bound on earth has been bound in heaven. This seems to imply a 1-1 correspondence between earthly binding and heavenly binding. And that means the Church is never wrong in binding.

You wrote:

“A tradition 0 approach … is where it may lead).”

Well churches that have no grounding in tradition and are tradition 0 do perform excommunications sometimes, right?

You wrote:

“I affirm that Scripture is the … a reflection of my communion with God too.”

Does the corporate effort contribute anything that Scripture itself doesn’t already do? Is there anything about the fact that the group has made a decision that in any way indicates one should follow the group’s decision? Or is the only thing that indicates you should follow the group’s decision the fact that your interpretation of Scripture says adultery is wrong?

You wrote:

“I think it is better to view the church’s … authority then it has no heavenly authority to back it up.”

How do you recognize if the church is reflecting heavenly authority? Is it by comparing the church’s decision to your interpretation of Scripture? If so, how is the church’s decision adding anything other than another private, non-authoritative opinion?

You wrote:

“But are there some cases where the Church binds something on earth and it is not something that has been bound in heaven?”

Yes, if one takes it that they can make a poor decision and still have the status as believers. Perhaps they were not conforming to the will of God (necessary in v20).

Verse 20 does not seem to be a limiting condition that qualifies the fact that there is a 1-1 correspondence between heavenly and earthly binding. Instead, it seems to be a promise of Christ’s unfailing presence with the Church, and functions similarly to Matthew 16:18 (which is part of a parallel passage). I don’t think Christ is just saying “if you’re making decisions that conform to my will, then I’m there with you”, as though they can suddenly switch to making decisions that don’t and He would leave them. This would imply that verse 18 just means “if you’re right about a disciplinary decision, then that means God has already disciplined that person”.

That isn’t action-guiding advice. And it seems like this whole passage is giving us action-guiding advice. Christ is telling us who to obey (the Church) and assuring us that the Church will carry out his will. He does not seem to be saying that “if you can tell the Church is carrying out my will, then obey it” or something like that, which is what your read implies. He’s not just saying “if you can figure out that what the Church says is what God says, then obey God” but rather “obey what the Church says because whatever it says is what God says”.

You wrote:

“I think this will clarify several … we are missing each other.”

That helps. But I still wonder, if the infallible heavenly reality is only extrinsically and accidentally related to the earthly reality, then how is it visible on earth?

Catz206 said...

MG-

“Okay, that helps clarify. But you do agree that the Church selected (not specifying whether this was normative, or how it was done) and arranged the books of the Bible?”

I personally believe the church properly recognized which NT books were inspired and which were not and the OT community Jesus belonged to did the same in their era.

Btw: I didn't choose the terms myself.

“If by “(consistent with…)” you meant those considerations to be thought of as logically consistent (not in contradiction with) your view (“that the church does so when it acts in conformity to the law of God”) then I agree. But are you saying that those considerations *imply* your view in some way?”

Your first statement is how I used “consistent with” in passing. However, from earlier comments you may also gather that I do not think this passage indicates infallible authority on the part of the church.

“You are, of course, assuming it is possible for the church to bind someone for adultery who has not committed it.”

Again, it may be that the two of us are interpreting what it means to “bind and loose” differently. My answer to you though is YES. I am looking at this in terms of fellowship. An individual may be wrongly put out of fellowship with the church (or "a" church) who has not been put out of fellowship with God.

“And the language of the text does not suggest this.”

The verb tense just tells us that the earthly court is to be a reflection of what has happened in the heavenly court. It is the biblical background that gives us more insight into how the language of the law court was understood (they had to have a correct understanding of God’s law). The passage itself does not tell us whether or not the Jewish law court always got things right (though other OT passages might suggest otherwise), but it does tell us that if we do things according to the will of God then we will be reflecting the heavenly court. This passage does not confirm or deny church infallibility (although it is often used to try and confirm).

This particular passage does not say that it is possible for the church to bind someone for adultery who has not committed it or that it is impossible…that however, is my answer to your question on my beliefs which have a different biblical basis (although I could probably scrounge up a case using this particular context if desired).

“It says that whatever is bound on earth has been bound in heaven. This seems to imply a 1-1 correspondence between earthly binding and heavenly binding. And that means the Church is never wrong in binding.”

Nope. Again, there is qualification. Reflection is in view here and the need to do so according to the will of God. Whether or not the church always ends up doing things according to the will of God would need support from other passages/sources.

Catz206 said...

I have to go, hold off on a response to what I just posted and I will try and look at the rest when I get back.

Catz206 said...

“Well churches that have no grounding in tradition and are tradition 0 do perform excommunications sometimes, right?”

Since people act inconsistently all the time I’ll assume that some somewhere might. As some Sola Scriptura advocates point out, it is very difficult to live out a pure solo scriptura view…although closets and bomb shelters might come in handy.

“Does the corporate effort contribute anything that Scripture itself doesn’t already do?”

Well yeah, historically protestants have always affirmed the need for declaration, teaching, preaching, good works…ect. No one thinks the Bible gets up on the pulpit and preaches itself or helps to disciple others in the church or in this case explicitly tell the individual that her church will not let her be around them anymore until she repents and follows God’s law (as laid out in Scripture).

“Is there anything about the fact that the group has made a decision that in any way indicates one should follow the group’s decision?”

In the case of communion with the church, one doesn’t really have a choice if they are put outside of it…even if they don’t agree and do not want to follow the group’s decision. The only way I can see them not having to follow this decision is if the church did not enforce it!

“Or is the only thing that indicates you should follow the group’s decision the fact that your interpretation of Scripture says adultery is wrong?”

If you really think words are this subjective (which I doubt) it is a wonder you are able to properly interpret my words now! Anyone (unless they are a small child, mentally handicapped or can’t read and be read to) reading the Scriptures could easily identify that adultery is wrong and what constitutes adultery. An important doctrine to Protestants (and possibly one you had affirmed on your blog?) is the Clarity of Scripture.

“How do you recognize if the church is reflecting heavenly authority…ect.”

…many of the answers to these questions seem like one’s I have already answered or can easily be derived from other answers. It would probably be more useful to question my answers if you wish.

“Verse 20 does not seem to be a limiting condition that qualifies the fact that there is a 1-1 correspondence between heavenly and earthly binding.”

I don’t see that there is a 1-1 correspondence in the way you are and there is no mention of an infallibility. Also, the language makes it a matter of reflection and how the common biblical background saw “binding and loosing” is basic to understanding. Don't ignore these.

“Instead, it seems to be a promise of Christ’s unfailing presence with the Church and functions similarly to Matthew 16:18 (which is part of a parallel passage).”

If you wish to argue church authority on the basis of Matt 16:18 (and by extension this one) Nate has made a very detailed post on it already.

“I don’t think Christ is just saying “if you’re making decisions that conform to my will, then I’m there with you”, as though they can suddenly switch to making decisions that don’t and He would leave them.”

Leave them? Or simply not back up their decisions? The passage itself was set in place to keep people from making snap judgments and excommunications on individuals. If church members do not want to follow the process laid out here and do not want to make their decisions based off the word of God then of course it will not have already been in place in the heavenly court!

“This would imply that verse 18 just means “if you’re right about a disciplinary decision, then that means God has already disciplined that person.”

It is more than happening to be right. It is following the process God has laid out and conforming to the clear teachings in the word.

Catz206 said...

“That isn’t action-guiding advice. …Christ is telling us who to obey (the Church) and assuring us that the Church will carry out his will.”

Actually, it is giving action-guiding advice. One only needs to read the context to see it. Earlier it tells us how much God cares for the lost sheep and His desire that none should perish…then it starts with explicit instructions on how to act if someone has wronged you “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private…But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you…if he refused to listen to them, tell it to the church…and if he refused to listen even to the church…” Then our passage comes up (assurance and guideance) placed within a certain context that cannot be ignored. If one follows the will of God (that is what it means to do something in His name v.20) then one reflects the heavenly court….next the rest of the action-guidance resumes as we find we must forgive our brother 70 x 7

“He does not seem to be saying that “if you can tell the Church is carrying out my will, then obey it”

Absolutely no disagreement here. Actually, the person at fault is not being spoken to here. These are directions for those in the church on how to treat people. A person doesn’t get to decide that he is not excommunicated from his church…I mean he can, but then he is not facing the reality that no one is allowing him to come to church or talking to him…ect. It really isn’t in his control.

“He’s not just saying “if you can figure out that what the Church says is what God says, then obey God” but rather “obey what the Church says because whatever it says is what God says”

Where in this passage does God say, “man who is committing adultery or other misc sins, obey what the church says because it is what God says”? It doesn’t. This is something you think the passage implies. These are directions given to individuals and the church when someone has wronged them. It is more like: “If someone has wronged you, this is how you should treat him because I desire repentance and if you follow this and they still don’t repent then you will be doing what has already been done in heaven…ect”

“That helps. But I still wonder, if the infallible heavenly reality is only extrinsically and accidentally related to the earthly reality, then how is it visible on earth?”

The process of conforming to the image of God or doing good deeds in the name of God might be helpful to think of…one does not have to be perfect in order to reflect a heavenly reality. It is God’s strength made known in human weakness. It is possible for the heaven reality to be seen even in imperfection and weakness...a matter of pointing up. I forgive because I am forgiven I fail to forgive becasue I am not perfect as God is perfect...ect.

BTW something can be inerrant without being infallible. One can claim that if the church follows what is laid out here, in the will of God then they simply will not error (infallible means you are unable to make a mistake and inerrancy means there are simply no errors present).

Joe Heschmeyer said...

Catz,

The heart of the debate, it seems to me, is on this part of what you've said:

"I don't see where the ‘possibility’ of failure is ruled out. However, it does indicate that If the church acts in conformity with the will of God, what is bound in heaven will be bound on earth. Maybe you can clarify and show me where the ‘possibility’ of corporate human failure is ruled out. "

The passage can't be saying simply, "If you agree with God, you're right." That's so obvious it need not be said, and it doesn't make sense in this context.

To show where the possibility is ruled out, I'd point to this very passage. First, look at the context of Matthew 18. There's a dispute, and the final authority is the Church, who excommunicates the unrepentant. We're instructed not to even associate with those who refuse to listen "even to the Church." But if the Church corporate is WRONG, it's not a sin to not listen, right? Why would Christ tell us to stay away from someone who stood firm in the face of an errant Church?

Second, if He warns us to abstain from those who refuse to listen "even to the Church," the corollary is that we are to listen to and obey the Church. But this only makes sense if the Church is right, and we're not. If the Church is no more right than the individuals comprising it, this would be like saying, "listen to public opinion," or "follow the masses," which we're never told to do in Scripture (quite the contrary, even).

Third, the very next verse (Mt 18:19) is about asking for things and having them granted, which is strong weight against the idea that it's just about us divining what God has already planned. The context is directly God responding to protect His Church.

Fourth, to prove that what you're concluding is wrong, you can look at your own re-formulation: "If the church acts in conformity with the will of God, what is bound in heaven will be bound on earth." You're adding an extra condition... Matthew 18:18 will be true "IF the Church acts in conformity with the will of God." You're adding that to the Scripture, since there are no conditions in the passage whatsoever. Christ already knows that there's no possibility that the Church won't act in conformity. Your own interpretation only makes sense if you add an additional condition, while Jesus says that this is always so -- whatever is bound or loosed on Earth has been bound and loosed in Heaven.

Fifth, remember, if it's only a possibility, and the Church fails sometimes, then this means that some of what is bound in Heaven ISN'T bound on Earth, and some of what is loosed in Heaven ISN'T loosed on Earth. Which renders the Scripture false.

Finally, if you're looking for other verses which point to this general principle, I guess I'd point to John 16:13, 1 Tim 3:15, and Acts 15:28 (in which the Church collective speaks for the Holy Spirit). Pax,

Joe.

Catz206 said...

Joe-
Apologies for the delay.

“The passage can't be saying simply, "If you agree with God, you're right." That's so obvious it need not be said, and it doesn't make sense in this context.”

I agree. It is more a matter of following the due process laid out here, understanding the Word of God and having the understanding that the church’s action is not merely an expression of an earthly mandate. The individual has not just sinned against man, he has sinned against God.

“To show where the possibility is ruled out, I'd point to this very passage. First, look at the context of Matthew 18. There's a dispute, and the final authority is the Church, who excommunicates the unrepentant. We're instructed not to even associate with those who refuse to listen "even to the Church." But if the Church corporate is WRONG, it's not a sin to not listen, right? Why would Christ tell us to stay away from someone who stood firm in the face of an errant Church?”

V.17 “…and if he refuses to listen even to the church…” assumes the due process of the earlier verses. One goes beyond what is written here though to say that the church will always follow this due process or has perfect judgment (ex: maybe everyone thinks a certain person commits adultery, but they didn’t and someone is slandering them against the clear teaching of Scripture).

How does the RC see the anathema that was put on the Eastern Orthodox church? It was lifted more recently. Was that a church error? Did the Eastern church have to repent to the RC? I am not familiar with the specifics of why the anathemas were lifted and if anything you can clarify this for me.

What about the judgment of the salvific standing of Protestants, EO, Muslims…ect from Pope Boniface’s Bull that was overturned later in Vatican II?

“Third, the very next verse (Mt 18:19) is about asking for things and having them granted, which is strong weight against the idea that it's just about us divining what God has already planned.”

Not so much about what God has planned (at least here) as it is acting out a relational rift that exists between God and the individual. Quite significant. Also, the passage seems to be aimed at preventing injustice and promoting a restorative mentality.
V.19 certainly talks about having things granted…and if they are doing things according to the will of God then God will also act on their behalf. This may have to do with forgiveness also. Our disagreement here may have to do with our different perceptions on the church (Prot/ EO/ RC) actually following the will of God and whether the RC is the one true church at the exclusion of others.

“Fourth, to prove that what you're concluding is wrong, you can look at your own re-formulation: "If the church acts in conformity with the will of God, what is bound in heaven will be bound on earth." You're adding an extra condition... “

I am putting in what is taught in v. 20...it is not only about claiming the name of Jesus that is in view here. Even heretics can claim the name of Jesus.

“Fifth, remember, if it's only a possibility, and the Church fails sometimes, then this means that some of what is bound in Heaven ISN'T bound on Earth, and some of what is loosed in Heaven ISN'T loosed on Earth. Which renders the Scripture false.”

Not if the Scriptures tell us to follow due process and be according to the will of God and we don’t do that.

“Finally, if you're looking for other verses which point to this general principle, I guess I'd point to John 16:13, 1 Tim 3:15, and Acts 15:28 (in which the Church collective speaks for the Holy Spirit).“

Lets see if we can reach some understanding (not necessarily agreement) first and then we can consider these. Just remind me!