Lord’s Day Thirty-One

Every Sunday, we will be going through one of the fifty-two Lord’s Days of the Heidelberg Catechism. Written in the year 1563, the Heidelberg still remains a popular confession of faith in many churches to this day. You can find the full text here.

Lord’s Day 31

Question 83: What are the keys of the kingdom?

Answer: The preaching of the holy gospel
and Christian discipline toward repentance.
Both of them
open the kingdom of heaven to believers
and close it to unbelievers.1
1. Matt. 16:19; John 20:22-23

Question 84: How does preaching the holy gospel
open and close the kingdom of heaven?

Answer: According to the command of Christ:
The kingdom of heaven is opened
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to all believers, each and every one, that,
as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith,
God, because of Christ’s merit,
truly forgives all their sins.
The kingdom of heaven is closed, however,
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to unbelievers and hypocrites that,
as long as they do not repent,
the wrath of God and eternal condemnation
rest on them.
God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come,
is based on this gospel testimony.1
1. Matt. 16:19; John 3:31-36; 20:21-23

Question 85: How is the kingdom of heaven
closed and opened by Christian discipline?

Answer: According to the command of Christ:
Those who, though called Christians,
profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives,
and who after repeated personal and loving admonitions,
refuse to abandon their errors and evil ways,
and who after being reported to the church, that is,
to those ordained by the church for that purpose,
fail to respond also to the church’s admonitions—
such persons the church excludes
from the Christian community
by withholding the sacraments from them,
and God also excludes them from the kingdom of Christ.1
Such persons,
when promising and demonstrating genuine reform,
are received again
as members of Christ
and of his church.2
1. Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3-5, 11-13; 2 Thess. 3:14-15
2. Luke 15:20-24; 2 Cor. 2:6-11

Last week, in question 82, we were introduced to the topic of church discipline as it pertains to communion. The answer to question 82 states that the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such people (unbelieving and ungodly), by the official use of the keys of the kingdom, until they reform their lives. That statement leads to an obvious question, but also one that not frequently asked…What are the keys of the kingdom? Preaching of the gospel and Christian discipline. The exercise of these two open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers. The kingdom of heaven is open to those that accept the gospel by faith and repent. The kingdom of heaven is closed to those who, though called Christians, profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives, and who after repeated personal and loving admonitions, refuse to abandon their errors and evil ways. But the door doesn’t have to stay closed. When such persons demonstrate genuine reform, they are welcomed and received again as members of Christ and of his church.

“Reproof is unavoidable. God’s Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin. The practice of discipline in the congregation begins in the smallest circles. Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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