The importance of looking at the keys given to Peter and the other apostles by Christ seems to be lost in certain evangelical circles today. There is sadly little discussion[1] over the nature of the keys of the Kingdom of God within modern churches. Discussion concerning the keys is mainly confined and restricted to debates between Roman Catholic apologists and Protestants. This issue is of vital importance to Rome’s understanding of the papacy.[2]

This debate over the keys centres around church government and power that government has. It also looks at the right exercise of that power. A particular understanding of these keys was often what separated various believers and groups during the 17th century. Those debates in question took place mainly during the 1640s, around the time of the Westminster Assembly. Mass volumes were written on the subject during that period. It divided Congregationalists, men favourable to the views of John Cotton’s work “The Keys of the Kingdom of Kingdom of Heaven and the Power Thereof”, and many other representatives at the Westminster Assembly, men who were often Presbyterian in their outlook, who saw both prelacy and congregation as extremes to avoid.[3] Some, during the midst of that 17th controversy, argued that scripture advocates for no particular form of church government.[4] For many, this is the default view of today which leaves the church open to pragmatism and disunity. 

Is this an important question to ask ourselves in the 21st century of “how important are the keys of the kingdom”? Is there a Biblical form of church government, or should we just go with “what works” or what people want? We live in a time where church government is treated in a very pragmatic way, i.e. people are happy to follow something because it works, or seems to, but how many today have firm convictions in the area of church government, or indeed of what the keys are or represent? Whatever the truth is of the keys and church government, this is undoubtedly an area of great weakness in much of the wider church family. It is something which continues to divide rather than unite us.

Much of this apathy encountered in this area is to be expected, especially in a period of human history which places a high value on individual freedoms. It is usually in the fire of controversy that truth shines through and that apathy is removed, with men searching the scriptures and earnestly seeking to find an answer to that controversy. The 17th century was a time of political and religious upheaval, and the issue of the keys was seen as central to the stability of both England and Scotland.  Because of the numerous writings from this period we will be looking at some of them, but we will mainly focus on key central texts that will help us understand the keys for ourselves. 

The Keys of the Kingdom

Before we look at some of those important and central texts from Holy Scripture, let us ask ourselves “what are keys?” It may seem strange and obvious, but if we understand the importance of keys, then we should treat this subject with the seriousness it deserves. We are never apathetic about the keys of the things we value, such as car keys or that of our own home. That apathy often ends once we lose or misplace them!

Keys perform two functions, one is to open, and the other is to shut. They are there to keep certain people out, who the keyholder wants to keep out, but it also allows people in, whom the keyholder wants to allow in. Keys, because of this, are a symbol of power. Without keys you have no way of entering your home, those without keys have no right to enter without the permission of the one to whom the keys belong. 

Who do the keys belong to? Whose kingdom is it? This kingdom and these keys belong to Christ, the one who sits on the throne of David. 

As Jesus said:

“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” 

-Revelation 1:18[5]

And also here, as He gave his title when addressing the church in Philadelphia:

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”

-Revelation 3:7

So that authority of which we speak, with regards to the church, in whatever capacity it is, must ultimately not go against Christ’s keys. It cannot. Because they belong to Him. Any authority which is to exercised by the Church, or its ordained officers, must come from Christ. It must follow Christ and be submitted to Christ. It must glorify Christ. It must be consistent with Christ’s own revealed will as expressed in Scripture. To go against this is to abuse these keys and that great privilege.  

Matthew 16:16-19 and the Keys of Peter

“Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 

-Matthew 16:16-19

In this text of scripture we have Peter being given the keys of the kingdom, but in what capacity was Peter given these keys? Is he given the keys as an apostle, which would be the view of Roman Catholicism? Or he given these keys simply as a minister of the gospel, as would be the view among those who hold to Presbyterian views of church government? Or is he simply there as a believer, representing all believers in some capacity, the view of congregationalism? 

For the Roman Catholic view, seeing Peter as the rock upon which the church is built is crucial. However, even taking this text above alone, this argument is extremely weak exegetically and is not supported by early church fathers as the Roman Catholic Church claims.[6]

In Matthew 16:18 we have a play on words in the Greek text which states: 

“… you are Peter [Πέτρος/“little stone”], and on this rock [τῇ πέτρᾳ/“large bedrock”] I will build my church…”[7]

Jesus is saying, after Peter’s confession of faith in Christ, that he is Peter (literally in Greek “a little isolated stone”) and upon “this large rock (something akin to a large bedrock)”[8] Christ Himself will build His Church. We should not immediately jump to the conclusion that Peter himself is the rock in question. The fact that he makes Peter’s name part of this play on words makes this conclusion highly suspect. Given the context, it really points towards Peter’s confession, to which Christ responds with this play on words. Peter is not the bedrock, the foundation, but something or someone else is.  

This could be Christ Himself, or faith in Christ. Both really have the same bedrock and foundation, for the word πετραdoes often refer to Christ in the scriptures[9], but faith looks to Christ and is a gift from God[10]. Peter would make for an extremely weak foundation for which to build this church upon, especially as he is rebuked for listening to Satan some verses later.[11]

What exactly was the power given to Peter in the keys by Christ? Sometimes Matthew 16:18 can be read in a way which can indicate that Peter can do whatever he wants. Can it really be taken in terms of autocratic decrees and heaven will immediately follow the dictates of the successor of Peter? When we read the phrase “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” in English we might think this. However, this is not only wrong from the context of the keys in scripture belonging to Christ, but also chronologically in terms of events in the original Greek text. 

In Matthew 16:19 the term “will be bound” (ἔσται δεδεμένον) can also be translated “will have been bound”, while the term “will be loosed” (ἔσται λελυμένον) can also be translated “will have been loosed”. Both of these are in the future perfect passive tense, indicating that it have already be completed before the use of the keys on earth. In other words, the sense in the Greek is of a power which is of a declarative power from heaven, of something already declared by heaven itself. The keys are to follow heaven’s own court and rulings. The one with this delegated power must follow the decrees from the King of heaven. 

The keys are described in terms of binding and loosing, but what does this mean? The binding and loosing is in terms of guilt of sin. This is what is bound and loosed, depending on the courtroom judgement in heaven. Where is there forgiveness of sin offered to the sinner who needs to be loosed? It is through the preaching of the gospel. The hearer must come to trust Christ. Then, and only then, is a person loosed from their guilt. To such a person the kingdom is open, one who repents, but to those who reject the preaching of the gospel then the kingdom is shut.[12]

Matthew 18 and Recipients of the Keys 

Having examined some of the claims with regards to Peter’s position with the keys, let us now look at who else has been given this responsibility from Christ. 

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you,you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you,whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

-Matthew 18:15-20

The concept of binding and loosing in regards to the kingdom is said to apply to all of the apostles here. From this above text it is clear that Peter, if he is given any “primacy” among the apostles, it is that he is a first among equals. Nothing more. There is nothing to suggest that the keys of Peter are in any way different from the keys of the rest of the apostles.  

The example being discussed in Matthew 18 is of church discipline, another function of the keys. Binding and loosing is not just to apply to the preached word, but also to solemn declarations such as excommunication or of not allowing someone to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The keys are in the possession of those in charge of church discipline. As the keys are not given to just one man. There no sense from God’s Word of what is different about Peter’s supposed “primacy” among the other apostles. So then, the idea of Peter as supreme head of the church must be rejected.[13] In fact, the idea of the pontiff being seen as the head the whole church, or given the title “Universal Bishop”, was even seen as being the forerunner of antichrist by Pope Gregory I.[14]

There are extremes[15] to be avoided in the this topic of the keys, as there are so many topics which affect church life. One is that of prelacy, where one is above another in terms of exercising of the keys, with Roman Catholicism as an example of this worked out to become tyrannical in this exercise. The other extreme on the opposite side would be the one where there is a destroying of the distinction between those ruled and those who are ruled in the Church. The views of Congregationalists and that of John Cotton come to mind with Cotton viewing the entire church as having various types of keys.[16]

Let us remind ourselves that these grant access to the kingdom, or they can deny someone access to the kingdom. When we look at this we think of both preaching the audible word, but we also should think of administering the visible word through the sacrament. In both preaching and administration of the sacraments,[17] the gospel is set forth before sinners. Does the entire church have these keys of binding and loosing relating to the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments? Who is “the church” reference in Matthew 18:17? 

According to congregationalism, the church here means the entire church passing judgement. There would be elders making the decision, but the whole congregation would need to consent, or exercise their keys, in making this decision. John Cotton’s understanding seems to be from Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:17 is that the keys were given to Peter because he was a believer. His profession of faith was the instrument to be given the keys of the kingdom, so based on the following quote it seems that all believers have the power of censure:

“The Christian Church, though it was not then extant, yet the Apostles knew as well what – be meant by Church in Mat. 18.17. as they understood what he means by building his Church upon the Rock in Mat. 16.18. It was enough the Apostles looked for a Church which Christ would gather, and build upon the confession of Peter’s faith; and being built, should be indued with heavenly power in their censures, which they more fully understood afterwards, when having received the Holy Ghost, they came to put these things in practice.”[18]

There are a number of understandings of what the word church means (literally “an assembly” from the Greek ἐκκλησία). It could be the invisible church of all believers in Christ, or of the visible church of those churches who profess faith in Christ, and it could be the local body. The church referred to Matthew 16:18 is one that can never be destroyed and is mentioned in the context of a belief in Christ, the invisible church.[19] However, the church in Matthew must refer to the visible church as discipline can only be caried out in that context. Visible churches on earth, certain denominations can disappear, but the invisible church will prevail. This does in no way deny that that this church will usually have a visible form throughout history. 

In examining Matthew 18 we need to realise that not every stage of church discipline is laid out in black and white terms. Wisdom is needed in every part of these stages of discipline. Before the matter under discipline is brought before this assembly, there is rebuke with witnesses. This is to be the final stage of church discipline as when it is carried it leads to someone being treated as a “a heathen and a tax collector” (18:17). This must be the highest court. 

There is also from the context of Matthew 18:17, no indication that all of the entire body of Christians needs to be there exercising the keys with Jesus affirming “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20). The affirmation occurs even after this final stage of discipline is passed. Could 2 or 3 elders come together in the name of Christ, as representatives of His people to hear the matter? It would seem so from the example given. 

As stated, one should not draw too much from such a text, but let’s take the position that it is indeed the entire church. The example is not claiming that all of the church possesses the keys, which would render the keys powerless. The text of Matthew 18:15-20 appears to be teaching firstly in church discipline it is done one on one, privately, then if necessary take more (verse 16). If this then is unsuccessful, in that the offending party does not repent, then tell more, the church. The number keeps getting bigger with every step. That is the principle at play here. It is not stating who has the keys, but the principle to follow when dealing with grievous sins in the church. As Matthew Poole stated in his commentary on this verse: 

“Tell the church, is no more than, Tell the multitude, make his crime more public…”[20]

It would be reading into the text if one claimed that therefore the entire body of believers had the power of binding and loosing, or indeed of some aspect of the keys of the kingdom. Making the crime public in no way indicates here a trial by the popular vote of the congregation. This danger of reading into texts such as this can be seen in independents, Roman Catholics and even those are Presbyterian. The danger is that we see almost every text supporting our view. Some texts have little to say on the matter. 

One of the difficulties with this text is that there have been a range of Reformed views and how it applies today.  Ways of explaining church discipline vary, as does the understanding of the keys of the kingdom. George Gillespie, a 17th century Scottish Covenanter leaned heavily on the Old Testament for his defence of Presbyterian church government during the 1640s. So when Gillespie approached Matthew 18:20, he approached it from the point of view of what had gone before in terms of discipline being exercised in the church. Discipline was in the hands of the elders. Gillespie used Matthew 18:20 in terms of dealing with the exercise of jurisdiction.[21]

How we understand the church and its keys cannot be derived from these texts alone. It comes from other consideration which must be understood for other parts of scripture. This text alone simply gives us a general principle, with a certain group of elders who are given the authority of the keys. A group of called men, men called by God, to serve in His church. Men to whom to rest of the body are to submit to in such areas like the binding and loosing of sin.[22] Prayer is needed that they follow God in all these things. An example of which would include excommunication.[23]

Acts 15 and the Keys of Synods & Councils

And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.”

-Acts 15:1-6

It is possible to agree up to this point, but believe that such jurisdiction of the keys are only to be applied to the local congregation. Much care is needed as we seek for Biblical guidance. We wish to avoid anarchy and mob rule which was a characteristic of 17th century Brownism and other forms of independency which threatens the unity of the church, but we also wish to avoid the opposite tyranny of prelacy and popery centred around the Roman pontiff.[24] In reflecting on this desire for Biblical Church unity, let us also remind ourselves of its importance with Christ’s own prayer to His Father in heaven when He said “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” in John 17:21.

At the council of Jerusalem, which is recorded in Acts 15, an issue which affects the wider church is being addressed. Something which touches at the very heart of the gospel and the New Testament church. Something of great seriousness, not some petty manner. We make this point as generally wisdom often requires many issues to be resolved locally where the situation and the people are known to the elders. However, the issue in Acts 15 is something which has the potential to do great harm, with a teaching from the Pharisees in question, which could affect the wider Church. 

The question we will be addressing here is what role did the council take? Was it in terms of advice, although carrying the authority of the word of God. This view would have been held by John Cotton.[25] The way it is described by him is not that power did not reach beyond the synod, but in the sense of which the Word preached would anyway. [26] In other words it is the commands of scripture, but no wider authority exists in a synod or presbytery. 

The problem with Cotton is that it is a misunderstanding of Presbyterianism being a form of government which necessarily removes the liberty of local assemblies. This in practice may happen, as with abuses of any Biblical practice, but it should not. The power of elders from the wider Church, according to Cotton is merely to “encourage and strengthen the hearts and hands of one another in the Lord’s work.”[27]

The problem with such a declaration is that it is no different to any public rebuke or Biblical admonishment of any believer in the church. Yes, no doubt these rebukes have authority in that it is the word of God, which we all agree we need to obey, but it is not the exercise of the keys of the kingdom. It does not come with that power. Take away that power from elders, or synods, or water down such power, and you potentially weaken decrees of church discipline. In doing so you also weaken the Church as she is less able to deal with error and those wandering into error. The ministers of the gospel lose a sense of the importance of what it means to minster to the sheep, in granting access to the sacraments, in preaching the gospel faithfully and in calling people to repent in church discipline.[28]

As we look at the council and decrees of Council of Jerusalem we should be careful to not try to prove too much. This has been done historically with men such as George Gillespie who found both support for a presbytery and a synod with Acts 15 as the same supporting text. There is a certain element of truth in Gillespie’s argument, but it’s really unnecessary.[29]No doubt there was great pressure during these debates which took place during the 1640s, around the time of the English civil war and the Westminster Assembly, to disprove the opponent. Independency was seen as a great threat at the time. We must resist the urge to do the same.  

What can be proved by Acts 15 in terms of church government? Acts 15 proves that there is an authority which goes beyond the local elders in a particular congregation. The specific number of layers which are typically found in historic Presbyterianism (session, presbytery and synod) is not provable from Acts 15. This does not mean they cannot be done using principles laid out in Acts 15, but trying to prove that the early church has these particular three layers is going beyond what the text says. It would be legitimate to have even wider layers if wise and needed. The point which should be taken away from here is the number of layers of church courts is not something to find in its minute detail from scripture, but we do see authority with the elders of the wider church. 

As W.D.J. MacKay stated:

“At least two levels of ecclesiastical authority are evident: if the ‘church’ at Antioch was made up of a number of ‘congregations’ another level is possible. That principle is sufficient to provide the basic pattern for Presbyterian ecclesiastical polity.”[30]

Taking part in this council, or synod if you will, were apostles and elders. There is no indication from the text that the apostles had authority higher than the other elders in the proceedings. It would fair to presume that these apostles were there as fellow elders. The Apostle Peter calls himself a “fellow elder” in 1 Peter 5:1. There is a pattern here to be followed, in terms of when an issue affects the unity of the wider church, then it is wise to call such a council. 

Rather than using apostolic authority to solve the dispute with circumcision at the Acts 15 council, the dispute is resolved with the other elders. Why? Here we see the authority of a wider council, call it a synod or presbytery meeting, it has authority. However many elders were there is not the major theme one should take away, but the authority the decrees had on the wider church. 

Was it merely advice? From the following texts it is clear that there was clear authority in the decision of the council and that it carried the power of the keys:

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:”

-Acts 15:28

“And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.”

-Acts 16:4

These decrees were of course based upon God’s Word, as they must be to be a legitimate exercise of the keys, but the decrees “were determined by the apostles and elders”. The authority was exercise in the council which took place. 

As W.D.J. MacKay stated:

“This letter from the council is also more than advice to the churches. A statement such as ‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ is undoubtedly a claim to authority and divine guidance. This is reinforced by reference to ‘laying a burden’ on the churches-not the language of advice or counsel. The decision is communicated by an official which includes men from Jerusalem and this further indicates its authoritative nature.” 

A Question of Liberty

Men like John Cotton feared a type of tyrannical rule over the local congregation. With any power there is of course a real potential to abuse it. This power needs to be according to the truth as reveal in scripture which “will have been bound” in heaven.[31] Cotton referred to Galatians 5:13 during the defence of his position with regards to a loss of Biblical liberty for the local congregation. 

“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

-Galatians 5:13

In reference to this particular text, Cotton made the following comment: 

“The Gospel alloweth no Church authority (or rule properly so called) to the Brethren, but reserveth that wholly to the Elders and yet preventeth the tyrannie and oligarchy, and exhorbitancy of the Elders, by the large and firm establishment of the liberties of the Brethren, which ariseth to a power in them.”[32]

Cotton saw Presbyterian forms of government as something which infringed on the liberty expressed in Galatians 5:13. But what does Galatians 5:13 have to do with church government or the exercise of the keys? Galatians 5:13 speaks of freedom from the tyranny of trying to be good enough for the law, or of keeping the old ceremonial law. Now in that liberty which we have in the gospel we should not use it as an excuse for the flesh. This is not about the keys. However, for an independent who agrees with Cotton, all the church exercises the keys.[33]

What will result from such a view, especially when it is followed faithfully? David Dickson wrote: 

“This democracy or popular government cannot but bring in great confusion, whence many absurdities will follow. As the church of God should not be an organical body. That women who are forbidden to speak in the church must have the keys of the kingdom of heaven hanging at their belt, forsooth. All must govern, and none must be governed. All must attend the government of the church. All must be rendered uncapable for going about their particular callings, which God calls them to every day. Therefore seeing this sort of government brings so much confusion with it, it is probable that it not of God, who is a God of order and not of confusion (I Cor. 14:33).”[34]


How does this impact day to day church life? So often someone can hear of such a concept as the keys of the kingdom of God and think this has little relevance. In truth, perhaps many office holders think the same. What would it do for our congregations to have a greater and fuller appreciation from the keys and power they hold? 

In the preaching of the Word of God there is an authority. It’s not just like any other teaching. It is teaching with authority. Yes, it must declare what has been bound in heaven, but it has its own authority. Would we not listen more attentively to God’s Word as it is preached, for it is not merely the word of man, but the Word of God.[35] It is not the man, who is but a jar of clay[36], but the authority given to that jar of clay by Christ.[37]

Truly knowing the power of the keys, could it not make God’s people sit up and listen to God as the Word is being preached every Sabbath? So they would go to church with an expectation of hearing from God Himself, not some impressive speaker. God uses men with impressive speaking skills, no doubt, but he in no way depends on earthly means. God’s work is accomplished “not by might, nor by power, but by [God’s] Spirit…” (Zechariah 4:6). 

What about the preacher as he prepares for preaching, does he see that he is exercising the keys as he preaches? In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter preaches, calling them to repent and believe the gospel message. Immediately after Pentecost, Peter exercises these keys. 

“Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

-Acts 2: 38

This preaching is powerful, as anyone who did repent, were loosed from their guilt.[38] With that power there is great responsibility on the preacher to pour himself into this most important task. This is why he must be a man of constant prayer, as the power and authority comes from God.[39]

What is our attitude to church discipline? If someone is excommunicated, is the exercise of the keys from a council of ordained elders respected among the congregation? All too often in the West, due to a great disrespect that there is for authority, there is a disrespect for the keys. Not only do elders need to understand this great issue, all of God’s people do. If excommunicated means little in practice, but mere advice, then it will hurt the purity and unity of the Church. 

The power of the keys are there to minister to God’s people.[40] This power should offer the way freely through the gospel to enter the kingdom. It is not something to be tyrannical. The door is open to God’s people, but shut to unrepentant sinners. 

May the Lord enable us all to understand this power given to elders, but also to use it to glorify His name! 


MacKay, W.D.J., An Ecclesiastical Republic: Church Government in the Writings of George Gillespie, Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1997. 

Cawdrey, Daniel, A Vindication of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven into the Hands of the Right Owners, Coconut Creed: Puritan Publications, 2011. 

Dickson, David, Truth’s Victory over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007. 

Silva, Moises (Ed.), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Second Edition), 5 Volumes, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church: Popular and Definitive Edition, London: Bloomsburg Publishing, 2012. 

Calvin, John (Edited by John T. McNeill), Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 Volumes, Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1960.

Cotton, John, The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: And Power thereof, according to the Word of God, San Diego: Thaddeus Publications, 2018. 

Rutherford, Samuel, The Due Right of Presbyteries or, A Peaceable Plea for the Government of the Church of Scotland, Saint Andrews: E.Griffin, 1644.

Poole, Matthew, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, 3 Volumes, Hendrickson Publishers. 

Beeke, Joel R. & Jones, Mark, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012. 

Hall, Peter (Ed.), The Harmony of Protestant Confessions: Exhibiting the Faith of the Church of Christ, Reformed After the Pure and Holy Doctrine of the Gospel, Edmonton: Still Water Revival Books, 1992. 

[1] W.D.J. McKay, An Ecclesiastical Republic: Church Government in the Writings of George Gillespie, Pg. 1.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para. 551-553, 881-882.

[3] Daniel Cawdrey, A Vindication of the Keys, Pg. 29.

[4] Erastians and others, see David Dickson, Truth’s Victory over Error, Pg. 240.

[5] NKJV Translation is the English translation used for this paper. 

[6] William Webster, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, Pg. 174-183.

[7] κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω, ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς. -Matthew 16:18.

[8] “[A]pplying to boulders, cliffs and rocky hills.” -The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Second Edition), Moises Silva (Revision Editor), 3:734.  

[9] 1 Peter 2:8

[10] Ephesians 2:8-9

[11] Matthew 16:23

[12] Acts 2:38

[13] “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which can always exercise unhindered.” 

-Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para. 882.

[14] See John Calvin’s discussion on Gregory’s refusal to be called “Universal Bishop” in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4:7:4.

[15] Daniel Cawdrey, A Vindication of the Keys (1645), Pg. 29 (2011, Puritan Publications).

[16] John Cotton spoke of different types of keys distributed throughout the church body, so much so that the function of the keys became watered down to having no real authority. For example, he spoke of the key of faith and the key of order in his book “The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”, pg. 11-12. 

[17]Heidelberg Catechism Q66 states:  66. What are the Sacraments? The Sacraments are visible holy signs and seals appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof He may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the Gospel: namely, that of free grace, He grants us the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross.

[18] Cotton, Ibid., Pg. 63-64.

[19] Samuel Rutherford wrote of the invisible Church and visible Church in Matthew 16:18: “Also the learned, as (a) Augustine (b) Beda (c) Gregorius, expound the Church builded upon the rock to be the Catholick Church, and not a particular visible Church. And (d) Gerandus giveth a good reason, why this Church, Mat. 16 cannot be a particular visible Church, because the gates of hell prevaileth against many joyned to the visible Church in externall society…” in The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644). 

[20] Matthew Poole Commentary on the Holy Bible, 3:85.

[21] W.D.J. MacKay, Ibid., Pg. 113

[22] Hebrews 13:17

[23] 1 Corinthians 5:5

[24] Daniel Cawdrey, Ibid.

[25] Joel R. Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, Pg. 628-629.

[26] John Cotton, Ibid., Pg. 39.

[27] Ibid., Pg. 87.

[28] Beeke & Jones, Ibid., Pg. 631.

[29] MacKay, Ibid., Pg. 119.

[30] Ibid.

[31] See earlier discussion on Matthew 16:19 with regards to binding and loosing from the perspective of heaven on page 2. 

[32] John Cotton, Ibid., Pg. 19.

[33] Cotton said: [I]t is an act of authority to binde and loose, and the power to binde and loose, Christ gave to the whole Church, Mat. 18.18.” (Ibid., Pg. 23).

[34] David Dickson, Ibid., Pg. 245.

[35] On 1 Thess 2:13, which states: “…because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God…”, Matthew Poole stated: “That any receive the word as the Word of God, it is not from the preachers so much as from God.” Matthew Henry wrote: “The word of the gospel is preached by men like ourselves, men of like passions and infirmities with others: We have this treasure in earthen vessels. The word of God, which these Thessalonians received, they heard from the apostles.”

[36] 2 Corinthians 4:7

[37] “This power of his sceptre and Spirit hath the Lord granted and delivered to the holy Apostles, and, in them, to all Ministers of Churches, lawfully ordained, that they might exercise it in his stead.” -Chapter 14 of the Confession of Bohemia (The Harmony of Protestant Confessions, Peter Hall (Ed.), Pg. 262) .

[38] John 20:23; Acts 2:47

[39] Acts 6:4

[40] 1 Peter 5:1-4