Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 31
Q 83. What are the keys of the kingdom?
A 83. 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.
Q 84. How does preaching the holy gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven?
A 84. 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.
Q 85. How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?
A 85. 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. Such persons, when promising and demonstrating genuine reform, are received again as members of Christ and of his church.
The language “keys to the Kingdom” is very foreign to us. We don’t often use it. Rarely do we talk about the Kingdom “being opened” or “being closed” to people, especially in a culture where we don’t want to offend or turn people off to “church” or the Gospel. However, in practice, we see this happen in our worship services all of the time.
Scripture says that the “Kingdom” is opened when the preaching of the Gospel is present. In fact, this is part of the Great Commission of Christ’s followers, to “preach the Gospel to every creature.” We are called to be heralds of the “Good News,” ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. When we “preach” this Good News, whether it be in church on Sundays, or in conversations or actions throughout our daily lives, we are opening the gates of the Kingdom and welcoming others in.
Sadly, the preaching of the Gospel, the very thing that makes us distinct as Christians in the world, is not something that is always happening in churches anymore. The very news that Christ came to this earth, died in the place of sinners, and offers salvation by grace through faith has been obstructed by moralistic teachings and alternative theologies. The “good news” has been transformed into a social agenda, even a political movement that has very little to do with the Gospel message.
Granted, some of these things are quite Biblical. God does call His people to stand against oppression. He also calls us to serve others, feeding the hungry and caring for the poor. Scripture encourages us to turn away from things like racism, sexism, and any other manner of judgmentalism that divides people and excludes them from God’s love and knowing their true identity in Christ. However, these are the effects of lives transformed by the Holy Spirit in response to the Gospel message; they are not themselves the Gospel.
While they are important things for Christians to talk about, they do not necessarily “open up” the Kingdom. Without the Gospel at their center, and the understanding (and acceptance) of Salvation in Jesus Christ by God’s grace through faith, these calls to action become nothing more than works righteousness and self-motivated pursuits. Even the best of works, without the cleansing of Jesus Christ, is nothing more than ashes and filthy rags in the eyes of God. We NEED the Gospel; we NEED a Savior. We NEED JESUS.
Similarly, the Catechism talks about discipline. This too has become an unpopular subject in churches and is rarely practiced anymore. Again, the pushback has come because of a wrong focus on things and a desire not to offend or elicit controversy. Yet discipline, in all its awkwardness, if done in the right context and with the right heart, under the authority of Christ, is not meant to be mean spirited or harsh. Rather, its intention is also restoration, repentance, and a deeper understanding of grace.
We like grace. We’d rather be shone it than “the rod.” However, Scripture is very clear about discipline when it comes to parenting and when it comes to the people of God: corrections need to be made. We don’t make them out of our own moral authority or because of some sort of self-righteous, “holier-than-thou” attitude. Rather, we do it to teach the Gospel and thereby once again “open the Kingdom.”
“Teach the Gospel?” You might be thinking, “How does that even make sense?”
In fact, it quite simply brings us back to the beginning of the Catechism. The section on guilt reminds us all too clearly that we are indeed guilty through sin. We have offended God, turned our back on Him; we are His enemies through sin. And the Gospel doesn’t sweep sin under the rug and forget about it. The Gospel also doesn’t worry about offending people when they are wrong. Instead, the Gospel teaches that the punishment for sin, that being death, was put on Christ rather than on us and that because Jesus bore that punishment for us, we no longer have to.
So how does discipline teach the Gospel? When discipline is done correctly, with an emphasis on repentance and forgiveness, we are reminded of what Christ has done for us and the great love that God shows us through Him. We, as His children, still need to be corrected, just like our own children need correction from time to time. But this correction is done with an eye on the cross, reminding us that, even though we sin, we always find forgiveness and grace in Jesus Christ when we turn from our sin. No matter what we’ve done, you will always find a loving Father waiting for you, His child, to run back into His arms again.