John 20:23: How Do I Interpret it?

I’ll give you both my video and email response to this question sent by a reader.

Video first:

Then the email:

I think John 20:23 says that the church has a lot more power than we usually think.

The apostles were to carry the Gospel to the world. They did that by starting churches. Churches were the vessel to hold the teaching of the apostles, the Gospel of Christ, and were to demonstrate the life of God that flourished and grew from the seeds of the Gospel.

As the apostles spread the Gospel and raised up churches, they did some things that then became the churches’ responsibility. Not “the church’s” but “the churches.'” It was the responsibility of each individual local church, not the responsibility of some organization claiming to be the church.

Jesus taught us to go to an offending brother ourselves, then bring one or two with us if we couldn’t get through, then bring that person to the church. The church, there, could remit that persons sin or retain it. If it was retained–and the only reason for retaining a sin is unrepentance–then the person was treated as a non-Christian. In extreme cases, the person is to be shunned, not even to be eaten with (1 Cor. 5).

That’s the context I put it in. A person who does not repent should not receive the remission of sin that the church can grant by readmitting that person to fellowship. A person in unrepentant sin should fear this because in John 20:23 Jesus is saying he’s going to back up the church.

I know he is saying that to the apostles, and the apostles as the custodians of the Gospel, had that authority. They have that authority to the churches they founded, not to new individuals (like the pope or priests).

It is true that the church needs leadership, even strong leadership. In many cases, it’s possible that the church’s authority is carried out just through the elders (the experienced, trusted brothers who have earned that right by proven character, not by a meaningless seminary or Bible school degree). In extreme cases, requiring disfellowshipping someone, that should be done with the knowledge and approval of all the men of the church, not just the elders. Novices should know that if they are the only ones who dissent, they will be rightfully ignored as acting in human sympathy rather than in the holiness of God.

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