Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. John 20:23
Towards the end of our last article we came face to face with the real question of the text: Does this verse give to the church the authority here on earth to forgive sins? If it does, is not the Romish Church correct when it claims to itself this authority?
Is it not true that Christ alone can forgive sins? How then, can we say, as I did in the last article, that Christ gives the church the right to do this? That is the question.
The answer to this question is that indeed only Christ has the right to forgive sins. And that right to forgive sins is rooted in His own perfect sacrifice for sin which He made when He suffered and died on Calvary. That right is His because He died for His elect people and for them alone. He knows them, knows who they are, and knows whether He died for them so that their sins are taken away by His blood.
How does the pope know who God's people are? How can he (or any of his prelates) possibly know those for whom Christ died?
When the church remits sins or retains sins (forgives or refuses to forgive), the church does so in the name of Christ. The church is pronouncing what Christ Himself in fact does. The pronouncement of the church is declarative in Christ's name, not judiciary and therefore, a judgment of the church itself.
Nevertheless, what the church says concerning the sinner here on earth, Christ says in heaven. What is bound on earth is bound in heaven. And what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven. That is Jesus' firm statement. So these words in John 20 which Christ speaks and by which He gives His church (through the apostles) the right to forgive sins means that Christ works through the church. Thus, when the church forgives sins, it is Christ Who forgives sins.
That this is truly the meaning of the text can be shown from a number of considerations. In the first place, the immediate context in John 20:23 speaks of the reception of the Holy Spirit: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost."
This is extremely important. Christ gives His Holy Spirit to His church. And by His Holy Spirit He leads and guides His church into the truth (See Jesus' references to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth in John 14, 15, 16; in these references He speaks of the fact that by the Holy Spirit He Himself will be with the church; He will come to them). So Christ Himself is speaking through the church of His work which He performs.
In the second place, this ought not to strike us as strange because Christ also speaks through the church in the preaching. The church has always claimed that because Christ speaks through the church, the Word of the gospel is an authoritative, "Thus saith the Lord . . . ." The gospel is not an "I think this is true;" not a minister giving opinions and advice; not a plea or an offer or a certain begging to men to do something or other. It is Christ Who speaks. And the minister reflecting that says: Thus saith the Lord. It is not the minister who speaks, but the Lord. So it is with discipline.
In the third place, the language of the text suggests this strongly both in John 20:23 and in the two passages in Matthew. If we would translate this verse in John literally, it would read: "Whose soever sins ye remit, they have been and are now remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they have been and are now retained." The perfect tense is used in both cases.
Matthew does the same, only Matthew uses a future perfect tense: "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, will have been bound in heaven . . . ." What the church says on earth in the name of Christ has been done in heaven and the church simply pronounces in Christ's name what Christ does.
You ask: How does the church know whose sins to forgive? The answer is: The church knows because Christ's people become manifest in confession of sin and repentance. And those who refuse to repent are those in whom Christ does not dwell with His Spirit.
Sin itself is determined by the Holy Scriptures. The mark of Christ's people is not that they never sin, but that they repent of sin. For them is forgiveness and pardon. The church, speaking its own "Thus saith the Lord...," pardons in Christ's name and assures the sinner of forgiveness.
I cannot help but close with an important warning to the church today.
Discipline is absolutely crucial to the life of the church. It is, in fact, a mark of the true church. Where no discipline is exercised, the church ceases to be church, and her place is taken away from the midst of the candlestick. Only that church where discipline is exercised is the church where Christ is present.
Discipline is not an easy task. Yet it must be done. It is the Christ-ordained means to bring the elect to repentance and confession when they sin; and it is the Christ-ordained means to bar those who refuse to confess their sins from the church of Christ.
Let the church then be faithful in this calling.
[button color href="/resources/publications/cr-news/item/43"]Read Part 1[/button] [button color href="/resources/publications/cr-news/item/43"]Read Part 2[/button]
- Volume: 5
- Issue: 3
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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