As the Lord has delegated his authority to men as benefactors of his eternal wealth, men are used as secondary means of grace to pronounce Jesus of the new covenant; administer the benefits of the covenant sign; conduct church discipline; and ordain other men to carry on administration of the covenant (Luke 24:45-48, Acts 16:4, I Corinthians 2:5, II Corinthians 1:24, II Timothy 2:2). The Lord pronounced to his disciples, (Matthew 16:19) “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Referring to the phrase “the keys of the kingdom,” R.C. Sproul writes,

“This metaphor specifies how the apostles are foundational to the church; they have been given binding and loosing powers, or ‘keys,’ which lock and unlock doors. The apostles open the kingdom to those who share Peter’s confession and exclude those who will not receive their testimony to Christ (Matthew 10:14, 15). The apostolic foundation of the church is laid in the written Word of God, the Scriptures, which are now the keys of Christ’s authority in the church (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5) through the power of the Spirit (Matthew 18:18).” (The Reformation Study Bible, p. 1700)

Elders are agents of the gospel that sometimes are called overseers or “presbyters,” from which we get the modern word “Presbyterian,” referring to a form of church polity and government in which elders are nominated, voted and called out of the local congregation, make up a local session of elders, and are part of a “graded court” with multiple layers of governance in which the Lord, the chief Shepherd, cares for the whole of His visible church. Apostle Peter wrote, (I Peter 5:1-4) “I exhort the elders [Greek presbuteros: presbyters] among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

With this calling to be agents of the new covenant and “bind on earth to be bound in heaven” comes the profound responsibility to represent the Kingdom in the pattern of faith and obedience modeled by Christ and his apostles (John 10:11-18, I Corinthians 4:14-21, 11:1, Ephesians 4:32-5:2).

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Covenant theology