One of the greatest gifts of God to the church and her leaders are the keys of His kingdom.
What are keys for? To lock and unlock doors. We lock in what we want to protect and we lock out what we do not want to enter.
Looking at the text when these gifts were bestowed (Matthew 16:13-20), we know that the words were spoken by Jesus to Peter. We find a few situations in Acts where Peter used the keys to unlock and to lock doors to the kingdom.
First, at Pentecost, Peter was the one who stood up to explain to the Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem what was actually happening in their midst. Many today believe that this was the beginning of the New Testament church, when the door was opened for the Holy Spirit to fill God’s people and His church. It was to bind the legalism of man-made rules of religion and release the power of the Spirit.
Second, Peter played a key role in admitting Samaritans into the church. In Acts 8:14-25, Peter (and John) were sent to Samaria to check out reports that the Samaritans had believed in Jesus. Hanging on to their ethnic prejudice against those whom they considered as half-breed, the Christian Jewish leaders did not know what to make of it. Peter and John found out that indeed the Samaritans had believed. However, they had been baptised with only the baptism of John. The two apostles then baptised them in the name of Jesus, and the Samaritans were also filled with the Holy Spirit.
Third, Peter himself was the one used by God to bring the gospel to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. Prepared by God in a dream to put aside his ethnic prejudice against Gentiles, the Holy Spirit led him to preach there. Uncertain about what the dream meant and still self-righteously Jewish, Peter was interrupted in his sermon when the Holy Spirit fell on those listening to him and they spoke in tongues. Seeing this as confirmation that the gospel was also for the Gentiles, Peter baptised them.
So Peter ‘unlocked’ the doors of the kingdom with his preaching of Jesus at these various events: to Jews, to Samaritans, and to the Gentiles. At the same time, with these actions he ‘locked up’ religious and ethnic prejudices that stood in the way of preaching the gospel to all.
There was one more thing that Peter did with the keys given to him: he prevented the spread of practices which could destroy the church. Following Pentecost, Jewish believers saw the necessity of providing for brethren who were in need. Some sold their property and gave all the proceeds to the apostles so that this could be done. Ananias and Sapphira were a couple who thought that they could profit from this development. They too sold their property but they kept a portion of the proceeds, probably for themselves. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, saw through this deception. He confronted them, and the couple paid for the sin with their lives.
We build the church of God upon the masterplan that Jesus the architect has drawn out. To carry out the plan, we are given the keys of the kingdom. The church must continue to unlock doors to people not yet reached with the gospel. At the same time, we must keep a lookout for values and practices which may corrupt and cripple the church and do what is necessary to keep them out.
Picture by laura.h/Bigstock.com
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for 30 years.