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Joël Herndon wrote:

Hi, guys —

Matthew 16 and 18 discuss the power of the keys and the authority of the Church. The plain meaning of the passages indicates that the Church's word is final and conclusive, binding, not only on earth, but also in Heaven.

This authority would seem to apply to matters of doctrine as well as discipline in light of Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council.

  • Is this a correct understanding?
  • Does this same authority imply the infallibility of the Church?

That is, if a doctrinal decision by the Church is binding both on Earth and in Heaven, then the Church's pronouncements must, ipso facto, be true and inerrant.

Thanks very much,


  { Does an infallible declaration of the Church apply to matters of doctrine as well as discipline? }

Mary Ann replied:

Joël —

The binding and loosing is generally not applied to doctrine. Doctrine does not become true by virtue of being declared by the Church.

It is usually applied:

  • to discipline
  • to forgiveness of sins
  • to the power to bind under pain of sin, and
  • to the treatment of heretics and sinners.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Mary Ann —

  • Am I missing something?

You said:
The binding and loosing is generally not applied to doctrine.

  • It isn't?

If your statement is true: You can make up your own doctrine.

  • Did you mean discipline?

You said:
Doctrine does not become true by virtue of being declared by the Church.

I agree. but when a Church teaching is declared as doctrine by the Church, the faithful now know:

  • What is publicly true and what is not, and
  • Who is, and who is not, a heretic.

I think we need more clarification on your answer.


Mary Ann replied:

Mike —

What I was addressing was Joël's implication that the Church's solemn declaration made a truth binding in Heaven. Truth is truth. The power of the keys refers to the power to bind people to believe (on Earth) and to bind people morally to obey and to loose people from sin (which is held bound in Heaven also).

I think Joel was trying to reason or understand infallibility from the fact that God accepts the declarations of the Church about doctrine as binding.

That would make truth a function of God's will, voluntarism, not a function of His mind. That is the Muslim position. Perhaps my statement was not nuanced enough — Yes, the keys apply to binding people to believe in faith, but they do not make something true in Heaven.

Mary Ann

Eric replied:

Hi guys,

I think binding and loosing has more to do with discipline than doctrine. That's how the Jews understood it.

As Mary Ann pointed out, guarding and defending what is revealed as true is not really binding and loosing. You can bind and loose penalties on those who violate that revealed truth, but truth is truth.


Joël replied:

Mike, Mary Ann, and Eric,

Thanks very much for your replies and dialogue.


Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
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