Jesus may have given the apostle Peter, representing the church, the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19). But 9 in 10 self-identified U.S. evangelicals told LifeWay Research—which just published a study on evangelicals' theological awareness—they don’t believe the church has such authority. Here’s how theologians and other experts answered the question. Answers are arranged on a spectrum from “yes” answers at the top to “no” answers at the bottom.
“Jesus charged the church with responsibility for its members. Those who are not behaving as Christians are to be held accountable, and the ultimate form of accountability is church discipline where someone who refuses to repent of known sin is removed as a member.”
~J. Carl Laney, Bible professor, Western Seminary
“Of course the local church has this authority. This is actually its responsibility, and it is exercised by every congregation that requires a credible profession of faith for membership—though the church cannot declare this with eternal certainty.”
~R. Albert Mohler Jr., president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Many U.S. evangelicals think not. But historically, the church clearly has the right to say someone is not living in harmony with the gospel and to separate from them. And if being a Christian includes membership in the community of faith, then this does call their salvation into question.”
~Brad Harper, Bible and theology chair, Multnomah University
“If a church carefully follows the procedure in Matthew 18:15–20, there comes a point where the church must say that someone is deliberately defying Christ’s teaching and cannot be considered a believer. Yet Paul’s letters show that this was applied only to the most heinous cases.”
~Craig Keener, biblical studies chair, Asbury Seminary
“Church membership, made visible through the ordinances, is a public affirmation of someone’s profession of faith. Church discipline is the removal of that affirmation. The latter is not a denial that someone is a Christian; it’s the statement that the church is no longer willing to affirm someone’s profession.”
~Jonathan Leeman, author, Church Discipline
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