Binding and Loosing

An understanding of the term "Bind and Loose" has eluded scholarship until relatively recently. Lacking a better basis for its interpretation, Christians have generally used the term as one applying to spiritual warfare. Prayers are sometimes made, for example, that God might "bind" Satan (see Rev. 20:2), yet Jesus has already bound Satan (Mt. 12:29)!

The phrase is best interpreted by its use among the rabbis of the days of Jesus' earthly ministry. It was concerned with moral decision making in areas not clearly commanded in Scripture. To "bind" a particular behavior or ethic was to make that behavior obligatory; to "loose" it was to make it optional. So the power to bind and loose is, essentially, to have the power to make decisions in the church. House church theology, rooted in Matthew 18 (where it is used in the context of church discipline), holds that the power to bind and loose requires Scripture, the gathered people, and the Holy Spirit. This is very different from the edict of a strong leader, the vote of a democratic constituency, or even the working of a group toward a consensus. All of these are human centered, not Spirit centered. Human decision making in the church quenches the Spirit.

Binding and loosing is best understood as following the rule of Christ, who works through the Spirit to direct the decisions in the local church. When the gathered people meet with hearts open to the Holy Spirit's quiet voice, they will discover the will of their Lord and therefore will make decisions that are honored in heaven because, indeed, those decisions originated in heaven. Deeply suspicious of any kind of authority, the people who's history begot house church theology felt that the Holy Spirit spoke most clearly through the corporate assembly, not any one individual. This is completely consistent with first century synagogues that were the model of the early churches--no first century Hebrew thinking person would picture himself as anything but a part of a larger, corporate assembly (our word "church" comes from the Greek word that means "assembly"). Their mind set was a corporate one that we in the modern house church movement struggle to reclaim.

Our biblical model for the decision making practiced in the early church is Acts 15. Note carefully how they consulted Scripture, presented reports from the field, discussed the issue, and gradually came to the place where they could say that they had reached a decision that was good "to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28). This is our model for the house church--that we can close our decision making meetings with those very words.


John Howard Yoder, The Royal Priesthood (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 323-358.