Jesus says an interesting thing in Matthew. He tells Peter that the church will be able to bind and loose, and to forgive or uphold sins. Now having been raised Roman Catholic, spent much of my life as an evangelical protestant and now some weird liberational post evangelical Christianarchist, this passage pops off fireworks left and right. Throw in some of my pentecostal beliefs and we really get going.
Now in the Catholic tradition, they take this to mean that the hierarchy of the church has the mandate to both discern proper biblical and life interpretation, and to issue the "sacrament" of confession and penance. In other words the leaders decide what is right and everyone else falls into line. This however seems to be the very system that Jesus replaces, when he issues these words.
In the pentecostal tradition, its talking about binding and loosening demons. But... if you bind the devil... how long does he stay bound for? Does is matter what kind of knots you use? And we mostly don't want to touch the forgiveness thing.
In evangelical tradition we struggle with these passages as well, because in truth we don't really affirm the hyper solo scriptura that is actually far beyond what Luther ever meant anyways. But often we struggle with this post trying to be anti papist rather than looking at it as instructive.
But we see the same things repeated in Matthew 18 where Jesus is instructing us how to live out the faith community. And this passage must be understood as both instructions for church life, and within its cultural context. Now to us this binding and loosening seems weird, but in the first century Jewish culture it was very well known. The priests and scribes (lawyers) were given the power to bind and loose, in accordance with the scriptures. So if you have a dispute with your neighbor you go to court (religious and secular were the same) and these "experts" would make a ruling, binding or loosening you in accordance with the scriptures. This ties in with the follow discussions about forgiving of sins. It was the scribes (lawyers) who determined the fines and conditions of repayment of depts ect. So Jesus was taking the authority away from the elites, and gives it to the church, (Peter and his declaration of faith being the first stone of this metaphorical building).
So what that means, is that we as a church community, faithfully living out the gospel in our neighborhoods, and depending upon the Holy Spirit in our midst, in consultation with the church at large past and present, are granted the authority to interpret scripture. Which brings up a few questions:
Why does one (usually a man) person give the message and interpretation of scripture in our gatherings?
Why don't we make place for communal discernment for scripture and action in our communities?
How do we honor the working of the Spirit in our gatherings?
Can there actually be differing interpretations of scripture that God blesses as the Creator gives the authority to each local community?
These are the questions that have lead us to our practice of reflection on scripture.