Ben: People speak about binding Satan. Where are we told to do that in scripture?
James: We aren’t. We are told to resist the devil and he will flee from you, James 4:7. Christ has broken Satan’s power, i.e. death. So we have to resist him, and he will flee because he has been defeated by Christ.
I can perfectly understand a person asking the Lord to preserve them from the attacks or wiles of Satan. However it is just fanciful to talk about our binding Satan. It is the Lord that puts limits on Satan. In Job 2:6, the Lord gave Satan access to Job, but he put limits upon him – “And the Lord said to Satan, Behold, he is in thy hand; only spare his life”.

Ben: Where does binding and loosing apply?
James: James: The first mention was to Peter, as an apostle with a special mission. The next mention is in Matthew 18 when the Lord speaks of the exercise of discipline in the church. It is an administrative act. It involves the exercise of discipline in the church. If a person refuses to listen to the church in a matter of administration, he is to be shunned as the Jews shunned gentiles and tax-gatherers. The church’s function in judging between good and evil is so important, that the Lord indicates that heaven would ratify what was done. Matthew 18:18, “Verily I say to you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on the earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on the earth shall be loosed in heaven”. The church is not authorized to teach, although the Roman Catholic system proclaims that it does. Teachers teach and preachers preach. The church is required by the Lord to judge evil and to forgive when there is repentance.

Ben: Have we any examples in scripture?
James: Of course. Paul tells the church at Corinth how to deal with the wicked man in 1 Corinthians 5. He was to be put out and not associated with. He was to be treated as mentioned by the Lord in Matthew 18. [A crude form of this is practiced by trade unions when they refuse to socialize with a member for some breach of their code of conduct; they isolate him in an action called “sent to Coventry”.] But in the second epistle to the Corinthians Paul tells them to receive him again because he was repentant. He was to be set free [loosed] among them again to enjoy full brotherly relations. The purpose of all discipline is recovery, not retribution or vengeance.

Ben: What about John’s gospel?
James: It is mentioned again by the Lord at the end of John’s gospel after the Lord had risen. He spoke anticipatively, looking ahead to the coming down of the Holy Spirit, when he said John 20:22-23, “…he breathed into them and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit: whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them; whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained”. We know that the church was formed by the Holy Spirit, linking believers to one another and to Christ, the head, in heaven. One scripture that tells us that is in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “for also by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body…” See also Ephesians 3:4. Now it seems that the Lord was looking on to the formation of the church, and that immediately brings in the idea of administration and discipline to maintain holy order. If we only had John 20, we could be forgiven for assuming that it was only for the apostles, but the epistles to Corinth show that it is for all believers.

Ben: But I thought that only God can forgive sins?
James: True - in the sense of a person’s eternal destiny. But here the Lord is speaking about keeping the house in order while we are here. Paul deals with the subject of church discipline.

Ben: Sometimes a “board” does it, or a group of elders. What do you say to that?
James: What does scripture teach? We are not left to make up our own arrangements. There is one right way – God’s way. When Paul directed Corinth, he did not write to one person. He did not write to a clergyman, because there were none; they were a later invention. He did not write to elders. He wrote to the “assembly [church] of God at Corinth”. He engaged the conscience of each person in the church at Corinth. Each one was to take their part in humility as owning their responsibility.

Ben: Do we get instruction by way of types in the Old Testament?
James: Most definitely. In the types, they were to eat the sin offering, see Leviticus 4. There are instructions for the individual, the company, or a prince [an eminent man] who may have sinned. But this is too big a subject o discuss now. At Corinth it was not only the individual who had sinned, the company had failed to act on something that was public knowledge. Paul was distressed that they had not mourned over the sin, even though they had not been taught what to do. Had they grieved over the sin before the Lord, the Lord would have dealt with the person. The failure of one person involves the whole company – it is the principle of corporate responsibility. When Achan disobeyed God’s command, God said to Joshua: “Israel hath sinned”, Joshua 7:11. Yet only one man had sinned!

Ben: But sinners judging sinners is a big thing. Can we do that in the period of grace?
James: A most solemn and humbling thing, but we must judge evil. God’s name cannot be linked with ongoing evil. It is the church of God and therefore we must deal with it. Grace does not set aside God’s righteousness government. Paul writes: “Do not ye judge them that are within [the Christian circle]? Those without God judges. Remove the wicked person from amongst yourselves”, 1 Corinthians 5:13.
He writes in a similar vein about persons who persist in false teaching. Titus 3:10, “An heretical man, after a first and second admonition, have done with”. He does not say: “Get together behind closed doors and work out a compromise to suit everybody”. That leaves a cancerous sore eroding the truth in the hearts and minds of the company. It fails to rightly represent the holiness of God.

In summary, binding and loosing, as it applies to us, is an action that involves discipline and forgiveness among Christians. We are called on to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you”, James 4:7. Nowhere are you and I authorized to bind or loose Satan.

MM November, 2007, minor change, Jan. 2008.