Thomas the Apostle
Thomas the Apostle
I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
- Matthew 16:18-19
...At the inmost core of the [Petrine] commission, which robs the forces of destruction of their power, is the grace of forgiveness. It constitutes the Church. The Church is founded upon forgiveness. Peter himself is a personal embodiment of this truth, for he is permitted to be the bearer of the keys after having stumbled, confessed, and received the grace of pardon. The Church is by nature the home of forgiveness, and it is thus that chaos is banished from within her. She is held together by forgiveness, and Peter is the perpetual living reminder of this reality: she is not a communion of the perfect but a communion of sinners who need and seek forgiveness. Behind the talk of authority, God's power appears as mercy and thus as the foundation stone of the Church; in the background we hear the word of the Lord: 'It is not the healthy who have need of the physician, but those who are ill; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI], Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996), 64-65.
The community of the Risen Christ must be understood as a community of on-going resurrection, a people who continue to experience dying and new life in every aspect of their going, doing and being in the world. We are also a people who invite others into that experience, and it is in part for this purpose that the Church is given God's authority to give freedom.
Power in the Christian Community, in the economy of the coming and present Reign of God, works for the purpose of freeing and healing people, catching them up into the life of the Holy Trinity and the new Creation. This is what Benedict seems to draw out: we are given power to bind and loose in the realms of heaven and earth because we were slaves who have been and continually must be freed.
This commission was given to Peter in the context of both his deep failures and his weak but growing trust in Jesus. We exercise forgiveness out of our own present need and the continual grace we recieve. I would suggest that our power flows from the reality of that situation and our awareness of it. It's that kind of understanding that separates a Christian's exercise of godly authority from that of the world at large.
I've also written on the matter here.