************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 27 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 9, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 27
"The Holy Catholic Church"
There is a common refrain in the Belgic Confession of Faith: "We." We believe. We know. We confess. We include. We receive. We distinguish. Who is "we"? The "we" is the holy catholic or universal church.
As we look at the church I want to raise three points: first, the mother who nurtures us; second, the father who preserves us; third, the family that surrounds us.
I The Mother Who Nurtures Us
A We start by declaring that the church is essential to Christian life; without it there can be no such life. The church is where believers are nurtured; thus, she is sometimes referred to as "the Mother of believers."
Everyone, of course, must have both a father and a mother. It is not possible to exist any other way though God is more than able to have arranged another way. For instance, Adam and Eve did not have a father or mother and were created from dust and a rib. And, John the Baptist pointed to some stones, telling us something strange: that God could make children of Abraham out of those stones if He so desired (Mt 3:9). Or, God could have just called us into being as He did with all other created things in the beginning. But He chose not to create us any of these ways. Rather, He arranged that all of us have a father who protects us and a mother who conceives and nurtures us as we grow up.
Likewise with our spiritual life. God could have chosen to convert us in an instant, to give us a new heart just like that. He could have saved us without the church. He could have made us know everything spiritual at the moment of new birth. But God does not do our spiritual life instantaneously. Instead, He has arranged for us to be taught in church through the preaching of the Word, Sunday School and catechism classes, Bible studies, and youth programs. He wants us to grow gradually in the Christian faith and godliness. He wants us to be taught by our parents and others in the church. He wants us to be strengthened by the sacraments. The Lord does not want it any other way.
To be physically born, the Lord gives us a father and a mother. To be spiritually reborn, the Lord gives us the church. God gave the church to be a mother who conceives, gives birth to, nourishes, and raises us in the faith. This is why we honor and love the church.
B God has given the church various means to do this work. In our Bible reading we are told that God has given apostles who brought the Gospel directly from Jesus Christ. He gave prophets to reveal more of the will of God. These early offices disappeared with the giving of Scripture, but their calling is now carried out by evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The church has received the Gospel, and therefore the preaching and teaching cannot take place apart from the church and her offices. By these means, the church nurtures her children to everlasting life.
There have always been people who think they don't need the church. Some dismiss the church saying we are all a bunch of hypocrites. Others say the church is always after money. Still others say the church is like a cult -- always telling you what to do and what to believe. So they want nothing to do with church. That's like saying you don't need a father or a mother -- which is absurd, of course. The church is the mother of our faith!
C What church? There are so many! Note what the Belgic Confession does NOT say. It does not say, "We believe and confess a Reformed church." Already when the Confession was written there were divisions in the church. Nevertheless, our confession says with our Bible reading there is only one true church:
We believe and confessWhen we confess one church, we confess this flock exists and that one day it will be complete with all God's elect. We further confess -- as believers and members of a local church -- that we share the same mother with all true believers of all ages.
one single catholic or universal church --
a holy congregation and gathering
of true Christian believers ...
(Eph 4:4-6) There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
D In the Heidelberg Catechism we confess a church where "I am and always will be a living member." Does this describe you? Is this true of you? It is if you are what the Confession calls a "true Christian believer." That is, you await your entire salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by his blood, and sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit. If personal faith in Christ is absent, then you are not saved and you are not a member of Christ's church and do not belong to His flock.
When that faith is present, however, growth happens within the fellowship of the church. When we are born as babies we cry for food and our mother nurtures us. Likewise, when we are born again we cry and hunger for food and mother church nourishes us with the Word and sacraments. As we grow up through the ministry of the church, we become mature and no longer are infants (cf Eph 4:14-15).
II The Father Who Preserves Us
A In our culture it is considered impolite to ask a woman her age. But we can ask this question about mother church.
So, how old is our church? We can give various answers. Some might count her age from our first worship service in the early 90s. Others might point to the dedication service for our building. Still others might consider the birthday of our church to be October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the chapel door in Wittenberg. Others might consider 1559 as the year of our church's birth, when John Calvin published the final draft of his Institutes. Or, what about 1619 when the Synod of Dort issued the Canons?
All of these answers are wrong. How old is mother church? She is almost as old as creation itself. Mother church started in the Garden of Eden when God put into effect His eternal plan for salvation through the blood of the Lamb.
B God our Father was there in the Garden preserving and protecting His church. God was there in the Garden as His church faced the powers of sin and unbelief. Where did those attacks come from? From Satan. So, in the Garden, the Father announced His enmity towards Satan and Christ's defeat of Satan.
Soon after man's expulsion from the Garden, Cain and his children reared up in defiance against the people of God. An instance of this is recorded in Genesis 4 when Cain killed Abel. Another instance is the boastful talk of Lamech to his two wives after he killed a man. Their boastful pride took them and their generations further and further away from God. In the meantime, the children of Seth and Enosh banded together and began to call upon the name of the Lord. This does not mean this is the first time people prayed to and worshiped God. But it does tells us when there are problems, or when oppression comes, true believers seek one another. This is especially the case when there is persecution. Already in Genesis 4 there was persecution. Enoch was taken from this and preserved by God; Hebrews 11:5 says "he could not be found." Evil and angry men of the world were looking for him, but God protected him and snatched him away. By the time Noah was born, the church was frightfully small; if the ark had sunk, the church would have disappeared.
This is the picture of the church throughout the ages: under attack and yet preserved by the Father.
C The Confession reminds us that in spite of the attacks of Satan and the world the church will last until the end of the world. She will not be wiped out! She can't be wiped out! You know why? Because Christ is an eternal King. He is an eternal King with a kingdom. He is not a king in exile, without land or subjects. That would be impossible!
How comforting this is for us, our children, our grandchildren, and the generations to come. Sometimes we worry what will happen to all these churches. It is possible our church buildings will all lay in ruins, but the church herself will survive. The important thing is not our building, but that the Father promises to preserve to Himself a people. Even if our church or federation were to disappear, God's church will still survive. This is God's promise.
Sometimes it may seem this is a hollow promise. The Confession reminds us of Ahab's time. In those days the church was all but wiped out. It seemed there was no worship of Jehovah. It seemed all the true prophets of God were gone -- except that troublesome Elijah and he was in exile. It seemed Satan, through Ahab and Jezebel, had won. Not at all! Obadiah hid one hundred prophets in caves, and there were at least seven thousand other people who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Furthermore, Elijah came back from exile with God's avenging wrath and the prophets and priests of Baal were killed. The Father preserves His church.
What is true for Bible times continues to be true to this day. The Father continues to preserve the church. At times, the church is strong, when spiritual awakenings sweep entire countries and fruit of this lasts for generations. At other times, the church is lazy and doesn't keep watch and is infected with false doctrine, dead orthodoxy, and meaningless tradition. Yet, through it all, the Father preserves His church.
The question is: are you a member of the Father's church? To become a member you, by grace, need to believe in Jesus. Another question: does the true church still exist in Visalia? Think of what happened to the seven churches of Asia Minor. They are gone. It can happen to us. God promises to preserve His church as a father protects his children, but this not mean our local church will continue.
III The Family That Surrounds Us
A We have compared the church to a father and a mother, but she is also a family that surrounds us with many caring brothers and sisters. When it comes to earthly families we say "blood is thicker than water." Family ties bind us together. This is also true with our spiritual family.
Do you hear what we believe and confess about the church? She is "a holy congregation and gathering of true Christian believers." I mentioned earlier that in the days of Seth and Enosh people called upon the name of the Lord together. That is how it has always been in the church; together the church calls on God in prayer and worship. We know that as the communion of saints. The communion of saints is not simply being together or being friendly towards each other. The communion of saints has God and Christ at its center. Together we approach God. Which is what make the COVID pandemic so difficult for Christians. We are meant to approach God together, in person.
B The Confession speaks both negatively and positively about this. Negatively: the holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain persons ..." The church is not bound to the city of Rome, the pope, the bishops, the priests. It rejects Rome's idea that outside the Roman Catholic Church there is no salvation. This also appears to be the result of the teaching of the Church of Christ -- that only their members are saved. Positively, the true church is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world. It is bigger than any single congregation, denomination, federation, country, language, or racial group. It is from every language, tribe, people, and nation. This is what that word "catholic" means. It doesn't mean Roman Catholic. It means worldwide. Worldwide, wherever Christ is known, believed in, and embraced, you will find brothers and sisters in the Lord.
We believe and confess
one single universal church --
a holy congregation and gathering
of true Christian believers.
Is this your church? Is she the mother of your faith? Within her does the Father keep you and preserve you? Is this your family?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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