************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 28 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on August 16, 2020

Belgic Confession Article 28
Psalm 87
"Join the True Church"

The Bible teaches that Jesus greatly loves the church. Listen to the language of the psalmist:
(Ps 87:2-3) the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. (3) Glorious things are said of you, O city of God:
Zion is another name for the church. Every reasonable person should want to join the church.

Article 28, based upon Scripture, tell us joining the church involves three things: duty, submission, and labor.

I Duty
A Article 28 tells us it is our duty to belong to the church. What church? The church is splintered into many denominations and local bodies of believers. This is true also among Reformed churches. When article 28 was written, the church was already split: Lutheran, Calvinistic, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox. Today, it has split into many more factions. We need to recognize that church division is a reality resulting from sin. It is church division that causes people to proudly say, "My church is better than yours." Church division causes people to be church hoppers, going from church to church and criticizing the ones they have left. Though we recognize no church is perfect, yet we need to join the church.

Some say it makes no difference what church you join, just so long as you join a church. So, do we join the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church? What about the JWs or Mormons? What about one of the home churches? Or, what about the snake handlers or holy rollers?

B The article states "all people are obliged to join and unite" with the church. It is our duty to join the church. Why?
Ruth needed an irrigation part this past week. We hopped in the car and stopped off at Costco to fill up with gas. Did Ruth jump out of the car and say to the attendant, "I need an irrigation part." Of course not. Then we stopped at Best Buy for a computer part. Did Ruth repeat her request there? What about at Grocery Outlet? To get an irrigation part you go to Lowe's, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, or Ewing Irrigation. You don't go to Costco Gasoline, Best Buy, or Grocery Outlet. This is perfectly obvious.
The same is true of salvation. To be saved, you have to go where salvation is available. If you want to be saved, you must join the church.

In fact, in its opening statement, Article 28 tells us there is no salvation outside of the church. Some criticize this as sounding Roman Catholic. It is true that the Church of Rome holds to this view, but applies it to their system of mass, priesthood, bishops, and pope. Outside of this system, they say, there is no salvation. Basically, they are saying there is no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic clergy.

The Reformers state it correctly: there is no salvation outside of the church.
We believe that
since this holy assembly and congregation
is the gathering of those who are saved
... there is no salvation apart from it ...
What we confess here is about the true church. There is no salvation apart from the true church.

Join the church. What church? We join the true church. Article 29, which we will look at next time, tells us the marks of the true church: true preaching, proper administration of sacraments, faithful exercise of church discipline.

As we think about such things, don't dismiss this as merely theory or theology. We must ask, "How does this apply to me? What does this mean for my life? Am I a member of the true church?" These are the kind of questions we all should answer.

C You can't be a Christian alone. Alone you are not a congregation; there is no preaching of the Word, corporate prayer, sacraments, or offices. In the church, Christ is present. To the church, the ascended Lord gave pastors and teachers, elder and deacons, for the perfecting of the saints for the work of ministry. By the foolishness of the church's preaching, God is pleased to save them that believe. To leave the church where the Word is purely preached is to despise the God who ordained this means of salvation. Therefore it is everyone's duty to join the church and not to withdraw from it.

Join the true church. But be humble enough to realize the true church is more than Trinity URC. At the same time, we should never think it is unimportant where you belong.

Join the true church. There is room for you. In the church of Jesus Christ, there is room for great and small, high and low. Both prince and pauper must join the church in order to be saved. No matter how rich or poor, educated or simple, there is place for everyone in the church. The worst of men join the church and become better, and the most noble of men join the church and become sinners in their own eyes.

Join the true church. There are three reasons why people do not join the church. Either they do not wish to admit they are sinners needing salvation, or they do not desire the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ resulting in salvation, or they are such thorough going secularists that they pay no attention to spiritual matters. Whatever the reason, we need to pray they see the need to join the church.

II Submission
A Joining ourselves to the church also involves submission. Joining the church brings with it very serious obligations. That is because it is the church of God; it is not a human association that we join and may change to our liking.

The Confession states we submit to the church's instruction. This means doctrine. The doctrine of our church is expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dort. These are our confessional statements. In addition, there are secondary statements: the forms for the administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper, the ordination of office bearers, and the discipline of members. To this doctrine, every office bearer must subscribe by signing the Form of Subscription. Every believer, when he makes public profession of faith, declares to accept these truths of God.

B Believers must also submit to the church's discipline. I lay out the steps of discipline in Pastor's Class: Matthew 18, Silent Censure, First Announcement, Second Announcement, Excommunication. I tell class members when they join the church they promise to submit to the government of the church, to submit to her admonition and discipline. Not once has anyone ever said "No, I will not do that." Until, until, they or a family member are put under the discipline of the church. Then it becomes a different story, an ugly story. We can't get away with saying discipline is for other members. No, we all promise to submit.

C Believers must also bow their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ. Christ is the chief office bearer in the church. He is the head of the church. He is prophet, priest, and king of the church. He, not us, sets the standards for the church. He, not us, rules the church. He, not us, lays down the requirements for the church's life and practice.

Bowing under the yoke of Christ is hard to do if our heart is not in the right place. But when we live under the grace of the Savior, we learn that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

III Labor
A Joining ourselves to the church also involves labor. The Confession puts it this way:
and by serving to build up one another,
according to the gifts God has given [us]
as members of each other
in the same body.
Here we step into the middle of congregational life. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ has given many gifts to His body. These are not to be used for personal gain. Whatever gifts we have must be used to serve the welfare of the church of Christ and the cause of His kingdom.

When believers use their gifts for building each other up, they truly serve each other as brothers and sisters. There are numerous practical applications of this:
-serve in church office
-serve on a committee
-teach Sunday School or Catechism
-serve as an usher or greeter
-help in the sound room
-look after children in the nursery
-play the organ, piano, keyboard, or another instrument
-parking lot attendant
-youth, Cadet, or GEMS leader
-lead a Bible Study
-visit the sick and lonely
-provide a meal when someone has been hospitalized
-send a card
-offer a prayer
-help someone financially
This is what it means to be a living and active member of the church.

B Belonging to the true church also means separating ourselves from those who do not belong to it. I'm not saying we don't do evangelism and missions -- to say that is nonsense, of course. But believers should not be unequally yoked; an unbeliever is not to be your best friend unless you see hunger for the truth of God's Word. Friendship with the world always means loss to the church -- it is never the other way around. Let our young people keep this in mind, especially when they start dating. Do not date an unbeliever thinking you will be the means of their conversion. By God's grace it does happen, but it is a rare event. There is a world of agony when we end up in a relationship that pulls us away from church.

C Finally, the obligation to join the true church wherever God has put it is so serious, so sacred, that one must obey it, regardless of the consequences. Says the Confession, "even if civil authorities and royal decrees forbid and death and physical punishment result." Some think this is what we are experiencing now with COVID. But really what do we know of oppression and persecution? We can look forward to sitting in our padded pews again, we continue to live in our comfortable homes, we enjoy our freedoms, and experience unprecedented luxury. Our lives are not threatened, our bodies are not being tortured, and the Gospel is not being silenced.

This was not the case when the Confession was written. Guido de Brès, the author, was martyred by hanging because of his faith. How would you fare, how would I fare, if this was the tribulation we suffered in our land? Today, this is what many of God's people around the world face. There is more persecution of Christians today than at any time in the past. When will our time come? Pressure is mounting, and it seems as through persecution is on the horizon. The tyranny of political correctness robs us of our freedoms. The hatred and intolerance of liberals constantly attacks us. And, most likely, this is only the beginning. Will you be able to stand? Are you and will you always be a member of the true church? Don't delude yourself.

Hear, again, the words of Psalm 87 about the true church. Obviously, this is not the perspective of the world.
(Ps 87:5-7) Indeed, of Zion it will be said, "This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her." (6) The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: "This one was born in Zion." (7) As they make music they will sing, "All my fountains are in you."
Nothing, congregation, nothing is better than being part of Zion and being born as part of the true church.
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