************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 28 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on January 31, 2010
Belgic Confession Article 28
"The Obligation of Unity"
This morning we heard about the New Jerusalem. What is it? It's not a place, but rather a people. It is the triumphant church, the church in glory, the church in perfect harmony, unity, and praise dwelling in eternity. This evening we take a look at the church today. What we call the Church Militant. This is the church on this side of glory. Tonight we will examine the importance of the church this side of glory. In our day there are a lot of people questioning church for a variety of reasons. It seems every day there is a new church scandal in the headlines. Often people see divisions and fighting found in there own church. People turn to home churches, saying "all I need is me and my family." Or "all I need is me and my Bible in a closet." Currently there is the emergent church movement, that is seeking to break away from much of the visible church ‘norms' and reinvent much of the way we look at the church. So with all this in mind we consider this very important article of the Belgic Confession.
The title of this section is "Obligations of Church Members," and what we find in it sit the main overarching obligation of the saints is unity. The obligation of each church member is unity in the Church. So we ask how are we to pursue this unity? First, we must each UNITE with the church, as Christ has united with us. Second, we must preserve UNITY in the church, as Christ keeps unity with us.
I. Unite [as Christ has United w/ You] (v. 4)
"4 There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called"
In the confession we read the statement "There is no salvation apart from it" that is…the church. What does this mean??? First let's take a step back and think about salvation. First lets look at the fact that Christ unites with us. In I Corinthians 6:15 we're told that we are "members of Christ himself." Secondly, we know that as soon as this happens we unite with the holy catholic church. That is to say we unity with all people from all time, all those who have been united with Christ, like we heard about last week. So this statement doesn't mean that if you don't make profession of faith in the church you can't have salvation. For example suppose you meet someone in a coffee shop, share your faith, they believe, and all the sudden get in a car accident on their way home. We don't need to doubt that they have salvation. Or another more common example, suppose someone comes to faith on their deathbed. Though they never entered the door of a church, we can have confidence that they are a part of the holy catholic church. However, what we want to say is that these are extraordinary circumstances. They are not the everyday. So in the ordinary circumstances, when one has been united to Christ, united to the catholic church, they are to Thirdly unite with the visible church.
That is why the confession is willing to use such strong language as "no salvation apart from it." Because it must be the desire of those who are in Christ to join the visible body of believers. And this was no new idea at the time of the Belgic Confession. In 250 A.D. Cyprian, an early church Father, already used this language encouraging Christians to join the church even thought they were under persecution. And of course Scripture speaks of God's elect as a holy assembly in a variety of places. Why??? Why is this so essential??? So that the ordinary means of grace may be received for they are received in the church. It is in the church where we receive the Word and the Sacraments. This is the means by which the people of God are given the grace of God, so they must be pursued in the church. So in this third point we're told to enter in to the church.
Fourth we're told "Do not Withdraw" from it. The people of God are sheep, and that should give us the image of a flock. To withdraw from the flock of God is the equivalent of fleeing into the wilderness. For a while one sheep may be okay. As long as you can continue to find grass, and water, as long as you don't encounter any bears or lions or thieves, but ultimately the sheep cannot survive on its own. That is why the church has the role of discipline. It is to protect the sheep. It is not out of anger, nor to punish, but rather it is to restore. The last thing we want to see is someone leave the church. But rather we long for those who are wandering to be brought back to the fold of God. Because if one leaves the fold of God visibly. It can only lead us to conclude a withdrawal from the invisible church, which is a withdrawal from Christ which ultimately means…
Fifth that they never truly were of the church, that they were never truly united to Christ. We believe in the perseverance of the saints, and we believe that Christ will uphold those who are His. Therefore, we are called to unite, as Christ has united with us.
Furthermore, we are told as those who are united, as those who do not withdraw, we are also we are to interact in the life of the church by…
II. Keep Unity [as Christ keeps Unity with us] (v.15)
"15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ."
We are not only to unite with the church, but we are to keep unity in the church as well. Unity is a term that can take on different meanings in our day. The most popular is one of peace at all cost. One that overlooks all differences, one that looks only at similarities, one that wants to avoid conflict no matter the cost. But what does it mean? What does it mean for us this evening? After all we're the UNITED Reformed Church. Well our unity must always be as the confession says, "according to God's Word." That must always be the foundation, or else there is no real unity. Psalm 2:12 tells us the words, "kiss the Son lest he be angry." Those words remind us that the goal of the church above all is to please Christ. Therefore, our unity must always flow from that idea. It must always be grounded there. And when it is, we must always seek to preserve that unity, and separate from all that would disrupt that unity.
A. Preserve (v.3)
"3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
As members of the church we are to preserve unity in every way possible. The two best ways that the confession spells out are through submission and service. Verse 11 of our text tells us that "11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers." There are roles that the Lord has given to different people in the church. And these roles are to respected for the preservation of unity in the church. One leader in the emergent church which I spoke of earlier goes as far as to say that, "pastors and elders hinder Christian Spirituality." This idea is exactly backwards. These have been given the keys to the kingdom, the word and discipline. It is through these positions that we may submit. Ultimately we must submit to Christ, whose yoke is easy as we are told in Matthew 11. Remember that submission to Christ, church leaders, and each other should always be always out of love and to preserve the unity in the church.
The second way in which we preserve unity is through service. In verse two of our text we are told, "2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love". We are to build one another up. Unity is best kept when we follow that great commandment to love one another, each of us using our gifts to help the others. Philippians 2:3 says that we should, "consider others better than yourself." We must serve each other in all our relationships within the church. Be the bigger person in an argument, the first to apologize, the first to forgive. Be humble and willing to learn. Be helpful when someone is in need. Through all these aspects of service, as well as with all the aspects of submission we may preserve our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are also given the interesting instruction that to keep unity sometimes separation is needed. These people who the confession speaks of that we are to separate from may seem vague at first glance. What does it mean? Is the confession saying don't talk to non-Christians? Well of course not. It means that we are to separate from the ways of the world. We must not pretend that the church has unity with the world. Whether that is in the community, for instance many public universities hold multi-faith services upon graduation, and Christian churches participate! Whether it is in the Christian life, for instance when Christians marry unbelievers. Or even when it takes place in the church. We must take constant inventory of the church, and see when for the sake of unity with God's word. It becomes necessary to separate from a church. After all, we are a Reformed church, and that's what the Reformation was all about!
Further, this principle applies to the state as well. This doesn't seem a huge charge for us today, but it is a reminder that there are many places where it is very true. Where to be true to the Lord is to defy the state. It is a reminder of the nature of the church. No state is over it, only Christ is its head. The author of our confession knew this all too well. Guido DeBres would die for this very reason, for upholding this very article. He would keep unity with the church by separating from the state, and by doing so he would remain joyous in prison. He would still be speaking scripture and words of comfort as he stood on the gallows. And even long after he had been buried in a shallow grave that the dogs dug up, he would help to keep the unity of Christ's church. He would keep unity with Christ, with the word of God.
And it is for that which we still seek beloved. Unity!!! To Unite with Christ's church, and to uphold its Unity. Until that day where Unity shall perfected…The New Jerusalem… Amen.
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