************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 30 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 21, 2010
Belgic Confession Article 30
1 Timothy 3:1-13
"The Government of the Church"
One of the books I had to read in Seminary was "Images of the Church in the New Testament" (HOLD IT UP). How many different images of the church do you think there are in the New Testament? This book mentions 96 of them. Let me mention some of my favorites: salt of the earth, light of the world, letter from Christ, boat, ark, bread, one loaf, branches, bride of Christ, ambassadors, people of God, chosen race, holy nation ... and the list goes on and on.
What is significant about this? I want to remind you that there is a variety of different ways of looking at the church. In our study of the church in Articles 27-29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith, we have seen her described as a holy congregation (27, 28), holy assembly (28), gathering (28), body (29), fellowship (29). The Confession's main concern so far has been to define the true church and to stress the need for membership in her.
Today, we look at the church from a different point-of-view. We look at her in terms of her organization, her government, her Church Order. Yet, I want to remind you, it is still the true church that we are talking about. Says the Belgic Confession of Faith:
We believe that this true church ought to be governed according to the spiritual order that our Lord has taught us in his Word.
I We Believe
A I want to start by highlighting something in the Belgic Confession of Faith that we often overlook. Almost every article contains the phrase, "We believe." So, everything we have been looking at is not something optional, something indifferent, something we can take or leave; rather, everything we have been looking at in the Belgic Confession of faith is considered essential to our faith. It is something "we believe." It is something we confess before God and to men.
What do we believe? We believe the Doctrine of God as laid out in Articles 1-13, the Doctrine of Man as we find it in Articles 14-15, the Doctrine of Christ as mentioned in Articles 16-19, the Doctrine of Salvation as included in Articles 20-26, and the Doctrine of the Church as defined by Articles 27-36.
B I want you to notice that in this last category – the Doctrine of the Church – we also believe certain things about the government of the church. Now, I admit that the principles and practices of church government are not topics that sell many Christian books, draw large audiences to conferences, or excite the average man and woman in the pew. Yet, this is part of what "we believe." Says the Confession, "We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths" (Article 1), that the true church "ought to be governed according to the spiritual order that our Lord has taught us in his Word" (Article 30). Have you ever thought of church government this way? That it is an article of faith? That it is part of our confession to the world?
C So, what do we believe when it comes to church government? First, implied, but not stated, by the Confession is that Christ is "head of his church" (Q & A 50). It is His church. He has bought her with His blood. So, He is the head while she is the body.
Our second belief concerning church government is that Jesus sets the rules, gives the commands, and lays down the principles of church government. And, He does so "in his Word" (Article 30), where He teaches the "spiritual order" by which the "true church ought to be governed" (Article 30). Our Bible reading, for instance, tells us true churches have faithful men who serve as elders and deacons (1 Tim 3). Furthermore, it tells us the Biblical qualifications for those in church office. In 2 Timothy 4, we are told the duty of pastors is to "Preach the Word" (2 Tim 4:2).
Having said this, I also have to say that not every issue of church government is expressed fully in Scripture. For instance, the Bible does not tells us how to conduct meetings of Consistory, or Classis, or Synod – there is no "Robert's Rules of Order" in the Bible; the Bible does not tell us the proper way to word an appeal or an overture; nowhere does the Bible tell us the proper procedure for calling a minister; the Bible does not list the guidelines for a candidacy exam; the Bible does not tell us how to conduct weddings and funerals. So, what does the church do in these instances? She uses common sense, the light of nature, and Christian prudence to follow the principles laid down in God's Word.
II Ministers, Elders, Deacons, and Councils
A Remember what Pastor Godfrey said when we looked at Article 29 of the Confession? He said the marks of the true church include pure preaching of the Gospel, pure administration of the sacraments, and the practice of church discipline. For these marks to be present in a congregation, someone has to be appointed to do them. The church must be organized in such a fashion that the marks can actually be present. To that end, the Belgic Confession of Faith tells us there must be "ministers or pastors ... elders and deacons" (Article 30).
Furthermore, as I already said, Christ is the head of the church. He rules the church. He is the Shepherd of the sheep. However, physically He is in heaven while we are on earth. So, He needs under-shepherds. The under-shepherds that Christ appoints to rule the church on His behalf are the church offices of pastor, elder, and deacon. This is why, in true churches, rebellion against church officers is the same as rebellion against Christ.
Pastor, elder, and deacon are the three offices Christ has given to the church. Generally speaking, we can say that just as the Old Testament nation of Israel had three offices by which the Lord led His people (prophet, priest, and king), so too the New Testament church has three offices.
B According to the Belgic Confession of Faith, in true churches
There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments.This office corresponds generally to the Old Testament office of prophet, since both these offices are offices of the Word.
Down the road from one of the congregations I served was a Bible Chapel. As the President of the local ministers' group I called the church and asked to speak to the pastor. "We don't have one," was the reply. "We don't believe preachers are necessary."
The same thing is true in the Quaker churches. They also don't believe in ministers. Where we ordinarily have a sermon, they have a time of quiet meditation or a Spirit-prompted prayer, exhortation, story, or exposition from one of the members.
True churches have pastors who preach the Word of God. I love what Paul said to young Timothy
(1Tim 4:12-13) Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (13) Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
The preaching of the Word is so important, dear people. It is one of the marks of the true church, it is one of the keys of the kingdom, it is one of the means of grace. The Word of God is food for the soul – hungry souls. Scripture uses all sorts of metaphors to express this: the Word of God is milk (1 Pet 2:2), bread (Deut 8:3), manna (Jn 6:35), solid food (Heb 5:12), and honey (Ps 19:10).
Which is why ministers or pastors are so important. Which is why we must hold ministers in special esteem. Which is why we must be at peace with them without grumbling, quarreling, or fighting (cf Article 31). They feed the sheep with the Word – both in preaching and in administering the sacraments.
True churches have pastors who preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments. Now it is becoming increasingly difficult for pastors to do this for two reasons. First, because of time demands. We expect a lot of our pastors besides preaching. They are expected to look after the liturgy and bulletin; teach catechism and Pastor's class; lead various Bible studies, youth group, young adults; go to meetings; visit the elderly, sick, troubled, and lonely; counsel the hurting; offer pre-marital counseling; perform weddings and funerals; be involved in a kingdom cause; do community work and calling; chase down the wayward; do administration work; be on a committee of classis; serve on federation committees; and evangelize the neighbors. With all of these responsibilities and more, the temptation always exists to cut corners. And, the corner that is usually cut by most pastors is the sermon. Which is why I am so thankful for Pastor Godfrey; because there are two of us, we are both able to spend the time we should on the sermons we prepare and preach.
The second reason it is becoming difficult for pastors to preach the word and administer the sacraments has to do with the people themselves. Let me quote Paul's words to Timothy:
(2Tim 4:2-4) Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. (3) For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (4) They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.How does take place today? Many congregants, today, choose to be offended if the minister speaks on certain sins or certain subjects. So, to keep the peace, the minister is instructed to keep silent. Then, there are those congregants who are always looking for something new and different and exciting. They want something besides the Word of God. We can't forget about those today who come to church to be entertained. You can easily pick out those churches and congregants: they are filled with applause, gimmicks, musical programs, liturgical dance, plays, guest testimonies, and the like. Also, don't forget a lot of what we see on TV today – pastors like Joel Osteen and Robert Schuller and even the late Dr. Kennedy who all preach to itching ears instead of preaching the Gospel.
C The second office we find in true churches is that of elder, which corresponds generally to the Old Testament office of king, since these are both offices of rule. In some churches, the office of deacon is the ruling office. But this is not the Bible's design. The first consideration of those who rule in the church is not to be money but the will of the Lord.
D Thirdly, the spiritual government of the Lord's church also involves the office of deacon. This office compares to the priestly task of looking after the poor, the sick, and the needy (Lev 13-15).
E According to the Confession, ministers, elders, and deacons together "make up the council of the church" (Article 30) – the actual translation of the original French word is "senat." Here, the Belgic Confession is teaching a Presbyterian system of church government.
You should know that today there are three basic kinds of church government. First, there is the congregational system of church government. Governing power rests not with elders or pastors but with the entire congregation. Office bearers are but representatives elected by the congregation to carry out the congregation's wishes and decisions. This is the method of church government most similar to our democratic style of civil government.
Second, there is the episcopal system of church government. This is the system favored by the Roman Catholic church. Authority rests not in elders or deacons or a council but in priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the pope. In other words, this system has a hierarchy. Like a big business, decisions are made from the top down. And everyone is expected to obey the chain of command. In this system, the real authority rests with the clergy. The laity, through elders and deacons, have no real place within the governing structure. The minister is the boss.
And then there is a third system – our system – of church government: the Presbyterian or Reformed system. It is based upon the word "presbyter" – the Greek word for "elder" or overseer in our Scripture reading. In the Presbyterian system of church government, the authority rests with the elders – which includes the minister. They may be elected by the congregation, but they get their authority from Christ. They may be elected by the congregation, but their task is to represent Christ. They may be elected by the congregation, but their calling is to carry out the will of Christ. Why am I saying this? So that you realize our system of church government is not a democracy in which the will of the majority carries the day. Sometimes, in obedience to Christ and for the good of the congregation, elders have to ignore the wishes of the congregation. No, our method of church government is not a democracy.
III The Benefits of Church Government
A Notice that the Confession says something about the need for church government. It says the true church "ought to be governed" (Article 30). The true church must be governed. Why? Why can't we have a church with no rules, no structure, no government?
Let's start by looking at some wrong reasons for church government.
A pastor's daughter had a fight with some school friends. She was spluttering with rage because of the way they had hurt her. "You, You, You bunch of ... of ... of elders." In her mind, at least, you couldn't stoop any lower than that.Does God appoint elders merely to make trouble for ministers and/or to keep them in line?
We've seen plenty of examples, lately, of pastors and churches that I call the church of the open palm – they are always holding out their hand for money, more and more money. Is this the purpose of church government – to be money machines, never satisfied unless they have more?!
B By way of contrast, notice the positive and powerful reasons for church government according to Article 30.
The first reason: true religion is preserved. When pastors, elders, and deacons do their job, the pure Word is preached, the sacraments are rightly administered, and discipline is faithfully exercised.
The second reason: true doctrine is able to take its course. As we end mission emphasis, we are reminded that the unbelieving need to repent, children need to be instructed in the faith, youth need to be challenged to confess their faith, and all members are expected to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The third reason: evil men are corrected spiritually and held in check. Not only are sinners held accountable, but false teaching and teachers are corrected. Don't forget: we all are sinners and need to be held accountable or else we will all do and we will all believe what is right in our own eyes.
The fourth reason: relief and comfort of the poor and distressed.
The fifth reason: so that everything is done well and in good order (1 Cor 14:40). This, says Paul, is rooted in God's character: God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor 14:33).
"We believe ..." We believe many things, don't we? Included in our beliefs is a system of church government. "We believe that this true church ought to be governed according to the spiritual order that our Lord has taught us in his Word" (Article 30).
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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