************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 30 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 30, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 30
1 Timothy 3:1-13
"The Government of the Church"
In His common goodness to all mankind, God gives us the gift of government. I know many today don't see government as a gift, but it brings structure and order to society. That is why God gave it. Without government roads would fall apart, criminals would go unpunished, hospitals would be unfunded, to name only a few benefits.
Like the state, the church also must have government. Why? Because God hates disorder. God hates disorder in society -- how He must weep as He sees the mob rule in many of our cities. God hates disorder in families -- how He must weep as He sees families disintegrating. God hates disorder in the church. Keep in mind two of my favorite texts:
(1 Cor 14:33) For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
(1 Cor 14:40) But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
Now, did you notice how article 30 starts? The same way as almost every other article: "We believe ..." We believe the church must have government. We believe, because this is what the Bible teaches. We believe not only that the Son of God gathers a church. We also believe that He gives to the church ministers, elders, and deacons. The Confession says we believe that the true church ought to be governed according to this spiritual order that our Lord has taught us in His Word.
This evening I want to look at two points: first, the nature of Reformed church government; second, the exercise of Reformed church government.
I The Nature of Reformed Church Government
A What is the nature of Reformed church government? Let me lay out a number of principles.
First, we confess our system of church government is founded on the Word of God, the basic rule of church life. We did not invent or make up our method of church government. Rather, it is from the Scriptures; it is from God.
Second, the church belongs to Jesus. He bought her with His blood. Therefore the church is ruled by Him. The church is not a democracy in which the congregation rules through the majority of members. Rather, the church is a Christocracy in which Christ rules through the office bearers. All kinds of problems arise when we fail to understand this.
Third, it is Jesus who gives to the church her offices, office bearers, and government.
Fourth, the authority and power of the church is spiritual, not physical, in nature. Therefore, the church does not fine people or put them in jail. There have been times in history when the church wrongly resorted to the use of physical force. But the church's authority and power is only exercised by the proper use of the keys of the kingdom -- that is, the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline.
B Having said all this, it is helpful to consider the three main forms of government that we encounter in the church today.
First is Congregationalism. As the name implies, this view says the power rests in the local congregation. Congregationalists argue that we do not read about synods and councils in the New Testament, and therefore we should not have them. Though these churches may be part of a larger association, yet each church is independent and is completely free to accept or reject the decisions of broader assemblies. Office bearers are representatives of the congregation and receive their authority from the congregation. Today, this form of church government is most often found in Baptist and Evangelical circles.
C A second form of church government is known as Episcopalian. You might recognize this word because in the U.S. we have the Episcopalian Church. This system of church government focuses on the Greek word "episcopus" -- which means overseer or bishop. Drawing its name from this word, the Episcopalian system stresses the office of bishop. In its classic form, this system allows believers absolutely no say in the government of the church; all authority lies in the hands of the clergy. The best example of this system is the Church of Rome where all power and rule resides with the pope and is administered through the hierarchy of archbishops, bishops, and priests.
D A third form of church government is the Reformed system. Based upon Scripture, it follows the practice of the apostles: namely, the apostles preached, and wherever conversions took place, they established churches by ordaining elders and deacons. It is also known as "Presbyterian" because it recognizes the office of "presbyter" or elder. This view states that Christ is the church's only authority and that He exercises this authority through the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon. We believe this corresponds to the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king. Furthermore, the Reformed view also recognizes that each local church is fully the body of Christ; yet, they also band together in a denomination or federation for mutual supervision and to carry out the work of Christ collectively.
E Clearly, the office bearers occupy a high and important position in the Reformed/Presbyterian churches; but, they are merely men. It is important that this be clearly understood. I want you to think, for a moment, about the title for pastor some of our members have carried over from the Netherlands: the title of "domine." This is not a good title for any mere man to have. It is based upon a Latin word meaning lord or master. I know it is meant as a title of respect but no one except for Jesus is Lord and Master and deserving of this title. At the other extreme are those who have the impression that the minister is a servant of the congregation. The mentality is, "We hired him, we pay him, so he should do what we say and when we say." The minister is NOT a servant of the congregation; rather, he is a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a minister of the Word of God who serves Jesus by giving the congregation the truth of God's Word. Likewise, elders and deacons are not servants of the congregation either; rather, they are servants of Jesus; Paul calls them slaves of Jesus Christ -- and they are subject to Him in all things.
II The Exercise of Reformed Church Government
A This brings us to our second point: the exercise of Reformed church government. More properly, we are looking in this second point at Christ's exercise of His offices of prophet, priest, and king through the officers of the church.
Christ exercises His prophetic office through ministers or pastors: Christ speaks through the minister. Their calling is to preach the Word of God and administer the sacraments. The minister does not need to preach on his own experiences or say funny stories. Nor does he use the text as a spring board to one of his favorite subjects. Nor does he use a current event or trend or book as the primary subject of his sermon. The minister is not an analyst or commentator on current events. Sadly, many do this, and many people who hear such sermons are too easily impressed.
It is the minister's job to dig into the Word of God and bring out old and new treasures. He must expound the full range of biblical truth when it comes to Christ. Christ did not just die on the cross but He also arose from the grave and now rules from heaven; many preachers forget this and focus solely on justification and the cross. The minister must preach the full counsel of God. This includes words of warning and admonition, as well as words of comfort and encouragement. Sometimes his message must contain a sharp rebuke, and at other times a plea to be reconciled to Christ. He is not always popular, nor is he called to be popular; rather, he is called to be true to Christ and the Bible. Through such preachers and such preaching people are saved and God is honored.
B Christ exercises His kingly office through elders. The elder's task is to rule over the congregation.
(Acts 20:28) Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.Many such passages are quoted in the form for the Ordination of Elders. Pastors are also elders, but the non-preaching elders have the specific task of ruling. They go on personal or family visits to instruct the congregation in the way of godliness. They reprove when something is wrong, and encourage those who are downhearted, always pointing to Christ.
C Christ exercises His priestly office through the office of deacon. In Acts 6 we read how they were appointed to provide food and other care for some of the widows. In the same way as Christ speaks through the minister, and rules through the elder, so He also ministers through the deacons. This means, then, it is not the deacons who give to the poor, but it is Christ. The deacons are the hands that Christ uses to care for the needs of His people.
D Notice what happens when Christ works through pastors, elders, and deacons. First, "true religion is preserved." True religion means true worship. True religion is not entertainment. It is not therapy. It is not a loud band. It is the reverent worship of our Almighty God.
Second, when Christ works through pastors, elders, and deacons "true doctrine is able to take its course." There are so many heresies and heretics eager to teach false doctrine. Not only are there cults like the Mormons and JWs, but there is the prosperity gospel, the signs and wonders movement, the federal vision theology that thinks man must contribute to his own salvation, the antinomian view that Christians don't have to obey the Law, and a host of other errors. Over against all the false systems and sects, the truth of God's Word is passed down to the following generations and to new believers alike.
Third, "evil men are corrected spiritually and held in check." Church discipline is not the most pleasant task for those in church office but it is part of the essence, the being, of the church. It is not a luxury or an option. Whoever strays in life and/or doctrine must be disciplined. It is unloving if the church ignores discipline, just as it is unloving if parents do not discipline their children.
Fourth, "the poor and all the afflicted are helped and comforted according to their need." As James puts it, the church looks after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27).
Fifth, "by these means everything will be done well and in good order in the church." Our God, as I said at the beginning of this message, hates disorder. Our God is a God of order. He has given us ordinances on how to be orderly.
Let me end with an observation. You might think that in a Presbyterian or Reformed church the members have no voice or input into its affairs. That is not correct at all. The greatest input that members must and may have is to pray for the church and the office bearers. Pray that they be filled with the Spirit of Christ. Pray that they have wisdom, courage, and insight. Pray that they know how to feed the sheep. Pray that they themselves grow under the preaching of the Word. Where there is such prayer, the church will flourish. Where this prayer is lacking, the church will shrivel.
How can we pray this way about mere men? Because we recognize the office bearers of the church are the hands of Christ. And, it is only the hands of Christ that keeps the church safe, strong, and true.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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