************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 21a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 5, 2017
Lord's Day 21 (1)
"The Holy Catholic Church"
We continue our study of sound doctrine this morning (2 Tim 4:3). Sound doctrine, if you remember, is true doctrine, correct doctrine, doctrine based upon the Word of God. I want to remind you, that sound doctrine is organized and summed up for us in the Catechism and in the Apostle's Creed.
We need sound doctrine. We need it so badly. Because, as Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy, men do 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. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
We need sound doctrine. We need it so badly. A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to another pastor. I won't say his name or the name of his church. But I was really upset afterwards. Why? Because I was also told the name of his husband. You heard me right: a practicing gay is a pastor. Man's itching ears.
On this Preparatory Sunday we need to hear sound doctrine. We need to hear what sound doctrine says about the church. We need to hear what sound doctrine says about the church because there is so much confusion about the church.
I The Church and Confusion
The main subject of Lord's Day 21 is the church. So let me begin by asking, "What is the church?"
To some, the church is simply a crowd, a group, a gathering alongside every other crowd, group, or gathering in this world. To others, it is a mission station whose purpose is the saving of souls. To still others, it is an institution of mercy that feeds the hungry, visits the sick, houses the homeless, and ministers to the prisoner. And to still others, the church is an agent of social change to change attitudes about gays, climate change, racism, immigration, poverty, and so on.
Do you know what all of this reveals? All of this reveals ignorance as to what the church is. Because the church is none of these. The church is not a group like every other group. The church is not a mission station to save souls. The church is not an institution of mercy to feed the hungry. The church is not an agent of social change. She may do all of this but none of this is what the church is.
So what is the church? Let's look at what sound doctrine declares.
II The Church and the Spirit
A Last time, in looking at Lord's Day 20, we learned only those are saved who have a living connection with Jesus. We further learned it is the Spirit that joins us to Christ; that is, it is the Spirit Who makes us share in Christ and all His blessings.
You need to realize, congregation, not everyone is joined to Christ; in other words, not everyone is saved. So who is it that the Spirit joins to Christ? Who is it that are saved? We find the answer today: The Spirit joins to Christ "a community." The Spirit saves "a community." Who or what is this community? Quite simply, it is the church. Sound doctrine tells us, then, that the church is a community that the Spirit joins to Christ.
The church was and is gathered through the work of the Spirit. The church was and is born of the Spirit. The church was and is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit may be expressed in that one word: church.
B Our age likes to talk about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Our age likes to talk about an individual's salvation. Our age likes to keep track of individual baptisms and altar calls and conversions. This is not the Bible's way of looking at these matters. Rather, the Bible says that converts are added to the church (Acts 2:41,47; 5:14). The Spirit joins the church to Christ. We are part of a body. We are joined to Christ as part of a body. We are saved as part of a body. The New Testament knows nothing of a solitary religion. The Spirit's work in the lives of true Christian believers results in church membership and worship attendance. So, my brothers and sisters, church membership and worship attendance is not something optional.
III The Church and Sovereign Predestination
A Through the operation of the Spirit, the church is gathered as "a community chosen for eternal life."
Notice that word "chosen." The church is "a community chosen for eternal life." Chosen. Predestined. Predestination, like the doctrine of the Trinity, is one of the main arteries that runs throughout the Word of God. Everywhere in the Bible we find the truth of predestination. You cannot explain Scripture and you cannot receive the truth of God's Word unless you accept the teaching of divine predestination. You cannot maintain God is God, you cannot maintain man is dead in sin and misery, you cannot maintain the doctrine of vicarious atonement, unless you maintain sovereign predestination. Predestination, dear friends, is the determining cause of the church.
B We must insist that there is no other determining cause for the church than the sovereign election of God. Think about Paul's image of the church as a building (Eph 2:20-21). Can we join ourselves to the building? That's like saying a brick can determine what its place should be in a building, how the building should be built, how it should look, and how many of them should go into the building. Such a thing is not only impossible, it is also ridiculous. It is not in our power to join ourselves to Christ's body. We are not able to enter into a connection with Christ by an act of our own. We are not capable of joining ourselves into a living communion with Christ. As bricks in God's temple, we don't get to decide the when and where and how of our place.
It is not man but God and His decree of predestination that is the determining cause of the church. It is not predestination plus a little work of man. It is not predestination on the basis of foreseen faith. It is sovereign predestination that determines how the building is to look and who is to have a place in it. Predestination is the heart of the church.
C As I mentioned, Scripture speaks of predestination everywhere. I start with our Bible reading from Ephesians 1:
(Eph 1:4-5,11) For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love (5) he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will ... (11) In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,
In His conflict with the Jewish authorities, Jesus explains their resistance by means of divine predestination. He says, "but you do not believe because you are not my sheep" (Jn 10:26). Jesus does NOT put it the other way; He does not say, "you are not my sheep because you do not believe." Rather, He says, "but you do not believe because you are not my sheep." In other words, they are not chosen.
A couple of years ago we went through Genesis. Why did the covenant go through Seth rather than Cain? Why Noah and Abraham? Why Jacob rather than Esau? Because they are all part of the community chosen for eternal life.
I am sure you realize the book of Romans is filled with the teaching of election:
(Rom 8:28-30) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (29) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
(Rom 9:13) Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Cf Mal 1:2-3).
D The reason believers are part of the church is because they have been predestined to be part of the church. Yet, there are many who try to deny the sound doctrine of predestination. Most churches and Christians today say that God chose those whom He knew would believe. But Scripture puts it the other way: we are not elect because of faith, but unto faith; we are not elect because we are His children, but for adoption as His children; we are not elect because we are to His praise, but in order that we should be unto His praise.
God, not man, is sovereign. God, not man, is in control. God, not man, builds up the church. God, not man, chooses Who is part of His temple. Church is not something you choose; rather, it is a community for which you are chosen. Man's choice is left out of it entirely. It is not up to us. God does not choose on the basis of works, faith, offerings, intelligence, ethnic background. Sound doctrine humbles me. And it makes me grateful as I realize God has chosen me a sinner.
E Through the Spirit, God gathers a chosen community. Do you see how much God loves His church? Do you see how much you should love the church? Do you see why the church should have an important place in your life? Do you see why you should pray for the church? Do you see why you should speak no careless words about the church? She belongs to God and is chosen by God and is gathered by His Spirit.
IV The Church is One, Holy, Catholic
A Throughout its answer, the Catechism describes for us the characteristics of the church as one, holy, and catholic.
The community formed by Christ through the Spirit is one community. In the Apostles' Creed we confess "a holy catholic church." According to the Catechism, she is "a" community. One community. You may wonder how we can be one community when there are over 33,000 different denominations worldwide? You may wonder how we can be one community when every week we hear of church fights and church splits? I have a plaque in my office that explains this; based upon Ephesians 4 it reminds us we have "One Faith, One Hope, One Lord." Or, as the Catechism puts it, we are a community "united in true faith." That is, all true believers are one in Christ.
B The community formed by Christ through the Spirit is also holy. The church is holy because she has been called out. The church has been called out of the world. Called to be separate. Called to be different. The church is also holy because the Spirit lives within her. And, the Spirit works to make the church like Jesus -- holy, sanctified, pure.
C According to the Apostles' Creed, the community formed by Christ through the Spirit is "catholic." Many people have problems with that word "catholic." Right away they think it means Roman Catholic. The word "catholic" simply means all believers in Jesus Christ across the world and the ages.
The community formed by Christ through His Spirit is catholic. One of the things this means is that she is worldwide. The church comes "out of the entire human race." She isn't only for the rich or only for the white. The barriers of race, color, ethnic background, social class, education, and occupation are effectively destroyed by Christ. The community of the church formed by Christ is color-blind and barrier-free.
There are many today who say the church is going downhill, that she is on the way out, that she will disappear. The communists made this boast. Those who do surveys predict this. Pastors preach this. But what is the actual case?
The Catechism, based upon God's Word, tells us more about the church as catholic -- namely, that she is not only worldwide but that she is also "from the beginning of the world to its end." The church was present already in the Garden of Eden. The church will still be present at the return of Jesus Christ. Unless Jesus comes first, the church will still be standing and working long after you and I have parted from the scene.
Why? Because the members are so faithful? Because she clings to the Word and fights sin? Of course not! If it were up to us sinful, frail creatures to preserve and protect the church she would have disappeared with the twelve apostles. The church has been present from the beginning of the world to its end because her God is so faithful and it is He Who preserves the church. As Elijah discovered, by the grace and power of God the church has remarkable survival power (cf 1 Ki 19:18). God preserves. God protects. God keeps.
It is because of God's preserving power that the Christian can say with the Catechism, "And of this community I am and always will be a living member."
What do you believe concerning "the holy catholic church"? What does sound doctrine declare?
I believe that the Son of God
through his Spirit and Word,
out of the entire human race,
from the beginning of the world to its end,
gathers, protects, and preserves for himself
a community chosen for eternal life
and united in true faith.
And of this community I am and always will be
a living member.
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