************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 31 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 8, 2018
Lord's Day 31
Matthew 16:13-20; John 20:22-23
"The Keys of the Kingdom"
What are the marks of a true church? Or, to look at it from the opposite direction, what are the marks of a false church? How do we distinguish true churches from false churches.
The sound doctrine of the Catechism answers this question for us in Lord's Days 25-31. Now, remember, our theme as we go through the Catechism this time is "sound doctrine." Sound doctrine is biblical doctrine. Therefore, it is reliable doctrine, true doctrine, doctrine you can depend on.
First, sound doctrine tells us that a true church preaches the holy Gospel. Pastors in true churches don't preach opinions, popular themes, or whatever else men's itching ears want to hear. Rather, they preach the Word of God; they preach the Gospel. And, when true churches do so the Spirit produces faith in the hearts of His people. The Catechism looks at this in Lord's Day 25.
Second, sound doctrine tells us that a true church rightly administers two sacraments. That is, a true church doesn't baptize just anyone; nor does it allow just anyone to come to the Lord's Table. In true churches, the sacraments direct believers and their children to the promise of the Gospel that salvation is in Christ alone. And, when true churches do so the Spirit confirms the faith of believers. The Catechism looks at this in Lord's Days 25-30.
Third, sound doctrine tells us a true church exercises Christian discipline. The Catechism looks at this in Lord's Day 31 as it discusses the keys of the Kingdom. This is what we look at today.
I The Keys of the Kingdom
A The Kingdom the Catechism is talking about is the Kingdom of Heaven. Because keys open/close, lock/unlock, whoever has the keys of the Kingdom controls movement into and out of the Kingdom.
B Sound doctrine rightly declares that the keys and the power of the keys belong to Christ:
(Rev 3:7) "To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
(Cf Rev 1:18)
C Our Bible readings tell us Christ has entrusted His keys to the church: to Peter and the apostles, and by extension to the elders of the church. Since the keys belong to Christ, it is Jesus Himself Who opens and closes the Kingdom of Heaven when the church uses the keys in the way He intended.
In Sunday Evening Fellowship we have been watching a video series on key figures of the Reformation. We learned that the Roman Catholic Church condemned John Wycliffe, John Hus, and Martin Luther to the fires of hell because they dared to speak against errors in Roman Catholic teaching and practice. The Roman Catholic Church was using the keys of the Kingdom but NOT in the way Christ intended.
D Most churches and most Christians do not agree with this teaching. That is, they do not believe that the keys of the Kingdom have been given to the church. They do not believe the church opens and closes the doors of the Kingdom. Rather, they believe it is up to each individual person to open or close the doors of the Kingdom. But sound doctrine declares the keys of the Kingdom have been entrusted by Christ to His church.
E The Catechism identifies two keys for us: the first key is the preaching of the holy Gospel; the second key is Christian discipline towards repentance. Both preaching and discipline open the Kingdom of Heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers. Both preaching and discipline call sinners to repent of their sin and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. When sinners respond in faith and obedience, the Kingdom of Heaven is opened. When sinners fail to respond in faith and obedience, the Kingdom of Heaven is closed.
What opens and closes the Kingdom of Heaven? Preaching and discipline. Not music, not videos, not drama, not gimmicks, not programs, not Bible study, not Catechism class or Sunday School, not retreats. The Kingdom of Heaven is opened and closed by preaching and discipline.
The keys of the Kingdom are not to be despised. They are the most important and powerful keys in the world. By these keys some are admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven; and by these same keys some are excluded from the Kingdom.
II The Key of Preaching
A The first key of the Kingdom is preaching, true preaching. Now, let me define and explain true preaching. First, true preaching is commanded by Christ. I don't preach the Gospel because I think it is a good thing to do. I preach because this is Christ's command to the church.
Similarly, you don't listen to true preaching because it is intellectually stimulating but because Christ commands you to hear the Word of the Gospel.
Second, true preaching has authority because its content is the Word of God. It doesn't have authority because the minister is dynamic and energetic and interesting. It doesn't have authority because the minister has insights about politics, current affairs, science, and history. The sermon has authority because the minister preaches the Word of God.
This makes sermon making easy. The minister doesn't have to search for interesting ideas or topics to preach. Rather, he preaches the Word of God. This also makes sermon making hard. The minister must study the Word -- the Greek or Hebrew, the context, the history, the geography, cross-references, commentaries -- so he knows the meaning and can apply it to the life of the congregation.
The minister speaks with authority when -- and only when -- he preaches the Word of God. That is why Paul charges Timothy to "Preach the Word" (1 Tim 4:2). Preach the Word. Not opinion, not political commentary, not a popular religious book but the Word.
Third, true peaching gives the promises of the Gospel and the threats of the Gospel. Now, lots of preachers are really good at proclaiming the promises of the Gospel. You can go into almost any church in town and hear those promises. However, far fewer preachers also proclaim the threats of the Gospel. This is because the cry of our age is that the church should be inclusive, accept everyone, condemn no one, regardless of how they live or what they believe.
What is the promise of the Gospel proclaimed by true preachers? Not health and wealth, not prosperity, not name it and claim it. The promise of the Gospel proclaimed by true preachers is that those with faith receive the forgiveness of sins because of Christ alone.
What is the threat of the Gospel proclaimed by true preachers? The threat of the Gospel is that the anger and condemnation of God rests on all those who do not repent and believe, that such people are not in the Kingdom of Heaven and therefore may not be members of the church.
B This kind of preaching is one of the keys of the Kingdom. Because this kind of preaching opens the Kingdom of Heaven. It opens the Kingdom of Heaven to the elect.
(Rom 10:17) Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.That's what Paul wrote to the church at Rome. You need to realize the elect are not simply zapped with salvation. The elect come to faith and salvation by hearing the message -- the message of the Gospel.
And, true preaching also closes the Kingdom of Heaven. Unbelievers and hypocrites are warned, according to the command of Christ, that if they persist in their unbelief and disobedience they will experience the eternal condemnation of God.
III The Key of Christian Discipline
A This brings us to the second key of the Kingdom: Christian discipline. Every pastor and church that fails to properly use the key of preaching also fails to properly use the key of Christian discipline. But this should not surprise us: neglect of true preaching can only lead to neglect of Christian discipline.
Countless pastors and churches and Christians think the words "Christian" and "discipline" cannot belong in the same sentence. They believe there is no place for discipline in a Christian church. They believe Christian discipline in a Protestant church is like the Spanish Inquisition in the Roman Catholic Church. The modern church, it is argued, has no need for discipline. Instead, what we need is love, inclusiveness, and tolerance.
B What is Christian discipline? First, like true preaching, Christian discipline is commanded by Christ. Therefore, to neglect Christian discipline is to be disobedient to Christ.
Remember, the church is to use the keys of the Kingdom in the way that Christ intends. This means Christ is displeased when the church does not use the key of Christian discipline. And Christ is displeased when the church uses the key of Christian discipline only to increase her own power and to hurt the sheep.
Second, Christian discipline is to be exercised when church members profess unchristian teachings. Church members. Not non-members. What kind of unchristian teaching? At the very least, any teaching that denies the articles of the Apostle's Creed. So, any teaching that denies the doctrine of the Trinity. Any teaching that denies creation, fall, and redemption. Any teaching that denies salvation by grace through faith. Any teaching that denies the full divinity and humanity of Christ. Any teaching that denies the existence of hell. By the way, someone alerted me this past week to news articles that the pope has denied the existence of hell; if he was a member of Trinity he would be put under Christian discipline.
Christian discipline is also to be exercised when church members live unchristian lives. Paul gives us more than one list of sins that should result in Christian discipline:
(Gal 5:19-21) ... sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; (20) idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions (21) and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like ... those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Cf Col 3:8-9; 2 Tim 3:1-5)
Third, Christian discipline is not meant as punishment. It is not something negative. It has a positive goal: the repentance of the sinner, the purity of the church, the honor of God's name.
Fourth, Christian discipline is a process with a series of steps. Let me start by saying every step involves prayers and visits. With this in mind let me lay out the process of Christian discipline:
-the first step is Matthew 18; listen to what Jesus says:
(Mt 18:15-17) If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. (16) But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' (17) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church-step two: if the sinner refuses to listen to those who confront him the elders give repeated and loving counsel to the sinner to abandon his error and wickedness
-step three is silent censure: silent means no one outside the consistory is told about this; censure means the person in question cannot participate in the sacraments or be nominated for any leadership position in the church
-step four is the first announcement from this pulpit in which the elders ask the congregation to pray for the repentance of a brother of sister caught in unrepentant sin
-in step five the elders ask the advice of classis and once the advice has been given a second announcements is made in which the name of the sinner and the sin is mentioned
-step six is a third announcement in which a date for excommunication is given if the sinner has not repented
-step seven: the unrepentant sinner is excommunicated
I repeat, every step involves prayers and visits.
Notice the steps and the process are spiritual. The church is not commanded to imprison those who err in doctrine or in life. The church is not to torture them, confiscate their goods, or put them to death -- as was done by the Spanish Inquisition.
You might wonder, who would even consider submitting to such a process? Every single professing member of this church! Every single professing member of this church! Do you remember the fourth promise made by those who profess their faith?
Fourth, do you promise to submit to the government of the church and also, if you should become delinquent either in doctrine or in life, to submit to its admonition and discipline?As far as I know, no one has ever said NO to this question.
C This kind of Christian discipline is one of the keys of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is declared to be closed to a member who refuses to repent of his errors and wickedness. When it happens, this is one of the saddest moments in the life of any church because a member of the church is removed from membership and declared to be outside the Kingdom of Christ. Such a person is said to be delivered unto Satan.
However, Christian discipline also opens the Kingdom of Heaven. When a sinner promises and demonstrates genuine reform, they are received again as members of Christ and of His church. When this happens, we rejoice. We rejoice that someone lost has been found. We rejoice about the amazing grace of God.
What does sound doctrine say are the keys of the Kingdom? The preaching of the holy Gospel and Christian discipline towards repentance.
My hope and my prayer is that these keys will always will be found in Trinity URC and used the way the Lord Jesus Christ intended. For, don't forget, this is what the Lord uses to keep His church true and pure.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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