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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
 www.smithvillecanrc.ca
 
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Christ gathers His church today - and we are part of it!
Text:LD 21 Q&A 54 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's gathering work
 
Preached:2002-12-01
Added:2004-04-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Lord's Day Day 21 Q&A 54

54. Q. What do you believe concerning the holy catholic Christian church?
A. I believe that the Son of God,[1] out of the whole human race,[2] from the beginning of the world to its end,[3] gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself, [4] by His Spirit and Word,[5] in the unity of the true faith,[6] a church chosen to everlasting life.[7] And I believe that I am[8] and forever shall remain a living member of it.[9]
[1] John 10:11; Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11-13; Col. 1:18. [2] Gen. 26:4; Rev. 5:9. [3] Is. 59:21; I Cor. 11:26. [4] Ps. 129:1-5; Matt. 16:18; John 10:28-30. [5] Rom. 1:16; 10:14-17; Eph. 5:26. [6] Acts 2:42-47; Eph. 4:1-6. [7] Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:3-14. [8] I John 3:14, 19-21. [9] Ps. 23:6; John 10:27, 28; I Cor. 1:4-9; I Pet. 1:3-5.

Scripture Reading:
John 17:1-8
Acts 16:6-15

Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 122:1,2,3
Psalm 115:6
Hymn 40:1,2
Psalm 87:1,2,3,4,5
Hymn 46:1,2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

If one had to list doctrines about which there is confusion, one would have to mention also the doctrine concerning the church. A generation or so ago one knew it was the Lord's will that one be and remain Free Reformed. That general certainty is gone, and the evidence lies in the fact that in the last number of years people have much more easily withdrawn from the church than was the case in years past. A second indicator of change on the point is the ease with which faithful members of the congregation spend Sundays away, and either go to a different church or content themselves with not going to church at all; they instead listen to a tape.

In the face of this increasing lack of clarity about the Lord's revelation on the church, I need today to open with you God's word on the matter. I want to do so by highlighting two points. First I need to draw out the Savior's sovereign work. Then I need to accent our responsibility.

I summarize the sermon with this theme:

CHRIST GATHERS HIS CHURCH TODAY - AND WE ARE PART OF IT!
1. The sovereign work of Jesus Christ.
2. The responsibility of today's Christian.


1. The Sovereign Work of the Jesus Christ.

Before the Lord God created the world, He had determined all that would happen in the history of the world He was about to fashion. That includes who would be saved. I read in Eph 1 that God "chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world" (vs 4). That is: from out of the whole human race that would populate the earth in the course of time, the Lord elected a certain, definite number to salvation in Jesus Christ. Imagine two circles, the outer one representing the total population of earth over the centuries of history, and the inner one the total number of the elect.

In the passage we read from Jn 17, the Lord tells us that God has given these elect persons, this inner circle, to the Son. Vs 6, says Jesus: "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to me." (cf vss 2,9,11,12, etc). These are, of course, the elect whom the Father had chosen before the foundation of the world. At Jesus' birth the angel told Joseph to call the baby's name 'Jesus' because -he said- "He will save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). "His people": that's a reference to the elect of God whom the Father would give to the Son. It was for them that the Christ came into the world, for them that the Son laid down His life on the cross. Their sins were transferred to the Son, the Son paid for those sins so that these elect persons are now righteous before God; they are heirs of eternal life.

Who are these people whom the Father chose to life eternal and gave to the Son? The Scriptures are emphatic: they are not only Jews or Europeans. It's true that in the Old Testament God chose Abram for Himself and established His covenant of grace with him and his seed. That's why the Old Testament tags specifically the people of Israel as God's people - in distinction from the Moabites and the Egyptians and the Greeks, etc. But when God first set Abram apart for Himself, He straightaway said God would make Israel a blessing for the nations (cf Gen 12:3). So the Lord also took a Rahab from the Canaanites and engrafted her into the people of God. And God took a Ruth from the Moabites and engrafted her also into the people of God. Indeed, the Holy Spirit moved the prophet Zechariah to announce that "Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people" (2:11; cf Is 45:23). That includes the Europeans of the world and the Arabs of today! With the death of Christ on the cross the dividing wall God had placed between Jews and Gentiles was broken down (Eph 2:11ff). So when Jesus before His ascension told His disciples that all authority had been given to the Son in heaven and on earth (for the whole world is Christ's kingdom), the disciples were therefore to go and make disciples of "all nations" (Mt 28:19f). Peoples of every tribe and tongue and race on earth must to be told of the saving work of God in Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of their sins and their redemption from the judgment of God. For God has elected persons of every tribe and tongue and race, and given them to the Son. So the disciples did according to Christ's command; they preached the gospel throughout the world - and so churches were established throughout the known world of those days.

Before I draw out this thought further, brothers and sisters, in terms of today's world, I need to explain the link between Christ's sovereignty in heaven and the labors of the apostles. I do so by referring to the passage we read from Acts 16.

The apostles, says that chapter, went "through Phrygia and the region of Galatia," but "they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia" (vs 6). Again, "they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them" (vs 7). We need to know: the Spirit is always the Spirit of Christ. That is: through the Spirit the ascended Christ did not permit His messengers to preach the word in Asia and Bithynia. Instead, through His Spirit Christ directed His apostles to Troas. In Troas the Lord gave Paul a vision of a man pleading him to come to Macedonia. So Paul went, and began to preach the word in Philippi. And behold: "a certain woman named Lydia heard us.. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul" (vss 14f). "The Lord": that's the ascended Christ (cf Acts 2:36). This woman came to faith. Why did she come to faith? Because she was one of those whom the Father had chosen to life before the foundation of the world, and therefore one of those whom the Father had given to the Son! Yet she could not benefit from Christ's saving work until she came to faith. And faith comes from the Holy Spirit through the preaching.. So Christ from heaven above sent preachers to Philippi to bring her the good news..

Do you see, beloved, how Christ is at work here? Yes, He has ascended into heaven, and from His throne He governs the world. But He governs with His people in mind! So Christ through His Spirit forbade Paul from preaching in Bithynia and Asia (for there were in those regions none whom the Father had given to the Son who now had to hear the gospel!); Christ instead sent Paul to Philippi because in that town there were those whom the Father had given to the Son and they should now come to faith. This is the point the church confess in the Canons of Dort, Chap 1, Art 3, pg 532. Here the church echoes God's revelation like this:

"So that men may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends heralds of this most joyful message to whom He will and when He wills. By their ministry men are called to repentance and to faith in Christ crucified."

Let it be fixed in our minds, congregation: that preachers go out with the word of God to this nation and that town is not the work of men, but is Christ at work. It is Christ gathering His church!

The point is important. We confessed with Lord's Day 19 that our Savior is in heaven, and that from heaven He directs the events of world history. But whatever He does in world history is done with a view to His church-gathering work. The Father had given certain persons in Philippi to the Son, and so the ascended Christ directed the events of history in such a way His apostles would not go to Bithynia and Asia, but would go instead to Philippi. Again, because the Father had given certain persons in Philippi to the Son, the ascended Christ saw to it that language would not be a hindrance for the preaching of the gospel; though the gospel came from Judea, Christ chose a preacher fluent in the language and culture of Greece - where Philippi was located.

Christ's divine leadership in history was not limited to those days. Today still the Lord leads world history in such a way that preachers can bring the gospel to those whom the Father has given to the Son. It may well be that the turbulence in the Middle East today will prepare the way for preachers to preach the gospel amongst the Arabs; there may be those whom the Father has given to the Son, and so the Son works opening for the preaching in that part of the world. However that may be, the fact of the matter is that Christ is busy causing the gospel to go to all those whom the Father has given to Him - of every tribe and tongue and nation. That's His church-gathering work.

Acts 16 tells us another aspect of Christ's church-gathering work. After Lydia and her household were baptized, Paul and Silas ended up in prison. Through an earthquake and the preaching that followed, the jailer also came to faith. In other words: the Father had given this jailer also to the Son, and so the Son caused the Word of life to cut across the jailer's life and meet with faith in his heart. After the apostles' release from prison we read this amazing conclusion: they "entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed" (vs 40).

My point is this. Christ has worked faith in Lydia, has worked faith also in the jailer. But after the departure of the apostle, Christ does not desert these two persons. Yes, He has worked faith in their hearts, and now He continues His work with them. There is no indication that Lydia and the jailer knew each other before they came to faith. There is no indication either that the two of them lived in the same part of the city. But after Paul's release from prison he returned to Lydia's house, and there met the brethren - says vs 40. You see, the Lord Jesus Christ, after He had worked faith in these two persons, brought them together. And He did that not once, but time and time again. Here is more of the Savior's church-gathering work; these people of Philippi in whom He worked faith are not deserted, nor left as so many regenerated individuals scattered across town, each separate from each other. No, the Christ who caused the gospel to come to them now gathers them together to be His church in that town. The church is not all the elect of God scattered as so many regenerated individuals over the face of the earth; the very word 'church' means literally in the Greek language an 'assembly', a 'gathering' (cf Acts 19:32,39,41).

This work of Christ in Philippi whereby He gathered together those in whom He worked faith became a pattern in every town where there were persons whom the Father had given to the Son. From Philippi the apostles traveled on to Thessalonica, and preached the word. And there also those persons who were chosen to life before the foundation of the world came to faith. These believers did not remain as so many islands to themselves in Thessalonica, for the ascended Christ gathered them together to form His church in Thessalonica, the assembly of His people. So the apostle Paul could write a letter "to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 1:1). The same happened in Berea and in Athens and in Corinth, and the other places where the Father had given elect persons to the Son. Always, brothers and sisters, this is Christ at work; it is He who sovereignly, graciously, sends His servants to preach, works faith, and gathers the elect together. All of it is His church-gathering work

That's a work that continues in the course of church history, that continues today too, even in Australia, yes, in Kelmscott. We're so used to being church, so used to coming to church, but it's to be fixed in our minds that what we see here Sunday by Sunday is the work of the exalted Christ! From heaven above He is busy in Kelmscott, and in Albany and in Amsterdam and in countless places around the world, some known to us and many unknown. He has His elect, those whom the Father has given to the Son, and so He sent His preachers to proclaim the gospel and these elect came to faith; more, then Christ gathers these believers together to form His church in that town. Please, beloved, let us not get used to it, but let us marvel instead: Christ is busy in November 2002, is busy all over the world causing the word of life to be preached here, there and everywhere where there are persons whom the Father has given to the Son. Christ is busy even in our little corner of the globe, in Kelmscott, and we are allowed to see something of His work with our own eyes - here, today! We see it, more, we're even allowed to be part of it - how amazing!! And how encouraging!

I said at the beginning of the sermon that there's a measure of confusion in relation to the doctrine of the church. I trust, now, that this much is clear (and it's a critical point!): the church is not the work of men! The church consists of people, yes, but it is not the product of people. The Holy Spirit draws our attention to Christ, we said last week, and it is in the church that we see very concretely something of what Christ is doing today. The Christ who died on the cross and today governs the world from the Father's right hand has gathered and is gathering into one assembly the people whom the Father has given to Him, elect persons from every tribe and tongue and race. It's this gathering of those who trust in Christ that constitutes the church. That's why the Belgic Confession describes the church as it does in Art 27. Says this confession concerning the church (pg 462):

"[It] is a holy congregation and assembly of the true Christian believers, who expect their entire salvation in Jesus Christ, are washed by His blood, and are sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit."

Christ takes the believers and brings them together, and that body of believers is His church in a given place. He gathers His people together anywhere on the face of the earth, and that's what caught with the term 'catholic'. The term means 'universal', and the point is that Christ does His church gathering work anywhere around the world - in Kelmscott and in Albany and in Amsterdam and in so many other places known to us or unknown. Again in the words of Art 27:

"Moreover, this holy church is not confined or limited to one particular place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world. However, it is joined and united with heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith."

Here is the fulfillment of passages of Scripture as Zech 2, the passage I quoted before, where the Lord says that "Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people" (2:11). Persons of every tribe and tongue and race have been chosen by the Father and given to the Son, and that is why there is no place for any form of racism amongst the people of God; Christ is busy anywhere in the world gathering His own together. It's for us to see it, to take encouragement from it, and so to acknowledge that persons of other tribes and cultures are our brothers and sisters in Christ, washed by one blood, joined and united with us to the one Christ.

Today so much brokenness can keep the people of God apart, can prevent so much understanding and respect for Christ's worldwide church-gathering work. But on the day of Christ's return all the brokenness will end; on His great day we'll all congregate together and together sing the praises of the Lamb who died for us all and gathers that catholic church! In the brokenness of this life, it's for this day that the church longs so eagerly!

I come to our second point:

2. The Responsibility of today's Christian.

The ascended Lord, then, gathers His church. Around the world He takes His own Sunday by Sunday from their houses and beds, and brings them together around His word. But how does He do that? How, concretely, did the Lord bring you church today?

He does that, brothers and sisters, by activating our responsibility. He gives us the command to gather together, to go to church. In the Old Testament already the Lord told His people that on the Sabbath day they had to gather together. Lev 23: "the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation" (vs 3), "a sacred assembly" (NIV). After Jesus' ascension the New Testament church did precisely that; on the Day of Pentecost -the first day of the week- the believers of Jerusalem "were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1). In the rest of the New Testament you find that very pattern; the believers came together on the first day of the week (cf Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Rev 1:10). So the apostle can give this instruction to the Hebrews: "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as is the manner of some" (Heb 10:25). It's on the basis of material as this that the church confesses in Lord's Day 38, about the fourth commandment, that "especially on the day of rest I diligently attend the church of God." You see: Christ in heaven gathers His church on earth, and does so by giving us the command to leave our homes Sunday by Sunday and come to church. He gives us no option here; He wants His people together, and He brings that about by activating our responsibility.

So we have this picture, brothers and sisters. On the one hand we marvel at the work the Lord is doing in today's world, a work that reaches across the globe and extends even into our own community, yes, that touches even ourselves. We marvel at His church gathering work, and we praise Him for it. At the same time we recognize the way in which the Lord is pleased to operate and take the consequences seriously, that is, we recognize that the Lord gathers His church through us obeying His commands. So, exactly because we delight in His church gathering work in our modern world, we make it our business to gather along with Him. We make it our business to bring ourselves together, to come to church Sunday by Sunday. This is what the church confesses in Art 28 of the Belgic Confession:

"We believe, since this holy assembly and congregation is the assembly of the redeemed and there is no salvation outside of it, that no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, no matter what his status or standing may be. But all and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it.."

Notice the strong words of the confession here. "All and everyone are obliged to join" this holy assembly and congregation - that's the gathering of God's people as we see it Sunday by Sunday, and no one is permitted to withdraw from it. Joining: that's not a matter of including your name in a membership register (as if the church is some sort of a club); no, joining is first of all a reference to coming together when the Lord calls His people together, and that's Sunday by Sunday. "All . who draw away from the church or fail to join it act contrary to the ordinance of God."

Yes, that's strong language. The Father has given certain people to the Son, and these persons the Son does not leave as so many isolated individuals in their various homes across town, but rather He gathers them together for their edification and worship of God. Because Christ is at work in gathering His church, no one has the right to refuse to come together; all are obliged to heed Christ's church gathering work in Kelmscott and so gather along with Christ, take seriously the responsibility the Lord has given us. That's so because the church is Christ's work.

Then I realize well that any assembly of the redeemed will remain riddled with faults. If Paul can say to the Romans that he can will what is right but can't do because of the sin that remains in him (Rom 7), shall we be surprised, or even offended, when we see faults in each other? No, I do not say that we have to ignore each other's faults; we certainly have a duty to encourage each other to ever greater holiness. But at the same time we need to keep in mind that the church is Christ's work, and He is pleased to gather sinners together, not perfect people. He knows that I have faults, yet He brings me here. He knows that you have faults, yet He brings you here too. Even while we encourage each other in the Lord's service, we keep our eye first and foremost on the Christ-who-gathers-you-and-me-together, and as long as we keep our eye on Christ we shall not stumble over each other's remaining weaknesses. But once the eye is off of Christ, the sins we see in each other become offensive, and the temptation so great to withdraw from the church and to try to find a more holy gathering of believers, or one where we feel more comfortable. But that's not the way the Head of the Church wants it! Our eye is to stay on Him, and therefore wait patiently for Him to perfect the church. That will happen on the last day, for that's when we will be delivered of this body of death - so inclined as it still is to sin. Meanwhile, we recognize Christ's work in our midst, and for His sake we join and continue to join the gathering He works, Sunday by Sunday.

But that raises another question. Where are we to go to gather with the saints of God? There is in Kelmscott any number of buildings opening their doors on Sunday for public worship, all with the term 'church' on the building or a nearby sign. On Railway Ave there's a Roman Catholic Church, on Third Ave a Baptist Church, on the top end of Lake Road the Church of Christ, here the Free Reformed Church, also on Railway Ave the Westminster Presbyterian Church. What's my responsibility here: where would Christ have me to gather with His people? May I take my pick? May I go where my friends are? Where I feel comfortable?

The answer, brothers and sisters, is determined by whether my eye is on Christ or not. It's the emphasis of Scripture, it's the emphasis on our Lord's Day, it's the emphasis of this sermon: the church is Christ's work. Then yes, we have a responsibility, and that is that we gather where Christ is, where He is sovereign, where people (as much as possible in this fallen world) do not get in the way of Christ being at work. So the people He uses in His work must submit themselves with all their strength and insight to His revealed will. This is the point of the well-known three marks of Art 29. The gathering I must join is that which

". practices the pure preaching of the gospel. It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them. It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and regarding Jesus Christ as the only Head. Hereby the true church can certainly be known and no one has the right to separate from it."

That's why we gather here in this place. As far as we can tell, here Christ reigns and all is done (again, as much as possible in this broken world) in accordance with Christ's will.

And those who do not gather with us, who attend other churches of town or perchance don't go to church at all? Are they necessarily unbelievers or non-elect people? No, beloved, no! In the brokenness of this fallen world there are persons whom the Father has given to the Son who do not go to church where they ought. That is a truth as true as the fact that there are hypocrites within the Free Reformed Church. I stress the point for two reasons. The first is that we are not to think evil of all those who attend another church. They do wrong, it's a fact (for the Lord would have them gather where He calls), but that gives us no right to look down our nose at them. Despite our best efforts, we do not do everything right either. The second reason for stressing the point is that we are not to think that our being Free Reformed is evidence that we will be saved. Only those have forgiveness of sins and will inherit life eternal who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and going to a particular church is not of itself evidence of faith. Here we all need to examine ourselves as to why we attend the particular church we attend.


The church. There's confusion about what the church is, and so where the church is. That's simply because the eye is taken off of Christ and the work He is doing, and the eye is shifted to people. But alas, as soon as one looks at people one sees faults., and the longer one is with a particular group of people, the more faults one sees.. Then the temptation is great to move along to a new group, less known, and therefore less offensive.. But people are people, always imperfect, always annoying.. In the course of time one will see more faults., and so one moves again..

The church. The Holy Spirit would have us look at Christ. When our eye is firmly fixed on Him, we see Him at work, around the world and even in our community. He never disappoints, and so we know where to go to church, where to hear Jesus' word - the bread of life. Amen.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://members.iinet.net.au/~jvd/Sermons/b-LD21,54.htm

(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. C. Bouwman

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