Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
BELGIC CONFESSION OF FAITH XXVIII
(Reading: Acts 2:42-47; Ps.133; 2 Cor.6:14-7:1)
Don’t Get Left Out!
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...
A minister once went to visit a man who wasn’t attending church very faithfully.
It was a cold winter’s day, so they sat by a fire and warmed themselves as they talked.
To this irregular attender the minister said, “My friend, I don’t see at church much on the Lord’s Day.
“You seem to come only when it’s convenient for you, or when you feel like you need to come.
“We miss you quite often – you know you need to come all the time.”
The man just sat there looking into the fire.
He gave no response.
So the minister said, “Let me show you something.”
He then took the tongs from beside the fireplace, pulled open the screen, and began to separate the coals so that none of them were touching each other.
In a matter of moments, the blazing coals had all died out.
“My friend,” he said, “that’s what’s happening in your life.
“As soon as you keep yourself apart, the fire goes out.”
I’m sure we’ve heard this story, or variations of it.
But the truth is always compelling.
You can’t be a Christian without the Church.
In the words of the first aspect to Article XXVIII, THE BELIEVER CAN’T BE SAVED OUTSIDE THE CHURCH.
This is true of course because this is speaking of the universal Church.
The universal or catholic church is the invisible Church – the Church of all ages and all places to which all believers belong.
One minister put this very graphically in a sermon title for Acts 2 verses 42 till 47.
That is the well-known passage of the beginning of the New Testament Church we read earlier.
He entitled that sermon, WORD + SPIRIT = CHURCH.
And it does, doesn’t it?
The Word and Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers is what together makes up the Church.
And the Word and the Spirit is what goes out of the Church as believers fulfil the Great Commission.
This is indeed true of the invisible Church.
Everyone who is saved by Jesus, washed by His blood, and sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit is part of the Church of all ages and all places.
But, tell me, where do you find the universal church?
Which address does it have?
Ah, that’s at the local church.
This is what Article XXVIII means by using the phrase “holy congregation” which was used in Article XXVII.
You see, some say that the phrase “outside of it there is no salvation” is speaking generally of a gathering.
So they say this is about the invisible church.
In other words, they say this is the universal church.
For they understand this Article to be an admonition not to resist the pull of Christ by which He gathers His Church throughout history and from across the world.
You can see how this thought developed historically.
Because the Roman Catholic Church had a vested interested in keeping the universal church completely visible.
They believed that the Church had to be local – the local Roman Catholic church!
And ever since the Reformation, many Christians have been hesitant about church membership because of that kind of abuse.
They don’t believe a living faith should be about what you see on the outside.
It’s not a physical building or a certain group of people.
In fact, they say, we shouldn’t have that kind of a high view of the church at all.
Today that attitude is very common.
There have even been best selling books written promoting that view.
Books like Philip Yancy’s Soul Survivor.
He even subtitled that book, “How my faith survived the church.”
But this is not what Guido de Bres declares in Article XXVIII.
He has a high view of the church!
To know what was going on at that time clarifies this.
Because the time this was written a life and death battle was being waged between the forces of Rome and those of the Reformation.
A minority of persons in the Netherlands were actively promoting reform.
They were about 10% of the population.
Most of the population, though, were playing the old “wait and see” game.
So if Rome would win they would say that they’d always been loyally Roman Catholic.
If the cause of reform should succeed, however, then they were always behind it!
Now you read how Article XXVIII begins in the light of those neutralists.
It’s very straight with them.
For all men, “of whatsoever state or condition he may be” have to join the true church, the holy catholic church described in Article XXVII.
And that church was the church reformed according to the Word of God.
It was certainly not a vague, idealistic body whose members were known to God alone.
It was the church of Jesus Christ proclaiming the gospel in one’s very neighbourhood.
This is very much the model in the New Testament.
The early Church was a specific body meeting in a particular place.
Acts 2 verse 46 describes their meeting together in the temple courts.
The letters of the apostle Paul are written to specific churches in definite geographical locations.
And let’s notice how he calls them churches of Christ despite whatever issues he will go on to deal with in those letters.
The key point here is that the believer cannot be outside of the Church.
It’s spiritually and physically impossible.
Because without it you’re not alive.
To use the analogy of Paul in 1st Corinthians 12, it would be like trying to live without a vital body part.
To be a Christian, then, means to have fellowship with the living Christ and at the same time fellowship with His people.
You don’t do that on a mountain-top all on your own.
And to break this fellowship lightly, because of what you think and feel, is to threaten your very salvation!
How else could you hear the word of the living God, except through the preachers whom He has sent?
And how could such preachers be commissioned, except by the church which believes and lives by the word of God?
And, anyway, on top of all that, how and where do you actually live out your faith without a home of faith?
This is where we move to the second aspect in Article XXVIII.
For here we see THE BELIEVER MAKES SURE HE’S INSIDE THE CHURCH.
Having confessed that there’s no salvation outside the Church, and so the believer cannot be apart from the Church, we confess next the duties of church membership.
This is not an easy word in our age either.
No one likes to hear about duties or obligations or responsibilities.
But you cannot have the privileges of church membership without it.
Just like you cannot play that game for the sports team without having paid your subs and gone to practice or training.
In other words, you don’t anything out of the church unless you put in first of all.
For Article XXVIII not only says, “all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it,” it specifies that we must maintain the unity of the church, we must submit to the church’s doctrine and discipline, and so bow under the yoke Jesus Christ.
Now when Jesus said those words in Matthew 11 verse 30 about His yoke being easy and His burden being light, we might not have thought of the obligations of church membership.
Duties are commonly what we think we have to do.
So there’s no choice about it.
And so we don’t generally tend to like it.
Well, that’s what our modern world tells us.
In an age and place where things are geared to our comfort and enjoyment, it’s hard to see the benefits of this.
But benefits there most certainly are!
There was a young woman we knew in our College days in Geelong.
She was very much involved in the charismatic movement and very easily swayed.
She went to whatever church was a buzz for her right then.
Well, the last time we saw her she was in her 14th congregation.
And she hadn’t shifted residence during that whole time!
Each time she started at a new church it was “just wonderful!”
The pastor was always so dynamic and a great speaker and the fellowship was something else!
Soon enough, though, and she would get a bit put out.
Then the pastor lacked real gifting, the folk were quite unloving.
And, suddenly, she was in a new church!
You see, all she did was take.
It was what she got out of it and how she felt people treated her.
It was never about putting in and placing your hand to the plough.
Because that’s what Jesus means in speaking about a yoke.
And it can be hard work!
But it’s the most satisfying work.
Congregation, the believer must join himself to a faithful church.
A “true church” is one that sticks to God’s Word.
It’s what we’re commanded to do, as Hebrews 10 verse 25 says.
Being committed to a faithful church means attending the means of grace.
That’s going to every worship service possible and participating in the holy sacraments.
These are the ways God primarily blesses us.
If you make public worship the priority of your week everything else will flow from that.
It also means looking after your fellow believer first of all.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned for this world, but we are most concerned for being part of Christ’s Body.
The Church has often been called the believer’s “Mother.”
That’s a useful title.
Because we know how important our mothers are to us.
She who bore us and raised us has a special place with us.
And so should the Church.
In fact, that’s the most terrible thing about the attitude of many Christians to the Church today.
They despise their own Mother!
They make sick jokes about her.
And they remember all the bad times they had with her.
No wonder the church is in a bad way today.
We are astounded when children can legally divorce their parents today.
And yet that’s what so many have done to their spiritual mother - the Church!
Are you puzzled?
Do you wonder how this could ever have happened?
Well, here Article XXVIII makes it very clear.
For in the third place, let’s see how vital it is that THE BELIEVER KEEPS OFFSIDE WITH THE WORLD.
You see, if you want to look at where this anti-establishment thinking is coming from, look at this world!
Out there it’s not about “we” and “us” – it’s about “me” and ‘my’.
In the words of a recent song, “You’re not the boss of me now, you’re not the boss of me now!”
Now, in the time of the reformation standing up for the faithful church meant something different than what it does now.
Then it meant standing against a whole religious and political structure.
That’s why this Article speaks of “magistrates and edicts of princes.”
However, today it means, in the western world, standing against selfishness and greed.
The ‘Seeker Sensitive Movement’ in many churches shows us the influence of the modern world.
You see, they cater for people’s ‘felt needs.’
They look for what people want now and try to give that to them.
But feelings change, don’t they?
Yet the eternal realities are always the same.
And soft-selling the gospel only means people are getting fooled into thinking they’re going to heaven.
Not that all of those churches believe in hell anyway!
And certainly none of them ever talk about it.
That is just too uncomfortable!
The apostle spares no bones about the Church’s relationship with this world.
In 2nd Corinthians 6 verse 14 he declares, “what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?
“Or what fellowship can light have with darkness.”
Congregation, THE BELIEVER KEEPS OFFSIDE WITH THIS WORLD.
In fact, the Christian is so determined to keep a clear witness for Christ, he is prepared even to the extent of dying for his faith.
Many of our church fathers, including the writer of this Confession, did “suffer death” and “other corporal punishment” for this.
They were the stuff of whom martyrs were made.
Their danger and their sufferings made them strong in the Lord.
They were put to death.
But in reality, as Hebrews 11:38 says, this “world was not worthy of them.”
Those saints lost their lives, but they received a crown of glory in the greater life beyond.
That’s the faith God commends.
That’s real love for your Mother!
Congregation, there will be those who say that it’s faith what counts and not whether you belong to any church or not.
In de Bres’ time there were many who turned their backs on the church for similar reasons too.
But has doing that ever brought more glory to the Lord?
I mean, has despising the bride added more lustre to the groom?
Of course not.
As any husband or wife will tell you, to tear down the other spouse is cut away at the marriage itself.
And that’s exactly where it is for many Christians today.
They have such a low view of the church because they have the view of the world.
But the church is the body of Christ.
She must keep her herself that way.
As the voice from heaven said to God’s people in Revelation 18 verse 4, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues…”.
As Article XXVIII concludes it returns to those neutralists.
It makes it clear there can be no sitting on the fence with the Lord.
If you don’t join and involve yourself with the true church you’re disobeying God.
The Lord Himself severely warns about this in Matthew 10 verse 33.
There He says, “whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”
And, yet, to those who love their spiritual mother there is the most encouraging promise.
For Jesus says in Matthew 10:32 to you, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”
Friend, it’s like the old saying goes, “Charity begins at home.”
And charity is just another word for love.
So let’s love the one Jesus loves.
Because then He’s loving us.
And we’re truly loving Him!
O Lord, how often haven’t we quenched Your Spirit by despising Your Church?
How many times haven’t we had cold hearts towards the assembly of Your people – even if we came!
And how often haven’t we thought we could do it on our own and become so terribly lost.
And all we had to do was ask!
Father, please forgive us for going against You.
We haven’t been good children; we haven’t been faithful servants for the Great King.
Please, by Your Spirit, turn us again to You through Your Word.
Then we won’t get left out.
Because we’ll be here – with Your own and with You!
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.rcnz.org.nz
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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