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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
 
Title:The True Church Is A Disciplined Church!
Text:BC 32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Discipline
 
Preached:2008-08-24
Added:2009-05-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


BELGIC CONFESSION OF FAITH XXXII

(Reading: 1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

 

The True Church Is A Disciplined Church!

 

 

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...

 

     When we think of significant points in the Reformation our thoughts are usually drawn to Martin Luther’s nailing those 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.

          Those 95 points crisply and vigorously challenged the abuse of indulgences – for those selling indulgences claimed that by payment of money souls could be released from purgatory.

 

     But there was another act which Luther did, as only Luther could do, which had more importance.

          For on the 10th of December, 1520, in the presence of a crowd of students and professors, Luther burned the book of canon law, along with the Papal bull condemning him and certain other writings.

 

     Later on Luther defended what he did there.

          He called the canon law “the abomination of desolation”, a phrase from Matthew 24 verse 15.

              He said that the basic point of its teaching is that “the Pope is God on earth, above all things, heavenly and earthly, spiritual and temporal; all things belong to the Pope, and no dare ask, ‘What are you doing?’”

 

     Now this canon law was the result of a thousand years of legislation.

          In Rome at about 500 A.D. a monk named Dionysis Exiguus codified quite some amount of ecclesiastical law.

              Since that time the body of canon law grew hugely.

 

     So by the time of the Reformation there are these great volumes and volumes of church law.

          Law which had become completely corrupted by Rome.

              Law which now bore little resemblance to God’s Law!

 

     In fact, that law was man’s law.

          And we note that most clearly with how Article XXXII begins.

              For, in the words of the first aspect to our sermon this afternoon, THE CHURCH’S LEADERS HAVE CHRIST’S MIND.

 

     You see, the reformers also insisted on order and discipline in the church.

          So the Confession of Faith here doesn’t hesitate to speak of those “who are rulers of the Church.”

 

     The authority of these leaders, however, was to be done only in harmony with the Bible.

          This affirmed the official orders the Church must be under, as Scripture declares.

              These official orders are also known as ‘church ordinances.’

     This is what 1st Corinthians 14 verse 40 affirms about what is to be done in the Church of Christ Jesus.

          For there the apostle writes, “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

 

     But this also acknowledges that there is a point beyond which these rules cannot go.

          Because that would not be then for the welfare of God’s people – in fact because it went beyond Scripture it would be for the detriment of God’s people.

 

     So the true church needed to avoid both tyranny and anarchy.

          Tyranny was what they had known well enough for hundreds of years.

              This was the servile and unquestioning obedience demanded by the Church of Rome.

     You see, the believer’s life had been regulated down to the minutest detail.

          And it had been a power of ascending order.

              The lower clergy submitted to the higher and the higher to the pope as Christ’s vicar.

     They claimed that was what Jesus did when he gave the power of the keys to Peter in Matthew 16:19.

          They also quote John 20 when it mentioned about the disciples forgiving and not forgiving sins.

 

     So, they say, salvation depends on the hierarchy which pronounced absolution only for those who submitted to its rules.

          And that position has only become more so over the years.

              In the 19th century they even declared the pope infallible if he spoke ‘ex cathedra’, which means he spoke it while on his official chair.

 

     Anarchy was what soon happened in the Reformation under the Anabaptists.

          Because they threw off all regulations.

              They were convinced they should only be led by the Spirit.

                   And the Spirit they were speaking of was the One who spoke directly to their hearts and not necessarily through the Word.

 

     The Confession here sticks to the Lord.

          The leaders of the Church are “to take care that they do not depart from those things which Christ, our only Master, has instituted.”    

              So while we can feel for those who wanted so much to be free from everything after having been repressed for so long, that’s not the biblical balance.

 

     The concern about tyranny and anarchy had already been addressed by John Calvin.

          In speaking against the tyranny of Rome he had compared the situation before the Reformation with the decay and deformation found in ancient Israel.

             

     One text he quotes here is Isaiah 50 verses 10 and 11.

          There the prophet had declared, “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep.

              “They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough.

                   “They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain.”

 

     And Calvin also mentions how this is found in some of the apostolic congregations.

          Here he quotes 2 Peter 2 verse 1, where the apostle says, “But there were false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.

              “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.”

 

     But Calvin also speaks against anarchy.

          He is completely against weakening the position of the elders and bringing it into contempt.

              That would be right against the exhortation of Hebrews 13 verse 17 to obey their leaders and submit to the authority.

 

     Congregation, it’s neither the majority vote of believers or the authority of the elders that preserves the liberties of the Christian Church.

          It’s only when all are under the rule of the only Master by His Word that there is a true church.

 

     Then we will see, in the second place, that THE CHURCH’S LAWS ARE GOD’S WORDS.

          And here we move into a part of Article XXXII which seems at first negative.

              For now we confess, “And therefore we reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever.”

 

     On the eve of the Reformation, there were many human inventions.

          Layer on layer of man-made tradition had totally covered the Church.

              In a series of tracts he wrote in the same year he burned the canon law, Luther exposed many of these.

     It was as though the light had begun to shine and what a depth of depravity it clearly exposed!

          Because there had been introduced a whole multitude of laws into the worship of God.

              Luther pointed out such things as denying the cup to the laity and the hierarchy of the priesthood.

                   He said all are entitled to share in the communion cup and all Christians are consecrated priests by baptism.

 

     The Confession here brings out the biblical teaching by warning against binding and compelling the conscience in any way at all.

          And we need to understand what the word “conscience” means here.

             

     Because these days people use their “conscience” as a reason to protest against every official order that’s made.

          If they’re personally not happy with it, it becomes an issue of being against their conscience.

 

     The way “conscience” was used in the Reformation, however, connected the church’s laws to God’s Word.

          Remember, the Church had gone away from Scripture.

              They had bound the members under a man-made regime.

     So it’s not about what an individual likes or dislikes.

          It’s about being under God’s will in all circumstances.

 

     This is what Martin Luther wrote about in a number of his tracts.

          In his Treatise on Christian Liberty, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On Councils and the Churches, he wrote that there must be spiritual freedom in the church to serve God according to His Word.

              And that’s a freedom which must never be left go.

 

     Therefore, the first thing we need to ask when someone says that a decision of the church is binding their conscience is, “So where can you defend yourself biblically?”

          It’s not a question he’ll like.

              But he and all of us must realise that in the true church THE CHURCH’S LAWS ARE GOD’S WORDS.

 

     Congregation, this goes all the way to church service times and various external responses in the worship services.

          Some of us will remember a time when men stood for prayer.

              In John Calvin’s time, though, an issue arose over people being unhappy they were kneeling for prayer in public worship.

 

     Those people argued that this took away from their liberty of conscience.

          To which Calvin replied, “It will be very well supported, when we consider, that these are not fixed and perpetual laws by which we are bound, but are external aids for human infirmity, which though we don’t need, yet we all use, because we are under obligations to each other to cherish mutual charity between us.”

              And he goes on, “For what a source of contentions would be produced by the confusion of these things, if every man were permitted to change, at his pleasure, what relates to the general order, for it would never happen that the same thing would be agreeable to all, if things were determined and left to the choice of every individual.

                   “If any one object and resolve to be wiser on this subject than is necessary, let him examine by what reason he can justify his obstinacy to the Lord.”

 

     There are decisions made by the rulers of Christ’s churches.

          And sometimes we’ve seen quite adverse reactions to them.

              One church was divided because of the time for the evening worship service.

     Another came to grief over whether to not to have flowers in church.

          Quite a few have had turmoil over whether to use a shared cup or individual glasses at the Lord’s Supper.

             

     Article XXXII urges us to walk the middle way.

          Only that which is truly useful and beneficial for the congregation as a whole ought to have a place.

              As it says, “Therefore we admit only of that which tends to nourish and preserve concord and unity, and to keep all men in obedience to God.”

 

     And this is what we particularly see as we consider the third aspect to this part of our Confession this afternoon.

          For the last sentence tell us that THE CHURCH’S LIFE IS THE SPIRIT’S ACTION.

              Our third aspect.

             

     Now, looking at that sentence there is a word which immediately grabs our eye.

          It’s not a particularly positive word, is it?

              “Excommunication” doesn’t come with nice warm fuzzy feelings.

                   We know it’s that very awkward time when the Session makes announcements declaring someone to be outside of the Church of Christ.

 

     But the discipline which excommunication is a part of actually starts with every one of us.

          You are actually a most vital cog in this process.

              For when you look out for your fellow believer you do this.

     Hebrews 3 verse 13 tells us to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

          Further on in Hebrews 10 verse 24 we’re told, “And let’s consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

              And James even concludes his letter with this, in his fifth chapter, verses 19 and 20.

                   There he declares, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

 

     This is why right through the discipline process the congregation is involved.

          Without your faithfulness in this true discipline cannot be properly done.

              As J. van Bruggen writes, “A relaxation of Church discipline – the beginning of the Church’s downfall – is always the fault of the congregation!”

 

     He shows how from Matthew 18 verses 15 and 16.

          As the Lord says there, “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.

     “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.’”

          And we note here that these witnesses are witnesses to the fact that the sinning believer has been warned.

 

     Now, this is in the case of a so-called secret sin.

          So it’s the sin which is not public.

              For public sins you need to go straight to your elders.

 

     After the believer has tried what he can with the member sinning, discipline comes before the church Session.

          The elders establish that the right steps have already been taken and it’s clear that there’s been no repentance and change in the sinner.

             

     Once they know the accusation is correct, they will go and admonish him.

          If he still doesn’t turn from his way the process as outlined in the Church Order is implemented.

              This means there is first of all silent discipline.

     This is where he is suspended from the Lord’s Supper and the usual rights of membership, such as voting in a congregational meeting.

          If he then repents, the reconciliation takes place in a way which the Session decides is of benefit to the congregation.

              So it must build up the faith.

                   This could be through public confession of sin before the whole congregation, before the Session, or before two or three office-bearers.

 

     If, however, there is no repentance, the Session takes the following course:

          First public announcement. The sin is made known and the congregation is urged to pray for the sinner whose name isn’t mentioned.

              The congregation here supports the work of the office-bearers.

    

     If there continues to be no repentance, this is followed by the Second Public Announcement.

          At this point, in addition to the sin, the name of the sinner is made known.

              The congregation is urged to pray for him but also admonish him as a brother.

 

     The second announcement doesn’t take place until the concurrence of Presbytery has been given.

          This is so that, as much as possible, everything occurs in a just way.

 

     If it continues to be of no avail, it is followed by the Third Public Announcement.

          In this announcement the date the excommunication takes place is announced.

              Then the excommunication takes place on that date with the public reading of the form for it.

    

     All this is consistent with Scripture.

          And Scripture also tells us what it’s like when the Church goes right off track.

              Our reading from 1st Corinthians 5 showed such a situation.

     The church there was not disciplined.

          It openly allowed immorality.

              So the apostle addressed it quite specifically.

 

     Congregation, let’s also do the same.

          Amen.

 

 

PRAYER:

Let’s pray…

     O loving Heavenly Father, we have seen again how much we need You through Your Word and Spirit.

          On our own we would be terribly lost.

              But guided by You we know what to do.

     Please help us to so live, also in the way we care for our fellow believers.

          In Jesus’ saving Name, we pray, Amen.

    




* 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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