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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
 sites.google.com/site/rcoamaru/
 
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
 
Title:Christ Has His Church In All Ages & All Places
Text:BC 27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's gathering work
 
Preached:2008-07-06
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 XXVII

(Reading: John 10:1-21)

 

Christ Has His Church In All Ages & All Places!

 

 

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...

 

     There is a question that I am often asked in connection with a word in the Apostles’ Creed.

          Indeed, it is a reason why some churches have changed one of the words in the Apostles’ Creed.

 

     Do you know which word it is?

          It’s actually a word that comes up in the Article we’re considering this afternoon.

              In fact, it’s a word even found in the title for Article XXVII.

 

     Ah, that was a bit of a give away, wasn’t it?

          Of course, it’s the word “Catholic”!

             

     And you knew that because you have probably wondered about that yourself sometime.

          I mean, we’re not part of the Catholic church anymore, are we!

              No wonder there are those churches that have changed “Catholic” to “Universal.”

 

     You can see that influence also in the title used in this version of the Belgic Confession.

          Because someone at some point has added an extra word in this title.

              They have put in the word ‘Christian’.

 

     You see, the word ‘Christian’ wasn’t in the original versions.

          It was entitled then, De Ecclesia Catholica: Of the Catholic Church.

 

     And there is nothing wrong with that original title.

          Actually, it’s perfectly correct!

              For Catholic means the church everywhere and in every place.

     It could not possibly mean ‘Roman’ Catholic, because that’s a name that ties it to one place and time.

          In the same way any other church using the word ‘Catholic’ has got it wrong also.

              Whether they are Roman Catholic or Greek Catholic or the Old Catholic Church.

 

     This is what the Bible tells us.

          There is, in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, “a holy catholic church, the communion of saints.”

              Which is exactly what’s reflected here at the beginning of Article XXVII.

                   For here we confess, “We believe and profess one catholic or universal Church, which is a holy congregation of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by His blood, sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit.”

 

     The Reformers were very strong about this.

          The many creeds from the Reformation show this.

              John Calvin had written that there is only one church and that it is “called catholic or universal, because there could not be two or three churches without Christ being divided, which is impossible (Institutes IV, 1,2), so each of the creeds teaches the same.

                   One of them, the first Hungarian Reformed Confession, is called Confessio Catholica.

 

     The Reformers believed that the Reformation was needed because of the lack of catholicity in the church.

          The church had become too Roman in some areas and too Greek in others.

              It was no longer catholic in its breadth, outlook and teachings.

                   The Reformers were determined to restore her to true catholicity.

 

     This is very much the teaching of Scripture.

          The apostle Paul is clear in the letter to the Ephesians that there is no Roman Church, no Dutch, no Eastern or Western Church, strictly speaking.

              For there is but one church built upon the one foundation.

                   This is the foundation he speaks of in Ephesians 2 verse 20 as being “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”

 

     Paul develops this teaching further in Ephesians 4.

          There he declares in verses 4 and 5, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

         

     Here we come to a first aspect in connection with Article XXVII.

          For here we begin to see HOW YOU ARE PART OF CHRIST’S BODY.

 

     The first paragraph here is a very simple statement.

          In fact, it is so simple that it is only one sentence.

              And yet you couldn’t get a clearer definition of what the Church is.

     Because if you start to look into these words not all the churches that gather every Lord’s Day are actually true churches.

          Many who will be meeting today, or perhaps who met yesterday, haven’t come with a true faith in Jesus Christ.

              Indeed, there will be many pulpits where the only way of salvation isn’t proclaimed.

                   They are places where people have the wrong faith.

 

     You see, with the words of the Apostles’ Creed you confess that you believe in God the Father, in God the Son, and in God the Holy Spirit.

          But when it comes to confessing about the Church you don’t confess “I believe in but “I believe a holy catholic church.

              To “believe in” something means trusting in or relying on something.

                   We trust in God but, unlike the Romans Catholics, we don’t trust in the Church.

 

     Just because there is the name church on a sign outside an obviously religious building doesn’t mean that that’s what it is.

          It’s like a church member once said to a conservative minister in a time of severe doctrinal controversy, “Oh, the Lord will keep the Reformed Church.”

              To which that minister replied, “Ah, the Lord will keep His Church, but it might not always be called Reformed!”

 

     In fact, in some parts of the world, the last building you should enter is one with the name ‘Reformed’ on the sign.

          In the United Kingdom there’s a denomination called ‘United Reformed’ which is extremely liberal!

              The only thing you’re required to believe in there is that women must be in office!

                   Otherwise you can believe in anything else at all!

 

     But Scripture is very clear about HOW YOU ARE PART OF CHRIST’S BODY.

          You must be “washed by His blood,” and so you must “sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit.”

 

     These phrases are referring to what we have already confessed in the Belgic Confession.

          The Articles 17 – 21 and 25 and 26 touched into Christ’s sacrifice for us.

              And the work of the Holy Spirit in us was what we declared in Articles 22 till 24.

 

     It’s in the Church, though, that God wants to pour on us Christ’s gifts.

          Because this is the place the preaching of the gospel is entrusted to.

              You must come expecting your salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

     So the Church can only be known by faith.

          The same applies to Holy Scripture.

              It’s only by faith that we know it is God’s Word.

                   And so by hearing Scripture we know it is the Word of God.

 

     That’s also how we know the Church.

          For what we see of the Church is only a small part of her.

              She’s still a building under construction.

     And while we see the foundation laid, the walls erected, and window frames fitted, there’s still much to be done.

          It’s only the architect who knows the design and drawing of the house.

              He’s the only One who can tells us what everything actually is and what it will become.

                   This is what Hebrews 11 verse 10 describes.

 

     So we have seen HOW YOU ARE PART OF CHRIST’S BODY.

          Now we turn to the next paragraph in Article XXVII to consider WHY YOU ARE PART OF CHRIST’S BODY.   

 

     The church is the greatest movement of all ages.

          It is “the body of Christ,” as Paul loves to call it.

              The people of God are those bound together in Christ their head in both Old and New Testaments.

     Those who lived under the Old Covenant were saved by believing God would fulfil His promises.

          And those who live under the New Covenant are saved by believing that God has fulfilled His promises.

              So the promises, the Saviour, the salvation, and even the covenant are the same.

                   Galatians 3 verses 17 and 29 confirm this.

 

     The Heidelberg Catechism defines the Church well in this.

          In answer to Question 54 which asks, “What do you believe concerning the Holy Catholic Church,” it answers, 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.

 

     The Church is the special object of God’s love and care.

          He preserves it against what Article XXVII calls “the rage of the whole world.”

 

     This is what Abraham Kuyper called the antithesis.

          For the underlying meaning is the constant conflict between the Church and this world.

              And we certainly know, don’t we, that when the church and the world are on friendly terms the church is no longer the church!

 

     The apostle John in his first letter describes this.

          In chapter 2 verse 15, he wrote, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

 

     Congregation, someone once asked, “How can you tell when a denomination is in demise?

          To which he answered, “When the outside’s in and the inside’s out!”

             

     Now it can sometimes seem the church is almost negligible.

          There’s nothing to her.

              Or so it seems to the world – and even to believers themselves.

     The example of Elijah from 1st Kings 19 is mentioned here.

          Because he was the one during the reign of Ahab who thought he was the only believer left.

              And yet even is such a dire situation as that, with Jezebel hot on his tail, the Lord told him He had His remnant still – the seven thousand who hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal.

 

     You see, despite what’s thrown against her, the Church will glorify and honour her King.

          Because, in the further words of 1st John 5 verse 19, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”

 

     The old Reformed churches of Europe and many of their successors in Presbyterian churches today have a motto which very much reflects this safekeeping by the Lord.

          It is the phrase used in reference to the burning bush in Exodus 3 verse 2, which says, “Nevertheless, it was not consumed.”

 

     This is the sentence with which you must conclude every chapter of the history of the church.

          After every fire of false teaching, of schism, of persecution, or corruption, and of apostasy, this is what we see, “Nevertheless, it was not consumed.”

              God’s mercy and grace always come shining through.

     His love for His chosen people will see them through.

          That is WHY YOU ARE PART OF CHRIST’S BODY.

              You are being kept to praise and glorify Him now and for all eternity.

 

     And that brings us to the third aspect in this Article – the third paragraph.

          For now we realise WHERE YOU ARE PART OF CHRIST’S BODY.

 

     Notice what this paragraph says.

          Again, like the first paragraph, it’s only one sentence, but doesn’t it pack some punch?

              Here we see what Scripture clearly tells us about the Church of Christ being found all over the world.

     It’s no more Roman than it is American and African and Asian.

          And it’s no more Taiwanese than it is Japanese or Burmese!

 

     This is what that great foundation verse of Acts 1:8 declares.

          For Jesus there tells His Church, through His disciples, that they will be His witnesses not only in the one city, Jerusalem, or the one country, Judea, or even the neighbouring half-caste nation, Samaria, but right throughout the entire world!

              Haven’t we seen that work itself out through our study of the book of Acts?

 

     Article XXVII concludes by stating decisively the geographical universalism of the Church.

          And yet, surprisingly, this is missed by many commentators on this passage.

             

     I mean, they do a good exposition of the first two paragraphs in this Article.

          They point out how this means the Christian church is not bound to a particular name, or place, or secular influence.

              They prove how it’s true faith which is the membership requirement.

     And they bring out the Lord’s marvellous grace in preserving the Church through the ages.

          He keeps His promises!

 

     But here, where the Great Commission is clearly alluded to they seem to say nothing at all.

          And crucially this is the only bit in the six Articles dealing with the Church which speaks of this.

              But let’s note that it does!

                   The charge that the Reformers weren’t interested in missions is totally false!

 

     The position of this paragraph does show us though that missions is inextricably tied in with the Church.

          In a world where para-church mission organisations have become so influential here is the scriptural word about the connection between church and mission.

 

     Now, this is not to say that many mission organisations don’t recognise local churches.

          More than ever before they try to involve local congregations, and where members of a church go out onto a mission field under the auspices of the mission organisation, they often have a commissioning service in that church.

              That church will also be involved in supporting their own folk and getting personal updates on the work.

 

     But Article XXVII is saying Scripture makes a stronger connection than that.

          It is the local church which should be calling and sending.

              And it is with a local church in that mission area that there should be a connection.

 

     You can certainly see that in Paul’s letters.

          He addresses his letter specifically to a church in a distinct geographical location.

              Even churches he had much grief over!          

     The next five Articles will bring out the Bible’s teaching as to why this should be.

          There are no ‘Lone Rangers’ in Christianity.

              The Lord deals with a people – not individuals.

                   In fact, the Church is one place where it is not about you!

 

     Our reading from John 10 brought this out.

          The Lord there speaks about His flock.

              A flock, which is clear from verse 16 there, also includes others outside the Jewish race.

 

     This is the flock which is His Body, the Church of Christ.

          This is the Body to which every believer has to belong.

              Because what good is a sheep if he’s not part of a flock?

                  

     In fact, when he’s apart from the flock he’s in big trouble.

          Nothing good can come out of that.

 

     That’s why Article XXVII ends the way it does.

          When we are “joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in the one and the same Spirit,” there the Lord’s blessing is.

              Because there He is.

                   Amen.

 

    

PRAYER:

Let’s pray…

     O Most Loving God, how much don’t we thank and praise You for providing for our every need by being joined to the Church of Christ!

          That is where we must see we are.

              For the Church is not where we meet - it is what we are.

     And so it’s as we live out where we are in Christ that we enjoy now a sweet foretaste of eternity itself.

          Please so stir and guide us by Your Holy Spirit.

              Through Christ our Lord, 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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