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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Function of the Church
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Discipline
 
Preached:2009-03-15
Added:2009-08-18
Updated:2009-08-18
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 47: 1, 2, 3

Sing: Psalm 19: 3, 5, 6

Read: Ephesians 4

Sing:  Psalm 89: 3, 4

Text: (Article 28 B.C.) Lord's Day 21

Sermon:  The Function of the Church.

Sing: Hymn 47: 6, 7, 10   

Sing: Psalm 103: 4, 8

     

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


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

 

In this sermon we will deal with the Function of the Church. Many of us are somewhat confused about what the church is all about. There are all kinds of churches all around us. On your way to church this morning you likely passed many different kinds: an Alliance church perhaps, or a Mennonite church, or maybe a Roman Catholic church, a Baptist church, or perhaps even a different type of Reformed church. Yet you came to this church. Why? Why did you come here? Was it because you were brought up in this church? Was it because you have friends here? Did you come out of tradition?

 

There are those among us who believe that in the final analysis it does not really matter to what church you belong. Church membership is not really all that important. As long as you continue to go to some church and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, then we should not be too concerned. You should go where you feel most comfortable. Some even say that you do not have to belong to any church. For them, belonging to a church is not the most important thing in life; it all comes down to faith. Scriptures teach that you are saved through your faith. Many churches also operate on that principle. As long as you believe it doesn’t matter what church you go to.

 

But now look at what our confessions state. We just read from article 28 of the Belgic Confession. It is clear from that article that we confess the church to be very important. Indeed, we even confess that there is no salvation outside of it. In the following article we read about the true church and the false church. And we consider ourselves to be the true Church.

 

Perhaps at this point you're feeling a little bit uncomfortable. Perhaps you think that such language about the church no longer has any place in the modern day and age. This is language that was used right after the great Reformation. You did not have such plurality of churches in those days. And so that kind of language found in the Belgic Confession should no longer be used.

 

It is good for us to think about these things, especially when we have to make announcements about withdrawals and/or excommunications of members. If church membership is not really all that important then such announcements have no real significance either. And so, how are we to deal with this?

 

We first have to understand what the word "church" means. The word comes from a Greek word "kuriake". That word means "belonging to the Lord". So when we speak about the church then we do not speak about something that belongs to you or to me or to the elders of the church, or to the minister or to anyone else. No, the church consists of those people who belong to the Lord. The church exists only because of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We would not exist as church if the Lord Jesus himself had not brought us together.

 

The authors of the Heidelberg Catechism clearly understood this. For they began by stating concerning the holy catholic Christian church that it is the Son of God who gathers it. The church exists because of what he has done. That is clearly based on what it says in the Word of God. For example in Acts 20:28 the apostle Paul says to the Ephesian elders, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he (that is, the Lord Jesus Christ) bought with his own blood." He bought the church with his blood, and so the church belongs to him.

 

We could also read together in Ephesians 4 that the Lord Jesus Christ, through the office bearers in the church, prepares God's people for service and builds her up. The church is the body, whereas he himself is the Head. He is the one who builds it.

 

And so you see that there is a close connection between Christ and the church. He is the one who establishes that connection, that strong bond. As a matter of fact, you cannot think of Christ apart from his church, just like you cannot think of the head apart from the body. Body and head belong together. And so the same attributes that belong to the head also belong to the body. For example, as Christ is holy, so is his body, the church.

 

That is why, in accordance with the Scriptures, the Apostle's Creed calls the church a holy church. For Paul says to the church at Rome in Romans 1:7 that those people who belong to that church are "loved by God and called to be saints." Together they are saints, that is, holy ones. The church at Rome is a holy church.

 

But now the question is: To whom does that apply? Are we now speaking about the Canadian Reformed Churches or about the other churches or all churches? How do they fit together? There are some people who see the church as the totality of all believers. It doesn't matter to what church or sect you belong. Perhaps you are not even a member of any church on earth. But if you truly believe in the Lord Jesus, then together with all the believers you make up the one church. And when the confessions say that outside the church there is no salvation then they refer to that church.

 

In so doing they may speak about the church as a building with many rooms. We cannot see the outside walls of that building for Christ is still building his church, but what we can see are the various rooms within. Those dividing walls between the various rooms have been erected because of sin. Sometimes people don't get along, or sometimes people have different opinions about doctrine, but ultimately we all belong to that same large building with those many rooms. We all belong to that large building, to the universal church.

 

But is that the way it is? Is that how we are to see the church? Well, if that is the way it is, then all you have to do when you don't like it in one room of that big building, or you are in trouble with the leadership there, then you just go to another room. That is, you go to another church. Or you don't go at all. You establish your own little church in your own home. And then automatically you will be included in that big building. The most important thing is that you believe.

 

Well, brothers and sisters, if that is the case then the exercise of discipline in the church would have no real significance. And then there would be no real significance if you left the one church and went to another. For do you see what's wrong with such thinking? Then you make your faith the basis of your membership. And then you make your relationship with the members in the church the criteria on which to base your inclusion.

 

If you make your faith the basis of your membership then you are on shaky ground. For your faith is not always as strong as it should be, is it? There are even times when we have no faith. The Lord Jesus told Peter this when he fell into the water. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). And it happens to us at times too that we have no faith, so it is a shaky business on which to include your membership. And if you put faith in the foreground, then you put Christ and his body in the second place. And if you put your relationship with the members in the church as the basis for your choice of church then ultimately it comes down to your own preference. Then you go there where you feel the most at home. Oh sure, you recognize that there are different kinds of churches with regard to purity. Some are better than others. But ultimately it comes down either to your own faith or to the kind of people that belong to the church. And then you make your choice of what you want, and not necessarily what God wants.

 

But if you see the church as the work of God, then you are of a different mind. For how does the Lord God gather his church? Well, the catechism says that he gathers his church by his Word and Spirit. Again, that is exactly in accordance with the Scriptures. Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-26 that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word." The Spirit and the Word belong together. When God's Word is proclaimed, then his Spirit is at work. In the church, God's Word has to sound forth. That is why here in this church you will find the pulpit in the centre. For it is from the pulpit that you have the administration of God's Word.

 

Do you know how important that is? Listen to what it says in 1 Peter 1:23 & 25: "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. ...The word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the word that was preached to you." In other words you have been born again, that is, you have been made a new person, someone acceptable in the sight of God, a holy person through God's Word that is preached to you. That is why you must belong to a church where God's Word is central; where the pulpit is not shoved off to the side and the podium taken over by a band, or by an altar as is the case in the Roman Catholic Church. In this church you will not find any unnecessary embellishments. No, the pulpit is in the centre. For you come here to hear the Word preached. For it is only through God's Word that you can be saved. For that reason it is also so important to be diligent in your church attendance. You need the preaching of God's Word week in, week out. You cannot do without it.

 

Therefore you can see why it says in the Belgic Confession that outside of the church there is no salvation. For what do you find in the true church? You find there the preaching which is so essential for your spiritual life, for your eternal life. Certainly it’s not done in perfection, far from it, but it is done with a true desire to be true to God’s Word. And it is in the church that you function together as body. You are not just loose individuals. No, God deals with you in a corporate sense. You belong together. And that is why you also have to gather together. And that takes effort. It also took effort for the Lord Jesus to do what he did in order to gather us. He had to overlook all our sins and shortcomings and love us. And we have to do the same with each other. If you don't love the body, then you don't love the Head either. How can you?

 

You may say, don’t these things happen in other churches as well? Oh yes. God gathers his people also out of those churches. There are many fine and sincere believers in all kinds of churches. For in many of them you will also have some kind of preaching. Also in those churches people gather together. But what kind of gathering is it? Are they committed to each other in membership? Church membership is often not important in those churches. There is only a core group of members; there are lots of people who come and go. There is no commitment to one another. And there the office bearers do not warn you when you are going on the wrong path. That is because they don't understand the covenant. Or they ignore the covenant because they don't want to deal with the ramifications of it, with the responsibility that God gives us to the covenant. And what kind of preaching do we find in those churches? Is it the kind of preaching that leaves you comfortable in the pew? Is it the kind of preaching that only speaks about God's love for everybody? Is that where you only sing hymns that appeal to your emotions? And hymns and preaching that include everyone, and that makes everybody feel good about themselves, even those who do not lead a Christian lifestyle?

 

Brothers and sisters, the preaching is covenantal. In other words, it comes not only with the promises of God, but also with his demands. It not only opens the kingdom of God by claiming the forgiveness of sins to all those who believe, but also proclaims the closing of God's kingdom to all those who do not believe; to all those who think they believe, but who do not put their faith in action. And, as James says, faith without works is dead.

 

God's Word must be put into action as well. For his Word is always his acts and his deeds. What he says is also what he does. Therefore the church has to follow his example. That is why Paul warned the church at Corinth, who tolerated a certain member in their midst who was living in sin and who did not repent from that sin. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?" He repeats that at the end of the chapter. He says, in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 5, "Expel the wicked man from among you." 

 

The church at Corinth has to exercise discipline. And that weighty task of discipline, while given to the whole church, is ultimately given over to the elders of the church. It is an enormous responsibility that they have been given. They must take that very seriously.  The Lord God says in Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." 

 

What is the purpose of such discipline? Well, Paul explains that in 1 Corinthians 5:5. He says to the church at Corinth that they must hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. It is all about saving the spirit of such a person. It is an act of love. Just like a father and mother disciplines their child out of love, so does the church.  Paul speaks here about the day of the Lord. That refers to the day of judgement. He does not want that person to fall into the hands of Satan forever. And so, by expelling such a person he is shown the seriousness of what he is doing, so that he can return to the sheepfold.

 

Those churches who do not understand the function of the church and the function of the office bearers are not able to do what God tells us in his word, namely to exercise discipline. The leaders of those churches will freely admit that. For they allow you to go from one room to the next; from one church to another. There is no accountability. If things get a little bit too hot in the one room, then you go to another one where you like the atmosphere better. There are no office bearers who warn you.

 

And then you may ask, so it depends on our own works whether or not we're going to be saved? As long as you do the right things, that is, come to church regularly and don't lead an offensive life, then you are acceptable in God's sight? Are we not in essence different from other churches who make faith the condition for acceptance?

 

Well, masterfully the Heidelberg Catechism deals also with the forgiveness of sins in this same Lord's Day. We read there that God does not hold our sins against us because of Christ's satisfaction. Again, the basis of our acceptance is what Christ has done. Our lifestyle, our good works, our conduct, is determined by what Christ has done for us. When the catechism speaks about his satisfaction, then it means that he has fulfilled the law for us. In other words, he has satisfied the law. And we confess that Christ, as head of the church, imputes it to us, the body of Christ.

 

But now as members of the body of Christ we also have to reflect that in our lifestyle. Not in order to be saved, not in order to earn brownie points with God or God’s people, but in order to show that we belong to that body, in order to show that we recognize Christ as our Head. If you don't live and act like a Christian, like you belong to Christ, then you show that you do not belong to his body, that is, the church. And then you need to be called to repentance.

 

What about the communion of saints then? What about the fellowship of believers? What about the interaction between the members of the church? Isn’t that something we do? You send someone from the congregation a get well card, or you bring each other a pot of soup when the mother of the family is indisposed. You visit and encourage one another.

 

Brothers and sisters, the communion of saints does not mean in the first place that the members of the church take care of one another. For look at what the catechism puts first. The first thing it mentions is that believers, all and everyone, as members of Christ have communion with him. Again Christ is the first one who is mentioned. He is in the centre.

 

In the Scriptures, the body of Christ, which is the church of God, is sometimes also called a household. That is, for example, what it says in Ephesians 2:19. Paul writes there, "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household."

 

In Ephesians 5:22 and following and in Revelation 21:2, Christ is called the bridegroom and the church the bride. Family members belong together. So do bride and bridegroom. A bride and groom are committed to each other because of the promises that they make. They promise to love each other through thick and thin. Christian couples do not just go and live together but they get officially married. They make a public declaration of love. They have their marriage registered so that they have a legal status. And families stick together because of the blood bond; because the children share in the same father and mother.

 

In the church you find the same thing. It is God’s household. In order to become a member of the church you publicly profess your faith. You express your commitment to Christ who is the groom, and to the other members of the church who make up the bride. They are your brothers and sisters. And you willingly submit yourself to the discipline of the church. As members of the church you belong to the same family. You are brothers and sisters in the Lord. Families do not live in separate rooms without interaction with each other. You cannot just walk away from one another, and go from one room to the next. No, when there are problems you work them out biblically. For you are committed to one another. And you expressed such commitment when you made public profession of your faith.

 

In today's society individualism is sacrosanct. Today people want you to do your own thing. Many people also take that kind of thinking to the church. They treat the church as a football club. You can either join or not, it doesn’t matter. Do your own thing; you don't need to be committed to one another through thick and thin. If things happen that you do not like, then just walk away. People do that with marriages today as well. They walk away from their marriages.  They walk away from their commitments.

 

But that's not scriptural. And it is devastating to relationships. This is especially devastating in your relationship with regard to the Lord your God because He has made us one. In such a commitment you also put yourself under the supervision of the elders. The Lord God has given elders to the church to keep the congregation faithful to God and to one another. Office bearers are God’s gift to the church. Paul says in Ephesians 4:4 that "there is one body and one Spirit--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." This is not some loosey-goosey connection between the members. No, there is a strong bond.

 

The culmination of such a bond is expressed in the Lord's Supper. That is where you express the unity that you have with Christ and with each other. You express your love for one another, in spite of differences that you may have. In the church you commit yourself to the word of God. All of it. Even to the parts that you don't like. Even to the parts that call you to repentance and that warn you. That is also what you express at the Lord's Supper table. It is a sin if you do not commit yourself to the Lord and to his body, that is, your brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is a sin if you stay away from the Lord's Supper because you have some disagreements with your brothers and sisters or because you don’t like the way that certain things are done. God has made us one. And we may not easily break that unity. That unity may be broken only when there is no repentance; only when the church is going wrong. And that is a long process.

 

When you are not committed to such unity and walk away from that kind of preaching and that kind of fellowship with the Lord your God and go elsewhere where you will receive watered-down preaching, then that is like exchanging good solid food for junk food. Yes, junk food will feed you, but it will cause you all kinds of problems in the end. Your arteries will clog up. You may even put your life in danger. And if your children grow up on junk food their lives will also be in danger.

 

Well, that's the same way within the church. You need good food. You need solid food. Every week. You and your children. You need proper communion with the Lord and with his body. The catechism says, "I believe that I am and forever shall remain a living member of it." A living member. That is what you strive for. Christ has made you alive. He does that in the church. For it is in the church that you receive the sign and the seal of the covenant of baptism. It signifies that you have been grafted in to the vine. It is in the church that you receive the life-giving juices.

 

That doesn't mean that we are now all such active and fantastic church members. All of us lack in that regard. But when your parents said "I do" at the time of your baptism, and when you yourself said "I do" when you made profession of faith, then that was a response to what God has done. And then you depend first of all on his faithfulness. He promises you eternal life. You can be sure of that. He promises to graft you in to his body. And you will be a member of his body in this life and in the life hereafter. God will never go back on his promises. Even though you and I lack as living members of the church of God, the Lord God through his Son continues to gather you as a member of his church. Allow Him to gather you. Don’t walk away from His promises.

 

It is for that reason that you must make every effort to be an active and living member of the church of God. Share your gifts; you all have them. Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, your salvation is at stake. Paul says to the Philippians, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Don’t let that scare you but also remember this. Paul says further that God is at work in you, and he will bring his work to completion. Again it doesn't depend on your efforts. All you have to do is show your thankfulness to God and his work in you and in his church. Be thankful that he has chosen you to eternal life. And if you are truly thankful then you cannot help but also show your thankfulness as a member of his church. Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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