Covenant Reformed News
December 2017 • Volume XVI, Issue 20
Three Good Reasons to Honour Christ’s Church
Sadly, in most of conservative Christianity, there is a grievous disinterest in, and an abysmally low view of, the truth of God’s church. Most know little and care less about ecclesiology, the glorious doctrine of the body of Christ. Let me give you three reasons why you and all professing Christians should care about the church.
First, all disrespect and indifference towards the church stands in stark contrast to God’s written revelation. The first 17 books of the Bible, Genesis to Esther, record the history of the church from the salvation of Adam and Eve to the return of God’s people from the Babylonian captivity. The last 17 books of the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi, summarize the prophets’ preaching to the church.
In the 4 gospel accounts, Matthew 16:18-19 declares that the purpose of Christ’s incarnation and redemption is to “build [His] church,” to which He gives “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” Acts records the work of Christ by His Holy Spirit in gathering His holy, catholic or universal church. To whom are the 21 New Testament epistles addressed? Most of them were written in the first instance to churches, congregations in Rome, Galatia, etc. The rest of these letters were addressed to church office-bearers or members, such as Philemon, Gaius (III John), Timothy and Titus. Even the last canonical book, Revelation, was written, first of all, to 7 existing church institutes (Rev. 1:4, 11).
Turning to the specific focus of individual biblical books, we note that the Psalms are the songs of the church. Zechariah emphasizes God’s love and salvation of the church. I Corinthians deals with a host of church problems. Ephesians extols the church as the body of Christ, treating its election (ch. 1), catholicity (ch. 2-3), unity (ch. 4) and holiness (ch. 4-6). The three pastoral epistles (I & II Timothy and Titus) set forth the institutional structure and work of the church. Revelation 2-3 consists of Christ’s commendations, critiques, admonitions and promises to organized churches.
Do you read the books of the Bible? Have you understood the prominence of God’s church upon its pages? As you search the Scriptures in the future, look out for the Bible’s massive theme of ecclesiology. Let us think God’s thoughts after Him and highly esteem the body of His Son!
Second, what about the great sixteenth-century Reformation? Have you ever thought of this question: Of what was it the reformation? It was a reformation, of course, of many things, including preaching, worship, doctrine, etc. But centrally, it was the Reformation of the church! As such, it was the reformation of church preaching, church worship, church doctrine, etc.
Another way of emphasizing this is to consider the greatest theological book of the Reformation: John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion. As is well-known, this work is divided into four main parts. These are, roughly speaking, first, God the Father and our creation; second, God the Son and our redemption; third, God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification; and, fourth, the church. This last part of Calvin’s Institutes is way longer than any of the other three. In fact, it forms more than one third of the book. The title of the fourth part of the Institutes gives us Calvin’s perspective on the significance of the truth of the church: “The External Means or Aids by Which God Invites Us Into the Society of Christ and Holds Us Therein.”
If you are a son or daughter of the Reformation and treasure this great work of God, then you cannot be lukewarm towards the truth of Christ’s church. The glory of the Reformation was its reformation of the Lord’s visible churches. Likewise, the calling of reformation in our day is especially that of reforming the churches, by God’s grace.
A third important perspective on the importance of ecclesiology is provided by the Reformed confessions. Here is a thematic analysis of the Belgic Confession’s articles on ecclesiology: the nature of the church (27); joining the church (28); the marks of the church (29); the government and offices of the church (30-31); the order and discipline of the church (32); the sacraments of the church (33), namely, baptism (34) and the Lord’s supper (35); and church and state (36).
Notice, first, that the Belgic Confession is thorough, dealing with the church’s nature, membership, marks, government, offices, order, discipline and sacraments, as well as its relationship to civil government. Flowing from the first point, we observe, second, that the Belgic Confession’s exposition of the doctrine of the church is lengthy. Its treatment of ecclesiology receives 10 articles (27-36), whereas this confession gives 5 articles to soteriology or the doctrine of salvation (22-26). Since the Belgic Confession consists of 37 articles, its treatment of ecclesiology is over a quarter of its articles. In fact, over 27% of the articles of the Belgic Confession (1561) are on the doctrine of the church.
What place does Christ’s church have in our thinking? Tragically, and to their own serious loss, there are those of whom it could be said that the church has only a small place in their hearts and minds and lives. If this had been Jesus Christ’s attitude to the church, He would never have laid down His life for her on the cross in order to cleanse her and glorify her, and to present her to Himself in marriage (Eph. 5:25-27)!
Augustine (354-430) expressed well the Christian’s love for the truth of the church and the true church: “The city of God we speak of is the same to which testimony is borne by that Scripture ... ‘Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.’ And in another psalm we read, ‘Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness, increasing the joy of the whole earth’ ... And in another, ‘There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of our God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.’ From these and similar testimonies ... we have learned that there is a city of God, and its Founder has inspired us with a love which makes us covet its citizenship” (The City of God, 11:1). Let this live in our hearts! Rev. Angus Stewart, pastor of Covenant PRC, Ballymena, N. Ireland