That the true church of Christ can be found in the world is evident from Christ's promise: "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). But how and where do we find that true church in order that we may join ourselves to it in obedience to Hebrews 10:25?
That question of membership is the more urgent in light of the fact that the true church is not represented by one church or denomination, as we showed in the last issue. With the abundance of different churches and denominations around, which are we to join? The answer is that we are to join ourselves to that church which is most faithful to Christ and therefore purest (though never perfectly pure) in doctrine, life and practice.
Thus we speak of the marks of the church. These are marks that indicate the extent to which a church is true to Christ and to His Word. Insofar as a church has these marks, it is part of the true church of Christ. Any "church" that lacks these marks has become the false church, a "synagogue of Satan."
There is some debate about the number and nature of these marks. The Belgic Confession of Faith mentions the pure preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments according to Christ's command, and the faithful carrying out of Christian discipline in the church (Matt. 28:19, 20; I Cor. 11:23-34; Matt. 16:18, 19). Some would add to or substitute for the third, Biblical worship.
It is evident, however, that all these add up to one mark, that everything in the church is done in obedience to Christ. As the Belgic Confession says, the true church is where "all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the church" (Art. 29).
Whether we speak of one or several marks, these things are marks of the true church because they are marks of the presence of Christ in the church. That is the thing that matters. If Christ is not present (Rev. 1:12, 13; 2:5) then all the church does is in vain and membership is pointless. It cannot even be called church if Christ is not there.
We must remember this in bringing up our children. If the marks of Christ's presence are hardly to be found in a particular church, what hope have we there for our children? Only Christ, by His presence, is able to save them and show them the way.
That the marks of the true church are marks of the presence of Christ is especially evident in connection with the preaching of the gospel. Properly carried out, the preaching is Christ Himself speaking in the church (Jn. 10:27; I Cor. 1:23, 24; Eph. 2:17). Pure Biblical preaching is proof, therefore of Christ's presence. The same is true of sacraments and discipline.
That these are marks of Christ's presence must be emphasised. We do not join the church because of the members - because of their godly conduct or friendliness, as important as those things are. We join the church in order to follow Christ, the only Savior and bishop of our souls.
- Volume: 6
- Issue: 16
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
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