This is my first time again preaching to you on a Vesper service. Elder Elmer and Bro. Reuel are in Paombong, Bulacan helping in the ministry there so let us pray for them.
Today is the 21st Lord’s Day and we are still at the Apostles’ creed section. This means we are examining its contents in view of the articles of faith we are called to believe. Guilt, Grace, Gratitude are the three major parts of the Heidelberg Catechism. The Grace part calls our attention to those promises that God accomplished and applies.
Ursinus followed the structure of the Apostles’ creed to catechize us with the details of our professed beliefs. Specifically speaking, he reminds us to trust our Triune God for accomplishment and application of our salvation in Him. And included in the application of our salvation is the proper understanding, not only Soteriology or the doctrine of salvation, but more so Ecclesiology or the doctrine of the church. We will examine but today but emphasis, I would like to call your attention that these are articles of faith and by way of application, we are all called to believe.
There are two valid ways to apply Scripture in our lives afforded by the Holy Spirit: 1) to believe the promises of God; 2) to follow his perfect and morally good will. Overall, the items we will hear preached this afternoon belongs to the first way of application. Again, they all belong to the Grace part of the catechism. As such, the question of application to us is do we believe? And the way we apply them is to ask “Do we find comfort in knowing and understanding them?”
Since this is catechetical preaching, I will follow the format of instruction, exposition, and application. This means we will read the instructions from the Q&A, then ground them in Scripture, and finally all them to all of us here.
Before we begin, let us pray:
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that we may hear your Word with joy. Amen
The Church and the Saints
Q#54 What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
Answer: 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.
We all know the church exists, no doubt about it. As Christians, we attend church services and participate in church activities. However, the point of the catechism is not that we know there is church but what kind of a church do we believe in? And it matters because this doctrine about the church is an important article to our faith. Namely, we believe in the holy catholic church.
What does it mean?
The church is called holy because the God who calls them is holy (1 Peter 1:16). I preached on this last week and emphasized the our holiness comes from God alone. He is the source of our holiness. This means as God’s people we are sinners redeemed by God’s grace and who lead godly lives promised to us by His Word, and enabled by His Spirit. We are elected by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sanctified by the Spirit. We receive all these by faith alone.
This is what unity implies. Those who are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone belongs to the church and this is universally present in all our churches today. Catholicity does not mean belong to particular church for a particular place and time. Rather, it is the universal church which transcends both time and place.
But how can we call our churches holy considering we know there is much sin in us and we witness other Christians falling into sin? How can we say it is both united and universal when there is much division in our churches today? How can we believe that the church is indeed one holy catholic church?
It is important to understand that as Protestants when we are referring to the one holy catholic church, we see it from the perspective of Scripture given to us by Jesus himself and his apostles. Contrary to the Roman Catholics, the reformers teach the distinction between the invisible and visible church. The invisible church belongs the kingdom of the saint as the whole number of elect only visible to our invisible God while the visible church is the mixed assembly of believers and their children professing the true Christian religion. This teaching is implied by the teachings of Jesus in Scripture. It is from a good and necessary consequence of the following portions of Scripture below.
Jesus warns us in Matthew 7:21 that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” and in John 3:5 Jesus reminds us that “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” So by implication we can say that not everyone who profess faith nor everyone who attends church are truly possessors of faith or even true members of the church. Jesus made this same point in one of his parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24. He warns his hearers not to uproot the tares until the time of the harvest (verse 29-30).
The same point were made by the apostles. John the apostle recognizes those who left the church and fall away do not truly belong in the church making a distinction between what is seen and what remains, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).” Then Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 reminds us of our duty to discipline church members and this assumes the church as mixed assembly of true believers and hypocrites.
Believing in the one holy catholic church requires a proper understanding of this distinction between the invisible and visible church. It helps us believe that the Son of God…”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.” God will not allow his church to fall and he will continue to preserve them until end. And even though we battle with sin everyday, we know God will prevail in the end. What a comforting and encouraging thought!
What results from being part of God’s church? The catechism continues with the next article of faith from the Apostles’s Creed:
Q#55 What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
Answer: First, that believers one and all, as members of Christ the Lord, have communion with him and share in all his treasures and gifts. Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.
The previous answer ends with…”And of this community I am and always will be a living member.” What does this mean? It means that those who truly belongs to the invisible one holy catholic (universal) church will eventually become living members of the visible church. Simply put, those who profess to believe in the church are called to profess belief in church membership. We cannot believe in the doctrine of the church and not become part of it. We cannot believe in presence of the invisible but choose to remain outside of its visible institution.
The members of Christ’s body are members of his church. This implies the idea of church members. I have extensively preached on this topic already so as not to repeat myself let me simply remind everyone here that in Romans 12:4-8 implies membership in the body of Christ means actual membership in a particular church. Paul exhorts, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, pin proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot serve one another when we are not physically present in the church and maintain loose connection to a particular church. We are not Gnostic or even Docetist who deny the importance of both the body and soul and imagines involvement by mere appearances. There is no virtual church that serves virtual members. There are no virtual pastors and elders shepherding virtual members. Preaching and teaching from the internet and social media while encouraging and even helpful for our personal consumption, they will never replace actual nurturing of officebearers and fellowshipping with the saints.
This is why the catechism reminds us “…it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.” Serving one another in love and service is the necessary evidence that the Word and Spirit creates faith in the midst of God’s people. It is the only way we can know we truly belong to the kingdom of God.
So Christian, do you believe in the church and its saints? Let us encourage one another to continue becoming living members of it.
And Their Redemption in Christ
Q#56 What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
Answer: I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no longer remember any of my sins or my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.Rather, by his grace
God grants me the righteousness of Christ that I may never come into judgment.
Then finally before we end we need to end again with the gospel promises of God. I know living in this dying and sinful world will leave us at time in despair and even frustration. How can the church battling with sin, the devil and his cohorts succeed in the end knowing we ourselves are still battling sins on our own and we often find ourselves falling to sin and temptation?
The forgiveness of sins is a core article of faith primarily because it reminds us that our righteousness is not of our own. And even in both our justification and sanctification, this righteousness comes from the righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Universal unity and holiness is found not in sinful men but are given to us by our one true and holy Triune God. He is the source of our unity and holiness. He is the one that binds us together.
One of my favorite part in Scripture expressing this reality comes from Paul in 2 Corinthians 5: 18-21:
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s trespasses against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God is the source of our redemption in Christ and by his Spirit. We are reconciled to the Father through his Son and by the Spirit and in communion with him, we exhort one another in the message of reconciliation found only in the righteousness God alone provides and it is the righteousness that comes through faith. Let us encourage one another with these words. Amen.
ZCRC(Imus), we believe in the one holy catholic church. We are called to serve one another in communion with God and with one another. Let us continue proclaim this message of reconciliation that comes with the righteousness of faith. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.