Especially one word in the above title is important.
So, please nota bene, or mark well that the title does not say, “How to Build a Church”; but rather, “How to Build His Church.”
This makes all the difference in the world.
And all the difference for eternity also!
Christ’s church vs. Satan‘s – Satan is a Master church builder. He always apes God. When God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, the Devil tried to imitate that also by a stepped–up incidence of demon possession. And so when our Lord builds His church, the great Deceiver also immediately gets busy building his.
But what a difference!
Satan‘s church is the vestibule to hell whereas Christ’s church is the vestibule to heaven.
And so, it is not enough simply to ask about someone; Does he go to Church? Is he a member of some church? Is he active in church? The only thing that really counts is to belong to Christ‘s church. Far better not to be a member of a church at all than to be affiliated with one that is apostate.
Doctrine indispensable – Indoctrination is essential in church building. Christ uses the teaching of sound (healthful) doctrine in building His church. Paul writes to Titus, “But speak thou the things which befit sound doctrine” (2:1). Even as the backbone and the rest of the skeleton are indispensable for the structure of the human body, so Christian doctrine is indispensable for the structure of the church, the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And when it comes to building his church, the Devil also knows the importance of having doctrine. He knows that only a fool would dispense with doctrine as so many do while they try all the stunts in the book to try to build their apostate churches to which they still want to give the name “Christian.”
Paul was fully aware of the Devil’s indoctrination efforts and therefore he warned Timothy to be all his guard against this as follows: “But the Spirit saith expressly that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” (I Tim. 4:1).
This is to he. says Paul, “in later times.”
These “doctrines of demons” are here—right now!
We read of Churches of Satan, the best known of which is San Francisco’s Church of Satan with Anton La Vey (a former lion tamer and hypnotist) as a Doctor of Satanic Theology and High Priest—a church that is reported to hold “Satanic solemn high masses” and to read from a “Gospel of Satan.”
Think also of the so-called “gay churches” for homosexuals who are insistent and brazen in demanding recognition and a respectable place in society and also as bona-fide churches.
Recently the sensational story, together with a photo, was published about a couple who boldly appeared in the nude to partake of Holy Communion. The press report commented that other worshipers at the church did not seem to be embarrassed at the occurrence.
Add to all this the host of churches whose preachers portray Christ as a mere man, and who deliberately and persistently seek to subvert the basic doctrines of the Word of God as to His deity, His virgin birth, His atoning death on the cross, His bodily resurrection, and His coming again in glory. Such liberals may appear as “angels of light” but they actually are “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
“Doctrines of demons” – if we are not aware of the fulfillment right now of what Paul wrolc would come to pass “in later times,” it must be that we are spiritually deaf and blind, or else sound asleep.
Neither the CRC nor any other church can take refuge in a vacuum or in isolation at such a time as this. A CRC minister may sit back in apparent unconcern and say to me—as one did—“The Lord will take care of His church.” And indeed Hc will! But this is not worth a fig unless we have reasons to believe that the CRC (or any other church to which one may belong) is really and truly the Lord’s church!
Marks of the True Church – Cyprian, leader of the Christian church in Africa in the third century, said: “He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.”
If this be true—and so it is, if properly understood—how important it is then to be able to recognize the true church, to become affiliated with it, and also to participate in the chnrch-building program of our Lord Jesus Christ and nothing foreign to it.
To build a cathedral, or some less imposing physical structure for a church, calls for an expert architect‘s blueprints, plans and specifications. To build the church as the spiritual body of Christ we must follow the directives of the Divine Architect as these are carefully spelled out for us in Scripture, It is our conviction that these directives have been properly set forth for us in the Belgic Confession (Art. 29) which has the following to say about the marks of the true church:
“We believe that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church . . . .
“The marks by which the true Church is known arc these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if 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. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.”
Following then are the marks of the true church: the true preaching of the Word; the proper administration of the sacraments; and the faithful exercise of discipline.
With good reason it has been observed that this says nothing explicitly about the missionary calling of the church. At some time in the future it may be thought to he opportune to include this as an additional mark if a revision and expansion of the Belgic Confession should ever be undertaken. Meanwhile we know what we do have but not what we might get if today‘s church should see fit to start rewriting the Belgic Confession or any of our other doctrinal standards.
Moreover, there is no problem or controversy whatsoever in recognizing evangelization to be very pronounced in the mandate given to the church; and therefore the need for such a revision of the Belgic Confession on this score cannot really be said to be urgent.
It was in 1561, more than four hundred years ago, that Guido de Brcs wrote his Confession of Faith. Six years later, in 1567, he died as a martyr to his faith. And it was in 1618–19, more than three hundred and fifty years ago, that the Synod of Dart adopted the Belgic Confession as one of the Doctrinal Standards of the Reformed Churches.
TIlese marks of the true church have stood the test of time and of Scripture throughout all these years. History confirms what our Reformed forebears recognized and confessed already in their time that a church is genuine and true to its calling only insofar as these three marks are held in honor, and that the church becomes apostate as soon as it no longer sees fit to do so.
The true preaching of the Word – There was a lot of wisdom to the wit of the late Halford E. Luccock (he wrote regularly in The Christian Century using Simeon Stylites as his pen name, and taught preaching at Yale for a quarter of a century) when he told a gathering of ministers that it was their calling “to feed the sheep, not to entertain the goats.”
The intolerant pew often poses a serious threat to the loyalty of the minister to his calling to preach the Word. The pew can exercise a tyranny over the pulpit that must be resisted at all costs. The minister who gives up the true preaching of the Word for the sake of popularity will find sooner or later that he has sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. That price is too high.
Paul’s warning to Timothy should come to us also, and clear as a hell. Confined in a Roman prison for his own loyalty to the Word, looking forward to martyrdom and death. the aging warrior was in dead earnest when he wrote about this as follows to his “beloved child,” the youthful preacher Timothy:
“I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus . . . preach the Word: be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry” (II Tim. 4:1–4).
One day during our ministry in Pella, Iowa, a well–known teacher of theology at a state university visited our home in an attempt to become more familiar with the singing of Dutch psalms by our churches of a bygone day. During our visit I took the liberty of asking him about the brand of theology he was teaching his students at his university’s school of religion. It is difficult to believe that he was not speaking with tongue in cheek when he told me, apparently in all seriousness, that he was trying to get across to his students that there is such a thing as religion, and that he was giving that to them “sugarcoated.”
Now if that kind of hogwash is actually being fed to future ministers in the classroom and then inflicted by them from the pulpits on unsuspecting congregations, is it any wonder that today’s churches are suffering such serious losses in attendance, in their giving, and in their missionary endeavors?
In the Preface (p. XII) to his book, Why Conservative Churches Are Crowing, Dean M. Kelley (a United Methodist Minister and the Director for Civil and Religious Liberty, National Council of Churches) quotes the criticism of one of his colleagues concerning what that colleague believed to be “a merely social-pragmatic approach” to the matter of the growth of the churches and one that he therefore considered to be “ultimately false to the distinctive imperative of Christianity.” In the judgment of Kelley’s colleague:
“The Church can never be thought of simply as a religious institution. It bears the Gospel . . . . Churches as institutions are dying precisely because they have become merely religious and turned away from the revelation of God in Christ, the work of God in history, which is to say have lost their grip upon the Gospel, or rather allowed the Gospel to lose its grip upon them. This reliance upon ‘religion’ seems to me to yield up a social-pragmatic assumption concerning the effectiveness of religious institutions.” How true!
The church—the CRC or any other church—is at the crossroads or at its most important rendezvous with destiny when it comes to grips with the question whether it will insist on a continuation of the true preaching of the Word or whether it will substitute other activities due to a growing demand.
The evidence – How do we know that the true preaching of the Word is an indispensable mark of the church? Because the Bible tells us so.
When Jesus “entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read,” what did He do? “He opened the book (Isaiah) and found the place. And he began to say unto them, Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:16–21).
When Peter preached on Pentecost he expounded Scripture when he said: “For these are not drunken, as ye suppose . . . but this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel .. .” (Acts 2:15, 16).
And when the apostles were delivered from prison by an angel of the prison they were told: “Go ye, and stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20).
And that was true of Paul also. We read the following about lhe people of Antioch of Pisidia at the time when Paul and Barnabas were there: “And the next sabbath almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:44). And that’s what Paul told Timothy to do: “Preach the word” (II Tim. 4:2).
And that has been the history of the great preach. ing by Calvin, Luther, and a host of others whom the Lord was pleased to use to build His church.
That kind of preaching takes study. In his recent book, The Minister in His Study, Wilbur M. Smith makes this trenchant observation: “Too many ministers have changed the sign on their door from the pastor’s study to the minister’s office” (p. 10).
Quoting once more from this book by Smith (p. 41): “In the fascinating volume, Princes of the Church, Nicoll paid the following great tribute to Maclaren . . . : ‘To him preaching was the exposition of the eternal divine thought. Anything else was not preaching. So the Bible was his book . . . .’”
Standing at the beginning of the New Year, let every minister once more renew his covenant with his Lord and Sender to preach the Word, the whole Word, and nothing but the Word—and may he thus be engaged in building the true Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And let elders—also those just recently installed in this office—be mindful of their great responsibility to see to it that such preaching and no other shall be presented to Christ’s precious church that He has purchased with His blood and has now entrusted to their care.
And may all others in the pew pray faithfully and fervently that this true preaching of the Word may continue in their hearing; and that, like Apollos, their pastors may be or become “mighty in the Scriptures” and that they may continue to hear nothing but, “Thus saith the Lord!”
We have considered mark number one of the true church. The Lord willing, in the following issue or issues we shall address ourselves to the other two.
ANNUAL REPORT BY MANAGING EDITOR
At the Annual Meeting of the Reformed Fellowship, Inc., on November 8, 1974, the following annual report was made by the managing editor.
Permit me once again to thank you as a Reformed Fellowship—now for the fourth time—for providing me with this opportunity to remain active in our Lord’s work in the many duties in editing and managing our monthly publication.
Retirement, no matter how attractive it may at times appear in prospect, can be frustrating and also debilitating for body, mind, and soul if one must live out his remaining years without something useful to occupy his time to the extent of the ability the Lord gives and with no challenge to keep him alert. Even as there is no satisfaction like that of accomplishment, so there is no frustration like that of thinking oneself to be useless or no longer needed. So, thank you again for allowing me to carry on as long as our gracious Lord enables me to do so.
Circulation – The mail all of us regularly receive from different publishing houses and magazines with their attractive offers of a special price, of a free book, or some other enticement, makes crystal-clear what a battle it is to keep the circulation graph going in the right direction—that is up.
A year ago I reported that in three years our number of paid subscriptions had increased from 2800 to 4300. That was a gain of 500 per year. With gratitude, it may now be reported that our last mailing in October, showed 4924 paid subscriptions. What was not too encouraging a year ago was that at that time in the then preceding twelve months we had gained only 300.
At that time I pleaded for your wholehearted efforts and cooperation to help increase the circulation. It may be reported now that during the past twelve months the increase was 624, more than twice that of the year before.
With the Lord’s blessing and your continued sup· port and prayers we hope to be able to keep our circulation growing. Our purpose in doing this must not be that we want to be big just for the sake of being big. Rather, it must be our commitment to the Reformed faith and our calling to defend, develop, and propagate it that motivates us as we once again exert ourselves to carryon.
In addition to paid subscriptions, the total circulation of THE OUTLOOK exceeds 5,000 due to copies being made available free for Calvin Seminary students and also for a limited number of others. More· over, all of this year‘s candidates for the ministry have been given a one-year free subscription. Our hope is, of course, to keep them as subscribers.
Finances – It is a real joy and also another reason for genuine gratitude to be able to operate in the black financially –especially because our publication until a couple of years ago was going on year after year in the red. This is significant especially in view of the fact that inflation affects the cost of paper and other expenses involved. That the Reformed Fellow· ship can pay its debts and still show a balance is possible only because of generous financial contributions and the faithful payment of dues by our growing number of members, for which we may well give humble thanks to our Lord.
Fortunately, THE OUTLOOK is being blessed without being subsidized or receiving a denominational quota which would not be available to us. We are truly grateful that THE OUTLOOK with its growing circulation may continue without raising the subscription rate due to your freewill giving. May the Lord graciously grant that we may continue to enjoy His favor to the end that this may be possible also in the future.
Copy – I have reported before that it was my concern at the outset with THE OUTLOOK that suitable copy might be difficult to obtain. THE OUTLOOK is not yet in a position to remunerate contributors a thank-you is the only stipend with very few exceptions. An editor‘s constant fear is to be caught at deadline time with an empty barrel. However, my fear on this score has been altogether relieved. It is good to know that there are among us so many competent writers willing to serve with their time and talent gratis for the love of the cause.
A con.scious effort is being made of late to publish, as much as possible, material that is of a positive rather than merely of a negative nature. At the same time we are not too greatly concerned about being accused of being negative in our publication. The Ten Commandments arc also very negative as well as positive, and that puts us in very good company. Moreover, conditions and trends in the CRC as well as in other churches today tell us clearly that also a negative emphasis is by no means superfluous.
Special mention may be made of the following four new series of articles; 1. “Main Lines of Reformed Doctrine” by Rev. John H. Piersma; 2. A series on “The Christian Counselor”; by Dr. Jay E. Adams of Westminster Seminary to begin soon; 3. A series on “The Church at Worship” by Rev. Jerome M. Julien;
4. “Our Question Box” by Dr. Leonard Greenway to begin in January. To these and other faithful writers, such as Rev. Peter De long, Miss Johanna Timmer, and Rev. Johan Tangelder who contribute regularly, we are indebted for their untiring service.
The Future – What the future of THE OUTLOOK is to be, only God knows. For the present it is our conviction that our publication is filling a real need. Our growing circulation makes us hopeful and also encouraged as to what the Lord may have in store for us. We have reasons to believe that those who take our publication are not only subscribers; but, what is more important, that they are also readers.
But, regardless of the measure of success or the lack of it we may experience, we know that all that matters is that you and I are to persevere in our commitment to the faith of the fathers—to be true to it as long as the Lord lends us breath. May He give us the grace and the courage to carryon as long as life shall last.