Hebrews 10:19–31 III John
Just what is the Church? How are denominations related to the Church? Is the Church the sum-total of all the existing church groups which label themselves church? Is the church as we live in it and are members of it really essential to our salvation? Asking these questions will furnish background enough to indicate that this is a most important subject: the confessing church.
1–What is the character of the Church-institute?
By “church.institute” we mean the church as we see it organized and administered according to its own “spiritual polity and government.” As such the Church occupies a place alongside the other societal relationships, and these together contribute to the fulness of the Kingdom of God among men. The Church is holy in Christ (I Cor. 1:2, 7, 8) and as a community of faith reveals the Body of Christ. Its sole foundation is Christ, not the regeneration of its members (I Cor. 3:9–17), The Church has its origin in the election of God (Eph. l :3-14), but the church-institute does not consist merely of elect people (Heb. 10:19·31; I John 2:18–20).
“The pure proclamation of the Word, the faithful administration of the Sacraments and the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline are all instruments of the working of God’s Word and Spirit for the sake of faith. Where these are absent we must speak of a false church…” (The Bible and the Life of the Christian, chap. VI, p. 22).
Questions for discussion: How do some distinguish between the church as “organism” and as “institute”? Doesn’t the church tend to arrogate to itself more prominence than it deserves? Can we be “good church members” and be indifferent to our duties as parents, citizens, employers and employees, etc.? Does it make any real difference if we belong to a church which neglects or denies one of the three “marks” of the true church? Is the Christian character of the church dependent upon the “spiritual condition” of the members?
2–How does the Church appear in our world?
The church as institute is regarded as an “earthen vessel” (II Cor. 4:7), God’s strength being established in its weakness! AU offices in the church are ministries because in the church only Christ rules (the church is not a democracy nor an oligarchy but a Christocracy, Eph. 4), As a community of faith it is a community of love, not of a general love-for-the-neighbor, but of love for Christ’s sake. This love breaks down all barriers between classes, races, etc., without doing violence to any of God’s ordinances. Officially this love comes to expression through the work of the deacons. TIle church loves justice and right, and therefore establishes a church order by means of which Word and Spirit can be operative in all procedures. The church loves God’s ordinances for beauty and symmetry, which comes to expression in church architecture, liturgy, music, the deportment of the members during worship, etc.
Questions for discussion: Doesn’t the majority rule in the Church? Does Christ give over his rule in the church to his office-bearers? If not, what is the nature of the authority of the elders and deacons? Do elders and deacons in Christian Reformed churches assume any duties and responsibilities outside of their respective offices? May the church ever use expedience as its guide rather than strict justice, even if the majority would be saved for a particular church in the way of expedience? Ought Protestant churches in general to become more “liturgical” in worship by stressing choir processionals, high·class music, responsive readings, etc.? Should we be friendly to just anyone who enters the church? Is it proper for ministers to speak in peculiar, ministerial tones and cliches while preaching? How much territory should a particular congregation cover? a particular minister or missionary? Do the broader assemblies of classis (presbytery) and synod (general assembly) have an inherent authority over the local congregations?
3–How does the church make her witness in tile world?
The church makes her testimony by means of common confession of faith, which requires the formulation of creeds. These confessions are of the nature of an act of agreement, and are therefore caned in the Christian Reformed Church “formulas of unity.” The confessions are not on a par with Scripture, of course, and are not to take the place of the Bible. This must be acknowledged over against confessionalism, which freezes the church’s life of faith within the man·made dimensions of the creeds.
By her confessions the church enters actively into the arena for the battle of truth against every kind of heresy and doctrinal error. The church also indicates her ecumenical concern by such creeds, since there is but one Truth, and the church of all ages and all places ought to join in professing that Truth. Dogma is the officially sanctioned doctrine of the Church, and this is to be found in the church creeds. In an age of “the open mind” dogma is in ill-repute, and to be dogmatic is regarded as extremely foolish. The church institute does not hesitate to formulate its position over against error and to declare that it will responsibly hold to that position as reflective of the Word of God.
Question for discussion: Are dogma and theology identical? Is there danger for the church in both dogma and theology? Is it right to ask ministers to preach from the Heidelberg Catechism? Is the teaching of the children in catechism classes “theological instruction”? If not, just what is it? What is the moral nature of the oath of office required of ministers, professors of theology, elders and deacons in the Christian Reformed Church? How do modernists regard such vows? Is there a strong awareness among church members today of commitment to the Truth as expressed in the confessions of the church?