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Christ's Church and Our Calling
Dear Reformed Netters,
Bertepatan dengan HARI REFORMASI GEREJA (31 Oktober 2000), maka e-Reformed menyajikan sebuah artikel yang sangat menarik tentang GEREJA, yang ditulis oleh Pdt. Dr. R. Dean Anderson.
Maaf, artikel ini memang dengan sengaja tidak diterjemahkan dalam bahasa Indonesia (untuk menghindarkan dari salah interpretasi).
Selamat merenungkan, dan selamat HARI REFORMASI GEREJA!Yulia Oeniyati
That is not a small thing! It is important to ensure that one is at the correct church address. It is so important, according to the confession, that you will even have to risk death because of it. And this is not just idle talk, since at the time these words were written it often came to that. Every Sunday morning you and your family had to make a choice; either go to the Roman Catholic church and listen to a sermon from a priest, or go to the Reformed church. And in those days the Reformed church was strictly off limits. You could be dragged off to prison just for having Reformed literature in your house.
In the confession the issue is not the belief of the individual person in the congregation or in the church. The issue is not what a particular minister might happen to think. Rather, the issue is about the church being church. The confession holds that there are some churches which must be called "false". Now that word "false" sounds very strong. In this context it actually means nothing other than "illegitimate", i.e. church that Christ no longer recongnizes as a legitimate gathering of His sheep.
Is that possible? Is it true that Christ will sometimes refuse to recognize churches as legitimate gatherings? Many people don't think so. They say: A church always remains church of Christ. She is our mother - even if she becomes seriously ill. You don't abandon a sick mother, do you?
And yet the Reformed believe that it is necessary to leave a church that has so degenerated that it can no longer be accepted as legitimate. Just as our Confession states, it is the duty of every believer to leave any unlawful church and to join themselves to the lawful (=true) church.
But back to our original question. is the address of the church truly as important as our confession makes out? Isn't it sufficient to have an upright personal faith and to belong to a reasonable local congregation?
A personal faith that comes from an upright heart is truly essential. I, myself, personally must learn to depend on Jesus Christ. I must learn to praise and thank Him for the forgiveness of my sins. Christ has paid the ultimate penalty for me. Christ, not I, was crucified for my sins. And, miracle of miracles, I learn that He has given me that personal faith, and regularly feeds it with His Word and spirit. There is then a sudden change from "me" to "God".
When we have received that living faith in our heart, we have a personal relationship with God. It cannot be otherwise. For then Christ lives in our hearts through his Spirit. Then the Holy Spirit is part of our lives. That's why the Bible warns us as believers: "do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Eph. 4:30). The Spirit places God's mark on us. On the last day we may show that mark, "Look! This is a person for whom Christ has paid!"
But if I have such a personal relationship, through faith, then, surely, I wouldn't loose it just by going to another - what one might call a false or unlawful - church, would I? No, but that wasn't the question. I could pray to god in such a church too, and I could praise and thank him there. yes, but that wasn't the question either.
What is the question then? This: Do you sit in a gathering that Christ recognize as His church? You can go and sit anywhere and praise God. And Christ, if you have true faith, will continue to acknowledge you as one of His sheep. But does he acknowledge that gathering as His church? That is a completely different question.
What, then, is Christ church? Does't He say, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20)? Yes He does say that, but there He is not speaking about the church. In that passage He is speaking to His disciples and promises them that when they follow the procedure for discipline (Matt. 18:15-20) He will be with them. The "two or three" are sithnesses concerning the unforgiven sin of straying bother.
WHAT IS CHRIST'S CHURCH?
The confession correctly states that the church is the gathering of true believers, and a gathering that God wishes to establish in every local place. Just before His ascension into heaven the Lord Jesus gave His great missionary mandate to His disciples. They had to go into the whole world with the gospel. That was the beginning of the New Testament church. We read about the institution of these new churches in every place in the Book of Acts. That's where we see the apostles travelling, preaching, and instituting churches. How does a church become instituted? By establishing a gathering of believers over elders are placed who, in the name of Christ, feed this congregatoion (=gathering). Te elders bear the final responsibility for such a local congregation of church (cf. Heb. 13:17).
It is of such a local church that we are members. Each local church is a complete church of the Lord Jesus Christ, His body (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12ff and especially v. 27).
HOW DOES CHRIST SPEAK ABOUT HIS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THESE CHURCHES?
If you are a member of Christ's church, then you have also received responsibilities from Him. As a member of His church you must use your gifts for the upbuilding of this congregation, you must help ensure that He receives His rightful honour and that sin isn't tolerated there.
Christ rules over His local churches. We see a good example of this in Rev. 1-3. In Rev. 1:9-20 John sees a vision of the glorified Jesus walking in the middle of the seven golden lampstands, the seven churches of Asia Minor. In chapter two and three Christ writes letters to the seven congregations. Some of the congregations are comforted, some are warned. Of importance to our topic are warnings.
Take, for example, the congregation in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7). She had lost her first love (v.4). The Lord calls her to repentance. Then He says, "If not I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (v.5).
To whom is Christ speacking? To the church/congregation as a whole.
What does it mean, that He would remove His lampstand? Then they would no longer be church of the Lord Jesus (cf. Red. 1:12-13, 20).
Sure, they would continue to come together and conduct worship services. They would still consider themselves to be a church of Jesus Christ. But Christ says, "I have removed my lampstand! I am no longer in your midst!"
Christ gives the same warning to the church at Laodicea. He reproves them for being neither hot nor cold. They have no zeal for the gospel. What does Christ say to them? "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold not hot, I will spew you out of my mouth." What does that mean? Christ will no longer acknowledge this church, this congregation.
Just imagine that you were a member of one of these congregations! Just imagine if your congregation received such a letter from the Lord Jesus Christ. What would happen? You would surely do your best to become actively involved in the congregation, but, well, if the majority of the congregation didn't make any changes - what then? At a certain moment, if the congregation as a whole did not repent, the Lord would activate His warning. He would no longer acknowledge this congregation as His own. If you want to remain true to Jesus you must now leave this congregation and join one that He does acknowledge as His church. The church you leave behind will, most likely, continue to call itself a church of Christ. Likely there will still be sheep of Christ left behind, sheep who have not yet seen that Jesus no longer acknowledges that congregation as His church. That would be a sad thing, and you would certainly do your best to convince these believers that Jesus wants to be served in a church which He recognizes, a church which remains true to His Word.
It is, of course, not always easy to determine that a church is no longer acknowledged by Christ. Jesus does not give direct revelation about htis. You will not receive a vision, or get a message from an angel. You must determine it for yourself, from what Christ has revealed about His church and His gospel in His Word. But if you notice that a church refuses to repent you cannot hold out until a new generation appears. The warnings for the churches of Ephesus and Laodicea were given to the congregations as they were at that time. Jesus warns them that if they do not repent he will spit them out of His mouth and remove His lampstand from them.
During the time of the New Testament you can already notice the beginnings of the church struggle. In his letters (in particular Galatians and 2 Corinthians), Paul speaks about the activities of false preachers and apostles who preach in various places and establish churches. He calls their preaching a false gospel and says that their followers are cursed (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). Even in the first century the choice of a church was not easy, but surely important!
OUR CHOICE OF CHURCH
When we look at churches around us such as the Roman Catholic Church or other churches which have become generally apostate then two things soon become clear. Firstly, there are still many sheep of Jesus Christ to be found there - people who are truly believers and who want to serve God with their whole life. Secondly, such churches have often become so tolerant or apostate that for years the gospel has been completely denied. Yes, there may still be ministers who preach the true gospel. But the persistent denial of cardinal doctrines such as the resurrection, of Christ's crucifixion for our sins is often quietly tolerated. Church discipline against those who teach heresy is such a situation unheard of because "doctrinal freedom" must be maintained. Even reasonably conservative congregations within a generally liberal denomination of churches are not free from the consequences of an organizational denial of Scripture. Local congregations will still be bound by the decisions of their liberal synods.
This article is not the place to expand upon the problems within such churches. But one point should be clear. if we pay close attention to what Jesus says about His churches in the New Testament then we cannot and may not acknowledge such churches as true churches of Christ. The warnings of Christ in His Word go unheeded for years and even for generations. There can be no other possibility but that Christ has acted on His warnings.
How does all this concern us? In the first place we are all responsible before Christ concerning the choice of church we make. If He has forgiven our sins by His crucifixion then He asks more from us. We are all also responsible to use all our gifts for the building up of that church which He acknowledges. This means that we may not lean back in our lazy chair and leave all of the concerns of the congregation over to others, but that we honestly ask ourselves how we can be of benefit in building and sustaining Christ's church in this place. Last, but certainly not least, is our responsibility toward those sheep who remain in a church that Christ no longer acknowledges. With great care, wisdom and love we must excercise our calling to convince such people to consider their church situation and to call them to become members of a church that Christ does recognize. We may not keep silent about this matter. The love for Christ, as well as the love for these brothers and sisters must stimulate each of us to activity in this matter. Do you have friends, acquaintances or even family in such churches? If you remain silent about their choice of church in order to "keep the peace" you rather show yourself to be love-less toward them. The love of Christ is a love that will put everything on the line in order to convince others to worship and thank Him in the manner He as asked for in His Word.
It may be that this means that you must study more about the doctrine of the church and some more recent church history. Then do not neglect to do so. Let us pray that our local churches become known, not as exclusive clubs with people who don't pay any attention to others, but as congregations that are actively busy with the Word of God, and always willing and ready to speak about it in the love of Christ - all in order to see to it that our Lord is honoured and worshipped. Let it be said of us - that's where you see the Spirit of God at work, that's where you find people who put the Word of God above all else. only God can work that in us, through His Word and Spirit. Let us direct our efforts towards Him.
*) A version of this paper adapted to the Dutch situation can be found at:
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