Responsibility in the Holy Congregation.

Through the service of people (11)    T.L. Bruinius;   Bazuin #23 June 15/2011
The following is the part that concerns church discipline.


The second key is to cut off from the congregation and therefore out of the kingdom of Heaven, the last step of church discipline. It is terrible if it has to go this far! That is to have to tell a brother or sister, in the name of Christ, that he or she is now standing outside of the Kingdom of God! The seriousness of this judgement makes consistories very reluctant to busy themselves with this key.

Elders may and must be conscious that ultimately it is not they who decide over life and death but that they can only speak according to the words of Christ. That in the practice of discipline Christ is busy with the Word. Their authority is in essence that they declare the judgement of Christ. That is the administration of the key. And if that is not sound, if exclusion is not in agreement with the Word of Christ, if the excommunication becomes unfaithfully misused, if the second key degenerates into a means of power in the hands of men, then the judgement of the consistory has no effect. There is then always the judgement of the King himself. Whoever faithfully administers the keys of the Kingdom waits for a rich reward in the Kingdom. Whoever misuses the keys for their own end awakens God’s wrath and will fall into judgement themselves.


Authorised to administer the keys of the Kingdom? A serious and responsible service. So serious sometimes that one would become afraid because of it. Wouldn’t it be better to not go so far with church discipline? Can a person carry such a great responsibility?

Yet an office bearer must not allow himself to be scared off by this responsibility. He is called. He has a charge. He has to watch and to tend. If he does not watch, if he does not push and pull, if he does not administer discipline as the Lord requires, to the very end, then he does not let Christ’s love be seen. Then he does not pull with his utmost effort. Then there is no last and final call to repentance, and that is most serious!

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from my mouth and give them warning from me: “when I say to the wicked, ‘you shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. “Yet if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered but his blood I will require at your hand. “Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3: 17-21)

Holy congregation

In the confessions and in the church order “church discipline” is tied together with the Holy Supper. The Holy Supper is the sign and seal of the unity with Christ. And in this unity with Christ there is also the unity with each other, as members of Christ’s body. If the unity with Christ is damaged by a serious sin then the sinner cannot and may not participate in the sacrament. If by serious sin the covenant is tampered with and broken, then the sinner can and may not have any part of the body of Christ. That is only possible after repentance, after the sinner has allowed himself to be led on the good path again. The Holy Supper visibly reveals the holiness of the congregation. And if that holiness, that is being solely possessed by Christ and completely orientated to Him, is broken and meanwhile the Holy Supper continues to be celebrated normally with the attendance of the sinner then the body of Christ is defiled.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the lord’s death till He comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. (1 Cor. 11: 26-30)

Church discipline is tied to the sacrament. Therefore being withheld from the Holy Supper is the “first step”.  Elders that are called to keep watch over the flock, with special concern for the holiness of the congregation, also have the task to keep watch at the table of the Lord’s Supper.

Not to punish people, for what is always first in heaven is the joy for the repentant child of God, but to guard the holiness of the congregation and to watch out that the whole congregation does not live in sin because it no longer sees the body of Christ properly and in so doing calls upon itself the wrath of the Lord. The holiness of the congregation and the preservation of the sinner are not contradictions in the work of the office bearer but have the same basis: the claim of Christ on His whole congregation and on each member founded only on the merciful sacrifice Jesus Christ brought on the cross on Golgotha.


Office service, eldership, guarding and keeping, practicing discipline, leading with the power and authority of the Word. Service of the keys of the Kingdom, table watchers, not by their own strength and authority but as the mouth of Christ.

Christ wants to rule and care for His congregation by the service of people, with only one goal: life! Ordinary people called to serve a peculiar office. To work along with Christ’s life giving work through the Holy Spirit… Difficult, heavy, and accountable, yet very beautiful at the same time!

We will end this article with the last sentences of a sermon on Lord’s Day 31 from Professor K. Deddens:

“In the church it is always about the opening and the closing of that SURE pathway to heaven. You have to be sure about life and death in the church. Therefore you have to be convinced that the mouth that speaks to you is opened by God alone, and that the hand that puts the blessing on you is filled only with His mandate.
And where it is different, where you miss the certainty, where doubts may arise if the word of the King is indeed spoken, there the church is gone, and the struggle of the church has disappeared, ALSO the endorsement of that struggle in heaven. Where there is no certainty that the discipline ALSO means that God has locked out of the realm of Christ, there discipline has become a game and the churchly way has been broken up. There the keeper of the keys has spoiled his office. There the people no longer are guaranteed a royal road to the King’s throne. But it is the other way; whenever the church practices discipline according to the Word, then you are safe, because there you know that the struggle on earth is crowned in heaven. It is not for nothing that today Christ wrestles for His congregation through His office bearers. There I know that if I go astray the fellowship of the church will call me to account. Then Christ keeps you from an outbreak of unrighteousness.
And if you STILL fall into such a sin then it will be brought before your eyes in all its seriousness. Who chooses for sin then will have to KEEP doing it deliberately. You see therefore congregation that is how Christ is the perfect king. He strives to the very end for the purity of His bride.
He, who has the keys of hell and death, gives you an open door into ever present grace today. He has no joy in the death of a sinner but His struggle is to give you life.
Congregation go into life through this portal of the LORD and let yourself be held by the Word of Christ that is preached here. Let yourself be overcome by the struggle of Christ that is fought here and you will see NOW and in all eternity the open doors of life.
Yes LORD, grant life, life to my soul, and it shall praise Thee!”

To work along with this, on the coming of life in Christ, working with all human shortcomings and imperfections and sins, but in the power of Christ, is the calling and service of the particular office bearers.