The Holiness of the Church

RT Van Laar (December 16, 2006)

In the context of the debate over ecclesiastical fellowship (EF), it has been argued by some that the Church of our Lord on earth may have weaknesses. We may hear arguments that concede that there are indeed divergencies between us and, for example, the OPC. They will even concede that: a verbal warning is not a scriptural practice in regard to admitting people to the Lord's Supper. The problem that exists as a result of this is that these individuals, who are willing to concede this, go on to say: yet we do not believe that these discrepancies warrant a rescinding of the Synodical Decision of 2001 to establish EF.

Here an alarm must be raised. We have to understand that as church we have a duty to maintain the truth (2 Tim. 3:14). The truth as revealed by Christ to the Apostles and recorded in Scripture is the foundation of the church. If the church makes decisions that fall short of Scriptural truth, we must vigorously attack these decisions.

The church at Ephesus in Revelations 2:2-7 provides us with a model for understanding how this works. Christ commends the church at Ephesus, "I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake…" Yet Christ also says: "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first…" We understand here that the church at Ephesus had given up on something. Christ goes on to call them to repent and warns them of a price to be paid for not listening. "I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place…" One might argue that the church at Ephesus was faithful yet had a weakness. We have to understand that the problem was more then a weakness. That is why Christ called them to repent and threatened them with being cut off.

So it is today with us. We have a vital responsibility not to abandon our first love. Doing so comes with a heavy price: being cut off. With this in mind we need to examine the decisions made at our Synods regarding EF because at this time the Canadian and American Reformed Churches acknowledge there may be discrepancies (or in the language of Synods: "divergencies") yet are able to live with them. We must ask ourselves: "How seriously are we taking the commands of Christ?" When confronted by Scripture and confession can we say: "I can live with these discrepancies?" As we see in Rev. 2, weaknesses are in the end really matters that are unscriptural.

In all faithfulness, the glorious bride of Christ ought not to cover a weakness, but expose it. In thankfulness for Christ's mercy and enduring faithfulness, the bride of Christ must make every effort to bring the brightness of the light of God's Word to bear upon any weakness. Can our human and self-centered thinking resist the light of God's Word? Not so! It peels away our sin and reveals our nakedness. It shows that we are completely dependant on Christ -think what we have been delivered from! Consider this thought and then consider what discredit it would be then to allow weakness and sin to go unchallenged. How can we be casual and permissive over matters that conflict with God's Word? When we thankfully consider the grace shown to us, then we cannot reflect a casual approach to practices that do not conform to God's Word. Let us reflect on the words of Dr. K. Schilder: "Sinning tomorrow is always worse than sinning today, for each day proffers more abundant grace and therefore aggravates transgression." (Christ in His Sufferings p.27)

The Lord in his righteousness does not overlook what we may consider a small sin. The account of Uzzah touching the ark in 2 Samuel 6 gives us no room to minimize sin and strategize: "This sin is small so it doesn't give us any reason for breaking our current unity with these other churches which maintain practices that do not accord with Scripture." Who is Lord of the church? Why are we then strategizing with sin? Let us not forget that God did not allow what may be perceived as a small sin to go unpunished.

We need to reflect on this account and remember what role we as men have in the advancement of God's Kingdom. What role does the bride of Christ play in church unity? Do we make the ultimate decisions? Or do we patiently testify from God's complete Word and allow Christ to show us, His children, how He will preserve His church by the process of "testing the spirits" (1 John 4)? The holiness of the church is not our doing-what good comes from man? It is Christ's preserving work. In our weakness we are inclined to minimize sin and thus reach out our hand to wrongly assist Christ's work.

Christ-centered efforts at unity with other churches mean that we must establish relationships that conform to all that Christ has taught us. With regard to the OPC, Synod 2001 decided that the "divergencies that existed between our churches were no longer impediments to unity." Again an alarm must be sounded; what are we calling divergency? It is apparent that these reflect confessional differences. Are the confessional view of the church, the proper supervision of the Lord's Supper, church polity, and confessional membership matters of mere opinion? Do not our confessions accurately describe how we are to view these?

It becomes apparent in the use of the terminology "divergency" that there is an attempt to mute the differences that exist concerning belief and practices. It is an attempt to break down the seriousness of the differences that exist between our churches. We may not accept the view that these divergencies are simply differences of opinion that can be tolerated even if there is a commitment to discuss them in the future. Therefore we ought not play politics and adjust the wording to take away the seriousness of these differences. When does a doctrine that is not scriptural and confessional become a "divergency"? Our covenant obligation of obedience requires us to take every single difference very seriously. With that in mind, how can divergencies of doctrine NOT become impediments to unity, or NOT be a reason to rescind decisions to establish relationships based on such a faulty foundation? Does this kind of unity take into account the holiness of the church?

In conclusion we have to be aware of our sinful human tendencies. It is fundamentally important then for us to constantly go back to God's Word and our confessions. We must be nourished by the preaching of His Word, to submit to the yoke of Christ in obedience to that word alone. Thus, we understand the comforting words of Lord's Day 21 "I believe that the Son of God, out of the whole human race from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself, by His Spirit and Word, in the unity of the true faith, a church chosen to everlasting life. And I believe that I am and forever shall remain a living member of it." This is what we believe concerning the holy catholic Christian church.