Lord’s Day 21 ~ Prof. B. Holwerda ~ (June 14/1942)

Beloved in the lord Jesus Christ.

“No salvation outside of the church”.  Indeed, beloved, outside of the church no salvation.  That is no assertion of mine, because it is your own confession.  And when you see that this expression, that there is no salvation outside of the church, is now made the content of a sermon on Lord’s Day 21 this afternoon, then you must not think or say that it is the minister who says these things somewhat strongly and forcefully, for you have confessed it yourself, and do so until now.  For we are together this afternoon on the basis of the three forms of unity. That which brings us together this afternoon is not the need for hearing a good and edifying word, but it is our common faith, our unity in confessing the truths of God. And we have expressed together in article 28 of the Belgic confession, that the church, the holy assembly, is a gathering of those who are saved, and that outside the church there is no salvation.  This confession, which is our confession, is not a yellowed document from a gray past, when people thought narrow mindedly, and did not yet possess that broadness of vision of which we boast today. And whoever owns a confession, has no ancient deed, or antique document, which like a valuable inheritance lies safely stored away in a safe, but still confesses it everyday. He says again and again; I stand behind it. When this confession is read then he says: Amen, truly help me God.

When you read the catechism well, it says exactly the same thing.  For here we confess the article of the church. You still remember what we have said in Lord’s Day 7 as introduction to the 12 articles.  That this is everything that a “Christian must believe”. It is necessary for us to believe everything of God the Father, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, everything of the Holy Spirit, and outside of that there is no salvation, not outside of the Father, nor outside of Jesus Christ, and not outside of the Holy Spirit.  But this all includes the church. Also that article needs to be believed. No salvation outside the church. Not outside of Jesus Christ, also not outside of the church.

There is reason to believe that with many this concept has worn thin.  When it is asked today, what is necessary for salvation, it is said, for instance: confession of sin is required; and it is the misery of the church that this consciousness of sin is often so weak.  What is necessary for salvation? Another says: faith in the forgiveness of sins. I agree with them: without the faith of the forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. But as well: what is necessary for salvation?  Church consciousness, because outside the church is no salvation. Why would consciousness of sin be necessary but not a concept of church? Why is it necessary to have faith regarding the forgiveness of sins and not faith regarding the church, to the Jerusalem that is above, why not faith regarding the bride of Christ, of the city, which has foundations, whose builder and architect is God?  This is what I want to know of you, brothers and sisters, who gives you or me the right, to put scissors to the confession, and to say: knowledge of guilt is necessary, and knowledge of salvation, but for the sake of peace keep silent about the church? Yet many do so, and put their backs up when the church of Jesus Christ is mentioned.

But it is so, brothers and sisters, if we, you and I, ever depreciate this article of the church, then we should repent of it today.  For we hear the Scriptures speak of the Jerusalem above, the city of God, for the holiness of the habitation of the Almighty, of the bride and the elect lady, of the mother of all believers, of the royal priesthood, of a holy and redeemed people.  These many names and more, the Scripture uses to make us believe the splendor of the church.

What should we do this afternoon?  Will we think, with an expression of annoyance: “oh, always about the church again”?  No, please not. We all believe with the heart don’t we, and we all will profess with the mouth that ”glorious things are spoken about You, oh city of God”?

So what do we confess of the church?  No salvation outside the church.

Because the church is: 1) the gathering of Christians.

                               is: 2) the communion of saints.

                     and has: 3) the forgiveness of sins.


“No salvation outside the church”.

We are immediately situated with a great difficulty when we say this.  For indeed, the first question comes up: what is meant here with “church”?  You might say: I can agree with it, there is no salvation outside the church: it all depends on the definition of church.

So we must say clearly and first of all: what do we mean this afternoon by “church” in this context.

Now, we have slowly become adept at making all kinds of distinctions.  Remember them from the years of your catechism instructions; invisible and visible church, the church as organism or as institute.  When we think of “invisible” we think of the part of the church hidden from us, of God’s electing love, which makes the church to be church, and which cannot be seen.  Then we also think of the work of the Spirit in the hearts, which consequently comes to light, yet which is untraceable as to its origin. And when we talk of a “visible” church we speak of confession, and walk of life, and everything which is not only open to God’s eyes but is also obvious to the human eye.

So, no salvation outside the church.  What is that? Is it only about the church as it appears naked and open before God’s eyes, or about the church which we can see as humans?  That is one question already.

And a second question comes directly.  When we discus the church as ‘organism’ we mean the organic bond of faith, which makes the church a body.  We then think of the unity of love and the Spirit, such as are evident also during the week in different exercises of fellowship.  But when speaking about the institution of the church we mean the church as it is instituted, as it administrates the offices. In other words the church with ministers and elders and deacons, with a specific address, the address of the clerk.  As institute the church also exists during the week but also becomes evident on Sunday when it conducts the church services.

Again: no salvation outside the church.  Does that mean that we must belong to the organism of the church, to the great communion of saints, or does it also include that we must belong to the church as it is assembled by the offices, to a church with a particular consistory and a regularly updated membership list?  Some will say: I can accept the first; that we belong to a great multitude of saints and that there is no salvation outside of that communion. But, they say, the second, that Christ demands the we are tied to a particular church under the leadership of a certain consistory, goes too far.  Is there no salvation outside of that church? Is perhaps, as is sometimes asked, is the Reformed Church perhaps the saving church, as the Roman Catholic also claim of their church?

So you see how necessary it is that we find an answer to this question, what is understood in this context by “church”.  But you will also agree with me, that we must read our confession, as it is written. That we do not, because it suits us better, bring our own concepts about the church into the confession, but to honestly ask what the confession means.

Than the answer must sound as follows: By church the confession understands the official gathering of the congregation of Jesus Christ. So, not only the invisible church, nor the visible alone, but both together.  Not only the congregation as organism, as unity of faith and love and the Spirit; also not just institute, but the two together. For you must pay close attention; we can make distinctions but we must never separate.  The church has various sides, different aspects, but they are always sides and aspects of the same church. And so in this context it has to do with the church according to all aspects at the same time, about the church in which all aspects are inseparably bound together.

It is so beautiful, that our confession of faith, in its sharp distinctions, itself adheres to Scripture. Even before Article 28 speaks of the church article 27 has already said that it meant the gathering of true Christian believers, washed in the blood of Christ, and sealed by the Holy Spirit.  So then the confession knows well that there is an invisible side of the Church; for being sealed by the Holy Spirit is invisible. Yet the confession does not speak of an invisible church, outside of which there is no salvation; but in article 28 it speaks of a holy assembly, which is everyone’s duty to join, even if it would cost their lives.  This church which is invisibly washed in Christ’s blood and sealed through the Holy Spirit, appears visibly, at a certain place, where there are also other people not of the church; where princes and magistrates turn against it perhaps; and which is everyone’s duty to join, regardless of threats, and to break the bond with the unbelievers.

Now you could say: this is still only the organism of the church: we do not yet speak of a consistory.  But you have to also include article 30; “We believe that this true church must be governed according to the Spiritual order which our Lord has taught us in His Word.”  In other words there must be servants and shepherds, and also overseers and deacons.

Holy Scriptures speaks in this way of the church as the city of God in the Spirit (invisible), but which confesses by word and mouth and walks in a life of holiness (visible).  It knows the organic fellowship, namely one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (organism), yet wherein God has through Jesus Christ still given some as Apostles some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as shepherds and teachers for the up building of the body of Christ.  Which is why the Apostles zealously went from city to city ordaining elders.

Do you ask which church is meant here?  Scripture and confession answer; there is only one church, one church with many sides, with multicolored richness, but still only one church.  And everyone must join that church, because there is no salvation outside of it. Not outside the washing in the blood of Christ and the seal of the Holy Spirit, nor outside the fellowship of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, nor outside of the Apostles and shepherds and teachers and elders and deacons.

I hear the concerns coming already.  You might say: is the Reformed Church the only saving church?  Is everything going so good and orderly with us? Isn’t there also some bad preaching our church, are there no shortcomings with the elders and deacons?  Are the members in “our” church so mature? If only! Isn’t some beautiful work done in the other reformed denominations, does the spirit of Christ perhaps also work in the United Reformed, and are there also not conversions in the Free Reformed Church?  Are the adherents to charismatic groups shut away from salvation? Is “our” church everything perhaps?

This can be set in order this afternoon.

To begin with: no one speaks of an only saving church, because the church does not save us, that is only from Jesus Christ, our Lord.  The church does not do it, but He, and I say it right away, He does it in the church. Jesus Christ alone has the church. The church does not save, only Jesus Christ, but he grants no salvation outside of it.

But not only this.  We so easily interject: is everything in “our” church so rosy then?  But how do we come to speak of “our” church, beloved? Only Jesus has the church.  You and I, we belong to the church, we are the church, but we don’t have a church. If I should say, that there is no salvation outside the church, then I do not say: outside of “my” or “our” church there is no salvation.  But: there is no salvation outside the church of Jesus Christ.

It is good to go further into this.  Why is it that people have such an aversion to speaking about the church?  I believe it is because of the fact that we again and again see the church as a society of and by people.  We are quite capable at a society level. We establish something like it together, we choose a board, we let ourselves be written in as members.  That is how it goes.

We have a broadcast committee, we have a school society, a workers association, and sport and youth societies, etcetera.  So we also often think that we have a religious society with the church. We think of the church where there are people with the same convictions and religious ideals; and they establish a society for the representation of their religious interests which they call church.  They pay their contributions, they choose a board, which they call a consistory. This then becomes “our” church. But there are others who think differently on certain points, who organize themselves separately, choose their own consistory; they have “their” church; the Christian Reformed, or Free Reformed or whatever.  Indeed, if matters stood this way, then those would be haughty words, if we would say: no salvation outside of the church. If we would interpret it: outside of “our” church there is no salvation. We would then proclaim that everything will be ok as long as you are a member of the (Liberated) Reformed Church. This would be pure churchism, or worse, it would be thought and spoken totally un-churchlike for we have no church, only Christ has His church.

But this afternoon we confess: that means: we are not exalted about “our” church.  We do not have pride in our work, but only in the work of our Savior Jesus Christ. I believe a Holy Catholic Christian Church; that is not: I believe in my church, in what I make of it; but I believe in Jesus Christ who gathers His church,  In this work also He is my full salvation, so I trust in Him, I direct my life to Him. You must understand well: we are not talking here about sermons of “our “ minister, or about the quality of the elders, which ‘we” have chosen, nor about the excellence of “our” faith, about the sanctity of “our” walk.  This afternoon we only talk about Christ, who gathers Himself a church, and we only say that we love Him and believe in Him.

For when it is asked: what do you believe of the church, then the answer is: that the Son of God gathers a congregation.  I do not make a confession about our work, and of our assembling on religious grounds, but I confess about Him and His salvation and His gathering.

The Son of God gathers.  Why does He gather, and not you or someone else?  Because we can’t. Because we never can get the congregation of God together, because everything in us is according to the natural man always disrupting, only the power of disunity lives in us.  Therefore He does it. There is nothing as humiliating as the remark that God’s Son does it. We are so miserable that we do not gather any church, we do not build, we don’t even keep it together.  Whatever good we do in the matter of church we only do by the power of His grace. Does anyone of us still have the gall to brazenly claim: us Reformed? What do we suppose, Reformed? I thank God; it is Jesus Christ, our Lord, He gathers His church.

He gathers a congregation for Himself.  You and I have nothing to say about it, we must not let our fingers touch it.  We have only to acknowledge His sovereign rights. Would we have established “our” church?  It is crowned foolishness. Lord, the church is Your bride: grant that we honor Your rights and ask: what is it You would have us do?  We only have to accept His promises and demands, nothing else. That is how impoverished we are when we talk about church.

And that congregation is called here (Lord‘s Day 21) “chosen to everlasting life“.  There is an enormous wealth in the church; eternal life. This salvation is never outside of it, but it does not give thanks for this salvation to its own qualities, or to her members, but to the electing love of God.  Not from works so that no one should boast.

He gathers His church “in the unity of true faith”.  Again, it is not true that the church would be better than the world, or one church would be more pious than the other.  Certainly the church is called to good works, but it is still gathered in the unity of true faith, Not in the unity of ideals or purposes; we have not established a program in the church, as a party involved in elections would do.  We only believed what we ourselves did not know, what Christ came to reveal to us. We are incomparably rich, but we are enriched by Christ in our poverty; he has filled us with goods. Indeed, there is no salvation outside the church, it is by Him, by Him alone for the sake of the eternal good pleasure.  He gathers and not us, he gathers a congregation for Himself, not for us; he gathers us in the unity of true faith, not in the unity of our programs. He only gathers us by His truth. We must accept it literally. And that is not only the beginning, but also the continuation and the end. He preserves us so that the church remains and that is no thanks to ministers, nor the synods.  When you read church history you may be amazed that the church still exists, how synods have messed up, and how much office bearers have fouled up. It is only from Christ that the church remains. It says that this also applies till the end. How is this so? Only because Christ protects her against the powers of the devil, the world, the anti-christ. Because He keeps her standing in persecution and war and oppression.

That is the church: everything from and in and through Christ.  And whoever confesses the church like this does not speak the proud words “by us”, but that person has never bowed so low, has never been so ashamed and embarrassed.  Whoever says “church” abandons every claim and high-minded word.

And that also applies personally; “that I am and forever shall remain a living member”.  Indeed, no salvation outside the church. For how do I receive eternal life? In the communion of all the saints.  I am a member of the church. And not thanks to father or mother, by birth, but thanks to God’s election. Christ gathers me also to the chosen congregation.  Member. Living member. But that life is not in me. Being a living member is something different than being an active working member of an organization. It is not thanks to my activity that I believe what the church believes, that I have the salvation which only the church has, it is only the power of Jesus Christ in me.

“And forever shall remain”.  Again, this is not because I have sworn an oath of faithfulness to the church.  I do not say “they can count on me because now that I have said yes, it is yes“.  I do not boast in my confession, in my perseverance; but here I confess my faith in Christ, in God’s faithfulness, in His preserving which shall carry me to the end.  For He gathers and preserves and protects me with the whole church by His Word and Spirit. These two things are sot separate from each other; it means to say: by the official service of the Word, through which the Spirit does great wonders since Pentecost.

No salvation outside the church: that is to say, not outside the gathering, protection and preservation of Christ; not outside His congregation; not outside the election of God, not outside the unity of true faith, not outside the Spirit and word, not outside the instrument of service, the official service of the Word, which Christ has instituted; and not outside a living membership of this church.  No salvation outside the church.

So when we go on about the church then we confess Jesus Christ alone. His right, His power, His grace, His instruments, His method of work, and seeing this we say: “I will oh Lord, whom I call my King”.  Ps. 145 verse 2 (BoP)


But all is not yet said.   Because in the next answer the catechism goes deeper into the church as communion of saints.  And that is separated into promise and demand for us. The communion of saints, the unity of the church, is first of all a gift of Christ; each and everyone, together that is, have a share as believers in the Lord Christ and all His treasures and gifts.  There is no need to talk further about this, it has just been pointed out; for communion with the treasures and gifts means to say communion with Himself; communion with the church, which he gathers; the communion with His Spirit and Word, so also communion with the offices he established, communion in the true faith.

However it is not only the gifts of Christ in the church, but also the demand of Christ.  It is not only a privilege, but equally a calling. For this is always the case with God: in every covenant there are included two parts: we receive the treasures of grace, but at the same time we are called to a new obedience.  Christ likewise calls the church to preserve and protect the communion as He established it; the whole church must do so, but also everyone as member of the church. Each must know themselves duty bound…. Now we could also speak of the deacons as well, or about every form of the practice of fellowship, and this is all true; it flows forth from it.  But this afternoon we restrict ourselves to the church communion.

Christ has given all believers a share to Himself, and of His treasures and gifts.  Therefore not only the believers in the Liberated Reformed Church, but equally those in the Free Reformed, the Netherlands Reformed Congregation, the Lutheran Church, yes even the Roman Catholic, the Greek Orthodox, (all believers in the Salvation Army,) the Pentecostals.  They have part of the treasures of Christ even as we do. For whomever is gathered by Christ has access to Him and all His treasures, as we have just named them. But now everyone has the personal calling to show himself as a living member of the communion. In other words to practice and maintain the unity established by Christ, each on his own place with the gifts lent to him.  That calling lies on me, but equally on my brother, the minister.

What does that entail?  Oh, I believe that every believer still wants to keep the bond to Christ; but they often lose the bond to His gifts, and they also do not preserve the fellowship with them.

Christ gathers a congregation for Himself; only He has a say in the church, He practices authority only through His word.  This the Catholics have forgotten when they put the pope on the seat of Christ; this is what the Dutch Reformed have forgotten when the allowed the rules of the synod more authority than the Word of Christ.  Yet I do not say, that there are no believers there; nor will I exalt the Reformed as if such hierarchical tendencies have disappeared from us for good. There are believers there, but the church of Christ is not there, which He gathers; it is the church of the pope there, the church of the synod.  Absolutely not what we say of the church here (in LD 21), where only Christ has rule. And so if I am obedient to Jesus Christ as He gathers the church, then I must for my conscience sake loose myself from an organization, which calls itself church, but does not reverence the sovereignty of Christ. To cast afar whatever breaks down that which is Christ’s.  Also that other thing: Christ gathers in the unity of true faith. And so we must honor Him in His church gathering work. He does not gather believers and unbelievers together, but He gathers the believers and sends them upon the unbelievers. And especially because it is not our church, but that of Jesus Christ, we have to honor him in this law about church gathering work, because He only has the say how it must be with the church.  This may seem less pleasant for our feelings, because we may have go against an historical tradition of many years, Christ ultimately gathers in the unity of true faith; and He gives to one and all the calling, to be His followers in this.

So when unbelievers are openly accepted into the communion of the church ( I do not talk of hypocrites, we cannot see them, but the unbelievers, who expose themselves as such by walk and word), when they are admitted to the sacrament of the Holy Supper, when children of unbelieving parents are baptized, modern preachers are allowed on the pulpit, then the gathering law of Christ is despised, and I can have no communion with that.  If I might ask what was the easiest I would have remained, there are true brothers in the church, I have the old ties to them and a secession means much sadness and persecution and misery and sleepless nights. But I am bound as a living member to Christ’s law of assembling. That is why I can not stay there any longer. Not that there are then suddenly only unbelievers there, fortunately not; but when they gather together believers and unbelievers, then that is not the church, for Christ gathers in the unity of true faith; so if I am true to Him, then I must separate from those who are not of the church.  But I am called to exercise the unity of true faith with all believers at the same time, but not in such a way that from time to time I go and visit them, or go once to another church for then I dance lightly over every matter, over the question of obedience; nor to say they are all true churches, because then I ignore that Christ gathers in the unity of true faith. It may appear broad and brotherly but I only make the tear worse, because from my position I abandon the confession of the church on the fundamental principle of the unity of true faith.

What to do then?  By persistently seeking and admonishing all believers in other groups.  Then it is the error of the orthodox in the old reformed churches that they maintain the federative bond with liberals; then it is the sin of the Free Reformed that they isolate themselves for all kinds of futilities; but then there is also guilt with the (Liberated) Reformed, because we have not faithfully and persistently sought contact, and have sometimes turned away with a proud heart.  Then we just get a going together, as though it is the whole church of Christ; but there will be discussion in order to approach others and admonish them to obedience of faith.

Christ gathers in the unity of true faith, by His Word and Spirit, by the official administration of the means of grace.  Then I do not deny that there are believers amongst the society of Jesus, with the Salvation army, fortunately not. But I do say that it is their sin, that they do not subject themselves to Christ, Who has established offices in order to build His church.  Then we never sympathize with non-church movements but with love seek out the erring.

So I believe that the (Liberated) Reformed Church is the true church, that in principle this church is obedient to Christ, even though there is a shortage of love and much stumbling in her;  I do not call everything church, which presents itself as such, yet no one should exalt himself; if the church discontinues her primary obedience to Christ, by setting another authority above His, or to give up the unity of true faith, then there could still be many believers with us, but we would no longer have the right to the name church.  And if I say today, that today the (Liberated) Reformed church is the true church, then this signifies that all other believers belong with us and should be desired and sought out by us in the unity of the true faith. If we should stop doing so we would immediately deteriorate into a sect.


The unity of the church?  If we pay attention to the situation of today, to the historically produced misunderstandings, to every possible error and false notion, to the apathy about this matter, then we would despair the possibility of unity ever being achieved.  Is it despairing? But I believe that Christ gathers His church, with our service included. And I believe in the forgiveness of sins. It is beautiful that it says this in this Lord’s Day: forgiveness of sins, and no less from church sins.

This all and everyone has need of.  I believe this. I also believe God will never more remember my sinful nature: this is the sinful nature of us all; also the sinful nature which repeatedly surfaces in dancing around the church issue, in rash schism, in maintaining a bond with unbelievers.  God promises everyone forgiveness for how we have obstructed or disturbed His church gathering work.

That means that there is a way out of the impasse we have reached with the church.  For forgiveness means restoration. We can start anew.

How do we come out of it?  We must also know, every believer, wherever they have joined themselves, we must know three things: first, how great our sins and misery are, also in the church, second, how we are delivered from all these sins and misery; but third also; how we must be thankful to God for this deliverance.

The forgiveness of sins shall be proved by the fact that we fight against everything that is from the old man on this point, but also that with all our strength we put on the new man.  Because out side the church there is no salvation, nor outside the forgiveness of church sins. Yet also; outside of honoring church law there is no salvation. Are all then lost who have erred on this point?

But you know how it is with the other commandments.  Scripture says that no murderer, no adulterer, no greedy person, no unchaste person shall enter the Kingdom of God.  But also there are many who are saved, who have struggled with sin and stumble every day until their death on account of their remaining weakness.

This applies also with the church.  There are many saved there who have gazed too deeply into the glass, who have always been weakened by the love of money, who have always had to fight their anger.  So also will be saved all those who on account of their remaining weakness have stumbled in the matter of the church.

Nevertheless the word stays true, no salvation outside the church.  In the end we become saved despite many remaining sins; nevertheless the command remains, that outside of the obedience to God’s commands there is no entrance into the Kingdom Of God’

And so we will not say that due to the tremendous grace of God we do not have to be so particular, it does not matter that much to which church we have belonged.  For blessed will be those who, with much stumbling have still believed and confessed that there is no salvation outside of the church.


Scripture reading ~ 2 John

Singing ~ Ps. 48:1; Ps. 48: 3; Ps 87: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; Ps. 145: 2; Ps 133: 1, 3 (BoP)

Jvl translator