The Church of Christ (IX)
We’re still dealing with Article 29 of the Belgic Confession regarding the marks of the true church and where she differs from the false church. By way of quick review, Article 27 dealt with the concept of the catholic/universal Church of Jesus Christ and Article 28 reminded us that every Christian is duty bound to seek out, find, and then attach him- or herself to the most biblical local congregation they can find.
Church choice is not rocket science, but it is more important than rocket science. Unfortunately, few today take the requisite time to find a true congregation of the Lord. The false assumption is that all that bear the name “Church” are truly churches. Moreover, this sounds like a rather time-consuming process and the modern church-going consumer has a rather sparse list of what he or she is looking for anyway. Some semblance of entertainment is usually rather high on the list; biblical substance doesn’t rank too high, although modern church-goers want to believe that they are in a “Bible believing church” that will suit/meet their needs and will be attuned to what’s going down in pop culture.
In our last installment (Sorry that I missed a week, but I was away speaking at a conference and am on my way tomorrow to lecture at Reformed Theological Seminary—Memphis), we were discussing what the B.C. also has to say in Article 29 about the “marks of Christians.” The Church and the people of God/body of Christ truly do belong together. The Dutch New Testament scholar, Herman Ridderbos, correctly states, “The church belongs to the central content of Paul’s preaching…. Consequently all that has been said in the foregoing about the salvation given in Christ has special reference to the church and to the individual believer because he belongs to the church…. [T]he church is the continuation and fulfillment of the historical people of God that in Abraham God chose to himself from all peoples and to which he bound himself by making the covenant and the promises.”
What seems to escape some modern Christians is the relationship between salvation and the Church as well as the centrality of preaching regarding both. In essence, Paul was not writing anything new and different that Jesus had not already said. He did expand upon it, however, and place everything in a post-resurrection and post-ascension context, where the Holy Spirit both informed and formed the Church. Conformity to the image of Christ does follow a biblical pattern.
After having said that true Christians may be known by the content of true, saving faith, de Brès proceeds and states further, “…and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof.”
The only time I caught a glimpse of Joel Osteen (I was channel surfing for a baseball game), I heard him promise his—whatever they are that attend his whatever it is—that they would never hear the word “sin” from his lips. They were pleased; he was very pleased; I was displeased. Of course, I understand that many in the modern Church in the 21st century don’t know Scripture, don’t know doctrine, and haven’t read a substantial Church Father.
In “our time,”—to borrow a phrase from David Wells—Christians gorge themselves on steady diets of Osteen, Hybels, Schuler, Campolo, Stormy Omartian, and McLaren—if they read at all—and neglect Luther, Calvin, Bucer, Owen, Edwards, and Bavinck. How could anyone neglect Bavinck?
Describing the history of God’s people in the Old Testament, the psalmist writes this in Ps. 106:13-15, “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (ESV). The Authorized Version (1901) gives us a “word picture” rendering: “And he gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.”
A steady diet of 21st century theology is tantamount to being on a theological starvation diet. If Mr. Osteen will not speak of sin, then the question is begged: How will those in attendance know about grace? Many today do not connect the dots on this one. They are oblivious to the fact that if a person does not come to a knowledge of the depth of his or her sins and miseries, they will have a truncated, cut-off-at-the-knees view of God’s grace and Christ’s atonement. Sadly, few seem to mind or care if this transpires. Such is the nature of the consumer, entertain-me-to-death mentality in the mega-church and Emergent church movements.
How can the Church be striving for holiness—especially the holiness apart from which no one will see God (cf. Heb. 12:14)—and not know the magnitude of its sin? And it is evident, is it not, that the modern Church is on par with its secular counterparts vis-à-vis morality?If Christians are not reading their Bibles on a regular, systematic basis—and most who call themselves Christians are not—and not hearing about the horrific reality of sin in a person’s life, how are they to avoid sin and follow after righteousness? If they are unaware of their sins, how will they love the true God and their neighbor?
 Herman Ridderbos, Paul, An Outline of His Theology, (John R. de Witt [trans.]), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 327.
 Joel Beeke & Sinclair Ferguson (eds.), Reformed Confession Harmonized, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), p. 193.