Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 31
Lord's Day 31
What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven?
The preaching of the holy gospel and church discipline.
By these two the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers
and closed to unbelievers.
How is the kingdom of heaven opened and closed
by the preaching of the gospel?
According to the command of Christ,
the kingdom of heaven is opened
when it is proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every
believer that God has really forgiven all their sins
for the sake of Christ's merits, as often as they by true faith
accept the promise of the gospel.
The kingdom of heaven is closed when it is proclaimed and
testified to all unbelievers and hypocrites that the wrath of
God and eternal condemnation rest on them
as long as they do not repent.
According to this testimony of the gospel, God will judge both in
this life and in the life to come.
How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened
by church discipline?
According to the command of Christ, people who call themselves
Christians but show themselves to be unchristian in doctrine
or life are first repeatedly admonished in a brotherly manner.
If they do not give up their errors or wickedness, they are
reported to the church, that is, to the elders.
If they do not heed also their admonitions, they are forbidden the
use of the sacraments, and they are excluded by the elders
from the Christian congregation, and by God Himself from
the kingdom of Christ.
They are again received as members of Christ and of the church
when they promise and show real amendment.
Q. & A. 83 The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven
- This LD speaks about the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” which were referred to in the previous LD. A key enables one to unlock or open and to lock or close something. This LD tells us about the admission to and the exclusion from the kingdom of heaven. (On this point, see also LD 48, Q&A 123, Note 1). He who is admitted to this “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” is entitled to share in its goods, viz., forgiveness of sins, renewal of life, and eternal glory. The discussion, therefore, concerns the granting of these goods, or their denial. The One who makes that decision is Christ. He is, says Rev 3:7: ". . . the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens."
- Christ exercises this power through his church. He gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, i.e., the authority to open this kingdom and to close it, to the church. He did not merely give it to Peter (Mt 16:19) and to the apostles (Jn 20:23), but to His Church. See Mt 18:17-18: ". . . Tell it to the Church . . . Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
- The church may not leave this power unused. It must use it,
a. to save sinners (Excommunication is the “ultimate remedy” to bring about repentance. Note that the Catechism discusses church discipline in the part on our deliverance (1 Cor 5:5).);
b. to save the congregation from the possibility that the evil may conquer the hearts of all; and
c. to keep the name of the Lord holy.
The church must also ensure that it does not misuse church discipline. It may only be exercised in accordance with the command of Christ. He has indicated clearly in his Word who must be admitted to and who must be excluded from the kingdom in Isa 3:10, 11: "Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them. . . .Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him. . . ."
Christ has also commanded the manner in which the power must be exercised. There are two keys:
a. the preaching of the holy gospel; and
b. church discipline.
Q. & A. 84 Son of Man, I Have Made You a Watchman
- The preaching of the holy gospel is a key of the kingdom of heaven. By the preaching it is openly proclaimed who is entitled to share in this kingdom and who is excluded from it. This teaches us the great significance of the preaching. For in accordance with its testimony God will judge, both in this life and in the life to come.
The preaching must, therefore, proclaim the eternal weal and woe. It may not degenerate into a genial talk about religious topics. Nor is its message concerned with interpersonal relationships, to which many restrict it nowadays.
- The preaching Opens the kingdom of heaven. It points to it and acquaints one with it. Further, it shows the way (Jesus Christ) to this kingdom. Not only that, but it also proclaims, in the Lord's Name, to everyone who enters upon that way and believes in Christ that his sins are forgiven. That is how it opens the kingdom to us and ushers us in into the joy of the Father.
- The preaching Closes the kingdom of heaven. For the gospel does not only speak about salvation, but also about condemnation and say of him who does not obey the Son that the wrath of God rests upon him (Jn 3:36). This must be proclaimed openly to unbelievers, so that they may be shaken out of their false security and learn to ask for grace.
Q. & A. 85 Lead the Sinner to Repentance
- Scripture clearly teaches church discipline or excommunication. 1 Cor 5:13 says: "Drive out the wicked person from among you." (See also Mt 18:18; Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 5:1, 2; Tit 3:10; 2 Thess 3:6, 14).
- The exercise of Christian discipline is concerned with those who “call themselves Christians but show themselves to be un-christian in doctrine or life.” It is concerned with those who belong to the congregation. God will judge those who are outside (1 Cor 5:13). And it is concerned with “doctrine and life.” Article 66 of the CO states: ". . . the consistory shall ensure that church discipline is used to punish sins against both the purity of doctrine and the piety of conduct." (See also Gal 6:2; Tit 3:11).
- The first step in discipline is brotherly admonition. The keys of the kingdom were not given to one person or to a board (the consistory), but to the Congregation. That is why the congregation is involved in every step of censure. And it is the congregation which begins all discipline. Good administration of discipline is impossible unless the congregation is faithful in this respect. Relaxation of church discipline (which is the beginning of the destruction of the church!) is always the fault of the congregation! Mt 18:15-17 says: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church." (The witnesses serve as witnesses of the Punishment, not of the Sin which was committed).
- After investigating the accusation and finding it correct, the consistory begins with the admonition. Article 68 of the CO then provides: "Anyone who obstinately rejects the admonition by the consistory or who has committed a public sin shall be suspended from the Lord's Supper."
This is the so-called silent censure. If the sinner does not repent after continued admonition, this is followed by:
The First Public Announcement. In it the sin is made known and the congregation is encouraged to pray for the sinner, whose name is not yet mentioned, and for the work of the elders. If the sinner still does not repent after continued admonition, this is followed by:
The Second Public Announcement. In it the sin, as well as the name and address of the sinner are made known to the congregation, so that it will not only pray for the sinner, but will also admonish him or her. This second public announcement is made only after the advice of classis has been obtained, so that everything is done as justly as possible. If this also does not bear fruit, it is followed by:
The Third Public Announcement. In it the date when excommunication will take place unless the sinner repents is made known, again with the advice of classis.
The Excommunication takes place in accordance with the applicable form. Read it! In the excommunication it is declared officially, in the words of the Form for the Excommunication of Communicant Members (The Excommunication), that the sinner ". . . is now excluded from the fellowship of Christ and from His kingdom. He (she) may no longer use the sacraments. He (she) has no part any more in the spiritual blessings and benefits which Christ bestows upon His Church." (See also the Form for the Excommunication of Non-Communicant Members).
This shows the seriousness of the matter!
- If the excommunicated person should afterwards repent and he Promises and shows real amendment, he will be readmitted into the communion of the church in accordance with the Form for Readmission into the Church of Christ. Read this form, in the back of your Book of Praise, too!
- When you publicly profess your faith, you place yourself under the supervision and discipline of the consistory. You are then asked (in the Form for the Public Profession of Faith, Profession, Fourth Question): "Do you promise to submit willingly to the admonition and discipline of the Church, if it should happen, and may God graciously prevent it, that you become delinquent in doctrine or in conduct?"
Many violate this promise when they are admonished, to their destruction. We must consider it a privilege that God wants to watch over our salvation also in this way.
B. Cross References
- The CD V, 14 also states that God maintains, continues and perfects his word of grace, inter alia, by exhortations and threatenings.
- Article 30 of the BC states that evil men are to be disciplined in a spiritual way and restrained.
- Article 32 of the BC states: ". . . discipline and excommunication ought to be exercised in agreement with the Word of God."
- Apart from the forms for excommunication and readmission, reference should be made also to the Form for the Ordination (or Installation) of Ministers of the Word, Form for the Ordination (or Installation) of Missionaries, and Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons. Further, also to the Form for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper (as well as the Abbreviated Form for the Celebration of the Lord's Supper), in which the power to close and open the kingdom of heaven is practised especially.
- Non-Communicant members are also subject to the discipline of the congregation. The General Synod of Sneek-Utrecht gave guidelines for the exercise of discipline over non-communicant members in 1940. This matter had been addressed at many previous synods1.
- When office bearers “have committed a public or otherwise gross sin, or refuse to heed the admonitions by the consistory with the deacons,” they must be suspended from office. (CO, art. 71. And see art. 72).
- In earlier times a general pronouncement of forgiveness of sins (absolution) was made in the public worship service after the reading of the law and a general confession of sins.
- The idea of the state, or national church.
- The denial of the necessity and possibility of discipline in matters of doctrine.
E. Questions (Q&A 83-85)
- What is a key? What is being discussed here, therefore? What is the kingdom of heaven? What do those who are admitted to it have?
- Who, alone, can give admission to this kingdom? Through whom does he exercise this power?
- Prove from Scripture that Christ gave the power to open and close the kingdom of heaven to the church.
- For what purpose must the church exercise discipline? To what must it have regard when it exercises discipline?
- What are the two keys?
- What is the purpose of the preaching of the gospel in this respect? How does it open? How does it close?
- Give a couple of Scripture references to church discipline.
- Over whom is church discipline exercised? About what is it exercised?
- With what does church discipline begin? How does the brotherly admonition progress?
- How does the exercise of church discipline by the consistory progress?
- From what is a person excluded when he is excommunicated?
- Can an excommunicated person be readmitted? When and how?
- Is it proper for a person to withdraw himself from church discipline? Why not?
- Are non-communicant members subject to church discipline? What about office bearers?
Addendum To “The Second Part” Predestination
- In the Second Part of the Catechism, about our deliverance, we referred a couple of times to election or predestination. Lord's Day 21, Answer 54 spoke of “a church chosen to everlasting life,” and LD 19, Answer 52 confessed that Christ “will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.” Thus, the Catechism does confess predestination, although this manual for the youth of the church does not give a broad exposition of this doctrine. Article 16 of the BC is more detailed, while ch. I of the CD gives the most ample discussion.
- The CD I, 7 states: "Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby, before the foundation of the world, out of the whole human race, which had fallen by its own fault out of its original integrity into sin and perdition, He has, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will, out of mere grace, chosen in Christ to salvation a definite number of persons, neither better nor more worthy than others, but with themselves involved in a common misery. He has also from eternity appointed Christ to be the Mediator and Head of all the elect and the foundation of salvation."
Memorize the parts in italics!
- The CD I, 15 states concerning Reprobation: ". . . not all men are elect but . . . some have not been elected or have been passed by in the eternal election of God. Out of His most free, most just, blameless, and unchangeable good pleasure, God has decreed to leave them in the common misery into which they have by their own fault plunged themselves, and not to give them saving faith and the grace of conversion. These, having been left in their own ways and under His just judgment, God has decreed finally to condemn and punish eternally, not only on account of their unbelief but also on account of all their other sins, for the declaration of His justice. This is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought is blasphemous!), but rather declares Him an awesome, blameless, and just judge and avenger thereof."
Memorize the parts in italics!
- The reason for election and reprobation is not a foreknowledge of faith and good works, or of a person's unbelief and irredeemability. It occurs “without any consideration of their works” (BC, art. 16). The reason for election and reprobation is solely and exclusively God's mercy. Rom 9:16 says: So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy.
It is not out of faith, but to faith. Eph 1:4 says: "Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him."
- One cannot call this predestination unjust, for, as CD I, 1 states: "God would have done injustice to no one if He had willed to leave the whole human race in sin . . . into which they plunged themselves."
- This election does not make us careless, for it does not exclude our responsibility. For it is an election to faith. And the Lord calls us to this faith by the preaching of his holy gospel (LD 25, Ans. 65). It is necessary to distinguish between the decree of predestination and its execution. God carries out his decree in such a way that our responsibility is not excluded. (See also CD I, 13; LD 24, Ans. 64). He who is lost is not lost because he was rejected, but because of his own sin.
- To become certain of one's election is a fruit of faith (CD I, 6). We must, therefore, work on that. 2 Pet 1:10 says: "Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall."
- The doctrine of predestination has not been revealed to us in order to alarm us (CD I, 16), but in order that we might give honour to God for our salvation (CD I, 13, 18; Rom 11:33-36), and in order to comfort us (CD I, 14).
- Infralapsarianism and Supralapsarianism. These doctrines are concerned with the order of the decrees in God's eternal counsel. The infralapsarians placed the decree of predestination under the decree of the fall. The supralapsarians reversed the order.2
- Remonstrantism (Arminianism).
- General atonement.
- Does the Catechism discuss predestination? Does it confess this doctrine? Where? Where is it confessed in greater detail in the Three Forms of Unity?
- What is election? What is reprobation?
- What is not the reason for election? What is the reason? What do Rom 9:16 and Eph 1:4 say?
- May one call predestination unjust? Why not?
- Does it make one careless? Why not?
- How do we become certain about our election?
- Why was predestination revealed to us?