Is church membership important? Belgic Confession Article 28 answers this question. The article explains the challenge of schisms for church membership, the necessity of church membership, the responsibility of each member, and when to separate from a church.

Source: The Banner of Truth (NRC), 1981. 4 pages.

The Confession of Faith Article 28 That Every One is Bound to Join Himself to the True Church

We do not believe, as Rome does, in a church which gives salvation, for then salvation would be the work of man. No church is able to save. However, according to God's Word, THE CHURCH will be saved, and for this Jesus Christ is the only and all-sufficient Savior. In this article which we now consider, there is spoken about the church and our duty to join ourselves to it. It is a very serious subject, especially for the present days.

With sorrow we must admit that the condition of the church is not at all good. Its walls are cracked and broken down as in the days of Amos. Millions have completely broken with the church, and this number increases alarmingly over the whole world. Is it not the great decay before the end of the world will come, whereof God's Word speaks?The Confession of Faith Article 28

There are people who never go to church, but to them the above does not apply. They are a so-called non-ecclesiastical people (in Dutch – onkerkelijken). They say that there is no church any long­er, and therefore read the old fathers at home. Although there are God-fearing people among them, this practice has a great danger in it, for in succeeding generations you see generally a great decay, and little or nothing remains of the religion of the parents. If one felt a little of the great responsibility of bringing up children, he would then confess that this is not the right way. Really, such an attitude is contrary to the Word of God, for He has promised that there will be a church upon earth until the end of the world. Is this not encouraging in a time when so many things discourage us?

The Lord will continue to build His church, and for this He uses His Word which is preached or read. You will probably ask then why so many people leave the truth. For many the great prosperity which we enjoy is too much; they think they are able to take care of themselves and don't need the Lord any longer. How foolish! Others are offended by the many shortcomings of the church. Although they are not perfect themselves, they are look­ing for a perfect church, and this does not belong to this dispensation.

Some think it is not right that unconverted persons are in the church, and they seek a church of only converted persons. We should remember the Word of the Lord that it will be here upon earth only in part; think of the parables of the net with good and bad fish and of the field with wheat and tares. In Philippians 3:12, Paul said, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus."

It is true that the Lord has said that the church should be as the light of the world, but often because of the persecutions of the enemy it is more like a night lodge in a garden of cucumbers. Nevertheless, the church may not be hidden, but it should reveal itself. When we see the church and think of the members of it, then we must realize that they are not all converted; the Lord only knows who his people are! One day the Lord will purge His floor. This will happen at the end of the world, and then it will be seen who feared the Lord and who did not fear Him.The Confession of Faith Article 28

In church history there is the well-known name of Jean de Labadie. He did not want to hear of a church with converted and unconverted people, but he attempted to have a church of only true believers. He took the fan in his own hand and thoroughly purged his floor, which is the work of Christ Himself. The church of de Labadie became a disaster. We may not judge another's faith, although the Lord has given marks to know true and false faith. The fruit will tell what kind of tree it is! Remember the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. They had no external differences, but internally there was a difference as night and day. Judas was also among the disciples! In the preaching and on house-visitation we must take this in account. Not all the members of the church may be considered as regenerated. Isaiah's message was woe for the wicked and well for the righteous.

This article also shows very clearly that not all members of the church belong to THE CHURCH which is chosen by the Lord from eternity and for which Christ has given Himself as a ran­som. They are called by Word and Spirit. This is the essence of the church, as this article also points out: "We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved…" These are the people who are drawn by the Lord from darkness to light and who will receive the salvation of the Lord. According to Isaiah 62:12 they are called a holy people: "And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord." In Psalm 111:1 they are called the upright: "I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation."

Outside of this congregation there is no salvation, as the article so plainly says, "We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and that out of it there is no salvation…" The Lord has made His habitation in His church, and outside of it He will not show mercy, as we read in Hebrews 12:22, "But ye are come unto mount Zion and unto the city of the living God." All those who will not be saved will be outside, as we read in Revelation 22:15, "For without are dogs, etc." These and many other texts show clearly that not all members of the churches are also members of the one CHURCH.

Nevertheless, we are responsible for our deeds and called to join the true church, for this article says, "That no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself, to live in a separate state from it." This we also find in Hebrews 10:25, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." When grace is bestowed upon us, we will seek communion with other believers. When this is not possible, they are sad, as we hear from Heman, "Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me." David was also sorrowful when he was not able to go up to the temple, "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." Herein we are condemned when we do not join the church.

The Confession of Faith Article 28 It is also a condemnation of the sects who exalt themselves above all churches. Everyone who does not want to bow under the yoke of King Jesus withdraws from the church. This is in force for members and ministers. We find this through all ages, also in our days when new groups are formed. Often it is a desire for power and the lust of selfishness, but above all it is rebellion against the yoke of Christ.

Sorrow should fill our hearts when we look about us and see that there is so much division in the churches, whereby the body of Christ is rent. We have to be most careful, for the devil goes around as an angel of light, especially when there are schisms. It has always been his aim to make divi­sions. Not where enmity is, but there where love is found will the Lord give His blessing. Love and divisions do not go together.

We stated that the condition of the church in our days is sad. Many schisms have taken place in the church, and they are still happening at the present.

How necessary it is to urge unto unity in the church, as it is done in this article: "maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them." The Lord has said, "For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." The divine service, the practice of true religion and the discipline of Christ, is not a slavish service. The Lord promises, "To him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God." If we do the opposite, forsaking the assembling of ourselves together and despising the sacraments, then we cannot and should not expect the favor of the Lord.

This article not only emphasizes the necessity to join the true church, but also to serve to the edification of the brethren according to the talents which the Lord has given. This can only be done with the help of the Lord! Then we will do it with our heart, being moved about our fellow travelers to eternity. We find this of David in 2 Samuel 1:26, "I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan." When the need of Zion is bound upon our heart, then we will ask the Lord, "Do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion: build Thou the walls of Jerusalem" (Psalm 51:18). We will also edify our brethren with our mouth, assisting by word and deed, praying for each other, speaking good words to the pious. Peter was in prison praying for the church. A word at the right time can sometimes do much good. We should also serve with our deeds, helping the needy as David did to Mephibosheth. We should not forget hospitality! In many ways we can serve the brethren with and according to the talents which it has pleased the Lord to give unto us.

The article continues – "And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God hath established it." Here it speaks of the office of all believers. The apostle has said, "how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." Every baptized and confessing member of the church should ask the Lord for true conversion, but should also use the means which the Lord has given to His Church. According to the demand of the Lord, none may be unconverted; however, only the true believers know this practi­cally, and they have the commission to exercise the office of all believers.

True Christians are partakers of the anointing of Christ. As Christ was anointed unto prophet, priest and king, so they too must serve as office bearers. As prophet they must confess the Name of the Lord before friend and enemy, as priest present themselves as a living sacrifice of thankfulness to God, and as king fight with a good and free conscience against sin and Satan. The office of all believers is distinct from the offices in the church – ministers, elders and deacons. It is an office given to all believers, and the rights and duties of the "office of all believers" rest upon the whole congregation.

In this article we also find a rather difficult part, namely, "to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church." It does not say that we may separate from the true church, but must separate from the false church. We first then think of the church of Rome. The Confession of Faith Article 28 Our fathers left this church because there was so much in it contrary to God's Word, such as the mass, the worship of saints and images, the tradition of the church made equal to the Word of God, etc. Such a separation is grounded upon God's Word; "And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believers with an infidel?" (2 Corinthians 6:15). Our reformed fathers left the church of Rome because it was a false church, although they did not deny that some truth was yet found in it.

How such a division should take place is not described. Should it be as an individual, as a consistory or by the whole congregation? We must always be careful in labeling a church as a false church and then leaving it. It must be understood that this may only be done on the basis of God's Word, and from it we must have the proof to justify our deed. Evil, sin, and shortcomings in church life don't always give us the right to make a separation. The church of Corinth had many sins – divisions, discords, incest, profanation of the Lord's Supper. The believers were not told to leave the church, but to take away the sin out of their midst. This may not be forgotten in our days, for people change so easily according to their own insight and not based upon God's Word.

In 1834 in the Netherlands, a secession took place. King William I took most of the power away from the church; at the same time complete freedom of doctrine was permitted and even unbelievers received offices and were allowed to take part in the sacraments. The confession was put aside and edicts (regulations – reglementen) came in its place. A conflict was bound to develop, for this could not go together with the service of the Lord, and the secession became a fact. The Lord gives per­mission to separate in such circumstances; we may not remain together at the cost of the truth.

We are to join the congregation, "wheresoever God hath established it". This can be very difficult. It was so in the days of the Reformation, of the Secession, and in the time of Rev. Ledeboer. "Even though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it." It is true, man is not almighty, but under the permission of the Lord he can have much power. The reality of this we can find in the books of the martyrs.

Many of our contemporaries think differently about this, believing that in days of persecution you should keep yourselves quiet. They have also given Biblical examples, such as Obadiah at the court of Ahab, Naaman the Syrian, and Nicodemus. In days of prosperity it is easy to write otherwise, they say, but to put it into practice is a different thing. Our fathers never condemned those who, out of fear, bowed before the enemy in certain things, but they maintained that it was wrong. Many heroes of faith are mentioned in God's Word and in church history, which is only possible with the Lord's help.The Confession of Faith Article 28

This article concludes with these words, "Therefore all those, who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God." How do we join the church? By baptism as infants we are written in the registers or books of the church, but then we are minor members. By confession we take over the responsibility of our parents. It is not possible to remain a baptized member of the church. At a certain age we should make up our mind to this, and it should not be influenced by secondary reasons, such as that we would like to marry or have a child to be baptized.

We may not join the world, for the displeasure of the Lord will come upon us. We must join the true church, regarding which our following article will speak. Only by regeneration do we become a member of the living church, and it is my wish that the Lord may give this to all of us.

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