I "Believe" One Church
A Matter of Faith
When the Heidelberg Catechism introduces the subject of the church, it asks "What do you believe concerning the holy, catholic, Christian church?"
This question is decisive for all that follows.
Here the Catechism is not inquiring into "ideas" or "opinions" or "theories" which we may have formed and presented about the church; it asks about our faith. It asks what we have heard from God's Word about the church and on that basis as divine truth what we have accepted with all our heart. For it is only by faith that we can know and see the true church. The fact that we believe the church includes much.
First of all, this implies that with our entire existence and throughout our entire life we are involved with and remain in the church. Faith with respect of the church differs radically from a purely intellectual knowledge about the church. This is of very little value. Rather, faith with respect to the church consists of the sure knowledge that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Jesus Christ incorporates into His body all those whom the Father has given to Him and makes them to be His congregation, His church. It also includes the assurance that we are and always shall remain living members of the same. In addition it demands no less than that we live in and for and with the church; always ready therefore to struggle and suffer and, if need be, even to die for the church. Above all, it requires that we serve in the church with all that we are and possess.
Faith Opposed to Neutrality
In brief, faith concerning the church is the radical contradiction of choosing a "neutral" position which assumes the stance of an indifferent spectator. It takes sharp issue with all manipulating of what God says about the church. Such activity only leads us into the mists of error and makes us unfit for fulfilling our ecclesiastical calling; indeed, it causes us to mutilate and ruin the church.
Authority Opposed to Proofs
This fact that we believe the church signifies also that what we now learn from Scripture as divine truth about the church brings with it no single proof.
When God's Word speaks about Christ's church, it lifts itself high above every level on which we operate with proofs and counterproofs. The Bible, coming to us as Holy Writ, comes principally without a single proof or commendation. "Proofs" can only violate God's Word in its divine character. When God speaks, also about the church, He always begins with the majestic: "Thus saith the Lord!" And then for us no other attitude is appropriate than that of, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant hears."
Clearly this holds true also about all God's speaking concerning the church.
Scripture Is the Test
The church undeniably has an "empirical" aspect. It is, to be sure, a human fellowship, a social reality. But what in the last analysis makes the church to be church we can learn only from Scripture. This is a matter of faith. Therefore it can never be "proved" by anyone or anything.
Another implication of recognizing the church by faith alone demands that we always call only that reality God's church which He designates as such.
In this world we find associations of many kinds which adorn themselves with the title "church." But if we are at all serious about faith concerning the church, then we will continually engage in removing from our thinking anything which is unbiblical. We will test all organizations which present themselves as church by the norm, the pattern which Scripture itself presents. With respect to the church we will call everything sin which the Bible qualifies as such; for example, all false unity and every false division. We will refuse to give the name church to all that which the Lord Christ does not make to be church, which therefore is not church, and which also may never be adorned with the name church.
In this connection we call attention to one more factor.
Faith against Sin
Because true knowledge of the church is faith knowledge, it remains a stumblingblock and foolishness to the "natural man," to the "flesh." Man always rejects what God also says about His church. This happens first of all in our own heart and life. But we are under orders to resist every "natural" thought and ambition concerning the church which may spring up within us.
Frequently so much sin is found in our attitudes, our lives, our activities in the church. Sometimes it seems that the evil of the human heart breaks loose most forcefully and repulsively when the church is at stake. Here so much pride, selfishness, hardheartedness, laxity, unfaithfulness, maneuvering, intrigue, and deception sees the light of day.
But at the same time faith with respect to the church will involve us in a struggle against all attacks from without. Especially in these days so many nice, inspiring, pious ideas and plans concerning the church are being advocated which at bottom are "carnal." These can only harm the church and must be repudiated.
What has been said can now be summarized: True, belief full knowledge of the church can be fulfilled (and so made fruitful) only in the ongoing battle against all sinful powers which threaten the church both from within and from without.
To Assist in Group Discussion the Following Questions Are Suggested
- What do the following texts have to say about the nature, calling and condition of Christ's church? John 15:1, 2; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Timothy 3:15b; 1 Peter 2:9, 10.
- Which are some of our "carnal" thoughts by which we judge whether a church is truly church?
- How does the church to which you belong demonstrate its life-union and -communion with Christ according to the Scriptures?
- In what sense is the church one of mysteries of faith? Does this mean that now we can no longer really distinguish between "true" and "false" church?
- Can you mention some examples of a false "unity" and also of a false "division" of churches in our day?