The Church (Blogging the Belgic: Article 27)


We continue our 2017 series examining each of the articles of the Belgic Confession, one of Faith Church’s confessions of faith.

When people write or blog about the church, the words that they say are typically not very good. People will point out declining numbers in many churches and denominations as well as shifts in the culture and predict the decline and end of the church. Others will criticize the church as being irrelevant in our modern world, or even that the church is really a Western institution, dating back from the Roman empire. Article 27 of the Belgic Confession presents a much different view of the church, highlighting its true nature and also its promise to endure.

Article 27 really expounds upon the statement in the Apostles’ Creed, which states, “I believe in the holy, catholic church,” as demonstrated in its opening words: “We believe and confess one single catholic or universal church—a holy congregation and gathering of true Christian believers, awaiting their entire salvation in Jesus Christ being washed by his blood, and sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit.” The Belgic Confession goes further, as it explains the meaning of the word catholic in the creed as well as describing what the church is and of whom it consists. The word “catholic” is used because the world itself means universal; the Roman Catholic church is one that sees the connection as being under the leadership of Rome (with the bishop of Rome the pope), but that idea emerges from the word before catholic – Roman – not the word catholic itself. The idea of catholic is that there is a single church that consists of people of all lands and places; there are churches in different places but they have a unity and no single location contains the whole church. The confession discusses that idea later on in this article: “And so this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain people. But it is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world, though still joined and united in heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith.” This universal church is spread out and distributed. At the time of the confession, people didn’t travel or move as much, so essentially you had different churches in different countries; they would have different languages and customs, but still all were the church. In our world today, we see this distribution even within a land, as you see various groups within America (many denominations can be tied to the church in a particular country) as well as the fact that other things besides borders can define our world. There might be different congregations of Christians in difference places around the world and around your town, but they are united in faith so that that we can say that their hearts and wills are united.

When I taught church history, I opened the class by asking my students when the church started and where I should begin. Some said the church started with the Day of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit, others with the death or resurrection of Jesus, others with the confession of Peter (Matthew 16). Those certainly are key moments in the history of the church, but they do not mark the beginning. The confession talks about when the church started: “This church has existed from the beginning of the world.” That is, the beginning of the church, people called out by God and placing their faith in him, doesn’t start with Jesus but in the Old Testament (there are even places where the word used for church is used for the people of Israel in the Old Testament). The Apostle Paul talks about how Christians are children of Abraham and trace ourselves back to him; the church did not start later but is the continuation of God’s promise to him. Perhaps the best place to start would be in Genesis 4:26 with the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve: “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” All throughout human history since the Fall, there have been people who have been calling out to God for salvation.

Will the church ever cease to exist? The confession also answers that, as it continues by saying that the church “will last until the end, as appears from the fact that Christ is eternal King who cannot be without subjects. And this holy church is preserved by God against the rage of the whole world, even though for a time it may appear very small to human eyes—as though it were snuffed out. For example, during the very dangerous time of Ahab the Lord preserved for himself seven thousand who did not bend their knees to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).” Jesus promised to build his church and said that the gates of hell cannot overcome it. There might be seasons where there are lots of Christians and seasons in which there are few, but the church will never cease to exist. When I was in seminary, professors pointed out that many American Christians will talk about the decline of the church, but this is really only true in America and Europe, as if you go to the Global South (places like South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia), the church is growing in leaps and bounds. We need to remember that the church is not just the church in our nation but the church around the world; we can take comfort in what God is doing in other lands and also to learn from them as we seek to bring the gospel to our own land.

This discussion of the church should remind us of the connection that we have to each other as Christians, in different church buildings in our town as well as with those in other towns — and even times. We can be confident that the church will not die because the one who formed the church is eternal and all powerful; if God is able to save us from our sins, he is able to bring this salvation to its culmination not just for us but for all his people. In addition, I love the way the confession describes those who belong to this church: “the people who belong are those who long for their whole salvation in Jesus Christ and have been sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit” (thus reviewing the last few articles). What a wonderful way to describe yourself – as a Christian, are you waiting salvation entirely on Jesus? Do you see yourself as one who is sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit? Are these words part of your identification of yourself?

Questions about Bible or theology? E-mail them to Pastor Brian at Theology@wearefaith.org. You can also subscribe to get weekly e-mails with our blog posts by filling out the info on the right side.

Current Series

He Gets Us

Though Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago, He still knows about the problems you face today. Not only does Jesus know what plagues us as a culture, He gets us. Jesus can relate. He was tempted, too. He was disrespected, too. He was doubted, too. He mourned, too. He suffered, too.

Faith Church is joining other churches in the Chicagoland area for the series, He Gets Us. We’ll explore that Jesus knows about our insecurity, exhaustion, anxiety, guilt, loneliness and grief. Join us for this new series as we find assurance in knowing we aren’t alone in this world. We have a Savior who gets us and cares about what we are feeling.

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