Rejoicing and Weeping Together (II): In the Church

The church is family. As every earthly family   and   its   members   experience joys and sorrows, so the church and its members experience joys and sorrows. Previously, we considered what our attitude ought to be towards these joys and sorrows. Our hearts must have the attitude of love towards one another, expressed in the way of rejoicing and weeping with one another.

How are we to rejoice and weep with one another?

The points that follow are more of suggestions than imperatives for us to consider and discuss in our fellowship.

The first two suggestions consider what our initial responses towards our joyful brother or grieving sister should be.

  1. Explicit Joy

Towards our brethren who rejoice: respond to their joy with joy! Do not give a dull response to a brother or sister that exuberates with joy. It may be hard for us to imagine what such a response looks like; but the LORD gives us illustrations of a joyful response, starting with himself. Recall that the LORD calls our attention to His face, that it shines upon us in grace and is lifted up as the expression of peace (Num. 6:25-26). Simply by the look of God’s face, we know His thoughts of love, joy, and peace towards us. So also, by a warm smile or a gentle gaze, we express the same thoughts to our brethren.

Not only facially, but also verbally, we can rejoice with our brother. Think now of John, the apostle of love, who wrote that he had “no greater joy than to hear that [his] children walk in the truth” (3 John 4). A colloquial way to read the verse is: “I am extremely happy to hear that all of you believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and live in thankfulness for that gospel.” Simple phrases such as, “That’s good to hear” and “Thank God!” go a long way to tell our brethren that we rejoice with them in the joys the LORD has given them.

If the LORD’s own countenance and the apostles’ words are insufficient illustrations, then consider the covenant mother that smiles to her infant; or to the covenant father that exclaims “That’s wonderful!” when his child rambles along about his Sunday in church. The infant that sees his mother’s cheer and the child that hears his father’s enthusiasm knows immediately that his mother and father are happy with them.

  1. Don’t Be Quick to Criticise

Towards the grieving sister (or brother), there is one thing we can consider. Don’t criticise first. That is, when our fellow saint approaches us with a certain sorrow or trouble, do not be quick to criticise that the person is spiritually weak, carnal, impatient, doubtful, etc., so that he or she is merely murmuring about what the LORD has given them. If the first thing we always say is, “Brother/Sister, you are wrong…” more often than not, we turn the brother or sister away from the help and comfort we may bring to them. They will think, “All he ever does is criticise!” Of course, criticism is not our only intent, but it is the impression given.

While there may be a particular weakness involved that affects our brethren spiritually, we must not be so quick to focus in on that weakness. The circumstances our brethren face—the stresses of work, the financial strains of the home, the sicknesses of the body— are often the trigger to their sorrows. Patiently listen for the details of those circumstances. Ask questions to draw out the troubles of the heart. Knowing these circumstances, we can shape our advice to address both the weakness and the proper way to respond to those circumstances that affect our brethren.

  1. Maintaining Confidentiality

The third suggestion considers a specific yet common situation. The brother tells you of a financial crisis he is facing; or a sister tells you of a conflict with another person in the church. You do not know what to say; however, only you know about it. The brother (sister) has told no one else. What may you do?

Confidentiality must be maintained. Solomon’s counsel is the principle to follow: “He that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Pro. 11:13b). The aggrieved person has told you only. He or she (probably) does not want others to know. In other words, the person trusts that you will keep it a secret. Even if the brother or sister has not explicitly told you to keep it a secret, we fall on the safer side to assume that it is not meant to be told.

Furthermore, the nature of our tongue is poisonous; it is full of deadly poison (James. 3:8). If anything, the Bible’s diagnosis of our tongues should have us think twice of breaking a secret.

There are serious consequences when confidentiality is broken. The brother who has confided with us will not trust us. The sister will not share anything else about the matter, even when the matter   becomes   spiritually   harmful to her. The brother or sister, though sinking into spiritual destruction, will not tell you anything.

Especially when the trouble causes great spiritual hurt to our brethren, we must be wary of these consequences. The growing trouble of spousal abuse is a real example, of which Prof. Engelsma writes:

Lack of confidentiality is a grave weakness of consistories in the matter of abuse as in other serious, sensitive matters. That elders or the pastor divulge[s] consistorial matters, especially those of a sensitive   nature   involving   sin and suffering of members of the congregation, to other members of the church, including their wives, is destructive of the pastoral work of Christ by means of the consistory and harmful to the abused woman. The abused woman will not turn to the minister or to the elders for the help she needs. The gossip of the consistory hinders the work of Christ.1

Though other matters may not bear a severity equal to spousal abuse, dealing with these matters uses the same principle: Keep it confidential. Between office-bearers and their wives, as Prof. Engelsma implies, there must be a mutual understanding that certain matters may not be disclosed; likewise for husbands who do not hold office and their wives; and likewise for friends who hold a closer bond. For the sake of the weeping saint, do not have the secret broken.

Is there room to ask others for advice for secret matters? Yes; but we need not share the details with others from whom we ask for counsel. And if the matter deems it necessary for details to be shared, they ought to be shared with the person’s consent. Scripture’s principle does not change.

But if the person would not have us utter a word about the matter, even for advice, what then?

  1. Pray

Make it a point to call upon the LORD for what our brethren need. As we pray, the LORD will grant to us wisdom to counsel and advice the grieving saint according to his Word. As Solomon received wisdom through prayer (2 Chron. 1:11), so we will receive wisdom by the same means.

Prayer towards our brethren that rejoice should not be neglected either. Our example is Paul, who always thanked the Lord when the New Testament saints experienced the spiritual joys of salvation (Eph. 1:16; 1 Thess. 1:3). By such prayers, the LORD will enable us to rejoice with our brethren to a greater extent.

“Practice makes perfect”, by God’s grace. Conscious effort must be placed into practising the proper way of rejoicing and sorrowing with others. As sinful creatures, we habitually practise indifference, over-criticism, gossiping, and worldly-wisdom; but, graciously, God has given us Christ’s Spirit to sympathise, bridle the tongue, and speak wisely according to the Word.

At the same time, if practice makes perfect, practice needs to start from the home. If we want to practice it in the MPH on Sunday mornings, we have to first practice it in the living room of our flats. We cannot expect ourselves to be sympathetic, faithful secret-bearers, and wise, if we behave coldly, unfaithfully, and foolishly at home towards our spouse (or parents) and children (or siblings).

More on the home next time, DV.

1           “Questions and Answers Regard- ing the Speech on Spousal (Wife) Abuse” by Prof. David J. Engelsma (https://www.drop- box.com/s/9q7q3na0p1p08yd/abuse%20-%20 questions%20and%20answers%20-%202017. docx?dl=0). Accessed 24 January 2018

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 48

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Rejoicing and Weeping Together (I): Introduction

The church is family.

No, don’t think about it doctrinally, as a matter of fact. Sure, we in our heads know the church is our spiritual home. Rather, I am speaking more than matters of fact; I am writing about experience. Is family life your experience in this church?

The experience of family life is an experience of love. The brother listens; the sister understands; the elder cares.

But is your experience that the brother does not take the time to listen; that the sister does not understand what you are going through; or that the office-bearer does not seem to care about you?

Now, stop right there. Do not point the finger; turn the question around: Are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care?

If you answered yes, something is wrong. If we, the church, are family, we should not turn deaf ears to each other. We should listen and put ourselves in others’ shoes; we should love!

That is where our title comes in. God, who eternally loves us, teaches us how we ought to love one another in the church. God, through Paul, says, Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15).

The text has two actions: rejoice and weep. To rejoice means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness. For a Christian, to rejoice always means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness in our salvation. We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, because we believe that Jesus Christ delivered us from all our sins (1 Pet. 1:8). When we hear this good news, we are glad, as the Gentiles were in Paul’s day (Acts 13:48).

At the same time, we have earthly joys that we experience daily. They are the joys of having our physical needs met—food, shelter, clothing, transportation—and having such things in abundance. They are the joys of having a spouse and children and of having friendships in the church. Over these things, we rejoice (see Eccl. 3:12-13).

But there is weeping too. Weeping is the expression of grief, sorrow, and pain. What a stark contrast to our joy! For a Christian, weeping is always rooted in our sorrow over our spiritual depravity. Listen to the cry of Paul: O wretched man that I am! (Rom. 7:24). Or listen to the cry of the Psalmist: When I kept silence [over my sin], my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long (Ps. 32:3). Our sorrow over who we are by nature is deep, and it comes out with a loud, audible cry.

There are earthly sorrows that we experience daily. Sicknesses from flus; stresses from schools and jobs; troubles in making a living—in such events, we experience pain to some degree. We can add here, too, anything we respond to with a negative feeling. A train fault that made us late for work (again); breaking the glass jar in the kitchen; getting your hands soiled with your child’s foul-smelling poop. As insignificant as these things are, they contribute to the emotional sorrow we experience.

All of us rejoice; all of us weep. All of us have joys; all of us have sorrows. Now the calling is to rejoice together and weep together—that is, with others in the church.

To rejoice and weep together with someone means we listen to the brother or sister. What is his joy; what is her sorrow? We listen for the joy when the brother tells us. We give our fullest attention when sister breaks down in our presence. Then we try to understand the brother or sister. We picture the feeling of the brother’s joy in our minds, so that we know what makes him so happy and glad. We let the sorrow of the sister sink into our hearts, so that we know what makes her devastated. When we listen and understand, then we respond with the same joy and the same weeping. Smiling with the brother, we tell him, “Thank God; that’s great to hear!” Weeping with the sister, we gently whisper in her ear, “It is okay; cry your heart out here. I am here to cry with you”.

To rejoice and weep together is the reality of the church’s way of life.

But how often we lose that reality! When I switch off my mind as my brother shares with me about his day—there’s no listening in that! When, rather than giving him my attention, my focus is, “Oh, wait till he hears what I have to say!” I don’t even try to understand what he is going through! And when our brother is finished, we dully reply, “Oh”. Life in the church, then, is not for the brother and sister; but for me, myself, and I.

Paul, under inspiration, would not have us live that way. Through the first eleven chapters of Romans, he exhausts words to describe the love of God for us, the eternal decree of God’s election of His church, and the power of justification that lies solely in God’s grace through faith. Salvation is of God, not of ourselves!

If salvation is not of ourselves, can our lives be about me, myself, and I? Find Paul’s answer in Romans 12. Present your bodies a living sacrifice…unto God: Is that about me, myself, and I? Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think: Anything about us? Let love be without dissimulation: What about now? The texts speak for themselves. Our salvation from God alone spells out a life that gives itself to God and His people; and a life that gives itself to God and His people is a life that loves God and His people.

And if Paul’s words are not compelling enough, listen to apostle of love, John: If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar (I John 4:20). You and I are liars if we say, “Thanks be to God!” but do not love one another in the church, much less strive to learn to love.

Again, the question is: are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care? Are you, am I, the one that does not love?

The calling in the church is to love. The calling is to learn the proper way to love; and that way to love is to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those that weep.

How do we do so, especially in our congregation? We have talked about listening, understanding, and responding. But more can be said. Stay tuned, D.V.

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 47

Christian Denominations (I): The Unity of Christ’s Church

The church is the body of Christ. Membership in this body is exclusive.

The church is made up only of God’s elect people chosen in Christ from eternity unto faith. The body of Christ is elect in Christ. Since these elect are chosen by God unto faith, it is also true that only those characterized by a true and living faith belong to the body of Christ. Faith is that gift of God by which God grafts each one of His elect people into Jesus Christ that as a result they become one with Him. This is how they become members of Christ’s body. God by His grace works within their hearts binding them by faith to Jesus Christ that as a result each one becomes a particular member in the body of Christ. All those who are in Christ by a true and living faith are members of His body. No one else.

This body of Christ is the holy catholic church we confess together with the Apostles Creed, “I believe an holy catholic church”. The Nicene Creed states it this way “I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church”. In other words we believe in the church’s unity.

This means, in the first place, that there is one, and only one, church. There is one body of Christ made up of God’s saints from the beginning of the world to the end. Now, some would insist that the church is only saved and gathered by God in the New Dispensation. They claim, that God began gathering the church at the time of Pentecost. The saints in the Old Dispensation do not belong to Christ’s church. They are God’s kingdom people and have little or nothing to do with the gathering of the church in the New Testament. After all, they would contend, the church of Christ cannot exist before Christ was born. If the church is the body of Christ and Christ was not yet born how could someone belong to that body?

We together with the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 21; Q & A 54 confess “that the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves unto Himself by His Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in truth faith”. We confess this because the Bible very clearly teaches it. There are several proofs that can be cited from Scripture in this regard. We will limit ourselves to three of them.

First, if the body of Christ is made up of those whom God chose from eternity in Christ it follows that God’s saints in the Old Testament who are also God’s elect belong to the church of Christ too. Second, if God grafts each of His people into the body of Christ by faith then believers in the Old Testament were grafted into Christ too even though Christ was not yet born. The only difference between the faith of the saints in the Old Testament as opposed to the faith of those in the New is that in the Old Testament God’s people looked forward in faith to the coming of their Messiah. Believers in the New Testament look back to Jesus Christ with that same faith. But the faith is the same. Hebrews 11 testifies to the faith of God saints in the Old Testament. Besides, Scripture clearly teaches that believers today are by faith the spiritual children of Abraham. Abraham, as we learn in Romans 4 and in Galatians 3, is the father of all believers.

The third proof that God’s saints in the Old Testament were members of Christ’s church is found in those passages in the New Testament that referred to God’s people in the Old Testament as church. Speaking of Moses, Stephen testifies in Acts 7:38, “This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us”. Notice how Stephen calls the nation of Israel “the church in the wilderness”. Another passage of this nature is given us in Hebrews 12:22-23, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect”. In this passage the writer to the Hebrews uses the terms mount S(Z)ion, Jerusalem, and the general assembly and church of the firstborn to describe the same body of people.

We believe in one church – the body of Christ. That church is a unity. It is unified in Christ who is the Head of the church.

This body of Christ, however, cannot be seen with our earthly eyes. It is a spiritual body gathered from the beginning of time to the end and from all nations. The only time we will be able to see the entire body of Christ will be at the end of time when Christ gathers all His elect people together with Him in the new heavens and earth. As such, the church as the body of Christ is an object of faith. It can be seen only with the eyes of faith. We believe there is an holy, catholic church.

Though this is true, it is also evident from Scripture that this body of Christ has always manifested itself visibly in this world by means of the church institute. At any given time throughout history the church of Christ has appeared in the form of an earthly organization or institution. This too is according to Christ’s command. Christ is the Head of the church, but He is no longer on earth. He reigns over the church from heaven at God’s right hand. For that reason, Christ appoints certain men as His visible representatives on earth to rule the church on His behalf. They are His undershepherds (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Christ uses these men to gather, defend, and preserve His church. The church of Christ both in the Old and New Testaments stood under the rule of these men whom God appointed. The kingdom of Israel was a theocracy, a nation under God’s rule. God was her King. God appointed prophets and priests to serve in office on His behalf. Later when the people of Israel in their sin insisted on having a king like the other nations, God appointed kings to rule on His behalf. In this way, the church in the Old Testament functioned under the three offices of prophet, priest, and king.

In the New Testament church these offices were replaced by that of minister, deacon, and elder. The church in the New Testament therefore carried on as an institution as well. It is an institution just as was the kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament. The church of the Old and New Testaments received the calling to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, and exercise discipline on those who revealed by their confession and walk to be unbelieving. This three-fold calling was performed in a manner appropriate for the particular dispensation in which it was fulfilled. In the Old Testament the prophets preached the Word. In the New the pastors and teachers preach the Word. In the Old Testament, the elders of the people and later the kings ruled. These administered discipline. In the New the elders rule over the flock of Jesus Christ and administer discipline. In the Old Testament the priests administered the mercies of Christ. In the New the deacons administer such mercies. The point is: the body of Christ becomes visible in this world in the gathering of believers and their seed in the church institute.

There is one crucial difference between the church as the body of Christ and the church institute, however. The church as the body of Christ is made up of only elect. Its membership is exclusively that of believers. The church institute embodies those elect believers, but there are also members of the church institute who are not believers. Some of these are born into the church in the generations of believers. They are not all Israel that are of Israel. Others creep into the church unawares. They are hypocrites that appear on the outside to be believers but are not truly so. The church institute therefore, though necessary, is not pure and holy as is the body of Jesus Christ in this world.

All these truths we must understand if we are to ascertain why there are denominations. In fact, these truths will determine the necessity of denominations. We can say this even in light of the truth that the church is one, and that every denomination of churches is called to strive to maintain the unity of the church as the body of Christ. This we will begin to explain in the next article.

Written by: Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma | Issue 42

Loving Churches Who Seek The Truth

Sad to say, there are many divisions within the church as the body of Christ. Although Christ has only one body, that body is often splintered in its earthly manifestation. Many different denominations and/or independent congregations exist in the countries and cities in which we live and in all the world. The people of God are required to maintain church unity, but so often such unity is not seen. And the cause is sin, including the sin of departure from and rejection of the truth.

All of this raises the important question of how we, as a Reformed church and as Reformed believers, should view and relate to other churches. Specifically, how should we relate (both officially and as individuals) to churches that are close to us in the faith but not one with us in that faith? Should we, because of doctrinal differences, keep them at arm’s length? Or may and ought we to seek them out and have fellowship with them?

These questions immediately bring to mind the command given in Ephesians 4:3 that we must endeavour “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

What is especially clear from this verse is that church unity is not a pipedream, but a reality. We are not commanded to establish church unity, or to create it. Rather, we are admonished “to keep the unity of the Spirit!” This means that church unity exists. It is something that Christ has given us. Having done so, Christ now gives us the calling to maintain and preserve it. We must make sure, by His grace, that it is not lost or destroyed.

The reason unity is a reality is because it is the unity “of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit creates and establishes this unity. Without   the   Spirit,   church   unity would be impossible, also within our own local church. By nature we are not united to each other, for sin causes separation (Isaiah 59:2). Sin makes us proud, independent, self-centred, and argumentative. Sin causes us to disagree and fight, and thus to separate from each other. Sin also causes us to be interested in and even to run after every wind of doctrine. But the Spirit destroys the ruling power of sin in God’s elect and unites them. Having the same Spirit, we have the same life, and faith, and Lord. Having the same Spirit, we are united in the truth. The Spirit leads the people of God to know, believe, confess and live by the same truths. We are united to others, not regardless of what we believe (as advocated by the ecumenical movement), but because of what we believe. Unity in the Spirit is unity in Christ, which is unity in the truth.

 

Our calling to maintain the unity of the Spirit (which is unity in the truth) must be our starting point and guiding principle in how we relate to other churches and other believers.

God has given our churches the body of truth. He has given us the precious truth of the gospel of His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ. He has revealed that truth to us in His Word. He has given it to us as it is summarized and set forth in our Reformed confessions. God has also given us in our own congregation(s) unity in that truth. That truth should be precious to us. We must guard and protect it. We must stand for the truth of God without compromise. This means we may not unite with those who oppose it, but only with those who are one with us in the truth.

The question now is, how do we carry this out? In answer to that question, it must be clear from the outset that the way in which this is carried out with those who are not one with us varies from church to church, and from situation to situation.

If there are churches who have made it clear that they are determined to oppose and reject the truth, certainly we cannot be close to them nor continue to seek unity with them. By their conscious and deliberate rejection of God’s Word, they give evidence of departure from the faith. Instead of being a church that is reforming and coming to a clearer understanding and confession of the truth, they are moving further away from the truth. This does not mean that they have immediately become a false church. But the fact is that they have shown by their wilful rejection of the truth that they are headed in that direction.

 

 

Although we cannot have close relationships with such churches and their members (for how can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)), we must still love them. After all, Christ commanded that we should love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Thus, we certainly must love those who have departed or are departing from the faith.

The critical thing is how that love comes to expression. It does not manifest itself by “walking together,” but rather by seeking humbly to show such churches and members the seriousness of their departure from the truth. Love for them means we strive to draw them back to the truth. Whenever we have opportunity to communicate with them, we call and encourage them to embrace once again the precious gospel of God’s Word.

Perhaps a more common situation (as is also expressed by the title of this article) is that we come across churches and believers who, although they are not one with us in the truth, are nevertheless showing some interest in that truth. They become acquainted with our churches, and curious about our beliefs. They want to know what sets us apart from other “Reformed” churches. They would like to hear more. They might even request that we provide preaching and teaching in their church.

Obviously we must love them. But now that love comes to expression in different ways. For if someone is interested in the truth (even if that interest is only small for now), this is an indication that they are heading in the right direction. In contrast to those who have rejected the truth and are headed in the direction of departure and apostasy, these churches and believers are headed in the direction of coming closer to the truth. And that is critical – the direction a church is taking.

It is especially such churches and believers that we should reach out to and befriend. We may not cut them off and isolate ourselves from them on the basis that they do not confess (yet) what we do. If we did that, how would they ever come to know and love the truth? Instead, we ought to reach out to them and visit with them, both officially as churches as well as on a personal level. If they desire that our pastor(s) lecture or preach, then if possible we willingly grant that as a consistory/session. And if the latter does occur, then we as individuals can perhaps go along and make good use of the opportunity to get to know the other church and its members, to witness to them by our lives and words, and to encourage them in their pursuit of the truth.

We need to remember that this should always be done with a measure of care, for we must never compromise the truth, nor allow ourselves to be led astray by those who do not hold to it. Yet as those who have been personally blessed by the truth, we eagerly want others to know it and to be blessed through it. Our fellowship with these churches and believers, along with our witness to them, is motivated by our loving desire that they might have and experience what we do. We want them to embrace and be comforted by the gospel of Christ that comforts us.

This takes much wisdom. Our goal is that they embrace the truth for proper reasons. We need to be on guard that they do not embrace it (or put on an appearance of embracing it) for monetary or social or other earthly reasons. We want them to embrace it because they become personally convicted that it is indeed the truth of God’s Word.

It also takes much patience and prayer. It has been my experience that it can take many, many years of patient instruction from the Scriptures and from our Reformed confessions, along with patiently answering questions, before such churches fully understand the truth and reach the point where, by the grace and Spirit of God, they are convicted of it and come to love it. But our love for God and His truth, and our consciousness of the calling to maintain the unity of the Spirit in that truth, compels us to undertake such patient and prayerful labour.

In conclusion, we do well to ponder the Preamble of the PRCA’s Constitution of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches. It reads as follows:

The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, in obedience to Scripture as interpreted in our three forms of unity, confess that there is one holy, catholic church. They believe, further, that it is their sacred duty to manifest the true unity and catholicity of the church on earth in as far as that is possible, not only in their denominational fellowship, but also in conjunction with all churches which have obtained like precious faith with us, both domestic and foreign.

This certainly applies to the official work of a church (or churches) in reaching out to other churches who are seeking the truth. But the principles also apply to the individual believers and members. As God gives opportunity, may our churches and members be willing instruments in His hands who strive, by life and by speech, to win over and thus gain others to the precious truths of His gospel. And may God bless such efforts, carried out by weak and sinful means, in order to manifest the reality of true, blessed unity among those to whom He has entrusted His truth.

Written by: Pastor Daniel Kleyn | Issue 39

Unity of the Church

Review and reflections on “Biblical Ecumenicity” article by Prof Herman Hanko

The church is the creation of God which He forms through Jesus Christ. She is called the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), the temple of God (Ephe 2:20-22), a royal priesthood and an holy nation (1 Pet 2:9), a vine and its branches (Jn 15:1), the bride of Christ (Rev 21:9) and many other figures.

The unity of the church is thus a unity of the body of Christ. Just as a body has many members, believers are many members of the same body of Christ. Christ died that His church might have a new life in Him. The church exists in Christ and lives out of Christ. The church is one in Christ, even as Christ is one in God. (Jn 17:21).

The unity of the church in Christ is a unity of faith in the truth of God’s Word. The church is a unity of faith because the believer is engrafted into Christ by faith. By His Word and by His Spirit, Christ gathers, defends and preserves His church. The unity of the church must be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the chief corner stone (Eph 2:9). Only where Scripture is the infallible rule of faith and life can true unity prevail.

Institutional Unity

Each local congregation is a complete manifestation of the body of Christ. The rule of Christ is represented by the office-bearers, who exercise the rule through the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of Christian discipline. The church expresses her unity by means of creeds, which are confessions of the truth of God’s Word.

The local congregation may only join with other congregations in denominational activities when they are united in the same truth of Christ. Only when denominations are formed on the basis of a mutual confession of the same truth can there be any true unity. The historic confessions of the truth unite the church of today with the churches of all ages and make of all the church of Christ one spiritual universal church.

Does Modern Ecumenicity Express This Unity?

By Ecumenicity, is meant the movement of churches to unite under one ecclesiastical roof. Modern ecumenicity takes on different forms:

1) There are attempts being made to include all religions in the world under one universal and world- wide syncretistic religion which will embrace all men. This union of all religions will bind all men in a common brotherhood under a universal god.

2) Another form of ecumenical movement is the formation of various organizations which are the unions of Christian denominations, in which each denomination retains its own denominational structure but cooperates in various ecclesiastical enterprises. These organizations range from the very liberal World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches, to the more conservative organizations such as the International Council of Christian Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council.

3) There is also a merging of distinct denominations into one large church such as the Consultations on Church Unity (COCU) and various branches of Presbyterianism.

Modern ecumenicity falls short in important respects from the scriptural unity of the church.

The impetus for modern ecumenicity was found in the mission field historically. In the mission work of the church, the church was embarrassed by the fact that different denominations worked in the same places teaching different doctrines. The first ecumenical organizations were mission organizations.

However the concept of mission work has been excluded as an impelling force in ecumenicity and it has been replaced by what is called ‘service’. The original Executive Committee of the Life and World Movement (a forerunner of the World Council of Churches) sharply defined this when it said in an official policy paper: “Doctrine divides, Service unites”. The calling to serve has been the underlying factor in many ecumenical movements.   A social gospel with the implied promise   of a heaven here upon earth has substituted the true gospel preaching of the whole counsel of God. Their goal is unity at any cost. The concern of ecumenical leaders is a one-world church. The underlying premise is doctrine is relative, subject to change, adaptable to every new generation. The Bible is no longer regarded as the infallible inspired Word of God as a rule of faith and life. The ecumenical movement has mired itself in the political and sociological issues of the day.

Thus, can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)

The Calling

As the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ nears, the efforts to bring all denominations and churches together into a one-world church will increase.

Our calling is to condemn such false unity unceasingly and unwaveringly. We must not have any part in false ecumenicity. The time will come that those who refuse ecumenicity will invite persecution and will even be denied the right to existence.

The church must treasure her unity in the truth of Christ. Where the truth is preached in purity, the saints of the true church of Christ will grow in truth and thus true unity will come to fuller expression. The historic confessions of the Word of God must serve as the basis of unity. The true child of God must not be deceived by great apostasy (corruption of God’s Word). The true church of Christ is called to live in one faith, one Spirit, one God (Eph 4:4-6), though all the forces of hell seek to destroy her. God shall preserve His spiritual universal church, His Body, His Bride till the final unity of the church is achieved in the tabernacle of God (Rev 21:3).

Written by: Daisy Lim | Issue 7

The Heart of Youth Meetings

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps 133:1)

The fellowship of the saints is an extremely important aspect in the life of the church. Our Heidelberg Catechism, in explaining this concept, teaches us that believers are members of Christ and common partakers of Him and of all His riches and gifts. Hence it is our duty, readily and cheerfully to employ our gifts for the advantage and salvation of other members (LD 21Q55). In Christ, God’s people nd their fellowship where there is great abundance of joy and peace.

How should we as young people view youth meetings organized by the church? How important are they amidst the hectic schedule of our school life? When we attend the meetings, how should we better prepare ourselves so that we can glorify God’s Name and be a source of blessing to our brethren?

It is first of all necessary to understand that God is at the center of our youth fellowship. He is pleased to dwell “where two or three are gathered together” in His Name (Matt 18:20). He is delighted to bless our fellowship and activities because He loves us as members of His covenant. God binds us together in love for Him and for each other. That is why the psalmist can proclaim with such joy that it is good and pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity (Ps 133:1).

When we see God working in our fellowship, we will be eager to attend the youth meetings because we desire to be part of that fellowship. Like the psalmist who longs after God and desires to seek him early (Ps 63:1), we will be eager to attend these meetings. Sometimes through weakness of the flesh we are not regular in our attendance or are late for meetings. Nevertheless, when accompanied by prayer, the heart that is eager to seek after God will be strengthened in faithfulness. We will desire to attend these youth meetings as much as possible because we know for certain that God will bless us richly.

The catechism makes an important point that it is our duty to promote the spiritual advantage of our brethren. It is important that we recognise this truth. Each of us has an important and unique part to play in the church because God has made us members of the body of Christ. It is our duty, therefore, to attend these meetings because they serve to promote our spiritual growth together as the body of Christ.

When we do not attend the youth meetings, it reflects the lack of desire for our brethren’s fellowship. We reveal that our individual pursuits in life are more important than the spiritual welfare of the church. If our studies are an excuse not to attend youth meetings, then we ought to admit that our academic achievements outweigh our spiritual growth. This is tragic because we ought to be setting our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth (Col 3:2).

Because God is at the centre of our youth fellowship, His Word is the means by which we grow spiritually. Like its effect on young Timothy, God’s Word will make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ (2 Tim 3:15). To profit from the Bible studies during the meetings, therefore, requires a spiritual preparation of the heart to learn the truths of God. This is accompanied by a deep consciousness of our limited knowledge of God and an eager desire to learn more through our godly peers and their instruction.

The Bible also demonstrates how we can be a source of blessing to our peers through the youth fellowship. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend (Prov 27:17).” When stirred by the love of God, our speech, actions and conduct will encourage our peers spiritually. We will provoke one another unto love and to good works (Heb 10:24) by our godly testimonies.

Youth meetings have played an extremely important role in my life as a teenager. They have shaped my character in tremendous ways and taught me invaluable spiritual lessons. I have always found the best and truest of friends in the church whom I know I shall spend an eternity with. An individual Christian is useless without the church. We need our spiritual companions along life’s dif cult pathway to heaven.

It is very grievous when covenant parents prevent their children from attending youth meetings. We rob them of their covenant privileges and the fellowship of the saints when we do this. Youth meetings are essential to their spiritual development and well-being as covenant young people. They are the future of the church and we ought to give our utmost support for their fellowship.

It is apt that the youth ministry of CERC is known as the Covenant Keepers. God is our covenant Friend who has called us into covenant friendship with Him through the cross of Jesus Christ. We keep this covenant friendship by faithfully walking in His ways and submitting to His will. We express our love for His covenant by being an active part of the youth fellowship. May the Lord help us to love this truth.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 2