[This sermon was preached by William King at Christ Church Paarl, on 18 October 2015. The audio verion of the sermon can be found here.]
I believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints (Apostle’s Creed)
Question: What do you believe concerning the holy catholic Christian church?
Answer: I believe that the Son of God, out of the whole human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, defends, and preserves for himself, by his Spirit and Word, in the unity of the true faith, a church chosen to everlasting life. And I believe that I am and forever shall remain a living member of it. (Heidelberg Confession, Sunday 21, Question 54)
Question: What do you understand by the communion of saints?
Answer: First, that believers, all and everyone, as members of Christ have communion with him and share in all his treasures and gifts. Second, that everyone is duty-bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members. (Heidelberg Confession, Sunday 21, Question 55)
The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all. (Westminster Confession, Chapter 25, I).
These are but a few of the confessions that were made concerning the Church throughout the centuries. What is clear is that the nature of the church differs vastly from any other organization known to man. The Church is a unique fellowship and this has been believed and confessed throughout the centuries.
This uniqueness, even the very existence of the Church has, unfortunately, also been questioned constantly, and more so in our day than ever before. Opinions vary from seeing the Church as one of many social club options, to the extreme view that Church, as we know it, is a human institution and, therefore, sinful and should be avoided. Our culture is becoming increasingly individualistic and non-committing, leaving the Church in a very bad place. The freedom of choice the individual has allows him / her to decide if he / she will belong to a church or not.
It is, therefore, necessary that we are reminded of the uniqueness of the Church. Also that we examine ourselves concerning our personal views in this regard. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he grounded his whole approach on the very uniqueness of the Church. At different points in this letter, he falls back on the nature of the Church and argues the practical Christian life from there. His doctrine of the Church forms the basis for Christian living.
I therefore want us to look at what Paul teaches regarding the uniqueness of the Church. This I will do by looking at the following three points:
- A fellowship purposed by God
- A fellowship in Christ
- An intentional fellowship
1. A fellowship purposed by God
In the first 14 verses, Paul praises God the Father. Verse 4 reveals the reason for this praise, namely God’s eternal decision. He uses different phrases to indicate this, namely “chose”, “predestined”, and “according to the purpose of his will”. What this comes down to is that the Church has it very existence not in the plans or wisdom of man, but in the eternal plan of God. This is profound and has some major implications for our personal views about the Church and our local congregation!
Whichever way you attempt to argue, you cannot escape this biblical truth that in eternity past, the Godhead made a purposeful decision that there will be a gathering of people that will be His and will bear His name. No other community can lay claim on this as its starting point. Furthermore, the very existence of the local congregation is a testimony to God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His eternal plan and purpose. This is why it is a sin to have a low view of the Church as if it is yet another choice from a multitude of options. It is impossible to have a high view of God and Scriptures, and then to distegardthe importance of the Church. God purposed it, and He called it into existence. This we read of in Acts on the day of Pentecost and thereafter. There is the argument that the church as we know it is a man made institution and that the true Church is invisible. The Bible however does not make this distinction. God purposed a unique fellowship where believers are gathered by Him.
2. A fellowship in Christ
The second aspect that makes this Church unique, is that it is a fellowship in Christ Jesus. Have a look at verse 4. We are chosen “in Him”. Verse 5: “We are adopted through Christ”. Verse 7: “We have redemption in Him through His blood”. Verse 9: The eternal plan was “planned in Him”. Verse 10: The plan was “to bring everything together in the Messiah”. Verse 11: We have “received an inheritance in Him”.
To this end, Christ became man, sacrificed Himself on the cross, was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, so that according to verse 22 everything is put under His feet and Christ is appointed as head over everything TO the Church, “which is His body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (verses 22-23).
In Christ alone is the eternal purpose of God fulfilled. Although the Son of God is in need of nothing as He is the fountain of life, as the Head of the Church, He is incomplete without His body, the Church. The church is His fullness, as He fills it in every way.
It is also in Christ that the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles were demolished, with the Church as its result (2:13, 17-22).
He is also the one that equips His Church, in order to make it grow and become mature in Him, being able to withstand the waves of deception (4:11-16).
The Church is furthermore given to Christ as His bride, and He works towards her holiness, purity, and blamelessness (5:23-27).
Outside of Christ, the Church has no existence, and no right to call itself that. It can only be churchbecause of its unique fellowship with Christ. This fellowship reveals Christ as the Lord and Master, the Redeemer, the One who equips, the Husband, the Purifier, and the Example to imitate. It also shows the Church as Christ’s fullness, His Body, and His wife.
3. An intentional fellowship
The uniqueness is also clear from the intentions the Godhead had with the Church. He not only purposed it to come into existence, but also to have a major impact in the world.
From the first 14 verses, we see a constant purpose, namely that the fulfilment of His eternal should be to the “praise of His glory” (verse 6, 12, 14). It resounds what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:9 that the Church is called to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
The church is also called to good works, not as a means of salvation, but as a token of gratitude towards Him who saved her and brought her into fellowship with Him (2:10).
The Church is also the agent through which God’s multifaceted wisdom is made known (3:10-11). Peter writes that the angels desire to look into the redemptive plan of God (1 Peter 1:12), and Paul indicates that the Church is the agent through whom they receive this knowledge they are eager to learn.
Furthermore, the members of the Church has a responsibility towards each other in order to ensure that the body is equipped and grows towards maturity in Christ (4:11-16). This thrashes the non-biblical, even sinful, idea that one can be a lone ranger in the Christian community. We are uniquely bound together in the body of Christ with a responsibility and accountability towards each other.
The general lifestyle of the Church must be such that it is an imitation of the character of God (5:1ff).
It is clear that the Church’s impact is intended towards the spiritual realm (God and angels), the unbelieving world, and the Church community itself. This is all possible only through the empowering work of the Spirit of God. Throughout this letter, Paul refers to the work of the Spirit in the body of Christ.
It should be clear that the uniqueness of the Church is to be found in her relationship with the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Church exists only in the Trinity, only through the Trinity, and only for the Trinity. It is unique as to its origin, its nature, and to its purpose.