Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota. (Preceding article in series: September 1, 2003, p. 475.)
Having considered in our previous article the calling to love the church, we now consider some of the possible strengths of the church, strengths God has given her and that serve to motivate us in our love for her.
The strengths of the church are not earthly things.
At times we are inclined to think they are. For example, we are tempted to view the costliness and grandeur of our church building as a strength. In contrast to that, the congregation that has a small and rundown building lacks something. Or we are tempted to view the size of our congregation or denomination as a strength. And again, the small congregation, with just a handful of families, is considered insignificant and weak. Or we are tempted to consider other earthly things as strengths, such as the wealth of a congregation, or the makeup of our membership, or the friendliness of our people.
The trouble with considering these and similar earthly factors as strengths is that such things are so changeable. A wealthy church could very easily lose everything it has and become poor. A poor church could become rich. A small church could change by becoming large. A large church could quickly become small. Thus if earthly things determine a church’s strength, sometimes she might be strong, but very quickly she might become weak. These things cannot serve, therefore, as the basis of our love for the church. If they do, then most of the time we will find the church difficult to love and we will not want much to do with her.
The strengths we are to observe are spiritual. Psalm 48:12, 13 calls us to observe the towers and bulwarks and palaces of Zion. As that applies to us in the New Testament, the strengths of the church are her spiritual towers, bulwarks, and palaces. Those are the things that matter. They are to be the fundamental reasons for us to love the church.
If God is pleased to make a church strong, one of her towers of strength will be that she has the Word of God, the Bible. In fact, this is the most important strength she could have. The Word of God is the church’s greatest strength.
We realize, of course, that it is not enough for a church simply to have the Bible. Most churches do. But not all churches believe the Bible is the Word of God. They do not believe the Bible is, word for word, what God says. For a church to be strong she must believe the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God. Then she will have, not simply the Bible, but the truth of the Bible. Without the truth a church is weak. With it, she is strong.
This can be understood if we consider, for example, the truth of the sovereignty of God. That truth is most certainly a tower of strength and a bulwark that provides defense.
To have this truth is to believe that salvation is from beginning to end the work of God. It is to believe that God eternally chose His people. It is to believe that He sent His Son to make the full payment for their sins so that His wrath would be fully satisfied and so that we might spend eternity in glory. It is to believe that He works irresistibly by His Word and Spirit to save us from the power and control of sin. The truth that God does all this is a tower of strength. Take it away, and the church is defenseless against the inroads of the heresy that makes salvation the work of man. Then our salvation is not only doubtful, but impossible. If God did not do for us all that He does in Jesus Christ, we could never and would never be saved. His sovereignty in salvation is a precious and comforting truth that makes our salvation sure. That truth is a bulwark of the church.
The same is true of the sovereignty of God in all that happens. Take that away, and the church is weak. Take that away, and God’s people have no comfort when troubles come. Instead, they will be thrown into despair. Having that truth, however, the church and saints of God can face hardships and trials in life knowing that all is well, for all is determined and controlled by the mighty hand of God for their eternal good.
When God gives these truths, and all the body of His truth, to His church, she will be strong. The truth makes God’s people strong in what they believe, and strong in how they live. It also gives the church the strength to defend herself against the devil as he attempts to weaken her through introducing errors in doctrine and life.
If God has given His truth to the church of which you are a member, and has preserved that truth in your midst, you have reason to love the church, and to love her dearly.
Another tower of strength that God gives His church is the Reformed confessions. This is a strength that is closely connected to the Scriptures, for the confessions assist us in our understanding of the Word of God. They are the product of the Spirit of Truth, whom Christ promised to give His church in order to lead her into the truth.
Many today are doing away with the confessions. An example of this is the fact that Heidelberg Catechism preaching is being abandoned, as well as Heidelberg Catechism teaching in the catechism classes. Along with this comes a neglect of the other Reformed creeds. This is serious, for it is in effect a denial of the Spirit’s work of leading the church into the truth. It is also serious because it results in ignorance of the truth. Many today do not know the doctrines of the Scriptures. At the most they have but a superficial understanding of doctrine. They are not all that sure what such truths as predestination, the atonement, justification, sanctification, and so on, really are.
The Reformed creeds are a precious gift of God to His church. It is true that they are subservient to the Bible. But they are based on the Word of God and are therefore of much value in giving strength to the church. They provide her with a systematized summary of the truth. They are an invaluable tool for teaching the truth of Scripture to both young and old. They guide and direct us in our understanding of the Word of God. And they serve as a mighty bulwark to defend the church against error.
If God has given your church the Reformed confessions, He has blessed your church. You have reason to love her, and to love her dearly.
There are many other strengths that God is pleased to give His church. These also serve as encouragement for us to love her. There is the faithful preaching of the Word, which is the chief means of grace and gives us spiritual nourishment. There are the faithful men of God that Christ places in His church to serve as officebearers who represent Him as prophet, priest, and king in His church. There are the fellow believers God gives you in a congregation, fellow saints who believe what you believe and who help and encourage you in your Christian life. And there are many other things, besides. On account of all these God-given strengths, the thankful child of God loves the church of Christ.
It is very beneficial and important for us to notice the church’s many strengths.
A consistory needs to do that. Often the work of the consistory is negative. In fact, it can seem at times that nearly all their work is so. They must discipline the wayward. They must address the problem of poor attendance. They have to deal with worldliness amongst the members. They must ever seek to maintain unity within the congregation. They need often to deal with complaints about how things are done. On account of all these things, the consistory members become discouraged. They do not always see the fruit they would like to see. They become weary in well-doing. For that reason they need to walk about Zion and consider her bulwarks and towers. They must take the time to notice the strengths God has been pleased to give His church.
The same is necessary for every member in a congregation. We tend to see only the negatives. They are often very obvious. We see those weakness in ourselves, in other members, and in the church as a whole. As we dwell on them, those things tend to obscure what the church really is and thus lead to discouragement. We need to look with the eyes of faith and see what God has given the church and what God has made her to be. That will encourage us and will help us grow in our appreciation to God for His church.
As you take note of the ways in which God has blessed and strengthened the church of which you are a member, be sure to acknowledge that it is all of grace that the church has the strengths that she does. While others are dismantling the church’s defenses, God is pleased to maintain them in your midst. He provides bulwarks that defend the church against her enemies. Because of what He has done and given, the church is beautiful and mighty and strong. She is certainly a worthy object of our love. Therefore we love her.
[Next time we hope to consider some of the practical ways in which we are to show that we love the church.]