The Rev. J. De Jong led us in the opening exercises on Thursday morning. The speaker at this session was the Rev. R. D. Steubbe, pastor of the Reformed Church in the U. S., at Garner, Iowa. Rev. Steubbe had been assigned the subject: “The Distinguishing Marks of the Church’”.
Resume of Lecture….
“In developing our subject we take our focal point from the words of the Apostle Paul, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his, and let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Since The Lord knoweth them that are His’ the Church is Holy; set apart unto God. That Holy Church is also Catholic as confessed in the Apostle’s Creed and expounded in question and answer 54 of our Heidelberg Catechism. It is Catholic rather than universal for it is from the beginning to the end of the world as well as universal in extent; that is, it is universal in two directions.
“Through that Holy Catholic Church God chooses to prevent the truth from perishing in the world. Hence, God gave to her very distinguishing marks. Her duty is to watch closely and keep herself distinct through these marks, since Satan always attacks her. These distinguishing marks are the Word and the Sacraments. Where you find the Word, in its entirety, preached and heard, and the Sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, there you find the Church. The Word must not only be preached but heard, i.e. believed. Where it is not preached and believed you have no Church. These marks of the Word and the Sacraments cannot exist without bearing fruit and prospering by the blessing of God.
“The purpose of the Word is to make distinction between Jerusalem and Babylon. The hearing of God’s Word is the criterion for membership in Jerusalem—the Church. Hence, that Word preached and believed must be the Word of God and not of man, That Word is described as a two-edged sword. In this description its destructive and cutting power is emphasized. It makes separation. That Word, as such, is a spiritual weapon. Christ used it, during His temptation of Satan in the wilderness, to destroy the devil. Jesus had no physical weapons; He used the sword of the Spirit. The Word is the sword which the Spirit uses to work in the heart. It is the weapon by which Christ conquered and gives us the victory.
“That Word of God is also a power. The Scriptures reveal the power of the Word of God. At creation God spoke His Word and the power of the Word was revealed in creation. Again inwe read: ‘And the Lord spake unto the fish and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land’. God spoke and that which He spoke came to pass. His Word is a power.
“God has given that Word unto His Church. In the Church He has appointed ministers and teachers to edify the Church through His Word. Their task is to proclaim the Word of God and administer the Sacraments. The following reasons may be adduced why God uses men for this task. In the first place, God thereby declares His condescension to us. In the second place, we are thereby trained in true humility. And finally, this binds us to each other in mutual charity.
“God has also instituted the Sacraments in His Church as a distinguishing mark. There is no Sacrament apart from God. He has given us Sacraments that we may draw near to Him and be assured of our salvation. That which He promises in His Word He seals to us in the Sacraments. The Sacraments seal the promise of the Word. There is no seal if there is nothing to seal. Hence, there is no Sacrament without the Word.
“The Sacraments are a special gift unto the Church to assure her of salvation. They must not be omitted. They go hand in hand with the Word. The promise of the Word is that we are cleansed from our sins. This promise is sealed to us in baptism. As the Word must be preached in its entirety so also the Sacraments must be administered according to the Word; as instituted in Scripture. Where the Word is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered, there you find the Church. These are her distinguishing marks.
“We might also add to this the mark of exercise of the key power in Christian discipline but this comes under the Word. Preaching and discipline belong to the proclamation of the Word. Discipline can only be according to the Word.”
The Rev, H. Veldman—“Must we limit discipline to the preaching or is it to be exercised in the way of excommunication ?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“Not without the Word. There must be a sin against the Word. There is no excommunication with the Word.”
The Rev. W. Korn—“The Fathers said in connection with preaching: ‘Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God’.”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“I believe that is correct. The Bible as it lies here is the Word of God.”
The Rev. G. Lubbers—“The speaker placed discipline under the preaching and so considers two ears- marks of the Church. Others only have one—the preaching. I believe there is no essential difference. But I have a question. The speaker said the Word must be heard, i.e. believed. Is there ever such a thing in preaching of the Word that it ‘goes in one ear and out the other’; or does it always enter the consciousness of those who hear?”’
The Rev. Stuebbe—“I believe the latter is correct. It is a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. It is always effective. The Holy Spirit is always active in the Word—unto life or death.”
The Rev. J. Howerzyl—“Are the two marks—the preaching and the sacraments—co-equal in importance?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“Yes, I believe they are.”
The Rev. J. De Jong—“The term ‘Word’ is used in various ways. The Word is given to the Church; the Word of Scripture; the Preached Word; the Logos; the Word of creation; the Word as a power or destructive force, etc. I would like a little more light. How must we distinguish between these, since as a distinguishing mark we have the preached Word? What is the distinction between the creative Word; the Word of God’s providence, the Word as a power unto salvation, etc.?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“That the Word is a power unto salvation was omitted in the paper.”
The Rev. J. De Jong—“What is the difference when God speaks to the fish to vomit out Jonah and when the Church declares the Word of God? The Church doesn’t have that power. What is the relation between the Creative Word and the Word that the Church speaks?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—It is the same Word. The Word of God is the Word of God. It is the same Word that Christ had and which God spoke. The relation is the same then, to a certain extent. The Church has the same power against the Devil with that Word as Christ had. The Church can only stand by the power of God’s Word. The Church does not have the creative Word but as the Word is preached that which is proclaimed occurs. The destructive power of the Word proclaimed by the Church is the same as Christ had in the wilderness/’
The Rev. J. Blankespoor—“The speaker said that the purpose of the marks is to distinguish Jerusalem from Babylon, the true from the false. Did the speaker mean that it distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked. What does the word ‘distinguishing’ mean in the topic?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“Those marks which set apart the Body of Christ so that we may recognize the Church. That which makes it separate, set apart, holy.”
The Rev. W. Korn—“Are all baptized in Christ and do all who are baptized put on Christ according as we read: ‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“Are all in the covenant? No.”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema—“Note that the text reads into Christ.”
The Rev. A. Cammenga—“Since all Churches preach from Scripture and preach Christ, what must be the criterion for pure preaching?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“We cannot go into that. In all visible Churches where the Word is preached and believed and where the Sacraments are instituted, that’s where the Church is. It makes no difference where we go as long as the Word is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered.”
The Rev. L. Vermeer—“I was glad that the speaker added the mark of Christion discipline. Isn’t it true that not of the sacraments but of the Word we read that it is a power of God unto salvation? Hence, is not the Word more important; the chief means of grace? The Word begets us, according to James 1. We never read this of the sacraments. How can we conceive of them as co-equal?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“What would you think of a man that believed the Word and never partook of the sacraments? Is it enough that the Word is preached only? My answer is no.”
The Rev. W. Hofman—“Have both the Word and sacraments been ordained for the same purpose. Do the sacraments produce faith?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“No, the sacraments strengthen our faith.”
The Rev. H. Veldman—“What do you consider to be the false Church and its marks?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“The exact opposite; where the
Word is not preached fully and the sacraments are not administered.”
The Rev. J. Howerzyl—“If the two are co-equal shouldn’t we have the Sacraments every week?’”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“I believe we should.”
The Rev. P. Boer—“The Baptists deny the Sacraments. Isn’t it impossible to belong there?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“That would follow from what I said.”
The Rev. W. Hofman—“Is there a difference in degree of purity among Churches? Is there a more pure Church or several with the same degree of purity?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“Yes, there is a difference.”
From the Audience—“The Sacraments are not dead symbols but they teach, according to the Catechism. They teach and seal. There is no essential difference between the preaching and the Sacraments.”
The Rev. A. Petter—“If the question of purity is relative, when does the false begin and the true end? When does the relative standard cease so that we find no Church at all? How far must we go before we find no Church?
The Rev. Stuebbe—“We cannot go down at all. We must stay at the top. The minute you take away one tittle or iota you cease. We believe there are denominations which come close to the truth but no separate denomination is a completely true and perfect Church.”
The Rev. G. Lubbers—“Much is said of the relationship between the Word and the Sacraments. The speaker gives them equal importance. Yet we see that they are not equal in our spiritual life. Are they equal in normative value?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“They should have equal normative value. In the Church where the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered they are equal in normative value. The Word is the norm but the Word is not complete without the Sacraments.”
The Rev. J. Blankespoor—“If the administration of the Sacraments is one of the distinguishing marks of the Church how can it be if many Churches have them? What is the difference?”
The Rev. Stuebbe—“Calvin writes in the ‘Institutes’, book 4, that the Roman Catholic Church still has a bit of the distinguishing marks of the Church since they still have baptism.”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema—“There are several questions here and since the subject is of importance we should come to some conclusions. In the first place, why should there be marks of the Church? The Church is essentially invisible but through her marks one may ascertain where that Church is in the world. They are certain signs by which it may be determined that the Church is distinct from all other bodies in the world. In the second place, they are distinguishing marks. By them we may ascertain the true Church from its departure or false Church so that everyone is called upon to join the purest manifestation of the Church. In the third place, our Confessions point out that there are 3 distinguishing marks: the preaching of the Word, the administration of the Sacraments and the exercise of Christian discipline. It is a striking fact that the distinguishing marks are not the attributes of the Church, viz., holiness, catholicity and apostolicity, but that they are identical with the means of grace, including even Christian discipline. Why are not the attributes but rather the means of grace selected as the distinguishing marks?”
“To understand the selection and the marks themselves we must proceed from the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ. Therefore, the Church is only where Christ is; only where it pleases Christ to be do you find the Church. You cannot make a Church. Christ establishes His Church and there where He establishes His Church, Christ is, and blesses her with all spiritual blessings.
“The question then is how do you determine where, among the gatherings in this world, Christ is? Christ is where His Word is, and where Christ is there is His Word for Christ speaks through His Word. He establishes the Church by His Word and Spirit. Where He has thus established His Church He speaks to her through the preacher. And where He speaks, i.e. Christ, there is the Church. He must speak, not the preacher. And when Christ speaks there is the Church. Hence, if we can determine where Christ speaks, there we shall find the Church.
Where does Christ speak? Not simply where the Bible is or where it is read. You cannot see the Word of God or Christ. Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God, if you give the right definition of preaching. Where that Word is preached there Christ is but you cannot see Christ. We must hear Christ through the ministry of preaching. And Christ speaks where His Word is purely preached, i.e. only where it is proclaimed according to the Scripture. The conclusion is that the distinguishing mark of the Church is the preaching of the Word. Where Christ speaks through His Word, there is the Church. Nothing can be compared to the preaching of the Word and essentially also the administration of the Sacraments and the exercise of Christian discipline are preaching of the Word.
“What is preaching? Preaching is the proclamation of the content of the Gospel, as revealed in the
Holy Scriptures, by the Church institute through her called ministers. It is the speaking of Christ through the audible proclamation of the Gospel by the instituted Church through the ministry. It is not merely the exposition of the Bible. We must hear CHRIST! If Christ does not speak then there is no preaching. Preaching is the ministry of the Word of God. It is the Word of God which He speaks through Christ.
“How shall we determine if we have that preaching? In the first place, it must be official ministry; there must be a man standing in that office instituted by Christ. He must be called of Christ. In the second place, the one in that office must abide strictly to the criterion of Scripture. It must be the pure preaching. Where you have the instituted ministry and the pure preaching, Christ is with the office. Where that occurs you have the true Church and where it is not you have no Church. Christ does not speak except through Scripture and not officially except through the instituted ministry.
“What is the relation between that preaching and the other marks of the Church ? The relation is such that in the Sacraments you also have the Word which Christ speaks through the instituted signs and seals as administered by the Church. The essence of the Sacraments is the Word of Christ. If Christ does not say, by (His Spirit, Take eat’ etc. you have nothing more than a natural eating of bread and wine. The Host at the table is Christ Himself and He speaks through the signs to the believers. The Word of God is also the essence of the Sacraments. Christ can only baptize into His name. Christ causes the Sacrament to be effective by His mighty Word. Without the Word of Christ they have no meaning and without the spoken word they have no meaning for us. In that sense they are subordinate to the preaching. They derive their meaning and contents from the Word. For that reason you have no Sacrament without the Word; the Word is preached even at the administration of the Sacraments. The Sacraments are subservient to the Word.
“What about the Keys of Christian Discipline? The main Key is the preaching of the Word. In fact, there is no other Key. Even personal discipline is preaching of the Word. The difference is that it is private and personal rather than public and general. Christ has given the Key power to the Church. How is that possible? It does not mean that Christ has delivered the Key power over the Church but that the instituted Church has the promise of Christ that where His Word is preached He will use that Word as a Key power to shut and open. That is true also of personal discipline, even of excommunication. When it is said ‘we declare you outside the Church of God and fellowship with Christy that means that Christ will bind this declaration upon the consciousness of the sinner. Christ will apply it to his conscience.
“Finally, what is the false Church? The false Church is that which corrupts the Word and Sacraments, casts out the faithful and protects the wicked. We must bear in mind the rule that everyone is called to join himself to the purest Church. Hence, I must be able to say that the Protestant Reformed Churches are the purest. That is my conviction. Everyone must be, in his own consciousness, convinced that he belongs to the purest Church and if he does not, he helps along the progress toward the false Church. If there is any heresy in the Church to which he belongs, and he protests but cannot get anywhere, and is able to join a purer manifestation, he must do so or become guilty of cooperating in evil and helping to bring the anti-Christ and false Church. There may be inconsistency and imperfections within the purest manifestation, since we do not reach perfection here. Nor is it a question of going to heaven or not but of our calling and responsibility; and that is clear.”
The Rev. J. De Jong—“It was said that Christ speaks the Word and then you have the essence of the Sacrament. If Christ does not so speak do we not have that essence? We know, for example, that all baptized children are not saved. Does this make their baptism a mere formality?”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema—“The means of grace are always means. Christ always operates in the Word and Sacraments; as a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. The Sacraments are never anything by themselves; neither the Word.”
The Rev. H. Veldman—“We speak of one false Church and all kinds of pure Churches; not all equally pure but in a relative sense. Would it not be better to speak of one pure Church and all kinds of false Churches; false in the sense that they have officially forsaken the marks of the true Church?”
The Rev. A. Petter—“As far as we are aware, today we have the purest manifestation of the Truth. But we are fallible and tomorrow may change the picture. Can we say that now we are the purest, but that this may be altered in the future?”
The Rev. H. Hoeksema—“We cannot take that position in the light of Scripture. In Revelation 2 and 3 the presentation is not to reveal how far the Churches have gone in the false direction but is a presentation of the true Church with its defects. We have there the defective Church in the world that must always reform. The Church at Pergamos was defective in discipline; Sardis had a name that she lived and was dead; etc. Nevertheless all are called to repent. The Church is always there. If it is false there is no use preaching to it. The Church is there but she must convert herself.”
During one of the earlier sessions of the Conference an invitation had been received from the Reformed Churches of Sutton, Nebraska, to meet there in 1947. A committee had been appointed to consider this and various other matters. At the close of the Wednesday afternoon session, this committee reported and advised as follows:
These suggestions were adopted by the Conference.