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Catechism Class LD21C Q54 The Holy Catholic Church


Catechism Class. Lord’s Day 21C Q54 – The Holy Catholic Church #3

Our catechist is always concerned to give us practical answers, as well as theology, so he asks in Q.54 What do you believe concerning the holy catholic Christian church? The correct reply is, 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. It is that last sentence that concerns us in this lesson…

Listen top the PODCAST HERE.

We have already learned that the invisible church is that body of born again believers, who by grace, through faith alone, are part of the body of Christ, and only God himself knows who they are and how many they are.  The church that we see meeting week by week may not be the same as the invisible church,  for Jesus taught us that the visible church will have tares growing among the wheat.

The INVISIBLE CHURCH, – the true ‘Body of Christ’ on earth includes all Christians everywhere, those who are truly being saved, from every age, every nation, ethnicity, – its membership is of those who have been ordained by God to be His, from before the foundation of the world, who are there because of Christ’s atoning death for them on the cross, and who have in response to His love, repented of their sins and trusted only in him.  On the last day it will be complete, and every single member of it will be in heaven, none will be lost, and they will be in the presence of God for ever and ever.  Furthermore, unlike the Visible church, it is already united, for all true believers are within it.  Savoy 26:1 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 filleth all in all.   But now that I know that I am a member of that true church, our catechist introduces two more important and relevant considerations.

  1. My membership of THAT church does not end.  We belong to Christ for all of eternity.  I know that there are church members who will fall away, and be lost.  But members of Christ’s true church will persevere to the end and will be saved. They are his and no one will pluck them out of his hand. The second important statement is that…
  2. I am a LIVING member of it.  Why does the catechism emphasis this?  There are no dead people in Christ’s church.  We have new life in Christ, and that life is eternal life.  Even those believers who have gone from this world, live in with Christ in heaven, they are with the Lord, and they like us await the day of the general resurrection of the dead, when we shall be reunited with one another, and shall dwell forever in the new heaven and the new earth. 

That brings us to a question.  If a true Christian is, by virtue of the New Birth already a member of the one true church, does that Christian need to be a member of a local church?

2 The Classic Arguments For Church Membership.  There are a number of arguments made, which demonstrate why a Christian should associate with a local church.  These are well rehearsed, and here are four of them:-

  • Because of the doctrine of CHURCH DISCIPLINE.  In Matthew 18:15-17 there is a system of church discipline, an example of how disputes between Christians are to be resolved, culminating in a meeting of the church. Now the argument is that such a system requires a formal church membership, otherwise who would form this final ‘court of the church.’  Can you imagine how justice could be perverted if the exact membership of that church meeting had not already been defined.  Paul later builds on this teaching of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 6:1 He tells Christians that in disputed matters they are not to ask the secular courts to adjudicate.  They are to take such matters to the church.
  • Because there really is such a thing as EXCOMMUNICATION.  It is a formal, public disfellowshipping of an individual.   Sometimes, it is necessary to put someone out of fellowship with other Christians, particularly in the case of serious doctrinal error or heresy, or immoral behaviour. Paul again: 1 Corinthians 5:11  The church is responsible for judging its own members.  If the church decides that a wicked or immoral person is guilty, then that person is to be put outside the church.  This seems to be a formal removal, an excommunication, which would have implied that the person being excommunicated was already a formal member.
  • To facilitate Christian SUBMISSION to elders.  Christians are required to submit to elders.  The book of Hebrews mentions this on several occasions: Hebrews 13:7  Hebrews 13:17.   Hebrews 13:24.  If we are submit ourselves to our elders, who rule over us, that implies a formal consent having been given to such an arrangement. This formal submission requires a form of covenant, in which the individual will agree to such submission, and throughout the Scriptures, covenant relationships are always formally ratified.  
  • To replicate the biblical motifs of the church.  In the Bible the visible church is depicted as
    • ‘A FLOCK.  With shepherds, and with sheep.  It’s a perfect motif of leadership and membership, for the shepherd does not DRIVE the flock, he leads them, and he cares for them, and he regards them as being his particular responsibility.    This is demonstrated in Acts 20:28  The flock are placed under the care of the elders, by the CHARGE of God himself.  See 1 Peter 5:2-3  
    • A BODY Many will see that church membership is implied in the comparison of the church with the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.   

It is for those reasons that most evangelicals believe that fellowship with a local church is a proper course of action for every believer.  We are part of a local congregation, which will act as a court in the event of disciplinary proceedings, and to submit ourselves to such discipline.  We should subject ourselves under the leadership of local elders to be watched over and cared for by them, as a part of a local, organic whole.  Similarly, most evangelicals will argue that the Bible knows nothing of solitary Christians – they are a contradiction, for becoming a Christian brings us into the body of Christ, which is expressed in the union of local bodies of believers.

© Bob McEvoy June 2022

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