iv. Church and Sacraments
Articles 27 to 35:
Article 27 - the Catholic Christian Church
We believe and profess one catholic or universal church,(Gen 22:18; Is 49:6; Eph 2:17-19) which is a holy congregation and assembly(Ps 111:1; Jn 10:14, 16; Eph 4:3-6; Heb 12:22, 23) of the true Christian believers, who expect their entire salvation in Jesus Christ,(Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21) are washed by His blood, and are sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit.(Eph 1:13; Eph 4:30)
This church has existed from the beginning of the world and will be to the end, for Christ is an eternal King who cannot be without subjects.(2 Sam 7:16; Ps 89:36; Ps 110:4; Mt 28:18, 20; Lk 1:32) This holy church is preserved by God against the fury of the whole world,(Ps 46:5; Mt 16:18) although for a while it may look very small and as extinct in the eyes of man.(Is 1:9; 1 Pet 3:20; Rev 11:7) Thus during the perilous reign of Ahab, the Lord kept for Himself seven thousand persons who had not bowed their knees to Baal.(1 Kings 19:18; Rom 11:4)
Moreover, this holy church is not confined or limited to one particular place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world.(Mt 23:8; Jn 4:21-23; Rom 10:12, 13) Yet, it is joined and united with heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith.(Ps 119:63; Acts 4:32; Eph 4:4)
Article 28 - Everyone's Duty to Join the Church
We believe, since this holy assembly and congregation is the assembly of the redeemed and there is no salvation outside of it,(1) that no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, no matter what his status or standing may be. But all and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it,(2 Chron 30:8; Jn 17:21; Col 3:15) maintaining the unity of the church. They must submit themselves to its instruction and discipline,(Heb 13:17) bend their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ,(Mt 11:28-30) and serve the edification of the brothers and sisters,(Eph 4:12) according to the talents which God has given them as members of the same body.(1 Cor 12:7, 27; Eph 4:16)
To observe this more effectively, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate from those who do not belong to the church(Num 16:23-26; Is 52:11, 12; Acts 2:40; Rom 16:17; Rev 18:4) and to join this assembly(Ps 122:1; Is 2:3; Heb 10:25) wherever God has established it. They should do so even though the rulers and edicts of princes were against it, and death or physical punishment might follow.(Acts 4:19, 20)
All therefore who draw away from the church or fail to join it act contrary to the ordinance of God.
(1) Mt 16:18, 19; Acts 2:47; Gal 4:26; Eph 5:25-27; Heb 2:11, 12; Heb 12:23.
Article 29 - the Marks of the True and the False Church
We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully from the Word of God what is the true church, for all sects which are in the world today claim for themselves the name of church.(1 Rev 2:9.) We are not speaking here of the hypocrites, who are mixed in the church along with the good and yet are not part of the church, although they are outwardly in it.(Rom 9:6) We are speaking of the body and the communion of the true church which must be distinguished from all sects that call themselves the church.
The true church is to be recognized by the following marks:
It practices the pure preaching of the gospel.(Gal 1:8; 1 Tim 3:15) It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them.(Acts 19:3-5; 1 Cor 11:20-29) It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins.(Mt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:4, 5, 13; 2 Thess 3:6, 14; Tit 3:10) In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God,(Jn 8:47; Jn 17:20; Acts 17:11; Eph 2:20; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 6:3) rejecting all things contrary to it(1 Thess 5:21; 1 Tim 6:20; Rev 2:6) and regarding Jesus Christ as the only Head.(Jn 10:14; Eph 5:23; Col 1:18) Hereby the true church can certainly be known and no one has the right to separate from it.
Those who are of the church may be recognized by the marks of Christians. They believe in Jesus Christ the only Saviour,(Jn 1:12; 1 Jn 4:2) flee from sin and pursue righteousness,(Rom 6:2; Phil 3:12) love the true God and their neighbour(Jn 4:19-21) without turning to the right or left, and crucify their flesh and its works.(Gal 5:24) Although great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their life.(Rom 7:15; Gal 5:17) They appeal constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of Jesus Christ, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins through faith in Him.(Rom 7:24, 25; 1 Jn 1:7-9)
The false church assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God. It does not want to submit itself to the yoke of Christ.(Acts 4:17, 18; 2 Tim 4:3, 4; 2 Jn 9) It does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in His Word, but adds to them and subtracts from them as it pleases. It bases itself more on men than on Jesus Christ. It persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke the false church for its sins, greed, and idolatries.(Jn 16:2)
These two churches are easily recognized and distinguished from each other.
Article 30 - the Government of the Church
aught us in His Word.(Acts 20:28; Eph 4:11, 12; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 13:20, 21) There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and to administer the sacraments;(2) there should also be elders(Acts 14:23; Tit 1:5) and deacons(1 Tim 3:8-10) who, together with the pastors, form the council of the church.(Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 4:14) By these means they preserve the true religion; they see to it that the true doctrine takes its course, that evil men are disciplined in a spiritual way and are restrained, and also that the poor and all the afflicted are helped and comforted according to their need.(Acts 6:1-4; Tit 1:7-9) By these means everything will be done well and in good order when faithful men are chosen(1 Cor 4:2) in agreement with the rule that the apostle Paul gave to Timothy.(1 Tim 3)
(2) Lk 1:2; Lk 10:16; Jn 20:23; Rom 10:14; 1 Cor 4:1; 2 Cor 5:19, 20; 2 Tim 4:2.
Article 31 - the Officers of the Church
We believe that ministers of God’s Word, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God.(Acts 1:23, 24; Acts 6:2, 3) Therefore everyone shall take care not to intrude by improper means. He shall wait for the time that he is called by God so that he may have sure testimony and thus be certain that his call comes from the Lord.(Acts 13:2; 1 Cor 12:28; 1 Tim 4:14; 1 Tim 5:22; Heb 5:4) Ministers of the Word, in whatever place they are, have equal power and authority, for they are all servants of Jesus Christ,(2 Cor 5:20; 1 Pet 5:1-4) the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the church.(Mt 23:8, 10; Eph 1:22, Eph 5:23) In order that this holy ordinance of God may not be violated or rejected, we declare that everyone must hold the ministers of the Word and the elders of the church in special esteem because of their work,(1 Thess 5:12, 13; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17) and as much as possible be at peace with them without grumbling or arguing.
Article 32 - the Order and Discipline of the Church
We believe that, although it is useful and good for those who govern the church to establish a certain order to maintain the body of the church, they must at all times watch that they do not deviate from what Christ, our only Master, has commanded.(1 Tim 3:15) Therefore we reject all human inventions and laws introduced into the worship of God which bind and compel the consciences in any way.(Is 29:13; Mt 15:9; Gal 5:1) We accept only what is proper to preserve and promote harmony and unity and to keep all in obedience to God.(1 Cor 14:33) To that end, discipline and excommunication ought to be exercised in agreement with the Word of God.(Mt 16:19; Mt 18:15-18; Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 5; 1 Tim 1:20)
Article 33 - the Sacraments
We believe that our gracious God, mindful of our insensitivity and weakness, has ordained sacraments to seal His promises to us and to be pledges of His good will and grace towards us. He did so to nourish and sustain our faith.(Gen 17:9-14; Ex 12; Rom 4:11) He has added these to the Word of the gospel(Mt 28:19; Eph 5:26) to represent better to our external senses both what He declares to us in His Word and what He does inwardly in our hearts. Thus He confirms to us the salvation which He imparts to us. Sacraments are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.(Rom 2:28, 29; Col 2:11, 12) Therefore the signs are not void and meaningless so that they deceive us. For Jesus Christ is their truth; apart from Him they would be nothing. Moreover, we are satisfied with the number of sacraments which Christ our Master has instituted for us, namely, two: the sacrament of baptism(Mt 28:19) and the holy supper of Jesus Christ.(Mt 26:26-28; 1 Cor 11:23-26)
Article 34 - the Sacrament of Baptism
We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law (Rom 10:4), has by His shed blood put an end to every other shedding of blood that one could or would make as an expiation or satisfaction for sins. He has abolished circumcision, which involved blood, and has instituted in its place the sacrament of baptism.(Col 2:11) By baptism we are received into the church of God and set apart from all other peoples and false religions, to be entirely committed to Him(Ex 12:48; 1 Pet 2:9) whose mark and emblem we bear. This serves as a testimony to us that He will be our God and gracious Father for ever.
For that reason He has commanded all those who are His to be baptized with plain water into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). By this He signifies to us that as water washes away the dirt of the body when poured on us, and as water is seen on the body of the baptized when sprinkled on him, so the blood of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, does the same thing internally to the soul.(Mt 3:11; 1 Cor 12:13) It washes and cleanses our soul from sin(Acts 22:16; Heb 9:14; 1 Jn 1:7; Rev 1:5b) and regenerates us from children of wrath into children of God.(Tit 3:5) This is not brought about by the water as such(1 Pet 3:21) but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God,(Rom 6:3; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 Pet 2:24) which is our Red Sea,(1 Cor 10:1-4) through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and enter into the spiritual land of Canaan.
Thus the ministers on their part give us the sacrament and what is visible, but our Lord gives us what is signified by the sacrament, namely, the invisible gifts and grace. He washes, purges, and cleanses our souls of all filth and unrighteousness,(1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26) renews our hearts and fills them with all comfort, gives us true assurance of His fatherly goodness, clothes us with the new nature, and takes away the old nature with all its works.(Rom 6:4; Gal 3:27)
We believe, therefore, that anyone who aspires to eternal life ought to be baptized only once.(Mt 28:19; Eph 4:5) Baptism should never be repeated, for we cannot be born twice. Moreover, baptism benefits us not only when the water is on us and when we receive it, but throughout our whole life. For that reason we reject the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with a single baptism received only once, and who also condemn the baptism of the little children of believers. We believe that these children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as infants were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises which are now made to our children.(Gen 17:10-12; Mt 19:14; Acts 2:39) Indeed, Christ shed His blood to wash the children of believers just as much as He shed it for adults.(1 Cor 7:14) Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, as the Lord commanded in the law that a lamb was to be offered shortly after children were born.(Lev 12:6) This was a sacrament of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Because baptism has the same significance for our children as circumcision had for the people of Israel, Paul calls baptism the circumcision done by Christ (Col 2:11).
Article 35 - the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper
We believe and confess that our Saviour Jesus Christ has instituted the sacrament of the holy supper(1) to nourish and sustain those whom He has already regenerated and incorporated into His family, which is His church.
Those who are born anew have a twofold life.(Jn 3:5, 6) One is physical and temporal, which they received in their first birth and is common to all men. The other is spiritual and heavenly, which is given them in their second birth and is effected by the word of the gospel3 in the communion of the body of Christ. This life is not common to all but only to the elect of God.
For the support of the physical and earthly life God has ordained earthly and material bread. This bread is common to all just as life is common to all. For the support of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers have, He has sent them a living bread which came down from heaven (Jn 6:51), namely, Jesus Christ,(Jn 6:48-51) who nourishes and sustains the spiritual life of the believers(Jn 6:63; Jn 10:10b) when He is eaten by them, that is, spiritually appropriated and received by faith.(Jn 6:40, 47)
To represent to us the spiritual and heavenly bread, Christ has instituted earthly and visible bread as a sacrament of His body and wine as a sacrament of His blood.(Jn 6:55; 1 Cor 10:16) He testifies to us that as certainly as we take and hold the sacrament in our hands and eat and drink it with our mouths, by which our physical life is then sustained, so certainly do we receive by faith,(Eph 3:17) as the hand and mouth of our soul, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Saviour, in our souls for our spiritual life.
It is beyond any doubt that Jesus Christ did not commend His sacraments to us in vain. Therefore He works in us all that He represents to us by these holy signs. We do not understand the manner in which this is done, just as we do not comprehend the hidden activity of the Spirit of God.(Jn 3:8) Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what we eat and drink is the true, natural body and the true blood of Christ. However, the manner in which we eat it is not by mouth but in the spirit by faith. In that way Jesus Christ always remains seated at the right hand of God His Father in heaven;(Mk 16:19); Acts 3:21 yet He does not cease to communicate Himself to us by faith. This banquet is a spiritual table at which Christ makes us partakers of Himself with all His benefits and gives us the grace to enjoy both Himself and the merit of His suffering and death.(Rom 8:32; 1 Cor 10:3, 4) He nourishes, strengthens, and comforts our poor, desolate souls by the eating of His flesh, and refreshes and renews them by the drinking of His blood.
Although the sacrament is joined together with that which is signified, the latter is not always received by all.(1 Cor 2:14) The wicked certainly takes the sacrament to his condemnation, but he does not receive the truth of the sacrament. Thus Judas and Simon the sorcerer both received the sacrament, but they did not receive Christ, who is signified by it.(Lk 22:21, 22; Acts 8:13, 21) He is communicated exclusively to the believers.(Jn 3:36)
Finally, we receive this holy sacrament in the congregation of the people of God(Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7) with humility and reverence as we together commemorate the death of Christ our Saviour with thanksgiving and we confess our faith and Christian religion.(Acts 2:46; 1 Cor 11:26) Therefore no one should come to this table without careful self-examination, lest by eating this bread and drinking from this cup, he eat and drink judgment upon himself (1 Cor 11:28, 29). In short, we are moved by the use of this holy sacrament to a fervent love of God and our neighbours. Therefore we reject as desecrations all additions and condemnable inventions which men have mixed with the sacraments. We declare that we should be content with the ordinance taught by Christ and His apostles and should speak about it as they have spoken.
(1) Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19, 20; 1 Cor 11:23-26
|Articles 16 - 26||Articles 36 - 37|