Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 21
Q 54. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A 54. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.
Q 55. What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
A 55. First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts.
Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.
Q 56. What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
A 56. I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no longer remember any of my sins or my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.
Rather, by grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment.
Who’s in? Who’s out? It seems like that has often been the question the surrounds the question of God’s people. This has become so true that it seems that church has taken on a rather “exclusivist” mindset when it comes to its members. We see this is a number of different ways, not the least of which is the rampant denominationalism that plagues the church in North America. Everyone, it seems, has their own idea of what exactly “true faith” looks like, to the exclusion of all others who, they think, clearly do not exhibit it.
This posture within the church has, sadly, become so pervasive that it has negatively impacted the witness of the church on many levels. As the world looks at the Church, with all its churches, fighting and bickering with each other over petty, selfish issues, they don’t see the body of Christ reaching out to those around them and emulating the same love that Christ had for all people. What they see is a broken institution that has become more about itself, citing faithfulness to Scripture as an expression of musical form, clothing choice, or even regularity of worship attendance.
All the while we seem to have forgotten a few things. First and foremost, we aren’t making the rules here, God is. We are not the ones that have somehow “saved ourselves” into God’s good graces. Rather, we have been saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and adopted into God’s family by grace through faith.
Second, to be in God’s family is not a matter of membership, raising our own status and watching our for our own rights as some have made it out to be. In fact, being “in Christ” doesn’t have much to do with our own selves at all (apart from the assurance of our salvation and eternal life) but has much, much more to do with taking on the heart of Christ…
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11
Two of Jesus’ disciples seemed to deal with this same sort of mistake, arguing about who among them was the greatest. Jesus, responding to this question, pointed out that the greatest among them was the “servant of all.” In other words, they were called to be outward focused, modeling His heart for the least, the last, and the lost.
Finally, I think it is important for us to remember what the true meaning of the word “church” is as it relates to the calling of the people of God. “Church” comes from a Greek word which literally means “the called out ones.” Certainly, to be “called out” implies some sort of a distinctive identity, somehow different than before. In the Old Testament, this looked like those that belonged to the “people of God,” or Biblical Israel. They were called, chosen by God to be His people through whom He would work to accomplish His will in the world.
The Church, Scripture says, is the “spiritual Israel,” God’s people with whom and through whom He is working to share the Good News of His love and grace. This people is not one of bloodlines or family heritage, it is a people chosen by God, who have received His grace through faith. There is no limit, no exclusion to who can be a part of this people. There is no special thing that we can do to earn our way in… it is solely by God’s grace and love, which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ that we find ourselves adopted as God’s own children.
When we find ourselves here, we also find ourselves different than before. We begin to take on the heart of Christ, turning our focus outward as Christ did, to share the great love and hope that we have found with all those around us and taking on the very nature of a servant, following Christ’s example set for us by His life, death, and resurrection.