The church and salvation (May 31 study recap)

On Thursday, May 31, we had the privilege of having the Minister (Coen Vrey) of Bellville RCSA and his wife join us, as well as one of the long time couples of the congregation.  We were blessed by hearing some of their reflections on being part of a Reformed Church and the Reformed tradition.  Particularly inspiring was hearing how one of them seeks to encourage missionaries serving in Arctic circle by keeping up regular correspondence with them.

Another reason for encouragement was to hear from people who have grown up in the church and continue to love Christ, and have passed on this same love to their children.  One of the distinctives of the Reformed tradition is taking seriously the call to pass down the faith to the next generation, wherein the children of believers are under the regular public ministry of the Word, are taught the fundamentals of the faith (catechism) and participate in family worship.  This is in keeping the biblical idea that God gives his covenant promises of salvation to believers and their children (Acts 2:38-39; Cf. Genesis 15-17).

One point that I would like to emphasize from our study of Titus is proper thinking with regard to the church and salvation.  In Titus 1.1, Paul speaks of the “knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness”.  In other words, the truth of God’s Word is to produce corresponding godliness: appropriate godly attitudes and actions.  One important aspect of godliness is a proper perspective on the church.  One could say that there are two extremes that prevail regarding the church in relation to salvation.  On one extreme are those who argue that the church is our savior, as if salvation entails joining the historic institutional church and submitting to its government.  The Roman Catholic Church holds to something like this position.  On the other extreme are those who argue that the church has nothing to do with our salvation, as if Christianity is primarily a private individualist encounter with God unencumbered by things like church officers, preaching and sacraments.

Between these two extremes is Paul’s teaching in Titus and elsewhere, which is that God has chosen to use the means of the church to save sinners, nourish them in the faith and disciple them to maturity.  In other words, God – by the agency of the Holy Spirit, makes special use of ministers, preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper to give his people Christ and all his benefits in the context of public worship (cf. Titus 1:1-6; 3:5; Romans 10; 1 Cor 11).  It is the gospel that God delivers through the means of the church that saves!

This is not to deny that we all have a role to play in and for the the church.  We are all part of the body of Christ and have been given gifts for the common good (1 Cor 12; Eph 4).  We all hold the general offices of prophet, priest and king (1 Peter 2).  We are to pray for one another, carry each others burdens and support the work and witness of the church through our offerings (Galatians 6; 2 Cor 8-9).  We are always to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have within (1 Peter 3.15).  Attending corporate worship services and keeping the Lord’s Day are in and of themselves a powerful witness to a watching world.

It is this perspective that the historic Reformed tradition has confessed from the likes of the Westminister Shorter Catechism:

Q. 89. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. (Nehemiah 8:8-9; Acts 20:32; Romans 10:14-17; 2 Timothy 3:15-17)

Q. 91. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them. (1 Corinthians 3:7; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:12-17)

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