How to Find a Real Church — from the Belgic Confession of Faith
[November 9, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
Though we have had much to say in the way of criticism regarding so many who profess to be local, Christian churches, we acknowledge that the church, the true body of Jesus Christ, is His bride and that it consists of all genuine believers, and is to be sought out and joined whenever possible. We believe that the vast majority of our readers, though they may presently be without a local church, earnestly desire the true fellowship of their brothers and sisters in Christ in a gathered local church.
Ah, but how to find such a church? It is not such an easy enterprise in our day. Perhaps it never has been. It isn’t perfection and absolute sinlessness that we look for — such a church would only be found in the communion of the saints in heaven. No, what we want is a church, a gathering of Christ’s people, in which Christ Himself dwells. Here is a wonderful statement about the true church versus the false church, taken from Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of Faith [Internet Archive link]1. It is great, and I thank one of our readers for referring us to it:
The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church — and no one ought to be separated from it.
As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.
Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.
As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.
These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.
Isn’t that great? I was particularly impressed by the description of the false church. We have written numbers of posts concerning the Modern Pharisaism in our day that is so widespread and which exalts the traditions of man’s own creation above the truth of God’s Word. That is exactly what the Belgic Confession says about the false church. It assigns more authority to itself than to Scripture. It adds to and subtracts from. It is based upon man, not upon Jesus Christ. And it persecutes those who hunger for Christ and who point out the errors of the false church.
Are these not the very things that we find as widespread as a plague in our day? How refreshing it is to find true believers gathered in genuine, biblical fellowship, seeking to live solely by the rule of the Word of God.
1[November 9, 2022: We added the link to a PDF of the Belgic Confession of Faith. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that PDF. Editors.]
[November 9, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to November 9, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to November 9, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to November 9, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (November 9, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]