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Thursday, September 16, 2010

4.1.14-4.1.20
Schism

What are we to do when the church is plagued with vices? Paul addresses this with the Corinthians. He does not encourage separation, but instead calls them "the church of God" (1 Corinthians 1:2) indicating that they are still in the communion of the saints. Even though the Corinthians are full of sin, "Yet the church abides among them because the ministry of Word and sacraments remains unrepudiated there." The same can be said about modern churches, where sins are no longer considered sins but celebrated as diversity - as long as the Word is truly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered, they are still churches of Christ and no cause for schism exists.

Paul preaches against allowing fellowship with the wicked (1 Corinthians 5), but Calvin response, "But because pastors are not always zealously on the watch, and are also sometimes more lenient than they should be, or are hindered from being able to exercise the severity they would like, the result is that even the openly wicked are not always removed from the company of saints." Admittedly, it would be a shock if I were to find out that one of my pastors had barred someone from fellowship. It would cause a major stir within the church. Personally, I think today pastors are hindered more from being able to exercise discipline than a lack of attention. On the flip side from barring wicked individuals from fellowship is the question whether or not someone should break from fellowship if there are wicked people there. Paul does not teach this, but instead writes "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body," (1 Corinthians 11:29, New King James Version). In other words, those who wrongly partake in the Lord's Supper heap more judgment on themselves, not those around them.

Sometimes in our churches, there are people who think more of themselves than they should and create dissension within the body. Calvin writes, "this overscrupulousness is born rather of pride and arrogance and false opinion of holiness than of true holiness and true zeal for it." Augustine also addresses this by writing, "The godly manner and measure of church discipline ought at all times to be concerned with 'the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' (Ephesians 4:3)." We are called to bring unity, not schism, when conflicts arise. Augustine does give advice to "godly and peaceable men" by stating, "Mercifully to correct what they can; patiently to bear and lovingly to bewail and mourn what they cannot; until God either amends or corrects or in the harvest uproots the tares and winnows the chaff."

The church's holiness is not complete, yet. Paul writes, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish," (Ephesians 5:25-27, New King James Version). Calvin responds by writing, "Yet it is also no less true that the Lord is daily at work in smoothing out wrinkles and cleansing spots...The church is holy, then, in the sense that it is daily advancing and is not yet perfect." Ever since Adam, man has been in sin. But our joy is in the fact that God has never been without His people that He loves in spite of their sin.

Even the prophets of the Old Testament recognized the sinfulness of the church. Isaiah even likens Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10). But they did not break apart the church and create new altars and temples. "Nothing, consequently, kept them from creating a schism save their zeal to maintain unity." We should be like-minded and strive for unity in the church.

Christ and His apostles worshiped in the same temple as the Pharisees and all others of the Jewish faith. Calvin writes, "If anyone is not convinced by prophets and apostles, let him at least yield to Christ's authority." The theologian Cyprian wrote, "Even though there seem to be tares or unclean vessels in the church, there is no reason why we ourselves should withdraw from the church." He goes on to say that we should work with Christ to perfect the church, "But the breaking of earthen vessels belongs solely to the Lord." Calvin concludes with two points: "First, he who voluntarily deserts the outward communion of the church (where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered) is without excuse. Secondly, neither the vices of the few nor the vices of the many in any way prevent us from duly professing our faith there in ceremonies ordained by God."

There are still those who "do not recognize the church unless it be free of even the slightest blemish." They condemn teachers for encouraging their flock to strive for improvement instead of insisting perfection from the outset. Calvin responds that we should urge perfection, but it is arrogance to be certain about one's own perfection. God has been forgiving our sins ever since the Garden of Eden. It is "for us the first entry into the church and Kingdom of God. Without it, there is for us no covenant or bond with God." We need God's forgiveness to bridge the gap that sin causes in our relationship with Him. "Accordingly, we are initiated into the society of the church by the sign of baptism, which teaches us that entrance into God's family is not open to us unless we first are cleansed of our filth by his goodness."


Tomorrow's reading: 4.1.21-4.1.29

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