LORD’S DAY 21
- What do you believe concerning the “holy, catholic Church”?
That out of the whole human race,1 from the beginning to the end of the world,2 the Son of God,3 by His Spirit and Word,4 gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself unto everlasting life a chosen communion5 in the unity of the true faith;6 and that I am and forever shall remain a living member of this communion.7
 Gen. 26:4.  Jn. 10:10.  Eph. 1:10–13.  Rom. 1:16; Isa. 59:21; Rom. 10:14–17; Eph. 5:26.  Rom. 8:29–30; Matt. 16:18; Eph. 4:3–6.  Acts 2:46; Ps. 71:18; 1 Cor. 11:26; Jn. 10:28–30; 1 Cor. 1:8–9.  1 Jn. 3:21; 1 Jn. 2:19; *Gal. 3:28.
- What do you understand by the “communion of saints”?
First, that believers, one and all, as members of the Lord Jesus Christ, are partakers with Him in all His treasures and gifts;1 second, that each one must feel himself bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and welfare of other members.2
 1 Jn. 1:3.  1 Cor. 12:12–13, 21; 13:5–6; Phil. 2:4–6; *Heb. 3:14.
- What do you believe concerning the “forgiveness of sins”?
That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction,1 will no more remember my sins, nor the sinful nature with which I have to struggle all my life long;2 but graciously imputes to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may nevermore come into condemnation.3
 1 Jn. 2:2.  2 Cor. 5:19, 21; Rom. 7:24–25; Ps. 103:3, 10–12; Jer. 31:34; Rom. 8:1–4.  Jn. 3:18; *Eph. 1:7; *Rom. 4:7–8; 7:18.
As was discussed in last week’s notes, the work of the Holy Spirit is to apply the decrees of God to creation. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters when God was about to create and order everything on earth, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove on Christ when He was to begin His ministry. The Spirit of God descended like tongues of fire on the first Christians when the time came to empower them to begin taking the truth of the church out to the world. This Lord’s Day tells us some things about how the Spirit of God applies salvation to the elect of God.
We live in a very individualistic culture, and this starts with our Christianity. The forms of Christianity which have always been popular in America, suited to a spread-out, ruggedly self-contained kind of people who often came to America precisely to get away from a strangling class system and oppressive government, have been forms of Christianity that were often suspicious of the institutional church, and their experience with the church in Europe gave them good reason. But today this individualism has reached epidemic levels, so that people see Christianity purely as an individual thing, a personal relationship between God and man in which some local church may or may not have some role.
The catechism shows us, reflecting the ancient creed itself, that the church exists right at the center of God’s plan for salvation. The work of the Holy Spirit is to draw those that God is saving into the church, and in that church to do the work of salvation in their lives. It is a “chosen communion” which Christ is drawing to Himself, and all who are saved in Christ are part of this holy communion. The Word of God is and must be central to this communion, for it is the truth of that word which draws the communion together and which provides the basis for the unity of that communion. We are one with other believers because we believe the same things, not because of familial or ethnic or linguistic ties.
This common fellowship is not just an abstract idea. As question 55 teaches us, this fellowship is experienced and lived out as we interact with other believers in a real and concrete manner. The passages which question 55 refer to, like 1 Corinthians 12 and Philippians 2:4-6, indicate a real interaction with other believers, doing specific good things for one another like teaching each other, helping in times of trouble, forgiving each other’s failings and being concerned with what will benefit others rather than only myself. That means that to be part of the church, one has to be part of a church, part of a local fellowship of believers with all the messiness and difficulty that usually involves. The invisible, catholic, universal church, so vital to our life as Christians, is experienced within the visible church; otherwise, it is just an abstraction, something you say, that has nothing to do with what you do.
Our salvation in Jesus Christ is all about restoring the human race to what it was always supposed to be. It is about creating for God a holy nation and royal priesthood, a group of people living in love and truth toward one another and toward God. The church is the place where we start to be that people, imperfectly and messily and surrounded with hypocrites and false brothers, all of which prepares us and shapes us to be who God has for us to be.
Question 56 is about the forgiveness of sins and might seem out of context in this section, belonging more to the teaching of what Jesus has done for us rather than what the Spirit does for us in applying our salvation. But the forgiveness of sins is the basis for the whole Christian life. It is relevant throughout our lives, not just at the beginning of our Christian walk. We are continually forgiven, continually learning what it means to be forgiven, and what it means to forgive others, as I struggle “all my life long” with a sinful nature. It is in the body of believers where forgiveness begins to be most fully experienced by the believer, as it is taught from the pulpit, modeled by other believers, and lived out in our lives as we fail and are failed by others. The life of the church, to the degree that it is healthy at all, will be a life of forgiveness and grace toward others.
We cannot claim to be united to Christ without being united to His people. If I am connected to the vine, then I am also connected to all the other branches. It cannot be otherwise. The Spirit of God works life in me by connecting me to the body of Christ, with Christ as the head, and through that body and the truth of the gospel which unites it, teaches me, strengthens me, comforts me, chastises me and heals me. It is often painful, but it’s supposed to be. The church will always have hypocrites in it, but it’s supposed to; they teach me patience and grace, and by their false example point me to the true. My own sins and failings will be highlighted and painfully poked and prodded, and one expects this is the real reason so many avoid church, more than the failings of other people. But through all of this I will have the life of Christ worked in me. I will learn the true magnitude of what He did for me on the cross. And through the power of grace and forgiveness, I will start to become the holy creature the Father has predestined me to be, to bring glory forever to His name.