Dumb Idols: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 35


  1. What does God require in the second commandment?

That we in no way make any image of God,1 nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.2

[1] Deut. 4:15–19; Isa. 40:18, 25. Rom. 1:22–24; Acts 17:29. [2] 1 Sam. 15:23; Deut. 12:30–32; Matt. 15:9; *Deut. 4:23–24; *Jn. 4:24. 

  1. May we not make any image at all?

God may not and cannot be imaged in any way; as for creatures, though they may indeed be imaged, yet God forbids the making or keeping of any likeness of them, either to worship them or to serve God by them.1

[1] Ex. 23:24–25; 34:13–14; Deut. 7:5; 12:3; 16:22; 2 Kgs. 18:4; *Jn. 1:18. 

  1. But may not pictures be tolerated in churches as books for the people?

No, for we should not be wiser than God, who will not have His people taught by dumb idols,1 but by the lively preaching of His Word.2

[1] Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18–19. [2] 2 Pet. 1:19; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; Rom. 10:17.


Dumb Idols

The second commandment is all about how we worship God.  It is very closely related to the first, for if we place our trust purely and fully in God alone, then obedience to the second naturally follows.  We will submit ourselves entirely to Him in our relationship with Him.  Idolatry ultimately is about worshiping and trusting myself instead of God, and this will express itself in my worship as I try to take control of my relationship with God, shaping God to fit my own lusts and imagination and dictating how and on what terms God blesses me.

When the idol worshiper makes a statue or a picture of God, he puts himself in charge of the relationship.  It is his own mind which creates the image.  Now, rather than God being a mighty and powerful, and above all sovereign being, the idolater has fixed God into a controllable form.

The classic example of this dynamic at work is seen with the Israelites at Mount Sinai.  They were confronted with the awesome, terrifying, powerful God, who was death to look on.  As time wore on and Moses did not return from the mountain, the Israelites demanded that Aaron make them gods, meaning idols, to follow (Exodus 32).  They wanted to control the relationship.  So Aaron made them a golden calf, and the worshiped it and celebrated.

The issue here was not abandoning the worship of Jehovah to worship some other god.  Aaron said, “This is the God that brought you out of Egypt,” and then declared a feast to Jehovah, the name of Israel’s God (verse 5).  The problem was their refusal to submit to God’s sovereignty; they demanded they be in control of the relationship rather than accepting that God was.  This is the heart of idolatry, the elevation of the self to the throne instead of God.  In worship it expresses itself in the demand that I decide how I will worship, a demand that I be in control of how the relationship between me and God will work.

The making of a picture of God, or the use of a picture of anything in order to worship God, always falls into this category, perhaps more directly than anything else.  This is because we have no description of God in Scriptures, and any picture we make therefore comes out of one’s own head instead of as revealed truth from God.

The Catechism says that God will have His people taught by the lively preaching of the Word, and not by dumb idols.  “Dumb” here means “mute” or “wordless,” not “stupid,” so the idol is contrasted to the word most explicitly; the idol does not speak, but God does, through the Word.  But all worship and teaching will be according to a truth system, so the dumb idol doesn’t remain mute.  Its mouths are filled with ideas from some man.  The human worshiper puts himself on the throne, worshiping his own conception of who God is instead of who God reveals Himself to be.

One need not look for golden images of bulls to see this at work all around us.  Constantly people worship the work of their own hands rather than God.  People decide for themselves what formal worship will look like instead of being guided by the Scriptures.  People invent their own doctrine of what God is like instead of learning who God is from the Scriptures.  They invent a god that acts the way they want him to, and refuse to accept what the Scriptures say about God.  So they worship their own conceptions; essentially, they worship themselves.  Their worship services are all about their feelings and personal ideas about God rather than about God Himself.  And it is no accident that their worship services are often full of pictures, pictures which root their worship in their emotional responses to their own conceptions of God rather than rooted in God’s own self-revelation, which is always in words, and never in visual images.

In a less mature time in the church’s history, God did indeed use visual representations of different things to illustrate various truths about Himself, such as the furniture in the temple or the sign-acts of Ezekiel.  But in this last age He has revealed Himself fully and perfectly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, to whom every knee will bow and whom every tongue will confess.  He is the Word of God, and of Him we have no physical description.  Indeed we need none, since the revelation of Jesus was never in how He looked (totally unremarkable) but in His words, words that are Spirit and Life, words which changed the world, words which gave meaning to His great act of self-sacrifice on behalf of His people.  It is faith in Him, and in His words, that give us life.  God has chosen to deliver His revelation to us His people in the form of these words, and in submission to God we will accept His provision for us as sufficient, and not try to supplement or replace it with dumb idols of our own invention.

Looking to God for All Our Welfare: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 34


  1. How are these commandments divided?

Into two tables:1 the first of which teaches, in four commandments, what duties we owe to God; the second, in six, what duties we owe to our neighbor.2

[1] Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13. [ 2] Matt. 22:37–40. [1] Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13. [ 2] Matt. 22:37–40

  1. What does God require in the first commandment?

That, on peril of my soul’s salvation, I avoid and flee all idolatry,1 sorcery, enchantments,2 invocation of saints or of other creatures;3 and that I rightly acknowledge the only true God,4 trust in Him alone,5 with all humility6 and patience7 expect all good from Him only,8 and love,9 fear,10 and honor11 Him with my whole heart; so as rather to renounce all creatures than to do the least thing against His will.12

[1] 1 Cor. 10:7, 14. [2] Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:10–12. [3] Matt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10; 22:8–9.[4] Jn. 17:3. [5] Jer. 17:5. [6] 1 Pet. 5:5–6. [7] Heb. 10:36; Col. 1:10b–11; Rom. 5:3–4;1 Cor. 10:10. [8] Ps. 104:27–30; Isa. 45:6b–7; Jas. 1:17. [9] Deut. 6:5. [10] Deut. 6:2; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; Matt. 10:28. [11] Deut. 10:20. [12] Matt. 5:29–30; 10:37; Acts 5:29.

  1. What is idolatry?

Idolatry is to conceive or have something else in which to place our trust instead of, or besides, the one true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.1

[1] Eph. 5:5; Phil. 3:19; Eph. 2:12; Jn. 2:23; 2 Jn. 1:9; Jn. 5:23; *Ps. 81:8–9; *Matt. 6:24; Ps. 62:5–7 *Ps. 73:25–26.


Looking to God for All our Welfare
Lord’s Day 34, telling us about our obligation to pursue good works, defines good works as those which comply with the Law of God, and the Law was defined as the Ten Commandments. This is not the place for a detailed discussion of whether the Ten Commandments continues as relevant for the New Testament believer, despite being given in the Old Testament. In brief, the curse of the Law no longer holds, for Christ has completely satisfied the demands of the Law. Yet the requirements of the Law were not arbitrary, but reflected God’s creational design for man and humanity’s relationship to God, to creation and to one another. Therefore, even though we know that the Law has been completely satisfied by Christ’s perfect obedience, yet in our saved state, the Law still has a very important role to play in teaching us what a redeemed saint looks like. It shows us the goal of our salvation. It teaches us what it means to be Christlike, like the One who perfectly kept that Law. Question 93 recounts the Ten Commandments, and questions 94-115 will examine the Ten Commandments and teach us what they mean.

The First Commandment is the basis of them all. All violations of God’s Law are a violation of this first commandment, for all sin springs from the same root, the root of pride. If I trusted God completely and put all my hope in Him, I would never look to anything else for any blessing in my life, separate from God. When the commandment tells us not to have any other gods before God, that does not mean “before God” as in “higher in priority than God”, but rather “before God” in the sense of “in His face, where He can see them,” meaning, anywhere. It means we are to put our trust entirely and only in God, and not in anything else. If I trust God 99% of the time for my welfare and prosperity, and anything else 1% of the time, then I am an idolater. So we are all idolaters, for we all fail to trust God for everything we need. If we trusted God completely, we would never sin.

This is not to say I wouldn’t have any need for food or human companionship or sunlight, or any of the many other things that we as human beings need. But God is good and always gives us what we need. Idolatry is the attempt to take control of my welfare for myself. In Romans 1:17-25, Paul says that people “did not glorify [God] as God, nor were thankful… but worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Glorifying God and being thankful is contrasted to idolatry, the worship of the created thing instead of the One who created the thing.

Worship need not look like bowing down, offering incense or some other specifically “religious” looking activity. It is not the activity of the body but the posture of the heart which is of concern here. Ephesians 5:5 says that a covetous man is an idolater. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24 that we cannot serve two masters, God and mammon, but must ultimately choose (mammon being the material things of this world generally).

To illustrate, if I trust God and expect all good things from Him, then when I have plenty of money I will be thankful and use it the way He has taught me to. I will enjoy the blessings He gave me, giving Him the glory always, and I will not seek a life of luxury, but will share with the poor and support the church. But if I believe that money itself is the source of happiness, then that is to deny that the money comes from God, and then I will seek to accumulate more and more money and I will use it entirely for my own benefit regardless of what God says about it. I will neglect other duties, such as to family, to the poor, and to the church, and spend all my time in the accumulation and enjoyment of wealth. Idolatry is not about whether I think money is good or not. It’s about where I think the money comes from, and consequently, who governs how I get it and how I use it- God or me.

This exercise can be repeated with any good thing that we desire or need. When we trust God as the only source of our good, then we will trust that He is giving us what we need and what is best for us in the moment, and not be covetous for what we don’t have. And therefore, we will not try to seize things we haven’t been given or try to make things more than they really are. Thus the root of all sin is the prideful belief that I can advance my own welfare by using the things of God’s creation or the people in my life the way I think they should be used rather than the way God tells us through His law to use them. It is worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, and the cure for it is trust and thankfulness to God for all things.

The government cannot keep us safe or provide prosperity. Food will not keep me alive. Pleasure will not satisfy me. Friends and family will not fulfill me. God does all of these things for me. God may use these things as secondary means to accomplish His purpose, but as long as I remember that it is God using those things, rather than the things themselves, then I will keep all things in perspective, and keep God as God, as the only source of all good things in my life.

Whenever we look at the Law of God and wrestle with our inevitable failure, let us remember that we have a Savior who kept this law perfectly, and has already paid the debt for our failure to do so. We need not fall into despair, therefore, at how far short of the mark we fall, but rather thank God for our redemption in Christ, and labor, in that peace and confidence, to draw closer to the mark that the Law of God sets out for us.


All are welcome at Christ Reformed Church!  We worship at 10 AM Sunday morning at 600 W. 21st St, in College Heights Baptist’s old sanctuary.

Change of Heart: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 33


  1. In how many things does true repentance or conversion consist?

In two things: the dying of the old man,1 and the making alive of the new.

[1] Rom. 6:4–6; Eph. 4:22–24; Col. 3:5–10; 1 Cor. 5:7.


  1. What is the dying of the old man?

Heartfelt sorrow for sin, causing us to hate and turn from it always more and more.1

[1] Rom. 8:13; Joel 2:13.


  1. What is the making alive of the new man?

Heartfelt joy in God through Christ,1 causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.2

[1] Rom. 5:1; 14:17; Isa. 57:15. [2] Rom. 8:10–11; Gal. 2:20; *Rom. 7:22.


  1. What are good works?

Those only which proceed from true faith,1 and are done according to the law of God,2 unto His glory,3 and not such as rest on our own opinion4 or the commandments of men.5

[1] Rom. 14:23. [2] 1 Sam. 15:22; Eph. 2:10. [3] 1 Cor. 10:31. [4] Deut. 12:32; Ezek. 20:18, 20; Isa. 29:13. [5] Matt. 15:9; *Num. 15:39.


Change of Heart

On the subject of good works, the Christian is often caught in a dilemma.  This is the tension between forgiveness and the call to righteous living.  This is an uncomfortable tension, as tensions usually are, the Scripture makes clear and repeated calls for us to repent and turn away from our sin, combined with the fact that no sinner ever completely succeeds in doing so in this life.  The Scriptures also unambiguously teach that we are forgiven our sins without any merit of our own, solely because of the righteousness of Christ, for all those who believe.  The great temptation is to try to reduce this tension in one of two ways.  The first way is the way of legalism, of reducing the true requirements of God’s law to something we can actually do, so that we can think of ourselves as having successfully completed the obligation to fulfill the law, usually by focusing on ceremonies or outward moral behavior.  The second way is the way of antinomianism (anti-law), meaning a downplaying or denying the law’s call to change which resolves the tension by focusing entirely on the fact of our forgiveness and neglecting the call to repentance.

It is vital, however, that we not try to remove the tension between forgiveness and the obligation to repent, that we simply live with it.  Not only is this true because these attempts to resolve this tension inevitably leads to grave error, but also because this tension is the driving force in our sanctification.  Both elements have to be present, the sure conviction of our forgiveness and the need to strive for righteousness.  The knowledge of my complete forgiveness combined with the urging of the law to change, not out of fear or guilt but out of love and thankfulness, provides the impetus for a godly striving against sin that does not compromise either the purity of God’s law or the free grace of the gospel.  The fabric of my salvation is woven on this loom, with the threads stretched between these two principles.

The Catechism instructs us in this week’s reading in what this repentance looks like.  There are two elements, the dying of the old man and the making alive of the new (q. 88).  This reflects the common Biblical pattern when discussing repentance, which is “putting off and putting on”.  “Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor” (Eph. 4:28) is one very simple and representative example.  The evil behavior is rebuked, and the corresponding righteous behavior is enjoined.  This is necessary, for man must live by a principle.  The principle of self-worship and self-indulgence drives the sinful behavior of the flesh.  So I must put that away.  But a man cannot live without a principle, and therefore it is never sufficient merely to tell someone not to sin in some particular way any more.  Instead, there must be a substitute of righteous behavior in the place of the sinful.  The thief is a parasite, taking from the community whatever he wishes and giving nothing back.  The opposite of that is man as a producer, laboring for sufficient wealth to take care of his own family and having enough left over to help the poor.  The Catechism describes this same process as the “dying of the old man”, meaning the progressive rejection of false and sinful patterns of thought which lead to sinful behavior, and the “making alive of the new”, which is the gradual adoption of the way of thinking and behavior we are taught in Scriptures instead.

In both cases this is “heartfelt”, meaning that this is primarily not about changes in behavior, but changes in our values.  People are ultimately going to do what they want to do, what they value, so the solution to the problem of sin is never simply to stop doing something, because you will fail.  If you want to sin more than you want to please God, then you will sin.  Consequences for sin might hold you back to some degree, but people find a way around them, or try to minimize those consequences, but people ultimately are going to do what they want to do.  So if we simply focus on behavior, we will always fail to produce any real change.  Instead we must learn to identify what is going on in our hearts, what it is about our values, that is driving us to behave the way we do.  Ultimately the answer to that is always the same, that we think we are the gods of our own lives and should please ourselves with the things of this world, which always results in sinful behavior.

So becoming a Christian is all about changing values, coming to recognize that every desire is satisfied in Jesus Christ, and that therefore the best thing for us, the thing that will ultimately make us the happiest, is to stop focusing on what will please us and make us happy and to start focusing on pleasing God and doing His will instead.

The change that is needed is on the level of our heart, the most fundamental level of our being, and therefore requires an outside agent to accomplish it, further proof of our utter dependence on God’s power for our salvation.  As we are engaged in this process, we must be in prayer to ask God to do this work, to change our values, to teach us that everything we need and desire is in Christ, and therefore to stop chasing the foolish lies of this world and our own flesh to make us happy.
All are welcome at Christ Reformed Church!  We worship at 10 AM Sunday morning at 600 W. 21st St, in College Heights Baptist’s old sanctuary.

Where Do Good Works Fit In? Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 32

86. Since, then, we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we do good works?
Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing,1 and that He be glorified through us;2 then also, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof;3 and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.4

[1] Rom. 6:13; 12:1–2; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9–10; 1 Cor. 6:20. [2] Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12. [3] Matt.7:17–18; Gal. 5:6, 22–23. [4] Rom. 14:19; 1 Pet. 3:1–2; *2 Pet. 1:10.
87. Can they, then, not be saved who do not turn to God from their unthankful, unrepentant life?
By no means, for, as Scripture says, no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like shall inherit the kingdom of God.1

[1] 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Eph. 5:5–6; 1 Jn. 3:14–15.

Where do Good Works Fit In?

“Be of sin the double-cure; cleanse us from its guilt and power.”  Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages”

In question 2 of the Catechism we discussed what we need to know in order to understand the gospel accurately.  We were told we have to know the nature of our sin and misery, the way God has redeemed us from that state, and how we respond in thankfulness.  Question 2 is the outline of the whole Catechism.  This week’s selection takes up the final element of that triple knowledge.  This is not just an appendix or something tacked on at the end.  The issues taken up by this final third are vital to our salvation, just as the other topics we have discussed.

One indication of the importance of this topic is the danger of getting it wrong.  On the one hand, legalism is the result when you view your salvation as dependent or caused in any way by your good works.  But antinomianism (the error of lawlessness) ensues when you think good works are irrelevant to your salvation.  Both of these errors are ultimately destructive to salvation.

Question 86 tells us first of all that sanctification (the process of being conformed to the image of Christ) is a necessary result of being justified.  The redemption of Christ’s blood never comes alone.  With it comes the Spirit of God who leads us in righteousness.  Not only are these two processes joined by the will and intention of God who decreed that it would be so, but they are joined in the very nature of the thing, for the faith which reaches out in trust to Christ for salvation is also going to believe what Christ says.  True faith can’t trust Christ when He says that He died on the cross for sins without also trusting Christ when He says we should love our neighbor.  So the faith which justifies also becomes the engine of our sanctification.  This shows us the goal of Christ’s death for us- not merely that our sins are forgiven, but that we ourselves are made Christlike so that we will be worthy inhabitants of the eternal kingdom.  Question 87 reminds us that no sinner will occupy the kingdom; thus, if we are not on the way to being free of sin, we are not on the way to that kingdom.  But it is always the grace of God which motivates and empowers this process.

Our good works are then motivated by an impulse toward God, toward our fellow man, and toward ourselves.

With regard to God, the desire of the one redeemed by Christ is to glorify Him.  This is the highest purpose of all, for the glory of God is the reason why all of creation exists.  To glorify God is to reveal Him to others and to ourselves as being glorious, which is His nature.  In the cross of Christ we see God revealed more clearly than anywhere else—we see His righteousness, His holiness, His love and His mercy.  We see His absolute rock-solid commitment to truth.  Our desire as Christians is to display His attributes to the world, and we do so by striving to live our lives in a way that accords with that truth.  Though we hope that glorifying God will lead to the desire of others to commit themselves to Christ as well, that is not the primary motive.  The highest motive of all is to glorify and praise God simply because He deserves it.  This is thankfulness—the acknowledgement that God has done us a great turn and that we should do what little we can to show our tremendous gratitude to Him for that.  What He has called on us to do in thankfulness is to be conformed to the truth of His law, living our lives in love and faithfulness (Romans 12:1, Ephesians 4:1).

Toward others, we do desire that others know Christ.  It is always Christ who draws people to Himself, and Christ promised to abide in His disciples (John 14:23).  As we repent of sin and do good works, people see Christ being formed in us.Seeing Christ in the lives of His people has always been one primary motivator to people believing the gospel (John 13:35, 1 Peter 3:15).  Christians are far from perfect, and there are many hypocrites, but compared to the darkness of the world without Christ, even a small candle is a bright light and makes a tremendous difference.

For ourselves, the process of sanctification confirms and strengthens our faith.  Our faith is never based on anything within ourselves, but as we see Christ at work in us, the truth of what He said is reaffirmed.  Ephesians 1:13-14 speaks of the Spirit of God as the “earnest” or downpayment on our salvation.  As we begin to experience the joy of being freed from the misery of sin by the power of the Spirit in our lives, it confirms what the Bible says about sin is true and that the promise of the gospel is true as well.  It also gives us a little taste of what eternity will be like when we are at last completely freed from the curse of sin, and all of this strengthens our commitment to the gospel.

So while we must remember that our salvation is always grounded on Christ’s perfect lawkeeping and not our own, we must also remember that being conformed to God’s law is the whole point of our salvation.  The process of being so conformed is one that carries great benefits for us.  How rich the grace of God that He not only forgave us our sins, but also is saving us from the power of sin!  This is the “double-cure” the hymn talks about, being cleansed from both the guilt and power of sin, to the glory of God.


All are welcome at Christ Reformed Church!  We worship at 10 AM Sunday morning at 600 W. 21st St, in College Heights Baptist’s old sanctuary.

The Church’s Duty to Use the Keys of the Kingdom: Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 31


  1. What is the Office of the Keys?

The preaching of the Holy Gospel and Christian discipline; by these two the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and shut against unbelievers.1

[1] Matt. 16:18–19; 18:18; *Jn. 20:23; *Lk. 24:46–47; *1 Cor. 1:23–24.

  1. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the preaching of the Holy Gospel?

In this way: that, according to the command of Christ, it is proclaimed and openly witnessed to believers, one and all, that as often as they accept with true faith the promise of the Gospel, all their sins are really forgiven them of God for the sake of Christ’s merits; and on the contrary, to all unbelievers and hypocrites, that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation abide on them so long as they are not converted.1 According to this testimony of the Gospel, God will judge men both in this life and in that which is to come.

[1] Jn. 20:21–23; *Acts 10:43; *Isa. 58:1; *2 Cor. 2:15–16; *Jn. 8:24.

  1. How is the kingdom of heaven shut and opened by Christian discipline?

In this way: that, according to the command of Christ, if any under the Christian name show themselves unsound either in doctrine or in life, and after several brotherly admonitions do not turn from their errors or evil ways, they are complained of to the Church or to its proper officers; and, if they neglect to hear them also, are by them denied the holy sacraments and thereby excluded from the Christian communion, and by God Himself from the kingdom of Christ; and if they promise and show real amendment, they are again received as members of Christ and His Church.1

[1] Matt. 18:15–18; 1 Cor. 5:3–5, 11; 2 Thess. 3:14–15; 2 Jn. 1:10–11.

Lord’s Day 31

The Church’s Duty to Use the Keys of the Kingdom

This Lord’s Day reading answers a question that would have naturally arisen at the end of the last Lord’s Day, where the Catechism tells us that those who are unbelieving and ungodly must be excluded from the Lord’s Supper by the Office of the Keys.  So what is the Office of the Keys?

The expression refers to Jesus’ statement that He would give the keys of the kingdom to the Apostles in Matthew 16:18-19.  The Roman Catholic Church believes the keys were given to Peter specifically as the first pope, but similar passages like Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 are addressed to the apostles as a whole, not just to Peter.  The apostles were instructed to found the church.  The keys belong to the church as a whole.  In many passages the Scriptures command the church as a whole to exercise these functions (1 Cor. 5; 1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:15).

Christ gave to the church the function of declaring on what basis people can be part of the kingdom of God.  The church does not make someone elect or not elect and cannot discern someone’s heart.  But the church, nonetheless, has an important function to perform.  First, in its preaching, the church declares the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Faith in the Gospel is the basis by which people can be part of the kingdom of God.  God gives this duty to the church, to proclaim this Gospel message, and by doing so declares the criteria by which people can consider themselves in the kingdom of God or not.

The church is not given this declaration as just words.  It is to back up the words with action, accepting or excluding people as members on the basis of whether they profess faith in these things and show a life that reflects that faith.  This is Christian discipline.  Discipline starts with the training of the church in how we as Christians are to repent of our sins and strive to conform our lives to God’s law in thankfulness for our salvation.  It continues in personal exhortations, by members or by church leaders, calling one another to put away sin and live godly lives.  If necessary, it can go as far as official action by the church to exclude individuals from the Lord’s Supper and ultimately from membership when, over a period of time and much patient work by the church, they refuse to hear the church’s corrections and persist in unrepentant sin.  The church never excommunicates people for being sinners, since then there would be nobody in the church.  The church excommunicates people for being rebellious and stubborn in their sin, for refusing to even acknowledge that they need to change.  This should never be done hastily, yet there are always cases when it must be done if we are to be faithful to our Lord’s commands.

When it is done right, then the church in its membership and discipline practices will be a visible declaration to the world of how it is that people enter the kingdom of God, by repentance and faith.  That’s why it is so important that the church do this- not because we will ever be able to discern the true state of men’s souls or because we can make someone saved or not saved solely by an act of the church, but because when the church is being faithful to this calling, it visibly declares to the world the way of salvation.  If we do not do so, and preach peace with God to the world on some other basis than repentance and faith in Christ, then the blood of condemned sinners will be on our hands.  If we knowingly admit people to membership in the church who do not believe the gospel or who have no commitment to repentance, then we have obscured the way of salvation and will earn the wrath of God as a result.

Being faithful to these Scriptural requirements is guaranteed to make us enemies.  We are naturally rebellious and do not like to hear bad things about ourselves.  People will resent being told that they have to conform themselves to a particular standard of belief and behavior in order to be members of the church.  In our pride, we want to believe that we can dictate the terms of our relationship with God.  There is a reason why the false prophets of the Old Testament got rich saying “peace, peace” to the people, while men like Jeremiah who called them to repentance got thrown in a pit.  But the Scriptures so clearly require this on page after page that it is impossible to miss it.  Churches that desire the approval of the world will flatter people’s claim to have the right to believe what they want and will make people comfortable in their sin.  But churches that desire the approval of their Master and Founder will do what He told us, to preach repentance from sin and faith in Christ to the world, and to clearly hold that out as the only way to salvation.  The use of the Keys of the Kingdom, of the preaching of the Gospel of Christ and the exercise of Christian discipline, is a high and dangerous calling that the Lord has given His church, and He will reward those who are faithful to that calling regardless of the seductions and threatenings of the world.