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Experiencing the Catholicity of the Church

In the last few years, I have been very blest in that I have visited quite a few branches of the true church. This included the Ryde Reformed Presbyterian Church of Sydney, Australia (to which I belong); the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Queensland, Australia; the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Christchurch, New Zealand; and also in 1977 and 1978 I visited 19 Protestant Reformed Churches in the U.S.A. and Canada.

These are all churches that bear the most important distinguishing mark of the true church – the spiritual body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23) – that of the pure preaching of the Word of God.1 These are truly Reformed churches where the preaching is faithful to Scripture and to Reformed Confessions.

            This was indeed a unique and remarkable experience. There was much edification and enrichment, as I heard the preaching and testimonies, and had such joyous times experiencing communion and fellowship with the saints; as these are assemblies of God’s people, true believers, the elect and their seed, gathered by the Son of God; and as He dwells with them and in them (Romans 8:9, 10); one joyed in knowing He was with us and of being brethren, partakers of His covenant blessings.

These churches are in four countries and are part of the holy Catholic Church. For the church of Christ is catholic, Lo, universal and international in character and scope. While its universality is limited by sovereign election, “the church extends over all the world, embraces the whole human race and is gathered from the beginning of the world even unto the end and from every nation, tribe and tongue.”

One warns of the false use of the words “Catholic Church” by the Romish “Church”, which regards itself and teaches that it is the only true church and is deluding so many weak so-called Protestants into her ecumenical programs. One warns of the rapid spread of her power and influence in the religious and political spheres and notes the high acclaim and even obelsance given by national leaders to the Pope. The Roman Catholic Church uses the name Christian, but many of her doctrines, especially some vital ones, and practices are anti-Scriptural. Christ’s Name is greatly dishonored. The sufficiency of His death, as a sacrifice for all the sings of His people, is denied. There is a bowing down and worship of the bread god of the Mass, which bread they say is changed into the actual body of Christ – the whole of Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity. This bread wafer, termed the “host” or “victim”, “Christ Himself ‘, they claim is presented as a sacrifice for sins of the living and the dead. The Mass, therefore, is a most blasphemous ritual! And there are other idolatrous practices and lying doctrines, such as the cult of the Virgin Mary.

Also the true catholicity of the church is antithetical to the ecumenism of the World Council of Churches who are trying to establish a universal “church”, which is rather an amalgamation of apostate churches. As they are increasingly associated with Roman Catholicism, one surely sees the development of the counterfeit “church” of the anti-Christian kingdom, depicted in Revelations 17.

Saints of the true Catholic Church in history were martyred, burnt at the stake, because they denied the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of the mass. Let us of the present holy catholic church, always be on our guard, in days of encroaching Romanism, gross apostasy, and false ecumenism, and pray for grace always to stand fast to the truth of Scripture and to Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

There is a unity and oneness in the church of God. The church of all ages and from all nations is essentially one. “The members of this church are perfectly united in a bond of spiritual affinity and fellowship, so that they form one spiritual body.” 3 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members one of another,” Romans 12:5. The unity of the church is a unity of the body of Christ and therefore of her Head, a unity of the Spirit and of faith. All are one in Christ Jesus. So catholic and comprehensively universal is our Lord Jesus Christ, (Ephesians 1:10) that as He is the Head of the church, in Him the church is truly universal. 4 For in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male or female, for ye are all one in Christ.” Galatians 3:28.

The true church in the world today, it would seem, is small and one must remember the Lord’s people in several countries suffering persecution. In some African countries, e.g. Uganda, saints have been tortured and many died for the Lord in recent times. Even now, we hear this is so in Ethiopia. Widespread are anti-religious campaigns against Christians in Communist countries. In some, e.g. Mozambique, they are not allowed to meet for worship.

The churches I visited, therefore, are among those greatly privileged in these days. They are in countries where there is freedom to preach God’s Word faithfully, to assemble to hear this preaching and to possess the Scriptures. Such are priceless privileges for which the saints, deprived of these, fervently long. How we of such greatly blessed churches should thank God for His goodness to us and seek with all our heart to glorify Him!

I visited but a very small portion on the true church on earth today, but sufficient to give me a deeper awareness of the university of the church. This brought home to me more forcefully, some wondrous spiritual truths. The very existence of the holy Catholic Church is a tremendous significance. There is the body of Christ gathered in this generator and made manifest on earth. “This gathering of the church in every generation of the church is the great wonder-work of God in history. It is not too much to say, that it is more marvelous than the work of Creation. It lies beyond the scope of our power and comprehension.” 5 So we must bow before the Most High God acknowledging with reverent awe, that God, He is God, the absolute Lord, as we consider the wonder of sovereign grace, salvation and election. God, in His omnipotence, great love and favour to His people, brought about their resurrection from death in sin and re-created them in His own image. He brings His people out of the human race, which is in the midst of death, is polluted and defiled, guilty and damnable, lying under the wrath of God and at enmity against Him, into His church, which is living, justified, eternally righteous, a royal priesthood, holy, consecrated to God. The mighty Lord, God the Son, made this possible by the shedding of His blood on the Cross. O, the love of Christ, that He assumed, in God’s judgment, the place of the elect on the accursed tree, removing their guilt, redeeming them, imputing His righteousness and holiness to them and the right to be God’s people and live in His house forever.

These churches were established by God alone. Men cannot organize a church or establish a spiritual fellowship even though it be by the preaching of the Word, that the church is gathered; it is by the wonder-work of grace that God alone brings about, through Jesus Christ our Lord, by His Spirit and Word.

So, on being with the saints in these churches one is humbled and joys as one’s thoughts dwell on the wonders of election and salvation. Here we are, “a chosen generation,” some of the people of God, of the seed of Abraham! We praise God for the Spirit’s working of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ in us; regenerating us and applying this redemption, purchased by Christ, to us. For it is an unspeakable great blessing to be of the people of God, and such blessedness, we of these churches have in common. Why us out of the teeming millions of mankind? It is of God’s sovereign good pleasure and great mercy! O, the treasures of grace which are opened to so few! Of all mankind we, His people, are the only blest people. Surely we should be a thankful, holy people! Rightly them, do we hear in these churches the Lord’s Name magnified and voices uplifted singing His praises with thanksgiving and joy. May they continually abound in such praise and worship.

Also there is a deeper consciousness of the glorious covenant of God with His people whom He has chosen in Jesus Christ; not only in His electing and redeeming them, but also in the living eternal relationship of friendship He has with them. How immeasurable is the love of our Covenant Father for us! How great is His faithfulness! We are “the flock of His people,” “the apple of His eye.” He has said: “…I have graven thee upon the psalms of my hands” Isaiah 49:16. Christ preserves His church as a spark of an ocean, as a flock of sheep among wolves. We are kept by the power of God, 1 Peter 1:5. He will always care for us and protect us. We praise Him, that by His Spirit He sustains, upholds and sanctifies us, thus enabling us to grow in grace and is bringing us to glory. What dignities and privileges we have as God’s sons; surely we must publish and declare His works that the Lord’s Name be glorified!

We praise God, that Christ is King of kings and Lord of all and is the Head and King of the church. And that He indwells the church and its members by His Spirit. One is aware, one visiting the churches, that here Christ must have the preeminence and also of our oneness in Him. We have a catholic Lord, who is rich over all who call upon Him, and a catholic Spirit, that dwells in the church in all nations. Because of this, national, cultural, racial and other differences between saints in the universal church fade into insignificance and our union in Christ transcends all natural relationships. What delightful communion of saints was experienced! On meeting the saints of each denomination one immediately feels at one with them even though we meet for the first time. There is a marked feeling of spiritual affinity and family relatedness. Yes, one feels we are all of the same family – God’s family. “Now, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and the household of God.” Ephesians 21:24.

Such loving kindness was shown to me and wonderful hospitality. I was welcomed graciously and made to feel at home at once. I stayed in 17 different Protestant Reformed homes for about 2 days as a rule, but a longer time in some and such good care was shown me and such excellent fare was fed me! Also there were outings, drives in the mountains, sight-seeing trips, picnics, etc., arranged for me. Much interest and gracious response was shown in my slide showing Australia. I have received much kindness and been shown much generosity on my stay in Hudsonville in 1978, 1979 in the way of loan of furniture, china and other needful things; as well as heart-warming kindness, hospitality and care for me and my welfare from many Protestant Reformed folk. The love of Christ has surely been shown to me through many of His dear saints and the wonderful fellowship enjoyed with the saints of all the denominations visited.

Heard in all these churches was, the pure preaching of the Word of God. This is the most priceless possession – the truth, the Word of God, the Scriptures. Therefore, here, one hears God speak, whereas in vast numbers of so-called Christian churches, lying doctrines are preached and there is a famine for the Word of God. How great is the responsibility of these churches to maintain pure doctrine, the truth, in these days of great apostasy! How urgent is the need to watch and pray for grace to preserve the purest preaching and instruction!

The churches also preach a catholic gospel 6 i.e. a gospel which is to be preached to all nations, as there is support for or undertaking of missionary work, preaching the gospel in other places and nations in the world, in obedience to Christ’s command.

It is the Authorized version of the Bible – that precious Protestant jewel – which is used exclusively in these churches. It is beyond dispute, that the blessings of Christ’s Spirit has attended the preaching of the Word from this version.

One observes the fruits of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in many of the saints with their godly walk, their humility, the awareness of their sinfulness and longing after holiness. Such holiness is a gift of grace and such are holy only in Jesus Christ, the Lord. It is His holiness imputed and is dependent on sanctifying by His Spirit. Saints are not only to bear God’s name, but His image and it is a necessity for a believer to grow in holiness. Indeed holiness is needed for the comfort of a believer. And holiness brings its own high enjoyment. True catholicity lies in holiness. It is truly catholic virtue. 7 He has chosen us “that we should be holy and without blame.” Ephesians 1:4. So the church is consecrated to God, and holy as to calling. “For it is written, be ye holy, as I am holy” 1 Peter 1:16. May the Lord give us grace to be holy in this corrupt and evil age and strengthen us to stand against the wiles of the devil, the “old man” in us, and the world.

Writing of experiencing the blest communion of saints, brings one to think again of the members of the Universal church with us, who are persecuted for Christ’s sake and it seems these are many, with many martyrs today. One reads in the April 15th Standard Bearer, of persecution of Christians in Rhodesia, where rebel forces of the so-called Patriotic Front are fighting not only to take over the country, but to wipe out the Christian faith. There are congregations which can no longer safely meet in buildings for worship. One reads of a congregation of 60-70 men, women and children, made to lie flat on the ground and beaten with sticks by terrorists and their Bibles burnt. In Mozambique, a denomination of 50,000 members are not allowed to hold services in premises or the open air. “Christian” schools have been nationalized. There are widespread restrictions on churches and clergy as part of anti-religious campaigns of Communist governments. There has been slaughter of Christians in Uganda under Idi Amin and, in the last three years hundreds, perhaps thousands are said to have been killed in Ethiopia for their religious beliefs, and this persecution is occurring there right now! One reads recently of Christians being killed, because they refused to give the clenched fist Communist salute. Such events are common. 8 Christians are now imprisoned, tortured and dying for their faith. Let us pray for our brethren in persecution.

What of us, their privileged brethren with all the freedom and benefits we have? Let us remember, “UNTO WHOMSOEVER MUCH IS GIVEN, OF HIM SHALL MUCH BE REQUIRED (Luke 13:48). With prosperity, easily comes spiritual laxity, hardening and backsliding. Young folk of the church especially seem to be under attack by the devil, to compromise with the world, in these corrupt times. One hears for example, of Sabbath breaking by some young folk of the church; playing games, swimming and having picnics on Sunday. The Lord says; Isaiah 58:13, 14, “If  thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord honorable; and shalt honor Him, not doing thine own ways, not finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words; then thou shalt delight thyself in the Lord ….” Note well the depth of commitment to spiritual matters the Lord requires on the Sabbath. Oh, Lord, give us grace to obey thy law and keep thy commandments, as this is thy will for us, for Thou hast said, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” John 14:14.

Now is the time for us saints to examine ourselves. Our calling is to be an obedient friend servant of God, who has the law of God in his heart, that delights to do His will and sing His praises and is wholly consecrated to God. Is this us? Nothing less is good enough. Faith without works is dead. James 2:26. We most earnestly seek after holiness. We must put sinful ways and thoughts out of our lives and by prayer, seek God’s strength and enabling, to live holy lives for Him. Also we must diligently study the Word and hear it preached. Are we learning God’s Word and hiding it in our hearts so that we might not sin against Him and for strength and comfort? The Scriptures maybe be taken from us some day!

Are we ready to suffer for Christ? Is our faith strong enough, so that we would stand fast for the Lord and the truth, even unto dearth as some of our brethren are doing now? While we have the promises that His grace is sufficient for us and that He will never leave us, we are exhorted right now to strengthen our faith by using the means of grace, and to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in our love to Him.

Great is our reward as a holy walk means communion with God and this is a saint’s greatest joy. Also He tells us; “blessed” are we, when we suffer for Christ’s sake. Matthew 5:11. How unspeakably blest are all then – the saints of the holy Catholic Church throughout the world – for we are more than conquerors through the blood of Christ and the Omnipotent God fights for us!

Abundant joy it will be when we will be in the perfected catholic church, as John beheld: “lo, a great multitude, which no man could number of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb,…” in the kingdom of heaven in the new creation. Revelation 7:9. May His Name be exalted and receive all praise and glory now and forever!