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The Westminster Confession of Faith is typically associated with clarity and precision regarding systematic and confessional Reformed theology, yet it also provides rich insight as to the nature of the church body and her fellowship. In the chapter “Of the Church,” the divines, pulling directly from Scripture, describe the church as “the house and family of God” (25.2). In the following chapter, “Of the Communion of Saints,” the confession describes the union and communion of believers, which flow from our union with Jesus Christ by the Spirit, as bound in love and marked by attending obligations both of a “public and private” matter and concerned both with “the inward and outward man” (26.1). The confession pastorally takes the theology of Scripture and shows the straightforward application to everyday life in the church.

Considering the two descriptions of the church as a “house” and “family” instructs us on how we ought to think of our fellowship as Christians. A house is where one lives, a place of protection and rest. Family is the complex of social, hereditary, and legal bonds that provide the lifeblood that makes a house a home. A house, then, is the typical context wherein faithful nurture and loving discipline take place within the family. A similar logic exists for the church, which likewise is a place of protection and rest, as well as of nurture and discipline, all to be woven together in love (1 Cor. 13; 16:14; 1 Peter 1:22). Where blood relation forms the initial bond for the earthly family, the blood of Christ by the work of the Spirit forms the bond for Christians of different families, ages, ethnicities, and languages to find a deep and abiding union in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Scripture that undergirds our confession regarding church family and fellowship intentionally uses imagery of the earthly home and the family to teach us something of what communion between Christians ought to look like. Consider, for example, the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4–9, which encapsulates the call to love God and to diligently pass on to our children all which God has commanded, and the wisdom of Proverbs 1:8–9, which holds out a grace-filled promise to those who receive the instruction of a godly father and mother. The very idea of blood relation, which provides the initial and most basic ground of unity and oneness in the natural family, forms our unity in the church, for we are bought with blood—the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 1:19). In Him we have an equal standing (Gal. 3:26–29) and share in the graces uniquely and divinely bestowed on each member (Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:1–16).

This family shares generously, bears each other’s burdens, does good, and endures with love.

It is not for nothing, then, that the church—bought by, cleansed by, and united in the blood of Christ—is often portrayed as the family and household of God. The impulse of Christian communion in the family of God is that we share in the koin nia, the participation or fellowship of the Spirit of God, which ushers us into a vital communion with our triune God. Too often, such a discussion can remain abstract, with little obvious relevance. Yet, far from complicating or distracting from our fellowship with one another, this theology enriches and enlivens it. The New Testament variously describes our fellowship as with the Son (1 Cor. 1:9), the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14), and the Father and the Son together, which directly grounds our fellowship with each other in our fellowship with our triune God (1 John 1:3). Indeed, if we considered this truth in the same manner that the Shema calls us to love and bind ourselves to the Word of God, at any and every moment of the day to be pondering it, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to which the New Testament calls Christians would take on a different practical import in our lives.

Whether it is after Lord’s Day worship when congregants remain in the sanctuary talking at length or the more intimate living room setting of a home Bible study, whether it is the casual poolside chat at a youth fellowship or weeping on the shoulder of one walking a path of grief, there are many ways that the bonds of fellowship are established, fed, and strengthened. All these take place through the regular, ordinary, day-by-day lives of Christians walking with one another in faith, hope, and love.

Yet, there is likewise a particular emphasis on the gathering on the Lord’s Day and the weekly rhythm of rest and communion that we experience on that day. The nuclear family ought to be a place of safety and rest, where burdens are lifted and a freedom to be open that is rooted in a love for one another brings forth the strength and endurance to go about our daily responsibilities. So, too, the gathering of our spiritual family on Sunday, the new covenant Sabbath, the day we mark the defeat of death in the resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord and the unity we have in the Spirit of God, is the day we are renewed together, by teaching and admonishment in the gospel of grace as well as by the new familial bonds, greater than all earthly blood. This family shares generously (Acts 2:42–47), bears each other’s burdens, does good, endures with love (Gal. 6:2, 10; Eph. 4:2), and holds fast to our confession of hope. And in view of this blessed hope, we consider how we can stir one another up to love and good works, gathering together and encouraging each other as we eagerly await the coming again of our Lord (Heb. 10:25), ever mindful that God is faithful, by whom we are called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9).

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Cherishing and Defending the Old Testament

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From the October 2020 Issue
Oct 2020 Issue