Chapter 1: The Church
Our Spiritual Mother: The church is the gathering of God’s children, where they can be helped and fed like babies and then guided by her motherly care, grow up to manhood in maturity of faith. For those to whom God is a Father, the Church must also be a mother. The title Mother underlines how essential it is to know about the visible church. There is no other way of entering life unless we are conceived in her womb brought to birth and then given her milk. Abandoning the church is always fatal.
The Visible and the Invisible: Scripture speaks of the church two ways. Sometimes it speaks of the invisible church as it really is before God—true believers who have been sanctified by the Spirit. This includes the saints on earth and all the elect who have ever existed. On the other hand the word Church can refer to all those on earth who outwardly profess faith in Christ. In this visible church there are a large number hypocrites who possess nothing of Christ. We believe in the invisible church which is evident to God’s eye alone, but we are also told to accept the visible church and to remain in communion with it.
No Church or Christian Is Perfect. Even genuinely good people are sometimes affected by their undue zeal for righteousness, though it is more usually the result of pride and a mistaken idea of holiness. Those in the forefront of inciting defection from the Church only want to demonstrate their own superiority by despising others. It is possible to consider oneself an ardent champion of righteousness and yet rebel against the kingdom of heaven. God has chosen that the fellowship of the Church should be maintained in human society, and anyone who breaks its bonds, through hatred of the ungodly, embarks on a slippery slope where there is a great danger of cutting oneself off from the communion of the saints. If we refuse to acknowledge any Church that is not absolutely perfect, we will have no Church at all. Forgiveness of sins is not only the basis on which we first enter the Church; it is also the basis upon which the Lord keeps us there. Every believer is conscious, throughout life, of many failings which need the mercy of the Lord. We could not stay in the Church for a single moment if we were not upheld by the constant grace of God in forgiveness.
Chapter 2: The Church Can Cease to Be the Church through False Doctrine: But when error forces its way into the Church so that essential doctrines are overturned, the Church inevitably dies, just as man dies when his throat is cut. If believers are told to look for salvation in Christ alone and that doctrine is shattered, the Church cannot continue to stand. The Church inevitably falls whenever essential doctrine gives way.
Chapter 3: The Importance of Church Government. The Lord rules his Church through his Word through the ministry of men. He does not transfer his rights and honor to them, but does his work through them. He displays his condescension to us, by using us as his ambassadors to interpret his will to the world and to represent him. This is why we are called his temples, since though our lips he speaks to men as from a sanctuary. It gives us a valuable training in humility as he expects us to obey his Word preached by people like us (in some cases not as good as us!) God hides the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in these frail earthen vessels. The ministry which God uses in ordering the Church is a vital bond to unite believers in one body. Whoever tires to get rid of this pattern of Church order or scorns it as of little importance is plotting to ruin the Church. The pastoral role is essential to the preservation of the Church on earth.
Chapter 12: Church Discipline. Some people hate discipline so much that they object to the very name, but we must remind them that no society or household can be controlled without it. All who want to get rid of discipline will bring the downfall of the Church .What would happen if everyone was allowed to do whatever he liked? The first basis of discipline is private rebuke. We all must be willing to rebuke a brother when necessary. Pastors must not only preach to the people , but when necessary admonish them in their homes. If anyone deliberately refuses admonition or persists in sin, Christ’s commands that after he has been rebuked a second time in front of witness, he must be summoned to the judgment of the Church. The body of elders must correct him with public authority so that if he respects the Church at all, he will submit and obey. If even then he is not humbled, but persists in evil ways, he must be banished from the company of believers. Correct secret sins privately, but open sins which create public scandal should dealt be with publically. There are 3 reasons for church discipline. First that God may not be insulted by the term “Christian” being used of those who lead corrupt lives. Second, so that good people may not be led astray by bad examples. The third purpose is that the sinner may feel ashamed and repent of his error.
Chapter 14: The Sacraments. A sacrament is an outward sign by which the Lord assures us inwardly of his loving promises. They are God’s witnesses to us of His favor towards us, by means of an outward sign. The sacraments simply confirm God’s promises. They make God’s promises come alive to us, by presenting them in a pictorial, visible form. They are a visible word, because they represent the promises of God as in a picture. God’s Word is the foundation of our faith, but the sacraments act like pillars that help hold the building up. God’s grace is grasped in the sacraments only by those who receive them with faith. Their ministry without the work of the Spirit is empty and futile, but when he is at work in the heart, exerting his power, they are fully effective. God feeds us spiritually by means of the sacraments. They have the same function as God’s Word: they offer Christ to us & in him the treasures of grace. They can’t confer the Holy Spirit or his gifts on us; they can only testify to them. They are useless if not received by faith.
Chapter 15: Water Baptism Is Not the Spiritual Reality But Leads Us to It. Baptism is the sign of initiation by which we are admitted into the fellowship of the Church. God has given baptism to encourage our faith in him and also as a way of confessing it before others. Baptism is a sign of cleansing, that our sins have been completely wiped out and God will never refer to them again. It is his will that all who have believed should be baptized for the remission of sins. Our salvation is not perfected by water nor does water possess in itself the quality of rebirth nor is baptism the cause of salvation. But God grants us certainty of our salvation in baptism. The only purification which baptism promises is by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, which is pictured as water because of the comparison with cleansing. How can anyone say that we are cleansed by the water itself, when it is only meant to bear testimony to the blood of Christ?
Baptism Assures Us of Our Salvation. Whenever we are baptized we washed and purified for all of our lives, past, present and future. Whenever we sin we must remember we were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. The purity of Christ is always effective and cannot be wiped out by our failure. Of course, this is not a license for future sins, but it is a tremendous consolation for those under deep conviction of sin to keep them from despair. The sinner receives forgiveness of sins by the preaching of the Gospel. Through it we learn we are washed from sin by the blood of Christ. Baptism is a symbol of this. True believers when troubled by sin can always remember their baptism and so be assured of their eternal washing in the blood of Christ.
Baptism Strengthens Us to Live a New Life. Another benefit of baptism is that it shows us our dying in Christ and new life in him. Baptism reminds to imitate Christ. As Christ died, we must die to our lusts and as he rose we must rise to righteousness. Christ, by baptism has grafted us into his death and resurrection. As the twig gains nourishment from the root to which it is attached, so those who receive baptism with true faith receive the power of Christ’s death to put to death the sinful nature and the power of his resurrection to live a new life. Baptism assures us that we are so united to Christ that we are partakers in all his blessings. All the divine gifts offered in baptism are found in Christ alone.
A Physical Sign of Spiritual Realities. Baptism is given to uplift, feed and strengthen our faith being convinced that God is speaking to us through this sign. We must be convinced that these blessings are ours as surely as we see our bodies washed in water. This is the surest guide to understanding the sacraments: that in physical signs we are to discern the spiritual as if they were actually visible. And God does not want us to view them as merely an outward show; through them he wants to lead us to the spiritual realities represented. The right understanding of baptism does not lie in the outward ceremony but in the promise it represents. We must not stop short at the outward act, but look to the divine promise offered in baptism, to the mystery it represents. For example, outward sprinkling points to the cleansing of sin which we obtain by the blood of Christ.
Chapter 16: Infant Baptism. Before the institution of baptism, the people of God had circumcision in its place. Both illustrate God’s favor, the forgiveness of sins, the putting to death of the flesh, the new birth. Christ is the source of all these blessings and he is the foundation for both ceremonies. Their inner meaning is exactly the same. Only the external ceremony is different. Both are badges assuring God’s people that they are adopted into the family of God, that they have gained entrance into his church and also that they swear loyalty to his name, professing allegiance to God. Baptism has been substituted for circumcision and serves the same purpose. In circumcision, the Lord formally admitted infants to the covenant. If the covenant remains firm and unmoved, this is just as relevant to the children of Christians as it was to the children of the Jews under the Old Testament. The covenant God made with Abraham applies just as much to Christians now. The children of believers are to receive the symbol of the promise God’s mercy. The children themselves derive benefits from their baptism because once they are admitted into the church, they receive a greater interest from the other members.
Chapter 17: The Lord’s Supper. In the Lord’s Supper God gives us a pledge of his unceasing generosity, a spiritual feast where Christ declares himself to be the living bread on which our souls feed to receive eternal life. The outward signs are bread and wine which represent the invisible food we receive from the body and blood of Christ. God as a caring parent provides food to keep us spiritually alive. Christ is the only food for our souls. In the Supper, we realize our souls are fed by Christ, just as our bodies are sustained by bread and wine. The chief object of the sacrament is to seal and confirm to us the promises of the cross. These promises become ours in actuality when we receive Christ by faith. The soul must receive Christ in reality so that by his life we may grow spiritually. Christ transfuses his life into us through communion by the power of the Spirit. That which the bread and wine signify are offered to all who partake. The visible sign given is the seal of the invisible gift. This gift is Christ, his death and resurrection and all the benefits that flow from his work: redemption, justification, sanctification and eternal life.