Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Denominations: Is it wrong to be in a denomination?

Being “non-denominational” always sounds better than being in a denomination. No one wants to be “labeled” or narrowly pigeonholed. Some even seem to believe that their non-denominational status is inherently superior to those stuck in an old man made denomination.

But is being in a denomination inherently bad? They seem to imply that a denomination needs a justification for its existence while being non-denominational requires no justification. I don’t know when or how this happened but that seems to be the state of affairs now.

In this study, I want to argue for the benefits of being in a denomination and argue that an independent non-denominational church creates more problems than they know.

What is so great about…?

I want to present a typical scenario to help us look into the supposed benefits of being non-denominational. Let’s say the non-denominational church in question called itself Community Church of Warminster (CCW). This church emphatically distances herself from being connected to a certain denomination. She sells this as her strong point. They remain adamant about this — they desperately seek to be THE community church for everyone in their neighborhood and city.  Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, non-denominational, etc. can all come. They exclude no one.

Furthermore, denominational churches, they argue, were started by men. Wesley (for Methodists and Wesleyans), Calvin (Presbyterians and Reformed churches), Luther (for Lutherans), etc. A non-denominational church depends only on the Bible and not on the fickle and peculiar personalities of men and fallible institutions. Her eyes behold only the Bible and nothing else!

Sounds great! She remains open to all and excludes no one. They also depend on the Bible and not on men and great personalities. These things appeal to every believer. Who can disagree with that? That surely makes a non-denominational church great! Right?

Hidden Assumptions

Under closer scrutiny, these things may not be as beneficial as they first appear to be. But what does CCW believe? Does CCW tell us anything about what she believes? Will she always believe it? Is that belief dependent on the pastor or her leaders? The simple affirmation, “We just believe in the Bible.” is both naïve and misleading.

No church exists without some doctrinal positions. She has to believe in something. To say they believe in the Bible doesn’t tell us much. The devil espouses the Bible. Jehovah’s Witness and even the Mormons appeal to the Bible. Roman Catholics do the same. The question remains, “What doctrines or teachings do you believe come from the Bible?” Once we frame the question that way, many churches part company from each other. Many churches that purport to believe in the Bible rarely read it from the pulpit.

Most non-denominational churches have a statement of faith or beliefs. Often they tend to express their beliefs in minimal terms. But even here they can mislead. Every church has a position on women preachers, baptism (paedo, credo, salvific, etc.), Lord’s Supper, Christ’s return, its view of the millennium, view of the OT (dispensational, covenantal, etc.), Ten Commandments (all say they believe them but most deny the second and fourth), God’s sovereignty, church discipline, church government, etc. but they rarely ever set forth where they stand on these important issues.

For example, Calvary Chapel[1] lists what they believe. It doesn’t tell us about their view of women’s ministry, Ten Commandments, church discipline, and God’s sovereignty. They believe in baptism by immersion but we know nothing else as to its meaning. They are clearly dispensational though they do not say so. Their Trinitarian formulation borders on being modalistic[2] and their view of Christian fellowship is faulty — the basis of Christian fellowship should not be “Christ’s agape love”[3] (does that clause mean Christ’s love for us or our love for others on account of Christ’s love)?

A lot more could be said. But who holds the pastor accountable? Can the entire church simply change all those views? Does each staff member have to hold to these doctrinal views? Is the pastor the final authority? Are there elders?[4] We don’t really know any of these things.

To Form a Perfect Union?

Individual non-denominational churches remain unconnected to any other church in any formal way. They can meet with other churches but nothing requires or encourages that. In their efforts to be open to everyone, they can only be that way if someone comes to that church. CCW remains unattached to any other church and technically, she could live and die without ever fellowshipping with other local churches!

Presbyterian churches have voluntarily joined themselves together by their mutual confession of faith. We have a “built-in” fellowship. We remain connected to other churches in our denomination and the leadership regularly meets with the leaders of other churches. Some of them meet together as churches on a regular basis while the rest of them have to meet together as elders (in Presbyteries).

Having said all of this, being in a denomination will not necessarily determine the church’s general attitude. She can be either charitable and catholic (in the generic and the true sense of the word) or be sectarian and parochial. Whereas being Presbyterian may help to foster a more generous charitable spirit, it does not necessarily always happen. Truly, if we are one in Christ, then we must love those whom Christ loves.

KEY THOUGHTS: Beyond the Local Church

Creeds and Confessions or What we Believe (Statement of Faith)

A non-denominational church list what they believe. Most are short and very simple. We would expect something like that in CCW.

Conservative Evangelical Bible believing Presbyterian churches hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms. Many godly and learned men met together to write this Confession (all of them well aware of the historic creeds and confessions) and it has stood the test of time since 1646. The WCF was something of a consensus statement by many of the great men of the seventeenth century. These men held to more distinct views on many other matters but these statements in the WCF were held by all of them.

However, “What we Believe” statements seek to be minimal. Therefore their broad statements create many more questions (because they are not as comprehensive). Also, because they were written by a few people and not necessarily by the most biblically and theologically equipped men, they tend to lack depth and insight (being unaware of the broad differences of opinions on certain matters). For example, many people do not know that the modern view of the “rapture” is less than 150 years old! Such a view was never ever considered before this. Yet, some believe if you don’t believe in the “rapture” then you are not a Christian![5]

To argue that nobody wants to follow “men” and instead follow the Bible overlooks a simple point. These “What we Believe” statements were composed by contemporary men and I can hardly believe they are godlier and more theological than the men who penned the WCF. They were all composed by men — which one is more biblical and more thoroughly theological and reflective of the Bible’s overall teaching?

We hold to these Confessions not by coercion but by conviction. After reading, studying and reflecting on the Bible’s teaching, we have come to believe that these statements in the Confession reflect what the Bible teaches as a whole. Yes, they were written by men ages ago but we believe the truth of Scripture has not changed. We embrace these doctrines because we believe they are in accordance with Scripture. The same can be said of the “What we Believe” statements. Both maintain their biblical basis. We affirm more and with greater precision; they affirm very little and some of their statements lack clarity.

KEY THOUGHTS: Minimal vs. Comprehensive; Credal by Conviction and not by Coercion

Church Government

Every church has some form of “leadership.” The question is not over its simplicity vs. complexity but its fidelity to the Bible. Is the church government in accordance with Scripture? Many non-denominational churches do not have “elders” or “deacons.” They have boards, committees, etc. All of them have a “pastor” and other leaders but the Bible clearly teaches that the church leaders are to be her elders who teach and oversee the flock of God.

The “pastor” is not superior to the other elders but they work as a body of elders. They hold each other accountable and are held accountable by the church and Presbytery. Here is where this is very important. We can be sure that everyone will voluntarily teach what the Confession teaches and that it will be (at least it should be!) the same in all the churches. Since all her elders believe the Confession faithfully reflects the Bible’s teaching, they require each individual elder to consistently teach what the Confession teaches.

In a non-denominational church, the pastor often has the highest authority. Sometimes, the ruling body (whatever they might call it, the board, etc.) has the highest authority and they hire and fire as they see fit. The doctrine that is being taught reflects the mind of the individual leader or the governing authority and no external doctrinal standard can hold him or them accountable. For example, in a non-denominational church, the pastor can say, “The Bible does not teach that Jesus is God.” The congregation may not like it but what can they do? Doesn’t it become a power struggle to see if the pastor stays or not? What if several people in the congregation have been convinced by the pastor? What happens now? In a Presbyterian church, we can say up front that we have already declared in our Confession and its Catechisms that the Bible teaches that Jesus is fully God! That doctrine continues to be what we believe the Bible teaches. So, the same pastor could be charged of heresy or formally disciplined and in the end, excommunicated. An appeal could be made to a larger body of elders beyond the congregation if it become messy in the local congregation. The same doctrinal standard will be used both in the local congregation as well as the local presbytery to try the heretic of his Arian Christology!

In a Presbyterian structure, the pastor will be held accountable either by the elders and/or the Presbytery. Her doctrinal distinctives regulate what can being taught! If the pastor no longer believes what he professed to believe when he joined the denomination, then he can leave or be deposed.

Because the Presbyterian church is a Confessional church, you don’t have to wonder what the pastor and the elders believe. Will this pastor teach such and such? You cannot be certain in a non-denominational church. However, in a confessional denominational church, though emphases may differ, each pastor will generally teach those basic doctrinal positions each pastor and elder voluntarily believes.

KEY THOUGHTS: Voluntary Association; Independent vs. Connectionalism (cf. Acts 15); Elders and not Boards, etc.

A Rose by any other name?

A non-denominational church may say they are free from the opinions of men and open to all people. Yet, their doctrinal distinctives, whether explicitly stated in a statement of belief or not, reveal their theological pedigree (whether they know it or not). Everyone is either an Arminian or a Calvinist; a paedobaptist or a credobaptist; covenantal or dispensational (though there may be moderating positions between these two); etc. That is, they are either Baptist or not — each church maintains a position on these and other theological issues.  A church may not want to be called Baptist and yet everything they believe in and everything they teach have been held by Baptists. That doesn’t per se make it right or wrong but not labeling oneself doesn’t mean the church can escape a label. A denominational label describes the kinds of beliefs held by the church — some are conscious of that while others are not. A rose by any other name is still a rose. A Baptist is a Baptist even if he disavows it. Avoiding a theological or denominational label does not enable a church to escape it.

If one has chicken pox, then one has it even if he or she does want to call it that. They could avoid the label entirely but call it what you will, it is still chicken pox. A church may avoid being denominational and being theologically labeled but what they believe still has a “label” perfectly describing them.

KEY THOUGHTS: Theological labels help us and do not limit us

CONCLUSION: There are several non-denominational independent churches that are healthy and powerful in their community (cf. John MacArthur’s church) but the church’s theological distinctives will disappear once the pastor retires. The same could be said about each denominational church but these churches are guaranteed certain theological positions after their pastor retires.


[2] To say “who manifests Himself in three separate persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is classic modalism. The word “manifests” is not the word to use because that is the word Sabellius and other modalists used to describe the Trinity. Our LC says,  “There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one …God” (LC, #9).

[3] This phrase literally means Christ’s love love — there isn’t anything unique about the word “agape” per se no matter how many times ministers argue that it is a unique kind of love (it just means “love”).  Our fellowship is based on our union with Christ and in having the same Holy Spirit dwelling in all of us.

[4] Calvary Chapel’s statement talks about the church government being simplistic — “church government should be simplistic rather than complex and bureaucratic.” It should read “simple” and not “simplistic.” This is a very unfortunate formulation. It states what they avoid but does not set forth what they affirm.

[5] Our view of the “end times” (eschatology) is very basic and held by almost all Christians.

Church Hopping and Church Membership

Church Hopping and Church Membership

The Scenario

Someone told me that he did not belong to any one particular church but was a “member” of the various evangelical churches in his city. He was a member of the body of Christ and did not see a need to be tied down to one single congregation. All the pastors know him and he respects them all. When asked to whom he was accountable, he listed a few men. The men to whom he felt he was accountable were not all from the same congregation and I think one of them was not an elder.

This fluid view of being a disciple of Christ without being connected to any specific congregation is gaining support. More people want churches to not “look” like a church (which is fine) but some of them want to change what a church is supposed to be (remember the “emergent” church?). Many desire a relational theology as opposed to an institutional or confessional one. The former is more dynamic while the latter suffers from its static and archaic past. Some of these criticisms merit attention and we do not want to maintain a position simply because we always did it this way. We must argue for our positions biblically. Though we cannot address all these questions and concerns in this study, we do want to look into the whole question of church membership.


The Question

We want to examine at the common practice of church hopping and church membership. Can a person be a “member” of many churches and not specifically be a member of a particular congregation? We are not talking about members from one church occasionally attending the functions of another church. Instead, can a true believer not be a member of a particular church? In this study, we argue that each believer must be able to say that he or she is a member of a particular congregation.


A Biblical Case for Church Membership and Elders

Membership Aside

We are not going to argue that there is a specific process every church must follow (inquirer’s class, membership class, etc.). Whatever the process, vows, study, etc. the end result is that the believer considers himself to be attached formally and spiritually to a specific congregation. Terms, labels, names, etc. are not important — what they represent do. Some may not like the term “member” but whatever one might call it, he is part of that local congregation to which he is accountable.


Church Officers and You

The appointment of church officers argues for the existence of a local congregation that is not fluid or open ended. Christ has given to a local congregation two specific offices, elders and deacons (cf. 1 Tim. 3; also see Phil. 1:1, etc.). For this study, we focus only on the elders. The word elder (presbyter) means someone who is older but the NT takes it a bit further. They are given specific responsibilities and certain qualifications must be met before these men can become elders in a church (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Elders are called overseers (Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:17, 28[1]) — the elders oversee the flock of God. Paul appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:23) and instructed Titus to do the same (Titus 1:5). Each church must have elders!

Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) If the elders oversee the flock, then there must be a definite flock for them to oversee. They cannot oversee a nameless or faceless herd of people. A shepherd does not shepherd one group of sheep one week and then a different one another week. God the Spirit has made the elders overseers of the church of God. Elders “direct the affairs of the church” or manage, rule or lead (1Tim. 5:17, Οἱ καλῶς προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι, the ESV translates the phrase as “the elders who rule well”). They manage, rule, direct the affairs of the church and they can only function by overseeing a local church. Just as a lifeguard exists to oversee a specific beach or pool, so elders have been raised up to oversee a specific local congregation.

The epistle to the Philippians is addressed to the saints “together with the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). Hebrews 13:17 further demonstrates the intimate relationship between the leaders and the people of God whom they shepherded: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”[2] They are called to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” in 1 Peter 5:2. The shepherding or oversight is restricted to those “among you” and not to the unknowable members of the invisible church.

The presence of this office argues that a definite body of believers was overseen, a specific flock was shepherded. An elder does not oversee the invisible church but a local visible congregation. Prior to the existence of elders and deacons were the Apostles themselves. Yet, even the “ministry” of apostles “existed for the sake of the community,” says Adolf Schaltter.[3] We must remember, the apostles existed to build up the church (2Cor. 10:8) and that “God has appointed in the church first apostles …” (1Cor. 12:28). Any appeal to the apostles without embracing their relationship to the church would be wrong. The apostles were appointed by Christ to build up the church. The elders and deacons were also set apart to serve the churches. In fact, Peter viewed himself to be a fellow elder (ὁ συμπρεσβύτερος) in 1 Pet. 5:1.

This is where the modern sentiment opposes the biblical model. Nobody wants oversight, accountability, etc. It is this gracious pastoral oversight most modern men and women cannot stand. Each one desires to do what he or she wants to do. Many do not want an elder to step in and hold them accountable. But the office does not exist for show, nor does it exist without a purpose. The office of elders has been divinely prescribed because our Lord wanted them to rule and shepherd local bodies of His people. The elders are exhorted to “shepherd the flock of God…exercising oversight” (1 Pet. 5:2) and to “keep watch over …all the flock” (Acts 20:28).

Did Christ establish this office so that no one can call them their elders? If I am not a member of a particular congregation which has divinely prescribed elders, then those elders are not my elders because they are not per se called to oversee me. I may receive charitable care but if I refuse to join that church or insist I am a member of a different church then I cannot be held accountable by them. The elders themselves will give an account for those whom they are called to oversee: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Heb. 13:17)


You are Called to Submit to Your Elders

We have just argued that the existence of the office of elders assumes that a local congregation must exist for them to oversee. The other related argument is the Bible’s teaching regarding the members who must submit to these overseers. Since the elders cannot exist or function without the visible church, neither can members submit to them without being in the visible church. Believers have a duty to respect, submit to, and obey their elders.

In 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to respect and esteem the elders very highly in love because of their work: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” That phrase “are over you in the Lord” means those who rule you, are concerned about you, stand before you as protectors, etc.[4] They have that role over the member and in turn, the believer is called to respect, esteem them highly in love. One commentator summarized the implications of these verses with these words:

Honor is due to church leaders, whether they are paid staff or officers who give their time and energy (elders, deacons). Spiritual leadership is difficult and weighted with responsibility. These leaders are engaged in hard work. One of their “thankless” duties is to admonish. This deals with pointing out faults or mistakes, errors in individuals or the community. Those who perform this task take on a difficult responsibility, and they are to be respected and honored.[5]

They are the ones who “labor among you”. Here, the elders were working among the people because they did not exist independently of the church. Furthermore, in Heb. 13:17, the church is instructed to obey (pei,qesqe) and submit (u`pei,kete) to their elders: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” This idea of submission is once again reinforced in 1 Peter 5:5 — “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject (u`pota,ghte) to the elders.”

These commands of esteeming, obeying, and submitting are quite explicit. How does one get around them? These verses strike at the heart of our Western democratic sensibilities because we pretend to be our own masters, fundamentally unaccountable to anyone. Not only does the office of elder demand the functioning existence of a local visible church, but these commands necessitate the same ecclesiastical context. The office itself necessitates the existence of a local congregation; the commands to esteem, obey, and submit demand the same.

Going back to the scenario presented above, how can we best apply these commands? Is it not by being connected to a specific church which has elders? To be a supposed “member” of all the churches is to be a member of none.

Let us use this example. Joe has been to any of the various churches he said he was a part of for several week. One elder of a specific evangelical church asked, “Where has Joe been these seven weeks?” Either the elder of one church has to call all the churches to see if Joe has been attending “a church” or the elder concludes such a person was just visiting. Was Joe a member? Visitor? Transient attender? Is that particular elder responsible for Joe? Is Joe submitting to this elder? To any elder? If these elders finally contacted Joe, couldn’t Joe simply say, “Well, I’m not really a member of your church so leave me alone.” Perhaps even more bizarre, he could say, “I am attending a different church for the next two months and I am scheduled to be at your church eight months from now. So, I’ll see you then!” Is Joe esteeming, submitting, obeying, etc. any elders? Is he accountable to any elder? The answer is, “NO.”

There is probably nothing more offensive to our easy-going society than a call to submit to fallible men. Submit to them? Certainly, there are other men who are smarter, more gifted, better looking, etc. Yet, these commands assume that the elders are faithfully laboring among the people and that they are being diligent. Nonetheless, those who believe they can get along without being a member of the visible church simply have no way of heeding these commands. Their autonomous spirit greatly conflicts with these biblical commands. It is true that instruction may help, but on this point, a basic sinful rebellious spirit may be at work.

There is one more thing that we must not overlook. In Hebrews 13:17, the commands to obey and submit are coupled with the reason for doing this. Why? The answer is: “For they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.” Those who submit to these leaders receive the benefit of godly men who will oversee the welfare of their souls. Someone else will be held responsible for the church members. Even as each individual will stand before Christ, so the elders will also have to give an account for his dealings with each soul of the congregation. Who would not want to receive this benefit? It can only come to those who are willing to join the church and submit to her leaders.

So in conclusion, when Paul said to the Ephesian elders to “keep watch over … the flock” (Acts 20:28), can you say that you are part of a specific flock which a body of elders is shepherding? To the church hopper who avoids being a member of any specific congregation, who are the elders appointed to oversee your soul? When the Bible calls you to obey and submit to your elders, to whom are you submitting? Is that even a possibility in your life? Our Lord is the Head of His church and He appointed elders to shepherd His flock. If you do not have elders over you, are you not rebelling against Jesus’ church structure? Eldership and submission to them are the inventions of men but instructions given to believers by divine inspiration.

I remember speaking with one person about this lesson we just covered on eldership and submission. He is not a member of our church but comes pretty regularly to our congregation. During our fellowship lunch, I asked him, “Now, since we just covered this lesson, can you now tell me, who is your elder?” He couldn’t answer the question and try to dodge answering it. I ask you, who are your elders?


[1] Please note, they are called elders in v. 17 (τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους) and then overseers or episcopos or bishops (KJV) in v. 28 (ἐπισκόπους). Elders and Overseers are used interchangeably in the NT. Even Bishop Lightfoot admits quite plainly that the terms are interchangeable, see J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 4 vols., J. B. Lightfoot’s Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 95-97, 193-195.

[2] I will address the issue of “submission” to elders in the next section.

[3] A. Schlatter, The Church in the New Testament Period, translated by P. P. Levertoff (London: SPCK, 1955), 25.

[4] Cf. Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 192.

[5] Knute Larson, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon, HNTC, vol. 9, ed. Max Anders (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2000), 71.

No matter how goofy or insignificant your church is…

Kevin DeYoung, in his marvelous little book entitled The Hole in our Holiness, made this simple important observation:

Because the church is the body of Christ, we cannot have communion with Christ without also communing with our fellow Christians. Fellowship within the family of God is one expression of communion with Christ. John says, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). That’s a remarkable statement. No matter how goofy or insignificant your church may seem, fellowship in that body of believers is fellowship with God.10 Those serious about communing with Christ will be diligent to share in fellowship with other Christians (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:24–25). In more than a decade of pastoral ministry I’ve never met a Christian who was healthier, more mature, and more active in ministry by being apart from the church. But I have found the opposite to be invariably true. The weakest Christians are those least connected to the body. And the less involved you are, the more disconnected those following you will be. The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart. (p. 132)

I have been a pastor for almost two decades and I concur wholeheartedly with DeYoung: “The weakest Christians are those least connected to the body.” Many have proclaimed the exact opposite but I’ve seen the ravaging effects of neglecting the body of Christ. Middle aged men and women to senior citizens have shriveled into spiritually gaunt and hollow souls. The church had been kept at a distance and they marginally (and nominally) maintained their membership — they are not only weak, they are (almost?) spiritually dead.

Chapter 10, When will we stop eating the Lord’s Supper?

We will now cover the last part of our little study.  The question before you is a very simple one. When will we stop eating the Lord’s Supper? Well, this, of all the questions, is the easiest.

We are told in 1 Cor. 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” As we celebrate the Supper, we are proclaiming His death until He comes.

So we will continue to have the Supper until either we die or until our Lord comes back. This is a practice which we will celebrate for the rest of our lives or until history as we know it ends (which ends when Christ comes back). Most people will have little problem with any of this. They will say, “Of course we do it until He comes back or until we die.” Yet, is there any significance to this?

Having the future in mind

The Lord’s Supper is closely tied to the past event (the Supper represents what Christ did), to the present (the present fellowship we have with Him at the Supper), and also to the future. It is something we easily overlook. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26)

We sometimes focus so much on the present benefits of the Supper that we fail to consider how they relate to the future. We are to remember that He is coming back. Each time we celebrate the Supper, we are reminded that what we experience now will not continue indefinitely. The joy, sorrows, pain, pleasure, etc. will all come to an end. Christ is coming back.

We are not communing with Christ at the Supper only to just get along in this life. The present fellowship at the Supper is also a reminder that one day, we shall see Him face to face. The sacrament will give way to reality; the sign to the person to whom it pointed.

I will not drink again… until that day (Mt. 26:29)

When our Lord commanded that the Supper be celebrated (that is, when He instituted the Supper), He said, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mt. 26:29) This was Jesus’ way of saying farewell to them (though they didn’t fully realize it at the time) since He was about to die. But He was also promising them something. He will have table fellowship with them in the future. Their present fellowship will be renewed in our Father’s kingdom.

So, at the Supper, we have the promise that one day, we shall fellowship with our Lord face to face in our Father’s kingdom. Each time we celebrate, we are not only recognizing that He will return but that Supper is also an emblem of the future fellowship we will have with our Lord. Of course we have present sweet fellowship with Him at the Supper but we must also remember that this present fellowship is only a taste of the great table fellowship to come.

This promise is made several other times. The Bible speaks of the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9), reclining at the table with Abraham (Mt. 8:11), and reclining at the table of the kingdom of God (Lk. 13:29). Table fellowship is the picture of the great intimacy we have with our Lord.

We should yearn for the great Supper to come. As we enjoy the sweet fellowship with our Lord at the Supper, we should also remember that this is just a small taste (albeit satisfying) of the great Supper to come.

In the mean time…The Cross

With the future in mind and with the promise of the future fellowship in our hearts, we are to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” What characterizes the Supper and our lives is the importance of the death of Christ for our present lives.

The death of Christ is our food, our nourishment. It sustains us as we wait for the coming of our Lord. It is the subject of our preaching. From it come the benefits of the Lord’s Supper. Because of Christ’s death, we live and because of its rich worth (its sufficiency), we have peace with God.

One of the important things about the Supper is that it makes Christ’s death central to our lives. Our Lord wants us to continually look at the past event for our present benefit. He has done it all. At the Supper, we come empty because His death has paid everything for us. Our hunger is satisfied by the benefits of His death.

Because the death of Christ has fully accomplished our redemption, we are reminded of it over and over again each time we have communion. As we proclaim His death until He comes, we are at the same time reminded that the one who loved us not only died for us but that He will come back to us because He loves us.

Not in Heaven

Needless to say, there will be no need for the Lord’s Supper in heaven because everything that the Lord’s Supper points to and gives (signifies and exhibits), we receive in the person of Christ in heaven. The Lord’s Supper is temporary but necessary. It is like a lifesaver one wears when shipwrecked. Once we reach the shore, we no longer need it.

What this means is that the Lord’s Supper is the next best thing to heaven. Here in the Supper, we fellowship with Christ truly and spiritually. In heaven, we fellowship with Him personally, really, and perpetually. The same Christ is received but we get Him that much better in heaven.


In the Supper, the Lord gives Himself to us. What more can we ask? Let us prepare well, receive well, and afterwards, by faith reflect well. This will fill our course of life until we die or until Christ comes back.

If we cannot enjoy Christ at the Supper, then what are we looking for? If He is our chief delight and we enjoy genuine fellowship with Him at the Supper, then we are assured that this Supper will turn into the final Supper. What we have received by faith shall fill our souls by sight. Come Lord Jesus!


1. How long will believers partake of the Lord’s Supper?

2. What does the future have to do with the Lord’s Supper?

3. What did the Lord promise about the future when he instituted the Lord’s Supper?

4. What does it mean to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes”?

Chapter 9, What should I do after the Lord’s Supper?

If there is any energy spent on receiving the Lord’s Supper, it is usually expended before and during the Supper. That we would expect. Yet, there are still things that we can do after the Supper that can still help and encourage us.

In a normal meal, hunger creates a desire for food. As we sit for the meal, we find pleasure and delight as we eat. But what about “after” we eat? Don’t we feel satisfied because we ate? Don’t we derive benefits because of the nutrition we received? Are we not usually happier because we consumed a delicious meal? Yes, a good meal always satisfies us.

Something like that should happen to us after we have the Lord’s Supper. After the Supper, we should have been spiritually satisfied. Our souls should have been nourished and our love to Christ should have deepened. If we indeed have communed with Christ, we are much better for it.

We ought not to leave the table empty but filled. The One who serves the Table never disappoints. He promised to fellowship with us as revealed in His Word. So we must consider what happened and if indeed we received much from the Supper. If we neglect this, then are we not moving on with our lives with little concern for this matter?

The worst thing to do

I think many of us, myself included, give the least attention to this part of the Lord’s Supper. We prepare for the Supper and try to be as focused and serious as possible during the Supper. After that, we leave, at times mindful of what happens but quite often, we simply move to the next activity of our lives.

How would you respond if you shared something very important and personal with your friend who afterwards walked away and sat down in the living room to turn the TV on and acted like you never spoke her? You would wonder if she either took you seriously or if she understood what it was you shared. You expected your close friend to respond in a certain way that showed that they understood the seriousness of the conversation.

If we leave the Lord’s Supper and we don’t think about it or reflect on what happened, then what good was it? To walk away from the Supper without spiritually thinking about it and meditating on it with thanksgiving is to act as if we simply took medicine. When we take medicine, it doesn’t demand too much from us. We might not think about the medicine or even act as if we took it. Yet, it still affects us and does us good. But the Lord’s Supper is not like that at all. Its continued benefit assumes the exercise of faith.

The worst thing to do is to leave the Lord’s Supper without giving it a second thought. If we walk away with little reflection and spiritual meditation on what just happened, then we shortchange our spiritual growth. But what makes it worse is that we are by our actions saying that it was only good for that moment and not much more.

Paul’s example to the Corinthians

When we read 1 Cor. 11, we see Paul analyzing how the Corinthians acted at the Supper. He was reflecting on their behavior. They obviously did not do it so he does it for them. He is telling them how they behaved at the Supper and why it was they received judgment at the Supper.

We have noted already that the Corinthians behaved badly at the Supper (11:20ff.). He also exhorts them to change their behavior and to do the very opposite. First he said, “[W]hen you come together it is not for the better but for the worse …When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” (11:17, 20) He is rehearsing how they acted at the Supper and rebuking them. At the end, he exhorts them by saying, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another…so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.” (11:33-34)

This is our example. We should look back and rehearse how we acted. We should wonder if our coming together with the saints was for my good. Did the Supper benefit my soul? Did I really come to Christ with a hungry soul to receive Him? Though Paul can’t write to us, we can reflect back with God’s Word and reflect on how we behaved.

I didn’t get anything

There may be occasions when we (for various reasons) did not truly benefit from the Supper. How then should we respond? Should we simply say, “Well, maybe it’ll be better next time?” If we leave it that way, will we really profit from it? If we do not ask serious questions, then why do we expect it to be better next time? If I am not able to fit into a particular pair of pants today, does that mean if I simply try it on the next day that it will work? Of course not! Why couldn’t I fit in? Was it my pants? Do I need to lose weight?

My young son once came to me asking for a belt because the pair of pants he was trying to wear was way too big. There was considerable room in his pants and I simply could not understand why they were so big and why my wife had given him these to wear. He went to his mother for help only to find that he was trying on his older sister’s pants. He made a mistake and picked up the wrong pair of pants. He could have tried the pants on every day for a few years and they still would not have fit him. In finding out the problem, he was able to get the right pair of pants.

So we should not respond by thinking that it will be more beneficial to us next time simply because we come to it again later. We should ask ourselves serious questions. Was I in a carnal frame of mind? Was I thinking about the world? What were my desires during the Supper? How well did I prepare? Did I stay up too late the night before wasting time or filling it with vain and silly things? Are there sins I need to confess? Am I harboring bitterness?

Some Causes

Remember, in Corinth, there was a specific reason why judgment came to the Corinthians. There are some things we can do to see if indeed we may be the cause. This, of course, is only a guide and is not meant to be a complete list:

Lack of preparation — The Corinthians did not properly prepare themselves. They ate and drank and sought to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Their actions indicated that they did not prepare and remedy the problem before the Supper. So, ask yourself, did you adequately prepare? Did you review your life? What about your choices, words, actions, etc.?

Worldly or carnal mind — Sometimes believers have wasted all their previous efforts and let their hearts and minds wander through the Lord’s Day in the morning and especially during the worship service. Maybe the sermon did very little for you so you let your heart wander and you began to fix your mind on unworthy things. If this was the way you acted during the Supper, you should repent and call upon the Lord for such ways during the precious time.

Sin against someone — It is not uncommon to find that some in the service may actually be sitting there with bitterness in their hearts against someone in the church or somewhere else. They have repeatedly let the sun go down on their anger (Eph. 4:26, 27) and somehow assumed that all is well because they do not feel the heat of their anger or bitterness during the Supper. This is a dangerous situation and the Lord’s holding back His blessing may only be a step towards something more harsh. You should quickly and humbly repent and seek reconciliation.

Presumption or superstition — Our hearts can get used to “rituals” and assume that like always that if they just go through the motions, everything will work out well. Other people think of the Supper superstitiously and look to it as magic. Instead of exercising faith in Christ, they are looking to the elements to do something in them like medicine. Against these things, we must continually fight. For these sins we must beg the Lord’s forgiveness.

To these things, the Larger Catechism says, “if they see they have failed…they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence.” Go to Christ at the Supper that much more.

Thomas Doolittle asked, “What if you find no good by the sacrament?” The Christian is to respond, “I must examine what was the cause, be humble for it, forsake the sin, pray to feel the benefit of it when I have come away, better prepare myself, and humbly wait upon God therein for another time.”

What if I can’t honestly find the problem?

There may be occasions (perhaps quite often) when we simply cannot pinpoint it. Let us not grow discouraged. If our conscience is clear as we honestly and humbly review the matter, then we must continually seek the Lord and more earnestly seek Him at the Supper. Christ has promised to commune with you — will you not go to Him with those truths and pray earnestly that He will benefit your soul at the Supper as He so promised?

Many good men have pointed out that the blessings of the Supper may not come during the Supper but sometime after because you may have mourned more and seriously yearned more after Christ hours after the Supper.


Our Larger Catechism (#175) says that we should seriously consider how we behaved and see if we had success. If we did, then we should “bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, [and] fulfill their vows…” Surely God ought to be blessed for the benefits we derived from the Supper. Did you thank Him? Did you bow before Him in gratitude?

Also, let that blessing be a serious occasion to resolve to please Him more and live in a manner that is more consistent with our calling. You should bless Him for the assurance, comfort, and the real sense of His love for you. Such hearty thanks can only glorify God and make your heart glad with purity.

Furthermore, your lifestyle, your speech, your desires, etc. should be different and better. The Lord has been good to your soul and it should become evident in your behavior.

No Pride

Spiritual comforts can easily turn into spiritual pride. We may have received much and our souls may rejoice. “We ought especially to watch against the workings of spiritual pride after” the Supper; “for our wicked and deceitful hearts are most ready to be lifted up with the great favors and honor here conferred upon us.”[1]

If Satan could not trip us up before and during the Supper, then he’ll meet us after. Did not Satan enter Judas’s heart after the Supper (John 13:27)? If he cannot cause us to forsake the Supper, then he will use the Supper to cause us to forsake Christ by tempting you to be proud. Never say with the Laodiceans, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” (Rev. 3:17) Don’t let your satisfied soul become the occasion for pride (cf. Deut. 8:11ff.). You still need your soul and any benefit you derived should be the occasion for thankfulness and humility.

Let us never trust our hearts. We came to Him dependent upon His grace and let us leave dependent upon Him. Let us not sin away His blessings by thinking more of ourselves than we ought. Surely, Christ’s grace came to us at the Supper on account of His tender mercy and grace. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)


1. What is the worse thing to do after taking the Lord’s Supper?

2. What does the Bible teach regarding examining yourself after the Supper?

3. What should you do if you did not profit from the Supper?

4. What are some of the causes for not profiting from the Supper?

5. What should you when you profit from the Supper?

6. Explain why you should be aware of spiritual pride after the Supper?

[1] J. Willison, A Sacramental Catechism (1720; repr., Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), 268.



Some Presbyterians and many high liturgists have resorted to intinction in the Lord’s Supper. Intinction was a minority practice in the early church in which the consecrated bread was dipped into the wine. The bread was often served on a spoon to prevent the possibility of dropping or dripping the elements.

The Eastern Church appears to practice this. On the other hand, the Western church has quite uniformly resisted this. Julius I (337-352) forbad this practice because he believed it was not biblical. The first Council of Braga (675) also decreed against it. Pope Urban II (1088-1099) similarly prohibited it except in cases of necessity and so did his successor Pascal II (1099-1118). The Convocation of Canterbury (1175) similarly condemned the practice. The Western church has always opposed this practice. A few however, tried to argue for its practice. Rolandus of Bologna (a twelfth century divine) argued pragmatically that it was easier to serve a larger congregation.

The reason why intinction should be permitted, according to Roland, is that it is an easier way to administer communion than by the host and chalice separately. The fear of dropping the host, or of accidentally spilling the contents of the chalice, he notes, may make some communicants anxious. This anxiety may undercut the proper state of devotion and receptivity which they need to bring to the sacrament. Their worry, indeed, may keep them away from communion altogether. And so, for practical pastoral reasons (curis secularibus) intinction should be allowed.[2]

The Western church did not believe that both elements were necessary (contra communio sub utroque specie = communion under both kinds, that is, both the bread and wine were required in order to have communion). Intinction also ran afoul against the growing doctrine of concomitance (which taught “that Christ exists wholly in each of the elements, so that those who receive the consecrated host, partake of his blood no less than of his body.”)[3] This theory of course assumes the doctrine of transubstantiation. So the Western church argued for communion sub una specie. She has consistently prohibited the practice of intinction.

When we read the Bible, we find that only one person received the sacrament by intinction (if we count it as such), i.e., Judas: “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.” (Mk. 14:20) But the practice appears to be unique to the institution. In Mark, the words of institution came after the dipping.

In Mark 14:22, Jesus blessed and broke the bread and said, “Take; this is my body.” It is a separate act to v. 23 which says, “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.” They did not eat of the cup but drank from it. Eating and drinking are separate acts. The commands are to eat (Mt. 26:26, “Take, eat”) and to drink (“Drink of it, all of you.” Mt. 26:27). The practice of intinction therefore cannot comply with our Lord’s words of institution.

[1] [This short post is taken from my lectures notes on ecclesiology. Some have asked me about this practice in our denomination so I have uploaded my preliminary thoughts on the topic.] References used for this are the following: McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature; A Catholic Dictionary, ed. Donald Attwater; Schaff’s History of the Christian Church; Hagenbach’s History of Doctrines; various theological reference works. Other related concepts are “concomitance” and communio sub utroque specie, etc.

[2] Marcia L. Colish, Peter Lombard (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), 570.

[3] Hagenbach’s History of Doctrines, § 195.

The Larger Catechism #64-65

The Larger Catechism

Questions 64-65


64.       Q. What is the invisible church?

A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head. [268]

65.       Q. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?

A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory. [269]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[268] Ephesians 1:10. That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him. Ephesians 1:22-23. And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. John 10:16. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. John 11:52. And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. [269] John 17:21. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. Ephesians 2:5-6. Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. John 17:24. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.

The Invisible Church

Having spent some time on the nature and benefits of the visible church, we now will consider the definition and benefits of being part of the invisible church. We have already noted how the Bible tends use the word “church” in broad and narrow ways. Local churches are mentioned (church in Laodicea) and the divines have defined those uses as denoting the “visible” church. It also uses the term in a broader sense, to represent all the true people of God — “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). The church is His body (Eph. 1:22) and this specific body is the one for whom He died.

As noted in question 61 (“Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?”), only the “true members of the church invisible” are saved. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all to see to it that we are truly members of the church invisible. Once again, we must state emphatically that true members of the invisible church are ordinarily members of the visible church though true members of the visible church are not always members of the invisible church.

Johannes Vos says that the church is invisible because “we cannot see exactly who — or how many there are who — are members of it. Only God knows the full number, and their exact identity.” (142) Ultimately, only God knows and His judgment is the only thing that counts. Each member of the visible church should earnestly make their calling and election sure (cf. 2Pet. 1:10).

There are some who are uncomfortable with this distinction and believe it has created problems in the modern church. D. Wilson, said, “How many times have we heard someone claim his membership in the invisible church as his grounds for disparaging the church he ought to be joining?”[1] This happens but not as much as Wilson lets on. People have always abused orthodox doctrines for perverse ends and some have abused the visible/invisible distinction to justify bad behavior. We ought not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

Wilson said in another place the following, “Modern evangelical Protestants have tended to say that the invisible Church is the real one, which is why we tend to have such a low view of the churches we can actually see.” [2] Most evangelicals do not even know anything about the visible/invisible church. They tend to repudiate any doctrine of the church or are simply clueless about the existence of any ecclesiology— the problem is not in the distinction within ecclesiology but rather the absence of any ecclesiology. At best, the distinction is a convenient excuse and not the cause for the low view of the church. I’m convinced that this error is due in part to the neglect of faithful teaching on this matter.

Wilson and his ilk offer an odd way of correcting this perceived problem. To highlight the importance of the visible church, they end up collapsing the invisible into the visible. He says we need to simply believe that the baptized person is objectively in the covenant and that is good enough, stay in the visible covenant and you have your assurance.[3] The person finds his assurance in his baptism. He thinks we ought not to consider the marks in our own lives or even to see if we are elect.[4]

The solution is worse than the perceived problem. The net effect is that they end up denying what is taught in question #61 — a doctrine so scriptural and evidential.[5] One does not focus on the fact he is baptized and is a member in good standing but if one has faith or does not have it. He threw out the invisible church and now the visible church is the sole focus that he says is his way of “recovering the objectivity of the covenant.”

The Elect: Have Been, Are, or Shall Be

The High Priest prophesied that Christ’s death would gather people together — “He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (Jn. 11:52) Jesus prayed for “those who will believe in me through their [the disciples’] word” (Jn. 17:20). He has other sheep (Jn. 10:16) that have to be brought into His fold. It was always assumed that people present during Jesus’ death as well as those after His death and resurrection would become His. They are the elect whom the Father gave to the Son (Jn. 17:2). They are the true members of the church invisible.

The invisible church includes those who have already died (remember Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus in the Mount of transfiguration), those who truly believe right now and those who will believe sometime in the near and distant future.

Who they are will become apparent as the gospel is preached. The Lord will draw them in through the preaching of the gospel. Our responsibility is to preach and pray and God will bring the sheep into the fold. It is a fixed number (cf. Rev. 7) but that number is known only unto God. This is the way He has always worked.

The Priority of Election in the Bible[6]

If what we have stated so far is theologically accurate, then can this also be proved biblically? In the end, this is more important. We believe that the Bible itself prioritizes election in the visible church. The early theologians rightly perceived what the Bible so clearly teaches.

Most divines recognize that the church in its more visible and institutional form began with Abraham.[7] That is not to say that God did not have a people for Himself until Abraham, but instead, a more formal covenantal and visible family was set apart with Abraham. Stuart Robinson called it “an ecclesiological covenant.” In other words, a particular family was set apart from the rest of the families, whereas previous covenants did not separate so visibly from the rest. Furthermore, the covenant made with Abraham became an organizing theme for all subsequent covenants, even the New Covenant.[8] Even if such an analysis may not be conceded by all, it cannot be denied that the Abrahamic covenant dominates the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. Many references to Abraham and the covenant God made with him fill the Bible (both in the Old and New Testament).[9] It is the pattern which Paul follows in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 & 4. We are told in Gal. 3:8 that the Gospel we are taught was previously preached to Abraham. In Rom. 4:11, Paul says that Abraham was a “father of all who believe.” So the Abrahamic covenant is very important in understanding God’s way of dealing with His people.

What covenantal feature do we learn from Abraham and subsequent patriarchs? Geerhardus Vos emphatically states, “The first outstanding principle of divine procedure with the patriarchs is the principle of election. Hitherto the race as a whole had been dealt with.”[10] Though that is not the only element that was significant in the Abrahamic covenant, it is nonetheless a significant feature.

From this election the visible church grew and expanded through Abraham’s seed. Yet the entire subsequent generations were not co-extensive with God’s election. In this particular visible church God reveals that He continues to elect; in other words, God chooses some within His visible covenant community.  God told Isaac that the older would serve the younger. Paul, commenting on the story, cites Mal. 1:2, 3, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:11-13).  That principle never abated. As the visible church apostatized under Ahab’s rule, God still preserved a people for himself, “a remnant chosen by grace” (Rom 11:5; cf. 1Kings 19:18). From Abraham’s call to the election within that line of the covenant, we continue to see the priority of election in God’s dealing with the visible church.

Paul summarizes this remnant theme by unequivocally stating, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” (Rom. 9:6-7). What makes the difference? Paul states that it is “God’s purpose of election” (Rom. 9:11).

Calvinists understand and appreciate the theme of election in the Bible. But we tend to recognize it only in terms of our soteriology (our doctrine of salvation). We must also see it ecclesiologically, in terms of how God deals with His visible church. We must not rip the truth from its context. God adds to the visible church but even within the visible church, there is a remnant according to God’s election.

The church is called “the body of Christ” (Rom. 7:14; 1Cor. 12:27), “the church of God” (Acts 20:28; 1Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:13), “the church of the living God” (1Tim. 3:15), “household of God” (Eph. 2:19; 1Tim. 3:15; 1Pet. 4:17), “people of God” (Heb. 4:9), whom Christ has purchased with His blood. At the same time, we read that some members of the church went out from the church because they were not really of the church (1Jn. 2:19). One Reformation divine succinctly observed that we need to distinguish between two things, “to be in the church, and to be of the churche.”[11] Or more clearly, “All who are in the church are not therefore of the church.”[12] Paul warns against those who will rise up from among the Ephesian church to twist the gospel in order to draw away the disciples (Acts 20:30). Jude speaks of wicked men who have “crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4) while Peter writes about the false prophets who rose up among them (2Pet. 2:1). In Amos 9:10, God speaks of “all the sinners of my people” (כֹּ֖ל חַטָּאֵ֣י עַמִּ֑י; LXX, πάντες ἁμαρτωλοὶ λαοῦ μου) and in Revelation our Lord rebukes the church in Pergamum because they had “some there who hold the teaching of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14-15). So in both Testaments, the church was a mixed church; not everyone in the visible church is considered God’s elect. God’s covenant people in the New Covenant were never co-extensive with the elect or, to put it another way, the invisible church is not co-extensive with the visible church.[13]

Union and Communion

Lastly, the LC also states that believers derive benefits from this membership. If you look at the verses cited, they teach us the simple truth of Eph. 1:3. Believers are blessed with everything in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus — all the benefits spoken of are “in Him,” that is, in union with Him. Believers are truly united to Him (union) and as a result they really fellowship with Him (communion). The latter cannot happen without the former.

The catechism states, “The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.” We enjoy these benefits come to us through our union with Him. The phrase “grace and glory” is in one sense a reference to the benefits we derive here on earth (all the graces in our union with Him) and the benefits we derive when the end comes  or when we are glorified with Him (glory) – yet, communion in glory is not exclusively at the end, see LC 82-83. All those benefits are spelled out in the subsequent questions.

[1] D. Wilson, “The Church: Visible or Invisible,” in The Federal Vision, ed. S. Wilkins and D. Garner (Monroe, Louisiana: Athanasius Press, 2004), 266.

[2] Proponents of the “Federal Vision” have so suggested. For example, D. Wilson, “Reformed” Is Not Enough (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2002), 70.

[3] Cf. “Reformed” Is Not Enough, 106.

[4] “Reformed” Is Not Enough, 130.

[5] He believes the Confession needs to be improved in this area,  “Reformed” Is Not Enough, 74. His solution opens the way to Rome.

[6] Taken from my essay “Covenant Community” with a few changes.

[7] This can be seen in S. Robinson, Discourses of Redemption (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1866), 75ff.; T. Peck, Notes on Ecclesiology, 28ff.; E. Morris, Ecclesiology: A Treatise on the Church and Kingdom of God on Earth (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1898), 20ff.; J. Mason, Essays on the Church, 28ff.; D. Bannerman, The Scripture Doctrine of the Church (rpt., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 3-43; P. Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture (rpt., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, nd), 1:287-296.

[8] Robinson, The Church of God, 50-52.

[9] Stuart Robinson says that there are around one hundred references to the Abrahamic covenant compared to some eight to ten references to the covenants made with Adam and Noah, see his Discourses of Redemption, 76.

[10] G. Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 89.

[11] Wolfgang Musculus, Common Places of Christian Religion, translated by Iohn Man (London: Imprinted by Henry Bynneman, 1578), 613 (emphasis added).

[12] W. à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, translated by B. Elshout (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992-95), 2:13.

[13] The Roman Catholic NT scholar Rudolph Schnackenburg aptly summarizes this point in The Church in the New Testament, 156: “Even the New Testament people of God as it is assembled in the Church, and continues to assemble, is not yet identical with the community of the elect which enters into the perfect kingdom of God….” Not everything Schnackenburg says is safe but he can be quite perceptive and helpful.