The Bond Between the Christian and Christ’s Church (1), Belgic Confession, Article 28

Introduction

Our good and glorious Creator has vested His creation with bonds that are embedded right into the fabric of nature. For example, in chemistry we see bonds that allow different substances to work together or even react to make new substances. Biology teaches us that life, in a sense, depends on different bonds between the various cells of the body as well as those that exist between the various organs of the body. Those who study physics observe that the particles that make up the basic building blocks of the universe not only repel and cancel out each other but also attract one another making the stuff we see every day, all around us.

Observing these things we, as Christians, take note of how these things occur or continue to be even in light of the fall of man and the corruption that followed in the world itself. Thus we see on a daily basis that in “Him all things consist” (Col. 1:17). Though we do not denigrate or otherwise ignore the laws of creation, we believe that our sovereign Lord is willing and governing all things. Thus we understand that the chaos that we sometimes see in the world is not random but ordered by Him for good.

Yet bonds are not just for things; they also exist in terms of relationships between people. There is the United Nations, which purposes to bring all nations together as a body. NATO exists as a military relationship between the nations of North America and Europe to defend their mutual interests and sovereignty as nations. Furthermore, new bonds are being made all the time between countries. For better or worse, humanity is a communal species who forms these bonds to serve its immediate interests or the interests of a higher cause and purpose.

This is no surprise, since such agreements and relationships are really just a reflection of things we see on a smaller or local level. Various cultures not only form their own communities in their own nation but abroad as well, even when they immigrate to a new country. People tend to establish relationships between those who are most like them. Even the Scripture notes these tendencies in the record of the genealogies of the three sons of Noah that are enumerated “according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations” (Gen. 10:20; see also vv. 5 and 31).

Perhaps the most basic and beautiful human bond we know is the one we see between mother and child. A mother nurtures and cares for her child even as she cares for herself. Why even her own body looks out for the good of the child before her own. As the child is brought into this world, the mother remains the main provider and first love that the baby experiences. It is no wonder, then, that God tells us that His comfort is like that of a mother for her child (Isa. 66:13; cf. Isa. 49:15). Thus we confess that His eternal, electing love, which binds us to Him, is the cause not the result of our adoption to Him as heirs. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

All of these bonds pale in comparison with the greatest bond of all. That is the strongest bond, that between the persons of our triune God. Mysterious and wonderful at the same time is the eternal relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Though we must take care what kind of language or descriptions we use when we speak about God, there is no doubt there is a bond between them. This bond is, first, one of existence or being. We read statements in Scripture that inform us that of the persons of the Trinity “none is afore, nor after another; none is greater, or less than another but the whole three persons are co-eternal, and co-equal” (Athanasian Creed). We see this in the Trinitarian baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 as we receive the “the name” (of the one God) and yet it is triune in description (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

We get a sense of what this means in terms of the expression of a relationship that exists between three distinct, persons and yet one. In his Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck notes that
“Starting from the scriptural assertion that ‘God is love,’ [Augustine] demonstrates that there is always a trinity present in love: ‘one who loves, that which is loved, and love itself.’ In love there is always a subject, an object, and a bond between the two . . . The fullness of divine love, like that of divine goodness, blessedness, and glory, require a plurality of divine persons in the divine being, for love desires an object and one that is equal to the one who loves. But this love is not complete until both the one who loves and the one who is loved welcome into their love a third by whom they are reciprocally loved.” (RD, 2.327).

Although Bavinck notes that this does not constitute a proof or evidence for the Trinity (as it depends on the teaching of Scripture received by faith), there is a kind of analogy here or assistance to our thinking about the triune nature of God. It is not a final argument for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit nor a means to rationalize the divine, but a way to think about and appreciate the mystery of the triune God who is eternally ‘bound together’ as one in three persons.

Second, this bond is one of unity in purpose. The creation of the world is no less an act of the triune God and the triune God alone. As others have observed, the Father did not decide to make a world and creatures to fill it to comfort Him because He was lonely. No, He made the world through the Word (His Son) and through the work of the Spirit (Ps. 33:6). Nor was it a competition among each person to see who could or would perform each act. The Scriptures explain the creative and powerful acts of God in creation as a unified and concerted effort (see, for example, Gen. 1:26).

Furthermore, some of the greatest statements about our salvation are explicitly triune. Consider 1 Peter 1:2. There the apostle says we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Each person of the Trinity is working together, is bound together for this one purpose: our redemption! The Father elects His own, the Spirit sanctifies them in regeneration, and the Son lives and dies for their justification. Without the Father, there would be no elect. Without the Spirit there would be no new life for these elect. And without the Son, there would be no forgiveness of sins and eternal righteousness. If but one person of the Trinity was not in agreement, we would be eternally lost! But our God is faithful; indeed all three persons are faithful, and have not only pledged our complete salvation but accomplished it in their person and work.

So if the triune bond is the greatest bond, is there a second greatest bond? Is there anything else in this world that speaks to a relationship that is similar, though not equal to, this bond? I would submit for your consideration that there is: it is the bond among those that are the triune God’s possession, in particular the bond that they have as Christ’s church, not just the individual elect or the elect considered as individuals but as those that are identified as the body of Christ.

Our Belgic Confession expresses the importance of this bond between God and His people in the amount of space devoted to thedoctrine of the church (nine articles in all if you count the sacraments as being included under the heading of Ecclesiology.) It should not surprise us, then, to read that the title of Article 28 is, “Every One Is Bound to Join Himself to the True Church.” After all, if the triune God has bound Himself to the church, shouldn’t we all feel bound to her as well? Not just in experience, but in obligation, we are called by the gospel to be reconciled to God in Christ and, consequently, to exist in a reconciled relationship with one another (see, for example, Eph. 2:14–22, in which we read of the unity that now exists between Jews and Gentiles).

This will be the subject matter for our consideration in the next several articles, as we will examine what I have entitled “The Bond between the Christian and Christ’s Church.” We will look at it in several different ways including:
1) A Bond of Salvation
2) A Bond of Society
3) A Bond of Submission
4) A Bond of Service
5) A Bond of Separation

Rev. Daniel Kok
is pastor of Grace Reformed Church (URCNA) in Leduc, AB.