HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAY 31
What are the keys of the kingdom?
The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers.
How does the preaching of the gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven?
According to the command of Christ: The kingdom of heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to all believers, each and every one, that, as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith, God, because of what Christ has done, truly forgives all their sins. The kingdom of heaven is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony.
How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?
According to the command of Christ: Those who, though called Christians, profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives, and after repeated and loving counsel refuse to abandon their errors and wickedness, and after being reported to the church, that is, to its offices, fail to respond also to their admonition – such persons the officers exclude from the Christian fellowship by withholding the sacraments from them, and God himself excludes them from the kingdom of Christ. Such persons, when promising and demonstrating genuine reform, are received again as members of Christ and of his church.
Tuesday, July 4: 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
The Bible is the foundation for both making and sustaining disciples of Jesus Christ. It is also the foundation for the discipline required when Christians “profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives.” Though the exercise of Christian discipline is essential for healthy discipleship, today’s Church seems reticent to practice what is often perceived as a form of judgmental spiritual superiority. However, discipline is God’s gracious gift to His Church to nourish life in Christ. Allow me to identify two themes critical for effective discipline. First, discipline is God’s gift to lovingly pick up those who struggle with persistent sin so that they may once again walk joyfully with Jesus Christ. It is not an ecclesiastical tool to punish or censure those who fall into sin. Second, discipline is for all members of the Church because all gospel-minded Christians are to flee sin in their desire to know and follow Christ. Again, it is not a tool to punish those who “fall” into the “big” sins. The retired curmudgeon who endlessly berates a younger generation of believers is as worthy of discipline as the woman who verbally abuses her husband. Dietrich Bonhoeffer thoughtfully summarizes these two themes: “Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin” (Life Together, 107). The discipline required for a life of repentance, faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ, however, is exercised in three ways. Christian are to engage in daily self-discipline (Matthew 18:7-9), encourage one another through mutual discipline (Matthew 18:15-16), and, when necessary, due to persistent and unrepentant defection from Christian teaching or a Christian lifestyle, receive formal ecclesiastical discipline from the Elders of the Church (Matthew 18:17-20). Yet, each form of discipline has the same purpose – to restore a sinner to joyful obedience to Jesus Christ. Ultimately, the Church exercises discipline because of gospel grace. She professes a Savior who generously pours grace upon grace into the hearts of repentant people. If we take the gospel of Christ seriously, we will lovingly refuse to let ourselves or others become enslaved to the demeaning, debilitating and defeating power of sin, or into the consuming fires of hell. So, let’s encourage and discipline one another with the Word of God so that we “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” of discipleship (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Pastor Calvin Hoogendoorn