The Marks of the False Church

Rev. David J. Engelsma - Posted at Reformed Free Publishing Association:

This article was written by Rev. David J. Engelsma and published in the March 1, 1982 issue of the Standard Bearer.
". . .As for the false Church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word, but adds to and takes from them, as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those, who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry. These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other."—Belgic Confession, Article 29

The "problem" of the article of our Confession of Faith quoted above is its absolute distinction between the true church and the false church. It does not speak of purer and less pure churches, of manifestations of Jesus' body that vary in degree of faithfulness and doctrinal purity; but of "two Churches," the true and the false. Applied to the present situation of many, separated churches (denominations), the article might seem to teach that one particular institute is the only true church, while all the others are the false church. Such an interpretation of the article has been given by certain Reformed in the Netherlands; and, now and again, voices have been heard in the Protestant Reformed Churches expressing this position.

It is helpful for understanding the Confession's teaching concerning the false church to have clearly in mind the reference of "true Church-false Church." By the true church is not meant the invisible body of Jesus Christ. If this were the reference, the article would be distinguishing between the one, invisible, true church of Christ and the one, invisible, false church of the devil. Some have tried to escape the difficulty of the article's "true Church-false Church" distinction by resorting to this explanation. That this is not meant is plain from the Confession's admission that the true church has hypocrites mixed in with the good, which cannot be said of the invisible church of Christ. Also, the article makes plain that it refers to a church that has marks which we can see: preaching, sacraments, and discipline—a visible church, therefore.


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