by Dr. Maynard Koerner
54. What do you believe concerning the “holy, catholic Church”?
That out of the whole human race, from the beginning to the end of the world, the Son of God, by His Spirit and Word, gathers, defends, and preserves for Himself unto everlasting life a chosen communion in the unity of the true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain a living member of this communion.
55. What do you understand by the “communion of saints”?
First, that believers, one and all, as members of the Lord Jesus Christ, are partakers with Him in all His treasures and gifts; second, that each one must feel himself bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and welfare of other members.
56. What do you believe concerning the “forgiveness of sins”?
That God, for the sake of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor the sinful nature with which I have to struggle all my life long; but graciously imputes to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may nevermore come into condemnation.
Very little attention is given to the doctrine of the church today. The church is either considered fairly insignificant or it does not at all look like the church we see in the New Testament. The authors of the Heidelberg Catechism present the doctrine of the church as a doctrine rich with meaning along with a deep sense of the importance of membership.
The idea of the church is that of a gathering of a people, separated from the world and united together in Christ. This gathering of people is referred to as “holy” and “catholic.” This conveys the notion that they are special, set apart by God, and they are all one, one in faith and belonging to the one body of Christ. The emphasis is upon the work of God through Christ and upon the reliability of that work.
As a believer you can take comfort in knowing that you are a part of this communion. In this day and age of individualism and everyone doing their own thing, the church is about being part of one body of Christ. It is not about individuals seeking what is there for them, rather it is about how God calls all believers to a single purpose and provides the gifts so that all will have their needs met to the glory of Christ.
In fact, so important is this concept that the catechism uses the words, “that each one must feel himself bound to use his gifts” in reference to the relationship to other members. The notion that one can just be an individual believer and not make a formal commitment both to Christ and to fellow believers is not acceptable. We join the church that we might be lifted up in Christ and that we might be used in others being lifted up in Christ.
Fundamental to this relationship is the fact that those whom God gathers unto Himself are those for whom He has provided a covering for their sins. It is important to understand that in terms of our relationship with God, which is expressed in our relationship in the church, we are no longer sinners. Our sins are forgiven in Christ. When God forgives sins, it is as if they had never happened. Even though we are still subject to sin, and do so on a regular basis, we are counted as righteous. We are counted as righteous based on the righteousness of Christ, which has become our righteousness. As members of the body of Christ, holy and united in Christ, there is no accusation which can be brought against us.
To be a part of this communion is to be the recipient of God’s purpose in salvation, it is to be part of the communion of fellow saints, and it is to stand guiltless before God.