Posted by: Bill Hornbeck | December 18, 2015

“… The marks, by which the true Church is known, are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein …”

Because of the importance of this devotion and because I wanted us to meditate on it on Sunday, the day of our worship, I revised this devotion, rather than posting an entirely new devotion today.

Today’s devotion comes from Ezra chapter 4.  Here is a link to this chapter –

I quote only the following verses.

“Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the Lord God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God;  and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.”  But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God;  but we ourselves will together build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.”  Ezra 4:1-3.


Today’s Scripture (“You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God;  but we ourselves will together build to the Lord God of Israel“) leads us to pause and consider how we should apply it.

There are voices out there who offer help to build our church.  Some voices are from enemies, false shepherds, who intentionally want to sabotoge the building of our church.  If we discern their charater and intention, then we will be quick to refuse their help.  But, other voices are from unbelievers who may genuinely want to help and who are intelligent, skillful, and eloquent.  It will be more tempting to accept their offer to help, but they should also likewise be refused because they also have nothing in common with us in building our church.  Finally, there are voices from believers who may have been with the church a long time who may be qualified for certain services in the building of the church, but whose help should be refused for other services in building our church.

Most importantly, when it comes to doctrine, do we build our church with preachers and teachers who do preach and teach the pure and sound Reformed Doctrine? 

Or, do we build our church with preachers and teachers who dilute the pure and sound Reformed Doctrine and pollute it with other doctrine?   

“…  The marks, by which the true Church is known, are these:  if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein …”  Article 29 of Belgic Confession.

What is that pure doctrine of the gospel?

In a nutshell, that pure doctrine of the gospel is “TULIP”, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Reformed Doctrine of Salvation! 

See the Canons of Dordt which is the Reformed Confession which most specifically defines and expands these truths of sovereign grace and defends them against heresy.  There is a link to Canons of Dordt on the right margin of this page of my website.

And yet, how often do we hear about “TULIP” or Canons of Dordt from the pulpit or the Sunday classroom?

How many of our congregation can at least correctly answer what each of the letters of “TULIP” stands for, much less defend it by Scripture and the Canons of Dordt?

Too many Reformed churches have lost their distinctive salt of true pure and sound Reformed Doctrine.  Although you will hear a Reformed word here and there in a sermon, the sermon contains so much of other doctrine that the listener could not tell if he was in a Baptist church, a Methodist church, or a Reformed church except for the sign on the door.

“… all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church.  …”  Article 29.  Belgic Confession.    All churches claim to be Biblical.

It is easy for preachers and teachers to take potshots at easy targets.

But does the preacher or teacher strive to deliver to the congregation the pure doctrine of the gospel? 

Or, does the preacher or teacher ramble to such an extent that the pure doctrine of the gospel is not simply and clearly delivered to the congregation? 

We do not need many words or many points to proclaim the pure doctrine of the gospel.  “TULIP” is only five points.  “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”  2 Corinthians 2:1-3.

Worship, even though it may be formal and zealous, is not enough.  “‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”  Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7.  “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.  For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”  Romans 10:2-3.

We must get doctrine right and pure.  “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel;  which is really not another;  only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”  Galatians 1:6-9. 

But, God is still in ultimate total sovereign control Who said:  “… I will build my church …”  Matthew 16:18.  So, with that confidence and trust in God, let us resist pressures to be with everyone else and be like everyone else in building the church.  Let us focus on the primacy of preaching the pure doctrine of the gospel as the first mark of the true Church according to the Belgic Confession.  Let us preach and teach the pure doctrine of the gospel through “TULIP” and the Canons of Dordt. 

We are certainly not perfect, but let us reform.  Let us press on to build our church with that preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel.  “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet;  but one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14.


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