The Church is the primary work of the Holy Trinity, the family and flock of the Father, the bride and body of Christ, and the house or temple of the Holy Spirit. In this holy assembly, all true believers are nurtured as by a mother and carried as in an ark to their final salvation.
Q. 47. What is the church?
The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful people in which the pure gospel is preached, the sacraments are properly administered, and the discipline of the Christian fellowship is maintained in its purity.
Q. 48. What authority has Christ given the church in matters of salvation?
A. Christ entrusted the church with the keys of the kingdom to declare the terms of pardon from sin, receive those who believe into its number, gently restore sinning members, and exclude those who persist in sin without repentance, not admitting them to the Lord’s Supper until they reform their lives.
Q. 49. Is everyone obligated to join the church as a member?
A. Since Christ entrusted the keys of the kingdom to the church, which is the holy assembly and gathering of those who are saved, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation, people should not withdraw from it, content to be by themselves, but are obliged to join and unite with it, keeping the unity of the church. All who withdraw from the church or do not join it act contrary to God’s ordinance.
Q. 50. What are the duties of church members?
A. It is the duty of church members to submit to the church’s discipline and instruction, assemble for weekly worship, share in the Lord’s Supper, serve to build up one another, and generously contribute to the work of the ministry.
Q. 51. Who are the officers of the local church?
A. The primary officers of the local church are elders—also called pastors and overseers—who preside over the church’s spiritual affairs, ruling the church, teaching the word, and administering the sacraments. Deacons assist the elders and labor as a servant of those in need.
Q. 52. What is a sacrament?
A. A sacrament is a certain sign of grace, and God’s good-will toward us, by which he works invisibly in us, and not only enlivens, but also strengthens and confirms our faith in him. There are two sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the gospel: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Q. 53. What is baptism?
A. Baptism is the sacrament of entrance into Christ’s body the Church, wherein we are washed in water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as a sign of regeneration or the new birth, and a mark of difference between Christians and the unbaptized.
Q. 54. May the children of believers be baptized?
A. The baptism of young children is to be retained in the church, for as God received Abraham’s children into his covenant people through circumcision, so Christ has welcomed the children of believers into his church through baptism; and all the more so, since they are covered by Christ’s atonement, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Nevertheless, the decision of parents to delay their children’s baptism should be respected, so long as it be a matter of sincere conviction, and not of neglect or negligence to study the Scriptures.
Q. 55. What is the Lord’s Supper?
A. The Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of the church’s unity in Christ and of our redemption by his death. To those who receive it rightly and with faith, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.
Q. 56. Which creeds are received by the whole church and used in its worship?
A. The three creeds are the Apostles’ Creed, which is the baptismal creed; the Nicene Creed, which is used at the Eucharist; and the Athanasian Creed, which expounds the catholic faith in the Trinity and incarnation. These ought to be thoroughly received and believed, for they may be proved with certainty from Holy Scripture.