Archive

Author Archive

On Catechisms, VBS, and Teaching/Learning the Christian Faith

July 18, 2018 6 comments

Recently I’ve started reading through the Heidelberg Catechism, according to the weekly plan of the outline available in my phone app.  As I’ve heard before, the Heidelberg Catechism is a good devotional type study with questions that build on each other; also, that it’s a good one for children to memorize (done in Reformed, Confessional churches).

My childhood church experience at a small mainline Presbyterian church did not include any type of memorization, Bible or other, and I was unaware of the Reformed confessions and catechisms until a few years ago.  The only place I saw Bible memorization, of various verses, was one day at a VBS program at my grandmother’s large Southern Baptist church (she was one of the teachers) during summer vacation in Texas.  In my early Christian years as an adult, I briefly tried a Bible memorization plan and memorized a few verses, but didn’t continue after the initial set of verses.

All that to say, that at this point I find Bible reading, review and study something more achievable than strict memorization (which is best done when young, when memorization comes more easily to the developing child’s mind).  The Heidelberg Catechism provides a useful three-part outline:  The Misery of Man, Of Man’s Deliverance, and Of Gratitude.  The study plan features a few questions (usually two to four) for each Lord’s Day (for 52 weeks total, a full year):

Week 1 – questions 1 and 2                                     Week 3 – questions 6-8
Week 2 – questions 3-5                                            Week 4 – questions 9-11

and so on.  It makes a good devotional study, to spend several minutes each Lord’s Day afternoon at home, as well as a few minutes a few days throughout the week, reading through the set of questions for each week, and referencing the scripture ‘proof-texts’—as well as re-reading the previous questions back to the beginning.  (I’m now in week 4, so a long way to go.)

So far in this reading, I am (again) struck with amazement at the great wording, the way that the meaty doctrinal truths of the Bible are described with such detail, clarity and precision, here in the Heidelberg  as well as the other Confessions and Catechisms.  These really are excellent teaching tools to provide the doctrinal framework of a full-orbed, whole counsel of God robust theology for Christian living.  Yet further, the catechisms – especially the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) – are designed for teaching to school-age children.  As one Reformed preacher described it, the adults are not exempt either; the WSC is for the children, but the WLC (Westminster Larger Catechism) is for adults to study.

In sharp contrast to this, is the unfortunate reality that so many churches – including the many Calvinistic Baptist churches, which promote the Reformers and Calvinism but do not actually hold to Reformed Theology  — do not follow the Reformed pattern of using the confessions and catechisms for educational purposes.  Instead, classes and summer VBS programs tend toward a watered-down approach that may involve the children watching skits that portray Bible events, or learning Bible-story songs.

Here also are issues related to the Second Commandment.  As well explained in Ten Commandment studies, images and portrayals of Jesus are finite, and do not do justice to the attributes of God, to the awe-full, infinite reality of who Christ is.  When God revealed Himself to His people (Exodus 20 and throughout the Bible), what God provided was not pictures or any type of visual representation, but words.  A picture of Jesus just does not convey the great truths about Him.

Though not fitting precisely within the bounds of the Second Commandment, when people at a church (as for instance, as part of a Bible education program for children) dramatize certain scenes from the Bible, the drama, and pictures taken of it, come across in a light-hearted and humorous way.  After all, it’s the church leaders we know, and they’re in costume — a funny picture.  But the scene is depicting something of serious theology from the Bible.  The effect of the casual dramatized scene and picture is to laugh; the association to the serious and great truth behind it, tends to irreverence and lack of full appreciation of the teaching itself.  After all, it’s far easier to think about a funny picture, than to consider points of theology, to meditate upon God’s word, to meditate upon the doctrine of the fall, of man’s rebellion and sin and the awful reality of sin in the world.

Again, God taught His people with words and ideas – yes, in many different genres of literature including narrative stories and parables – but the words themselves are the communication of spiritual truth.  Certainly artwork (the full range of art including pictures and paintings as well as drama) has its place, regarding the created world, scenery, people, animals and so forth.  But a visual portrayal of a scene from the Bible — especially using people we see and know in our everyday lives, with costumes and hand-crafted props – is a very limited way to present biblical truth: a very superficial level that conveys a few basic facts of the Bible story but without the ‘meat’ and substance.  This pictorial approach at best only teaches a few basic facts.  Especially when we have the rich treasure of knowledge from Christians who have gone before us, including the framework of the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms, it is mind-boggling as to why anyone would prefer that shallow visual presentation, ignoring and rejecting the far greater treasure.

In closing, a brief sample from the Heidelberg Catechism, regarding the fall of man and sin.  Questions 7 through 12 especially consider man’s sinful nature, and the remedy that we all need:

7.  Whence then comes this depraved nature of man? From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise, whereby our nature became so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

8.  But are we so depraved, that we are wholly unapt to any good and prone to all evil? Yes; unless we are born again by the Spirit of God.

9. Does not God then wrong man, by requiring of him in His law that which he cannot perform? No: for God so made man, that he could perform it; but man, through the instigation of the devil, by wilful disobedience deprived himself and all his posterity of this power.

10. Will God suffer such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished? By no means; but He is terribly displeased with our inborn as well as our actual sins, and will punish them in just judgment in time and eternity, as he has declared: Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them (Deut. 27:26).

11. Is then God not merciful? God is indeed merciful, but He is likewise just; wherefore His justice requires that sin, which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment both of body and soul.

and

12.  Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, what is required that we may escape this punishment and be again received into favor? God wills that His justice be satisfied, therefore we must make full satisfaction to the same, either by ourselves or by another.

13.  Can we ourselves make this satisfaction? By no means: on the contrary, we daily increase our guilt.

14.  Can any mere creature make satisfaction for us? None: for first, God will not punish, in any other creature, that of which man has made himself guilty; and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, and redeem others therefrom.

15.  What manner of mediator and redeemer then must we seek? One who is a true and sinless man, and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is at the same time true God.

Advertisements

Worldview Suppression: Romans 1 and Apologetics

July 6, 2018 8 comments

From my recent reading (Challies 2018 Reading Challenge) and Reformed theology conference lectures comes an apologetics study of Romans 1.  What do general revelation and suppression really look like, in our 21st century post-Christian world?  This question is addressed in Scott Oliphint’s lecture from the 2018 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology (theme Spirit of the Age: Age of the Spirit), Workshop 4: The Anatomy of Unbelief.  Oliphint is always interesting to listen to; I enjoyed listening to his lectures last fall, in Reformed Forum’s conference on the Reformation and Apologetics.

This 2018 conference lecture provides commentary on Romans 1 and suppression, and what that involves — what truth is suppressed?  His invisible attributes; His eternal power and His divine nature – and the wrath, the judgment that comes as a result (Romans 1 verses 24 through 32).  Oliphint also recounts his recent experience with a graduate level Hegel philosophy course.  Throughout the course, until the very end, the students were kept in suspense: what is Hegel’s “absolute”?  The expert didn’t know, and the expert admitted that he thinks Hegel himself didn’t know what it was.

Philosophers are nothing new, and Paul in Romans 1 was dealing with the same type of thing from the Greek philosophers of his day.  Yet their ideas about reality are only theoretical and do not work in the real world.  Objective truth is there, facing us every day in the external world.  We cannot arbitrarily ignore and re-interpret reality to decide that a red light means ‘go’ and a green light means ‘stop’.  A chair lifted up and about to hit your face is a real threat that cannot be ignored.

Another interesting point Oliphint noted, was observed by Jonathan Edwards.  We often hear that hell is the absence of God.  Yet this cannot be; by His very nature, God is everywhere, omnipresent–including in hell itself.  Instead, hell is the ever-continuous presence, in wrath, of the God that the people there despise and hate.

My recent reading includes a past Kindle deal that also addresses this subject of Romans 1, suppression, and the limitations of non-Christian worldviews which don’t work in the real world: Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes , by Nancy Pearcey.  Suppression involves focusing on one part of reality and making it the full truth – and ignoring the parts of reality that don’t “fit” within the box.  Following an outline of Romans 1, Pearcey presents five points to help Christians identify and respond to worldview suppression, with examples from Hegel, materialism and other philosophies.

  1. Identify the idol.
  2. Identify the idol’s reductionism
  3. Test the idol: does it contradict what we know about the world?
  4. Test the idol: does it contradict itself?
  5. Replace the idol: make the case for Christianity.

Many examples are provided (with the actual quotes) from secular scientists and philosophers who admit that they really can’t live with the ideas they come up with about reality, such as this section about materialism:

When it reduces humans to complex biochemical machines, what sticks out of the box? Free will. The power of choice. The ability to make decisions.  These are dismissed as illusions. Yet in practice, we cannot live without making choices from the moment we wake up every morning.  Free will is part of undeniable, inescapable human experience—which means it is part of general revelation.  Therefore the materialist view of humanity does not fit reality as we experience it.

When we see statements about how “we cannot live with” a view, that is worldview suppression.  Through the five principles, we can identify the specific type of suppression – and respond to it, to those who present such ideas, with the truth of Christianity.

Oliphint’s lecture is an excellent summary overview of apologetics related to Romans 1.  Pearcey’s book provides more details and examples, with special emphasis on the experience of college students who leave home as Christians and “lose their faith” when challenged by anti-Christians in the academic university setting.

God’s Providence: Reformed Theology Conference Lectures

June 14, 2018 4 comments

Regarding the doctrine of Providence, here are two interesting conference series from ReformedResources (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals),

  • Ian Hamilton and Alistair Begg, six sessions (three each), from the 2014 Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology (full MP3 download set )

God’s Providence Defined  (A. Begg)
God’s Providence in the Lives of His Servants (I. Hamilton)
God’s Providence in the Death of Jesus Christ  (A. Begg)
God’s Providence and Our Worship (I. Hamilton)
Providence Personal Reflections (A. Begg)
Making Sense of the Mysteries of Providence  (I. Hamilton)

and —

The Meaning of Providence
The Means of Providence
The Dilemma of Providence
The Mystery of Providence
The Protection of Providence

The Scottish contribution (Hamilton and Begg) (reference this post, also with an interview link ) is less formal and easier to listen to, for a general audience.  The lectures are interesting (my first listen to these speakers) as a good base; I especially found the 4th one, which connects God’s Providence to our worship, particularly interesting as a topic for further exploration.  Here, Hamilton brought out the reason to include the Psalms in our worship (not a case for exclusive Psalmody, but a balance to include the Psalms):  worship should include the ‘minor note’ so predominant in the Psalms, along with the positive, praising and thankful ‘major note’.  Hamilton also noted a good response to the argument put forth by those who put excessive emphasis on the New Testament — why we should include the Psalms as applicable today in our New Testament age.  Paul, writing to the Romans (Romans 8:36) – in our New Testament age – directly quotes from Psalm 44:22, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’  Thus the Psalms are still applicable to New Testament Christians.

From my recent reading elsewhere, David Powlison (in ‘Speaking Truth in Love’) also referenced the point about the ‘minor key’ versus ‘major key’.

Consider the Psalms, the book of talking with God.  About ninety psalms are “minor key.”  Intercessions regarding sin and suffering predominate—always in light of God revealing his mercies, power, and kingdom.  In about one-third of these, the battle with personal sin and guilt appears.  Often there are requests that God make us wiser: “Teach me”; “Give me understanding”; “Revive me.”  In many more psalms, you see requests to change circumstances: deliver me from evildoers; be my refuge and fortress; destroy your enemies.  These are always tied to requests that God arrive with kingdom glory and power.  God reveals himself by making these bad things and bad people go away!  Then there are the sixty or so “major key” psalms.  These emphasize the joy and praise that mark God’s kingdom reign revealed.

In the 5th lecture, Personal Reflections, Alistair Begg shared much of his personal life experiences including the providence of God that brought him to pastor a church in Cleveland, Ohio.  As just a personal observation from these lectures, I note Begg’s frequent use of humor; at times the ‘laugh-track’ audience response seemed too frequent and distracting, recalling to my mind a post from David Murray (another Scottish Reformed speaker)– this link at Banner of Truth, Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture.  Some preachers naturally like to use more humor than do others, but for my preference the laughter was too frequent at times, though the overall messages were good.

On that more serious note, the second set of lectures linked above, the five from the Westminster Confession conference series, provides the serious, doctrinal look–The Comfort of the Church: God’s Most Wise and Holy Providence.  It takes a while to get used to this style of listening; these are plenary lectures, formal papers presented (read aloud) by each speaker, seminary professors at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  The lectures are rich with references to the Westminster definitions along with many scripture references, on several aspects of providence.  (Note:  The papers from this conference can be accessed in print, the full set here.)  The fourth one, The Mystery of Providence, by C.J. Williams, includes an interesting presentation in typology.  Common “types of Christ” include Joseph and King David, but another Old Testament character I had not considered as a type of Christ, is Job.  Williams expands on the correspondences between Job and Christ:  original great esteem by God, then extreme suffering and humiliation, followed by great exaltation beyond the original condition.  Williams has since published a book, with foreword by Richard Gamble (another of the speakers in this conference set), on the Job/Christ type:  The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job.

These two series are both good ones about the great doctrine of God’s Providence, covering the many aspects of God’s Providence from the doctrinal understanding as well as personal experience of Providence in our lives.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life (2018 Release)

May 31, 2018 2 comments

The topic of Charles Spurgeon — books published by him, and about him — continues to hold great interest, from the renewed interest begun in the second half of the 20th century and increased especially in our day via the Internet.  The distant future (from Spurgeon’s day) has arrived, and it has vindicated Spurgeon:

I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years,” Spurgeon said, “but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”

Crossway’s “Theologians on the Christian Life” series includes an offering, published this spring (2018), about Spurgeon’s theology:  Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ — a book I received from a free book giveaway (from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; Meet the Puritans blog).  With a series preface by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor, this book considers Spurgeon as a theologian.  True, Spurgeon is known best as a preacher, with great evangelistic zeal and pastoral concern; he never wrote a systematic theology, and shunned speculation and peripheral matters.  Yet for all that, his many writings cover theology in its many aspects and its relevance and application to Christian living.

… Spurgeon was, quite self-consciously, a theologian.  Avid in his biblical, theological, and linguistic study, he believed that every preacher should be a theologian, because it is only robust and meaty theology that has nutritional value to feed and grow robust Christians and robust churches. … That combination of concerns, for theological depth with plainness of speech, made Spurgeon a preeminently pastorally minded theologian.  He wanted to be both faithful to God and understood by people.  That, surely, is a healthy and Christlike perspective for any theologian.

After a basic overview of Spurgeon’s character and personality (biographies have already been done on Spurgeon’s life), the focus soon comes to actual points of theology (on the Christian life), and Spurgeon’s views are described with numerous quotes from him, making this book also a great source for Spurgeon quotes on various doctrinal topics.    Spurgeon’s theology is presented in three parts: Christ the Center (the Bible; Puritanism, Calvinism; Preaching), the New Birth, and the New Life.  These sections include chapters on topics including the new birth and baptism, sin and grace, the Holy Spirit and sanctification, prayer, pilgrim army (the Christian as a soldier), suffering and depression, and final glory.

Much of the material was already familiar to me, from my ongoing chronological reading through Spurgeon’s sermons over the last several years (starting in volume 1, 1855, and now I’m currently in the 1868 volume) – presented in summary fashion rather than a complete exhaustive concordance of everything Spurgeon said on every topic.  Spurgeon’s textual preaching style is also well described.

Among the interesting points brought out — from previous sermons I had come across Spurgeon’s variation on trichotomy: that the believer has a soul, spirit and body, contrasted with the unbeliever having only two parts, soul and body.  Spurgeon on the Christian Life adds that Spurgeon’s view here, a unique one, is similar (probably unintentionally so) to that of Irenaeus of Lyon; Michael Reeves also briefly deals with the actual theology, noting the problem with Spurgeon’s idea here:

Yet, in order to underline human inability and God’s grace, he [Spurgeon] also developed a more peculiar opinion with greater similarities (almost certainly wholly unintended) to the theology of Irenaeus of Lyons.  As Spurgeon saw it, man naturally consists only of a body and soul, but when he is regenerated, there is created in him a third and wholly new nature: the spirit.  This is a higher nature, beyond anything in creation; it is a supernatural, heavenly, and immortal nature… Such a spiritual nature must be the gift of God.  Yet is this redemption?… To be sure, we gain more in Christ than ever we lost in Adam, but Spurgeon seems to overstate his case here, temporarily losing something of the restorative and reconciliatory aspects of salvation.

I especially appreciated the chapter on Spurgeon and “Suffering and Depression,” a feature of Spurgeon that has often been observed and discussed (reference, for example, this recent post and also this post).  This chapter includes a good summary of Spurgeon’s personal suffering, his seeking to understand theologically the reasons for his suffering —  along with explanation of the reasons for suffering, replete with many excellent Spurgeon quotes about suffering, including this selection (from sermon #692):

In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing. “Ah!” says one, “but suppose you have fallen into some great sin—what then?” Why then the more reason that you should cast yourself upon Him. Do you think Jesus Christ is only for little sinners? Is He a doctor who only heals finger-aches? Beloved, it is not faith to trust Christ when I have no sin, but it is true faith when I am foul, and black, and filthy; when during the day I have tripped up and fallen, and done serious damage to my joy and peace—to go back again to that dear fountain and say, “Lord, I never loved washing as much before as I do tonight, for today I have made a fool of myself; I have said and done what I ought not to have done, and I am ashamed and full of confusion, but I believe Christ can save me, even me, and by His grace I will rest in Him still.

The last chapter, “Final Glory,” touches on Spurgeon’s eschatological views, correctly noting that Spurgeon held to historic premillennialism and that he did not value the time spent on speculative matters of prophecy.  Here I would only add, from my observations of actual Spurgeon sermons, that Spurgeon did not consider premillennialism itself to be a matter of speculation.  It was his frequent practice (within the textual style sermon) to first speak to the literal, plain meaning of a text before turning aside to his own exploration of the words of a text.  So here, too, Spurgeon’s sermon introductions — to texts such as Revelation 20, and Old Testament prophecies about the regathering of national Israel — included very strong affirmations of his beliefs: a future millennial age, Christ’s premillennial return, and a regathering of national, ethnic Israel, to be saved at the time of Christ’s return.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life is another great addition to the collection of material about Charles Spurgeon, a good reference for quotes from Spurgeon as well as to showcase Spurgeon’s theology on Christian living.

For Still Our Ancient Foe: Binary Thinking Vs Paganism

May 11, 2018 5 comments

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals hosted a recent conference, the 2017 Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology — held Nov. 17-18 in Quakertown, PA: For Still Our Ancient Foe.  The conference included seven lectures from four speakers: Kent Hughes, Tom Nettles, Peter Jones and Dennis Cahill.

Among the lectures on the theme that references Martin Luther’s classic hymn, I found the two lectures from Dr. Peter Jones particularly interesting: Exposing the Lies of Our Ancient Foe and How Did We Get Here, and Where is the Culture Going? These lectures pertained to the same subject, Jones’ observations about American religion over the last several decades, with focus (from the lecture titles) on exposing the Current Lies of Our Ancient Foe, and where is the Church (the professing Church) going?

Jones’ insights on American culture, in contrast with the America he first knew in 1964 (he was friends with John Lennon in high school, and came over to America the same year, though not with the Beatles) and yet as a direct result of the 1960s sexual revolution, are spot-on.  Beyond my previous understanding of Romans 1, Jones well explains the two types of religion in the world:  not the common saying of ‘works salvation versus grace’, but a more philosophical (yet true) contrast between “one” and  “two.”  All religion comes down to one of these two:  those who worship the creation (paganism, one-ism) in contrast with those who worship the creator as distinct from the creation (biblical, two-ism); a contrast between binary and non-binary thinking.

Jones references many authors and books, noting the early trends in the 1970s and the cultural shift from modernism/secularism to eastern spirituality.  An author in the 1970s predicted that atheist secularism would give way to the gods of Greek and Roman mythology; instead of Greek and Roman, the trend actually went to Indian Hinduism.  In our now ‘post-secular’ society, the ‘New Age’ promoted in the 1980s and early 1990s has come into its own, including the pagan focus on merging and reducing everything to “one,” blurring the distinctions that truly exist between God (the Creator) and us (the created).  The leaders of the 1960s sexual revolution concluded that between the two “extremes” of theism and atheism, the “true” middle-ground is pantheism.

I had some previous familiarity with the ‘New Age,’ from the books about it in the Christian bookstore in the early 1990s as well as the pop culture references such as Star Wars and other movies promoting pantheism, such as the book/movie “Secret Garden.”  What is new (to me), brought out by Peter Jones, is the connection between pantheist paganism and homosexuality and transgenderism.  The “Age of Aquarius,” popularized in the late 1960s catchy tune from the Fifth Dimension was also the ‘age of androgyny;’ here reference June Singer’s 1977 book, Androgyny: Toward A New Theory of Sexuality, which describes androgyny as the sacrament of oneism (paganism).  Additional research shows that all ancient, animist religions of the world – Mayan and Aztecs, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Canaan, and elsewhere – feature an androgynous (homosexual) leader.

In the Reformation and Puritan era, the big question was, ‘how can I be saved’?  Today, the big question is ‘Who am I’ – our human identity.  Homosexuality and transgenderism says our identity is whatever we make it to be, something fluid and changeable; an identity that removes distinctions to merge with ‘the one.’  Yet our biblical identity includes heterosexuality and gender distinctions – which show the Creator-creation distinction as well as the relationship of Christ to His people.  We affirm “two,” the Creator God apart from us.  Trinitarian understanding also comes from affirming Creator/creation distinctions.  Our God is not a single entity (monad), that is incomplete without us; before creation ever existed, He was complete: Father, Son and Spirit.  The impersonal gods of non-Christian monotheist religions (such as Islam), do not have the concept of love and relationships.

For further study, here is a list of books mentioned in the conference lectures (many of these are written by unbelievers and apostates; their views described by Peter Jones):

On Church Statements of Faith (and Historic Creeds)

April 27, 2018 9 comments

My appreciation for the Reformed confessions continues to grow, especially from interacting with the anti-creed, anti-confession attitude — and the consequent superficial, shallow and even false teaching — so prevalent in evangelicalism today.

As noted in Brian Borgman’s series (sermon audio here) from 18 years ago, the historic creeds and confessions provide valuable information to the church as Christ’s body, teaching preserved for future generations.  These statements were carefully developed to refute various heresies, and down through the centuries, the next generation of the church learned its doctrine from the wisdom of past ages.  Then, the 19th century American pioneering culture of ‘rugged individualism’ along with the bad part of the Second Great Awakening revival movement (Charles Finney and others) started us down the wrong path: a view that thinks what is new and modern is better than what came before, a view that does not learn from history, and instead proclaims “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible” (originally said by Alexander Campbell of the “Disciples of Christ” group in the early 19th century).

Christians in the 20th century did provide several Christian declarations, often focused on particular causes/issues of our day, such as the 1974 Lausanne Covenant on World Missions, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and the 1980s Danvers Statement (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).  Then came the controversial, doctrinal compromising ECT and ECT II (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) in the 1990s.  Since 2000 we have seen more of the specific purpose statements such as the Manhattan Declaration  and now the Nashville Statement.  Borgman’s series from 2000 ended the final lesson (about modern day creeds) on a positive note: the Cambridge Declaration of 1996, the origin of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

In response to the increasing anti-creedal attitude prevalent today, Founders.org has provided a few recent articles that make the positive case for why churches should (still) use creeds and confessions, as with these two:

The problem that comes up in churches that do not reference the historic creeds and confessions can be seen when an independent church with a relatively small congregation attempts to come up with its own “statement of faith” — a (supposedly) simple, not complex or lengthy, original document.  In desiring to use their own statements – apart from the careful analysis and wording used by the large assemblies and church councils in years past – and trying to say things briefly in their own words, their resulting statements have a tendency to be incomplete, misleading, and in some cases stating actual error.  (I realize that this is not their intent; they believe that they are trying to be faithful in expressing Christian truth.  It is their method, and the underlying presupposition to not reference historic creeds, that is problematic.)

As an example, a local church’s statement of faith mentions the inerrancy of scripture “in the original writings” – yet is silent on the related issue of scripture in translations, leaving the topic open to be challenged by others.  Since the original writings are not in common use by most of us, the Reformed confessions, as well as the recent Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, felt it was important to address the attributes of scripture in our translations.  From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X (emphasis added):

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

The Reformed confessions of a few centuries ago also expressed the point, in language less technical, for the purpose of the edification of the saints.  From the 1689 London Baptist Confession, chapter 1 (Of the Holy Scriptures, paragraph 8):

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.

More troubling is when a church’s statement of faith includes faulty hermeneutics, with sentences such as since all Scripture points to Christ, the Old Testament should be interpreted through the New Testament.  Such an idea has serious implications:  if the Old Testament cannot be understood on its own, apart from the New Testament, then no one who lived in the Old Testament age, or in the early church before the NT was written — when the Old Testament was their Bible – could possibly have understood God’s word on its own basis, since the ‘key’ to explaining what the Old Testament ‘really means’ did not yet exist.  Consider that the apostle Paul himself taught the truth of Christ and the resurrection by directly quoting from the Old Testament.  What about the believers in the book of Malachi (Malachi 3:16-18), or any of the other believers who lived before the New Testament was written?

Here again, we do not have to look back very far in history, as the Chicago statement also was clear regarding the hermeneutic of how we understand and interpret scripture.  As Article V explains (emphasis added):

We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.
We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. 

The 17th century Reformed confessions (including the WCF, the Savoy Declaration and the 1689 London Baptist Confession) were written by those who saw the importance of doctrine for all of life, those who saw the need to provide detailed answers to the many questions, and to provide instruction to the common people.  The first chapter provided many paragraphs on Scripture , and these hold up very well, to this day, as excellent summaries of the faith, useful for instructing local congregations in Christian truth.  The modern-day attempt to “reinvent the wheel” regarding definition of doctrine manifests the very problem with trying to do so – belief statements lacking in detail and with faulty doctrine.  We would all do well to remember church history, and learn our doctrine — and how to say it clearly and accurately — from those who went before us.

Bible Application from the Patriarchs’ Lives

April 20, 2018 2 comments

It has been well observed that God’s word instructs us in two ways: by precepts, and by illustrations. Sections including the Decalogue, the Proverbs and New Testament epistles emphasize right living by precepts and commands; then we have illustrations of real people’s lives – such as the patriarchs and King David – that show us the good and bad, including the consequences of sin.

The Tabletalk 2007 back-issues (the same calendar year as 2018), going through the lives of the patriarchs, are excellent studies, packed with application regarding Christian living.  I was familiar with some of the more obvious issues — such as the repeated patterns of lying (Abraham and Isaac), parental favoritism (Isaac and Rebekah with Esau and Jacob), and Jacob’s years with Laban, for Jacob to learn some things about his deceitful behavior the hard way – and the general point that the Bible is a divine book, that it does not whitewash the heroes of the faith, it does not hide but tells us the many faults of these men, to show that it is all of God’s grace and not ourselves.

Beyond that, though, Genesis has much more to say about day to day life and the trials and suffering, showing us by way of illustration that it has always been this way for God’s people, and that what we experience is nothing new or unusual (ref. 1 Peter 4:12 and 1 Peter 5:9).

Abraham and Sarah lived, day by day, through 25 years before the promised heir was born.

Isaac and Rebekah clearly did not have a great marriage, one that had broken down in communication by the time of Genesis 27, such that each was doing their own thing.  Along the way, they both experienced the daily grief of Esau’s wives—and this went on for decades, from the time when Esau married them (age 40) to the time of Jacob’s stealing the blessing when they were about age 76-77: life events did not come and go quickly, but they endured this situation for over 35 years.

One of the Tabletalk articles from February 2007 consists of John Calvin’s exposition of Genesis 26:26-35.  In the details of Isaac’s life we see a Bible example of what Spurgeon pointed out in his sermons: when God does not answer our prayers and provide relief in one specific area, He will answer us in some other way (a truth which I have come to know, time and time again, in my own trials):

Here we see on the one side, how God would comfort his servant [Isaac] every way: For it was not only showed him that he should be assured from then on that none should hurt him — seeing the king himself of the country came to seek him — but also he had water given him, which he might enjoy peaceably and quietly as his own. When therefore our Lord shows this great favor towards Isaac, let us know that He does not tempt him above their strength, but always sweetens their afflictions in such sort, that they shall not be, as it were, ever oppressed and quite overthrown. Let us hope, that just as Isaac was upheld, God after He had afflicted him, looked also again unto him to give him some comfort, so likewise must we wait, and then we shall not be disappointed if we rest there. For God knows our frailty, and there is no doubt He will always give us such taste of His mercy and favor that we shall have good cause to bless His name and have no occasion to think the sad thought that we do not know how to comfort ourselves anymore in Him.

Then another Tabletalk article from this same issue defines the law of retaliation, the talion (an eye for an eye, for equivalence of punishment), followed by reference to the specifics of Jacob’s life.  Jacob deceived his father who was blind; later, Jacob was deceived by Laban due to the blindness of night (Genesis 29:21-30, Leah substituted for Rachel).  Jacob deceived his father with a goat skin; his own sons deceived Jacob with the blood of a goat (Genesis 37:31).  Noting the specifics of how God worked out His justice in the life of Jacob, is good application to God’s Providence regarding our own lives, to reflect on the reality of this in our own lives. I can relate the events in Jacob’s life, and the truth of Galatians 6:7, to my own circumstances, to better understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of God’s chastening in the specific events in my own life.

Yet God’s grace and kindness comes through as well, sometimes in very amazing and unexpected ways–in their lives, as well as ours.

But God is rich in mercy as well as justice. By Leah, Jacob’s wife through Laban’s deception, was born Judah, through whom Christ was to come (Gen. 29:35). And by Joseph, who was at last restored to Jacob, God delivered the world from a famine (41:57). So in all of this we see that God is rich in mercy as well as justice. In wisdom He works to accomplish His sovereign ends even through the just punishments He visits upon His errant covenant people for their evil means.