Posts Tagged ‘Confessions’

Athanasius’s story is one of ups and downs. It is a story of joy and fellowship, as well as suffering, persecution, and pilgrimage. In other words, it is the Christian’s story. Often however, it is difficult for modern-day Christians to relate to the lives of Christians long ago. It seems ancient Christians suffered for their faith in a way that we do not. But is this actually so?

Simonetta Carr, in her latest book Athanasius, offers a compelling illustration of just how much we have in common with Christians from long ago. Aimed at children (ages 7-12), the book wonderfully sets forth the life and actions of one of the great leaders in the ancient church (4th century). Not content with mere names and dates, the author delicately weaves the story together, as it is driven along by the historical issues of the day. In addition to all this, nearly every page is lavished with beautiful illustrations which pour depth and color upon the narrative. This is truly an aesthetically pleasing book.

And yet its beauty not withstanding, what is most compelling of all is the way in which the author ties the ideas and events of history directly to the lives and imaginations of young readers today. They “see” how and why we confess the Nicene Creed in Church (for instance). Drawn into the particular challenges facing Athanasius and Christians long ago, the reader is also instructed in how much we have in common today — most importantly, that we confess the very same Christian faith.

“Athanasius was greatly loved and greatly hated during his lifetime,” writes the author. “He has been called “Athanasius contra mundum’, which in Latin means, ‘Athanasius against the world’ (p. 52). And while we today often don’t feel so connected to our ancient Christian brothers and sisters, it is helpful and encouraging to read books which remind us of that unity and give us a better longing for that day when we will all confess together our same God and Savior, Jesus Christ. This book comes highly recommended and should be ordered from Reformation Heritage Books here.

* As part of the special book give-away tour, the publishers have allowed me to give away one (1) free copy of the book Athanasius, by Simonetta Carr! So, the fifth person who contacts me at brendenlink@yahoo.com wins their very own free copy! [update: 9-29-2011] Congratulations to Brianna! She has won her free copy of Simonetta Carr’s Athanasius!

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Why are we scared of Scholasticism? It seems few things are more difficult today than getting ostensibly Reformed people (seminarians in view) to read the Reformed Scholastics. And yet nothing could probably be more important.

Let us ask: Is it important that we as Reformed Christians know our tradition? Is it important that potential ministers (more specifically) understand and really grasp classical Protestant Orthodoxy as it is found in the historic, ecclesiastic, and dogmatic expressions of the Reformed Scholastics from the 16th and 17th centuries? These are the sources (founts) from which we have received the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Can we abandon our wells? Can we ignore church history? Can we scorn our mother who bore us? Or must we listen patiently (often painstakingly, and painfully!) to her instructions (Prov. 1:8)? The Reformed understood theology not merely as knowledge (scientia) but even more as wisdom (sapientia). The question before us is whether we will discipline ourselves to learn wisdom (Prov. 1).

Can we remain ignorant of classical Protestant Orthodoxy and still maintain Protestantism? I’m becoming more convinced the answer is, No.

Paul Tillich observed this when he commented:

Orthodoxy is great and more serious than what is called fundamentalism in America. Fundamentalism is the product of a reaction in the nineteenth century, and is a primitivized form of classical Orthodoxy. Classical Orthodoxy had a great theology. We could also call it Protestant scholasticism, with all the refinements and methods which the word “scholastic” includes. Thus, when I speak of Orthodoxy, I refer to the way in which the Reformation established itself as an ecclesiastical form of life and thought after the dynamic movement of the Reformation came to an end. It is the systematization and consolidation of the ideas of the Reformation… Hence, we should deal with this period in a much more serious way than is usually done in America. In Germany, and generally in European theological faculties—France, Switzerland, Sweden, etc.—every student of theology was supposed to learn by heart the doctrines of at least one classical theologian of the post-Reformation period of Orthodoxy, be it Lutheran or Calvinist, and in Latin at that. Even if we should forget about the Latin today, we should know these doctrines, because they form the classical system of Protestant thought. It is an unheard-of state of things when Protestant churches of today do not even know the classical expression of their own foundations in the dogmatics of Orthodoxy… All theology of today is dependent in some way on the classical systems of Orthodoxy. – “A History of Christian Thought” (pp. 276-77), cited in Michael Horton, “Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama,” (pp. 2-3). 

We cannot afford to remain ignorant of Reformed Scholasticism and hope for Protestantism to stay alive. That is, unless we plan on planting our theological feet firmly and confidently in mid-air… Clearly, an impossible and irrational supposition.

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Continuing on this topic of the Lord’s Table, I’ve copied here several more questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism. These are succinct, and yet I think very helpful for us. How else to better understand what the Reformed faith has taught about this sacrament than by reading through these confessional statements of faith? What’s more, if we come to realize that our understanding of the Lord’s Supper is different (perhaps very much so) than what the Reformed Church has confessed over the centuries, then this presses us to reckon with why that is so.

What do we believe about the Lord’s Supper? Is this even an important question? Is Communion just a memorial service? Is it merely about “remembering” Christ’s death? And is it something we can do individually, when we’re ready to go up and partake?  Would a “glorified quite time” best describe what is going on?

The Reformed Church has confessed clearly that she believes otherwise.  The Lord’s Supper is not just a “memorial” service. It’s not merely about remembering what Christ has done. That’s important to be sure, but there’s more (a lot more) going on. And it’s for our own good as Christians who desire to grow stronger in our faiths and deeper in our sanctification that we value a greater appreciation of this reality.

The Holy Supper

Lord’s Day 28

75. How is it signified and sealed to you in the Holy Supper that you partake of the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross and all His benefits?

Thus: that Christ has commanded me and all believers to eat of this broken bread and to drink of this cup in remembrance of Him, and has joined therewith these promises:[1] first, that His body was offered and broken on the cross for me and His blood shed for me, as certainly as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup communicated to me; and further, that with His crucified body and shed blood He Himself feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, as certainly as I receive from the hand of the minister and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, which are given me as certain tokens of the body and blood of Christ.

[1] Mt 26:26-28Mk 14:22-24Lk 22:19-201 Cor 10:16-17, 11:23-25, 12:13

76. What does it mean to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ?

It means not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal;[1] but moreover, also, to be so united more and more to His sacred body by the Holy Spirit,[2] who dwells both in Christ and in us, that, although He is in heaven[3] and we on earth, we are nevertheless flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone,[4] and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are governed by one soul.[5]

[1] Jn 6:35, 40, 47-48, 50-54; [2] Jn 6:55-561 Cor 12:13; [3] Acts 1:9-11, 3:211 Cor 11:26Col 3:1; [4] 1 Cor 6:15, 17, 19Eph 3:16-19, 5:29-30, 321 Jn 4:13; [5] Jn 6:56-58, 63, 14:23, 15:1-6Eph 4:15-161 Jn 3:24

77. Where has Christ promised that He will thus feed and nourish believers with His body and blood as certainly as they eat of this broken bread and drink of this cup?

In the institution of the Supper, which says: “The Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had eaten, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.”[1] And this promise is also repeated by the Apostle Paul, where he says: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, so we being many are one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread.”[2]

[1] 1 Cor 11:23-25; [2] 1 Cor 10:16-17

Lord’s Day 29

78. Do, then, the bread and the wine become the real body and blood of Christ?

No, but as the water in Baptism is not changed into the blood of Christ, nor becomes the washing away of sins itself, being only the divine token and assurance thereof,[1] so also in the Lord’s Supper the sacred bread[2] does not become the body of Christ itself, though agreeably to the nature and usage of sacraments it is called the body of Christ.[3]

[1] Mt 26:29Eph 5:26Tit 3:5; [2] Mt 26:26-291 Cor 11:26-28; [3] Gen 17:10-11Ex 12:11, 13, 26-27, 43, 481 Cor 10:1-4, 16-17, 26-28

79. Why then does Christ call the bread His body, and the cup His blood, or the new covenant in His blood; and the apostle Paul, the communion of the body and the blood of Christ?

Christ speaks thus with great cause, namely, not only to teach us thereby, that like as the bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also His crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal;[1] but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us that we are as really partakers of His true body and blood by the working of the Holy Spirit, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of Him;[2]and that all His sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own, as if we ourselves had suffered and done all in our own person.[3]

[1] Jn 6:51-55; [2] 1 Cor 5:16-17, 10:16-17, 11:26; [3] Rom 6:5-11

Lord’s Day 30

80. What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the Pope’s Mass?

The Lord’s Supper testifies to us that we have full forgiveness of all our sins by the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself once accomplished on the cross;[1] and that by the Holy Spirit we are ingrafted into Christ,[2] who, with His true body, is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father,[3] and is there to be worshipped.[4] But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have forgiveness of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is still daily offered for them by the priests, and that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and is therefore to be worshipped in them. And thus the Mass at bottom is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ,[5]and an accursed idolatry.

[1] Mt 26:28Jn 19:30Heb 7:27, 9:12, 25-28, 10:10-12, 14; [2] 1 Cor 6:17, 10:16-17; [3] Jn 20:17;Acts 7:55-56Heb 1:3, 8:1; [4] Lk 24:52Jn 4:21-24, 20:17Acts 7:55Php 3:20-21Col 3:11 Thes 1:9-10; [5] Mt 4:10Heb 9, 10

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I’m sure many of you have thought about this. I know I have. What really is the point of the Lord’s Table?  What does it mean to participate in the body and blood of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:15-16)? What is it all about? Why do we do this?

The Belgic Confession puts it this way.

Article 35: Of the Lord’s Supper

We believe and confess that our Saviour Jesus Christ has instituted the sacrament of the holy supper[1] to nourish and sustain those whom He has already regenerated and incorporated into His family, which is His church.

Those who are born anew have a twofold life.[2] One is physical and temporal, which they received in their first birth and is common to all men. The other is spiritual and heavenly, which is given them in their second birth and is effected by the word of the gospel[3] in the communion of the body of Christ. This life is not common to all but only to the elect of God.

For the support of the physical and earthly life God has ordained earthly and material bread. This bread is common to all just as life is common to all. For the support of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers have, He has sent them a living bread which came down from heaven (Jn 6:51), namely, Jesus Christ,[4]who nourishes and sustains the spiritual life of the believers[5] when He is eaten by them, that is, spiritually appropriated and received by faith.[6]

To represent to us the spiritual and heavenly bread, Christ has instituted earthly and visible bread as a sacrament of His body and wine as a sacrament of His blood.[7] He testifies to us that as certainly as we take and hold the sacrament in our hands and eat and drink it with our mouths, by which our physical life is then sustained, so certainly do we receive by faith,[8] as the hand and mouth of our soul, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Saviour, in our souls for our spiritual life.

The Heidelberg Catechism is also helpful.

81. Who are to come to the table of the Lord?

Those who are displeased with themselves for their sins, yet trust that these are forgiven them, and that their remaining infirmity is covered by the suffering and death of Christ; who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to amend their life. But the impenitent and hypocrites eat and drink judgment to themselves.[1]

[1] Ps 51:3, 103:1-4Mt 5:6Jn 7:37-381 Cor 10:19-22, 11:26-32

82. Are they, then, also to be admitted to this Supper who show themselves by their confession and life to be unbelieving and ungodly?

No, for thereby the covenant of God is profaned and His wrath provoked against the whole congregation;[1] therefore, the Christian Church is bound, according to the order of Christ and His Apostles, to exclude such persons by the Office of the Keys until they amend their lives.

[1] Ps 50:16-17Isa 1:11-17, 66:3Jer 7:21-23Mt 7:61 Cor 11:17-342 Thes 3:6Tit 3:10-11

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Martin Downes on his blog Against Heresies talks about the deceitfulness of error and the need for Churches to have both a clear external expression of their faith (such as confessions) and a Spirit-wrought internal conviction of the truth. Great post here.

Also, Tabletalk takes on the New Perspectives on Paul. If you’re familiar, curious, or confused about the NPP or N.T. Wright, here would be a good place to start reading.

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I’ve been reading through some of our old confessional documents such as the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession. And I must admit they are a delight to the eye and to the heart.  Article 22 of the Belgic Confession regards justifying faith and the faith of justification:

We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him. For it must needs follow, either that all things which are requisite to our salvation are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in Him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in Him. Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides Him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Savior.

Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from works (Rom 3:28). However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.

These documents are tremendously helpful and clear regarding the things we believe.

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Over the last week I’ve been digging in more deeply to our understanding of baptism, particularly in light of covenant theology.  However, one of the issues that comes up is that of baptismal regeneration.  Of course, it is generally those who hold to a ‘higher’ (or more potent) view of the sacrament who are labeled with the term.  Lately (in Reformed circles) this issue has come up in response to the Federal Vision movement.  Some critics of the movement claim its proponents hold to some form of baptismal regeneration. Of course, this is generally denied.

Today, I was reading through Josh Moon’s defense of TE Lawrence (Siouxland Presbytery PCA). And in it I found much to think about. Moon argues that Lawrence’s position on baptism (and the benefits it confers) is well within the bounds of our Reformed tradition.  To support this claim he points to Calvin, Ursinus, Owen, Bavinck, Hodge and others. All these great men are then cited as affirming the basic idea that all who are baptized into Christ are indeed “Christians” — and at least should be considered as such by the Church. Now, does that sound all that controversial? Well, I suppose it depends on what one means by  “Christian.”

However, as Moon moved to the ‘Testimony of Scripture’ I think I would have some questions. He writes:

We are told by the complainants that you cannot attribute forgiveness of sins to the potential reprobate. But that is clearly wrong. The unmerciful servant, Jesus says, was “forgiven his debt.” He moved from a state of condemnation to true and real forgiveness. This was no pretended forgiveness. Yet the servant was finally apostate. He failed to live up to the grace shown to him, and so the privilege of that forgiveness was revoked. And that, Jesus says, is how my father will treat each of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. This, remember, is addressed to Peter and Christ’s own disciples. It is a parable about forgiveness and apostasy, and gives the complainants no ground at all for their complaint.

Moon claims that one can indeed have “real forgiveness” and yet, in the end, be damned. He says that this parable (found in the Gospel of Matthew ch 18:21-35) actually teaches about apostasy. My question is whether our Reformed theologians have understood this passage to be teaching what Moon believes it is.

On this passage (Mat 18) Calvin comments:

[I]t is foolish to inquire how God punishes (“how it is possible for God to punish”) those sins which he has already forgiven; for the simple meaning is this: though he offers mercy to all, yet severe creditors, from whom no forgiveness can be obtained, are unworthy of enjoying it.

So it seems Calvin wouldn’t go as far as Moon would in interpreting this parable.

Francis Turretin writes:

Although remission of sins ought to be applied often to daily sins, yet falsely would anyone thence gather that sins once discharged revive and return again by subsequent sins (as some of the Romanists hold), since it is a unchangeable gift of God. Nor does the parable of that ungrateful servant (…[Mt. 18]) prove this. It pertains to nothing else than to show that the remission of sins proposed conditionally does not belong to him in whom the condition is lacking. The design of the parable (which is to be regarded here simply) is no other than to teach that the mercy of God is not exercised towards the unmerciful; nor are sins pardoned by God, except to those who forgive the offenses of others. (Inst. 2.687)

Furthermore, one can read Matthew Henry on this passage who states:

We are not to suppose that God actually forgives men, and afterwards reckons their guilt to them to condemn them; but this latter part of the parable shows the false conclusions many draw as to their sins being pardoned, though their after-conduct shows that they never entered into the spirit, or experienced the sanctifying grace of the gospel.

All of these men interpret this passage in a particular way — and it appears — in a way at variances with Moon. Now, a little later Moon further writes:

We are told that the language of union with Christ cannot be attributed in any sense to the baptized indiscriminately – that it cannot be true for the reprobate. Yet John 15 and Romans 11 both use the language of being “in Christ”, which is union with Christ. And they use that language in speaking of those who might finally be (or have been) cut off. In both cases it is covenantal union in Christ that is then broken. And in both cases the possibility and the reality exist of apostasy. Paul in Romans 11 even speaks of those branches who are being “nourished by the root” who are then cut off.

But on these passages as well, I am curious as to whether our Reformed divines would have agreed with his interpretation. On Romans 11 Calvin writes:

Let us remember that in this comparison man is not compared with man, but nation with nation. (v. 16)

(v. 20: Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.) But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer, — that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith. And we must especially notice and remember what I have before said, — that Paul’s address is not so much to individuals as to the whole body of the Gentiles, among whom there might have been many, who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith. On account of these Paul threatens the Gentiles, not without reason, with excision…

And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. (v. 21)

But as he speaks not of the elect individually, but of the whole body, a condition is added, If they continued in his kindness I indeed allow, that as soon as any one abuses God’s goodness, he deserves to be deprived of the offered favor; but it would be improper to say of any one of the godly particularly, that God had mercy on him, when he chose him, provided he would continue in his mercy; for the perseverance of faith, which completes in us the effect of God’s grace, flows from election itself.

Otherwise thou also shalt be cut off, etc. We now understand in what sense Paul threatens them with excision, whom he has already allowed to have been grafted into the hope of life through God’s election. For, first, though this cannot happen to the elect, they have yet need of such warning, in order to subdue the pride of the flesh; which being really opposed to their salvation, ought justly to be terrified with the dread of perdition. As far then as Christians are illuminated by faith, they hear, for their assurance, that the calling of God is without repentance; but as far as they carry about them the flesh, which wantonly resists the grace of God, they are taught humility by this warning, “Take heed lest thou be cut off.” Secondly, we must bear in mind the solution which I have before mentioned, — that Paul speaks not here of the special election of individuals, but sets the Gentiles and Jews in opposition the one to the other; and that therefore the elect are not so much addressed in these words, as those who falsely gloried that they had obtained the place of the Jews: nay, he speaks to the Gentiles generally, and addresses the whole body in common, among whom there were many who were faithful, and those who were members of Christ in name only.

But if it be asked respecting individuals, “How any one could be cut off from the grafting, and how, after excision, he could be grafted again,” — bear in mind, that there are three modes of insition, and two modes of excision. For instance, the children of the faithful are ingrafted, to whom the promise belongs according to the covenant made with the fathers; ingrafted are also they who indeed receive the seed of the gospel, but it strikes no root, or it is choked before it brings any fruit; and thirdly, the elect are ingrafted, who are illuminated unto eternal life according to the immutable purpose of God. The first are cut off, when they refuse the promise given to their fathers, or do not receive it on account of their ingratitude; the second are cut off, when the seed is withered and destroyed; and as the danger of this impends over all, with regard to their own nature, it must be allowed that this warning which Paul gives belongs in a certain way to the faithful, lest they indulge themselves in the sloth of the flesh. But with regard to the present passage, it is enough for us to know, that the vengeance which God had executed on the Jews, is pronounced on the Gentiles, in case they become like them. (v. 21)

It seems abundantly clear that Calvin is not applying this passage to the elect in the same way as Moon, but deliberately makes a distinction: Some are in the covenant in a way different than others. Some can’t be ‘cutoff’.

On John 15 Calvin similarly won’t go where Moon goes:

(v. 6) Not that it ever happens that any one of the elect is dried up, but because there are many hypocrites who, in outward appearance, flourish and are green for a time, but who afterwards, when they ought to yield fruit, show the very opposite of that which the Lord expects and demands from his people.

To be fair, I am not saying that these interpretations are necessarily diametrically opposed or incompatible with each other (although maybe they are). However, there might be overlap. But, if so, it’s not clear. It seems there is at least a substantial differences between the way Calvin (and others) interpret these texts and how Moon and Lawrence do.

Now, I’ve met Pastor Moon, and have no ill feelings toward him at all. In fact, this December, I heard him preach on the ‘Preservation of the Saints’ which I thought was very good and which blessed me tremendously. However, I’m writing this because I find this language concerning, and frankly, contrary to what I have heretofore held to be correct.

Is there such a thing as ‘temporary forgiveness’? And if there is, is it based on ‘temporal justification’?  Is there any forgiveness without justification? Any forgiveness without atonement? Any atonement without the blood of Christ? And is there any blood of Christ spent on damned reprobates? May it never be.

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