Posts tagged #Westminster Shorter Catechism

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 106 & 107

What do we pray for in the sixth petition? 
A: In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 

What does the conclusion of the Lord's prayer teach us? 
A: The conclusion of the Lord's prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen, teaches us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power and glory to him. And in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen. 
 1 Corinthians 14:16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 

This is it! This is the final blog post in our 2 year series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I hope it has been as helpful and edifying for you to read as it has been for me to write. 

Question 106 deals with the sixth petition in the Lord's prayer. This petition flows out of the fifth petition, where we ask God to both forgive us for our sins and to have the grace we need to forgive others. Here, we are recognizing before the holy God that while we have been delivered, in Jesus Christ, from the power of sin, we still struggle every day to walk in a way that is pleasing to God. The remnants of the old man, as John Owen called it, are strong within us! We are new creations in Christ, but we still feel the effects of the old man. And not only that, we are constantly being bombarded with arrows from the Enemy, arrows that tempt us to give in to sin and live as if we are not new creations. We ask God, who does not tempt us to sin, to lead us away from temptation. We ask God to deliver us from the temptations that we face, and when we do face temptation, which we surely will, we ask God to be our shelter, to "support us", give us the strength we need to flee from temptation. 

Finally, question 107 deals with the closing of the Lord's prayer. Now we realize there has been some controversy over the past several years concerning the use of the closing portion of the Lord's prayer, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen." While this phrase is found in older English translations, such as the King James version, it is not found in newer translations, and for good reason. As more early texts of the New Testament have been discovered, it became apparent that this portion of the prayer was, indeed, added to Matthew 6 later on and was more than likely not part of the original manuscript.

So why do we continue to use this portion of the prayer in our gathered worship services? Well, a big reason why is because this closing portion is indeed modeled after other biblical prayers that we find in Scripture. In fact, it follows very closely Old Testament Jewish doxological structures. We can see this in 1 Chronicles 29:11, "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours." Given the liturgical structure of the Lord's prayer as given by Christ, we see no problem in "attaching" a doxology of praise modeled after Biblical liturgical prayers to the end of the prayer. More than likely, early Christians did the same thing (which is how it most likely was added into manuscripts of Matthew). It is fully appropriate, within the context of liturgical prayer, to close with such a doxology-a statement of praise-for us to say as one body, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, amen!"

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A #104-105

104 Q: What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
A: In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God's free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them. 

105 Q: What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A. In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ's sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

The fourth petition of the Lord's prayer reminds us of several things. First, it reminds us that we are fully dependent upon God to sustain our lives. By asking for our daily bread, we are saying to him, "Father, we recognize that you alone hold our lives in your hands and you sustain us!" It also reminds us that all we have is, indeed, a gift from God. He is the giver of all good things! There is nothing good that we have that is truly a work of our own hands. Third, we are to enjoy his gifts to us and give praise to God because of his gifts. Not only do God's provisions sustain our lives, they remind us that we serve a loving God who is worthy of our praise and adoration, and we should overflow with thanksgiving for the good gifts God gives us each day. 

The fifth petition reminds us of our sin. It reminds us of our need for a savior. It reminds us of our need for Jesus Christ. And not only does it remind us of our sin, and our need for God's forgiveness for our sins, but it also reminds us of the call to forgive others, "as God in Christ forgave you". It's really teaching us a wonderful truth. If we can be forgiven by God, as we most certainly are when we are trusting in Jesus, then we can most definitely forgive anyone who may "sin" against us! Despite our offense to a thrice holy God, we rest in knowing our forgiveness is certain. Because our forgiveness is certain, then we can certainly forgive others. And we're not only, through this portion of the Lord's prayer, asking God to forgive us in Christ, but also asking for the grace to be gracious in forgiving others. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 102-103

102 Q: What do we pray for in the second petition?
A: In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan's kingdom
may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and
others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

103 Q: What do we pray for in the third petition?
A: In the third petition, which is, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.
Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Moving forward in examining the Lord's prayer, this week we look at the 2nd and 3rd petitions of the prayer. The second petition deals with the coming of God's kingdom. Here, we are recognizing that by nature, mankind belongs to the "kingdom of Satan" because of our sin and rebellion against God. But we are also recognizing that when Christ came, he brought with him a "kingdom of grace" to which his people belong by faith. And when Christ came, lived a life of perfect obedience, died, rose, ascended, and was glorified, he "bound the strong man" (Satan), set his people free, and began undoing the ruinous effects that sin, death and the devil have had both on God's people and on God's good creation. We are praying here that God's kingdom of grace would continue to expand, that others would be drawn into it, that the effects of Satan's kingdom would continue to be undone, and that God would hasten the day when Christ would return again to complete his redemptive work, bring about the renewal and recreation of all things, and establish forever his "kingdom of glory". 

The third petition, "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", has to do with two things. The first is that we are asking God to help us be obedient to his will. We are asking God to continue to make us more like Jesus Christ, to continue sanctifying us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we will become joyfully submissive to his will. The second thing that we are asking is that God would work all things according to the counsel of his will. In other words, we are asking God to continue his work of providence! Of course, we know that God will, indeed, continue his works of providence. But by praying this petition, we are saying to God that we recognize God's sovereignty, we recognize that he is working all things according to the counsel of his will for his own glory and for the good of those who love him, and that we, as his people, are submitting to and trusting in the working of his providence.  

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #100-101

What does the preface of the Lord's prayer teach us?
A: The preface of the Lord's prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

What do we pray for in the first petition?
A: In the first petition, which is, Hallowed be thy name, we pray that God would enable us and others to glorify him in all that whereby he makes himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory. 
"Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

It's hard to believe, but we are coming now to the closing sections of the Westminster Shorter Catechism! I'm already thinking about what to blog through in 2017, but we'll get to that later. For now, we're moving into the sections of the catechism which break down and investigate the sections of the Lord's prayer. These blog posts won't be long, as I think the catechism here is pretty self-explanatory. 

Question 100 shows us a wonderful comfort. It echoes the words of Hebrews 4:16, "Let us with confidence draw near to the throne of grace". Why? Because this is, indeed, our heavenly Father that we are praying to. This is, for us his children, not a throne of judgment, but rather, a throne of grace upon which sits our Father. Our loving, caring, all powerful, all sovereign, all wise, all compassionate Father will withhold no good thing from his children! Our Father is the Father who created all things, who governs all things, and who will work all things for the good of those who love him. So we can, with confidence, draw near to his throne. 

On one final note, notice too, question 100 makes a point in emphasizing the corporate nature of this prayer. God is not "my Father" singular, he is "our Father", which reemphasizes the liturgical structure, by the way, that we talked about in the previous blog post. The implication of this plural language is exactly what the catechism says. We should pray both with and for others. Prayer is not only a means of grace for individuals, but one by which the people of God can and should participate in corporately. 

Question 101 looks at the first petition of the prayer, "Hallowed be thy name". What are we asking, or saying, to God when we pray this petition? We are asking him to glorify himself! We are asking God to receive all glory in all things. We are asking him to conform our wills to his-for his glory. We are asking him to make his glory known to us and to all of creation so that everyone and everything will bring him glory. We are asking God to bring about in our lives what the very first question in this catechism says is the goal of our entire existence-that we would glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #99

Q: What rule has God given for our direction in prayer?
A: The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called, the Lord’s prayer.

Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

I think it’s good that the catechism makes mention that the whole of Scripture is useful in instructing us to pray. I remember one time in college we were examining a prayer prayed by an Old Testament prophet (I believe it was Samuel). At the end of reading the passage I joked, “Man! Samuel prays like a Presbyterian!” My professor laughed and said, “Why do you think that is?” “Obviously”, I said, “because he was a Presbyterian!” All joking aside, examining the prayers in Scripture, one does begin to pick up certain patterns and formulas to what prayer should be. So when the Westminster Divines point to the whole of the Bible as a model and instruction for prayer, a “rule” for what prayer should be, they are right in doing so! But, of course, the Lord’s Prayer is given to us by Jesus Christ himself as the “ultimate” model of prayer. In giving us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus really is giving us a framework and pattern for prayer that truly has been used throughout the whole of Scripture. There’s nothing new in the Lord’s prayer as far as the structure goes. What Jesus gives us is a model of prayer that is based on the biblical patterns and structures used throughout the Scriptures.

Now, as I said in the last blog post, the Lord’s Prayer can be used in two ways. The first is a model for prayer. The Lord’s prayer can and should give us a structure to our prayers. We see in the prayer elements of praise (hallowed be thy name), we see in it a submission to God's will (thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven), supplication (give us this day our daily bread), repentance (forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us), and so on. Over the next several weeks, we'll discuss these elements of the prayer and see how they can shape our own prayer lives. 

The second way that the Lord's prayer can and should be used is as a prayer in and of itself. God's people should be praying the Lord's prayer as it was given. In fact, Jesus himself commands this in Luke 11, when as he's about to give the prayer he says, "When you pray, say..." And the prayer itself is, indeed, given in a liturgical structure, thus indicating that Jesus is saying, "Hey, this is a prayer you ought to be saying often!" The church has historically understood the prayer in these terms. So much so, in fact, that the ancient Didache, a first century treatise which contains supposed teachings of the Apostles, states that the prayer should be said by Christians at least three times a day!

It's for these reasons that the Reformed church, as well as Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and just about every other major branch of Christianity has, for centuries, included the Lord's prayer as a liturgical element in their weekly gathered worship services. This is the reason why I used Acts 2:42 as a Scripture reference for this question. It shows us that the early believers dedicated themselves to "the prayers". That little word, "the" before the word "prayers" indicates that these were structured, memorized prayers used for liturgical purposes. Quite likely, these prayers included the Lord's prayer. Going back to that college class I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, as we began discussing the Lord's prayer, the professor asked, "How many of you attend a church where the prayer is said every week?" Sadly, only two of us raised our hands (the other person who raised his hand attended a Reformed Baptist church). The professor then asked, "what are some of the objections to not saying the prayer every week?" The most common objection was, "well if you say it every week, it can become meaningless!" This is certainly a reason that many of us hear when it comes to using any repeated elements of worship, not just the Lord's prayer! But our professor had a great response to this. He said, "Isn't that an issue of the heart with the worshiper, not an issue of the Lord's prayer itself? Why is our solution to this problem simply to not use the prayer at all? Shouldn't our solution be, rather, to address the heart issues of our worshipers who find this prayer to be meaningless if we repeat it too much? This prayer was given to us by Jesus Christ himself! How could it ever become meaningless!?" 

It's a wonderful point, isn't it? This prayer was, indeed, given to us by Christ himself. There really could be no better way to pray than to pray the words of Christ! 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #98

Q: What is prayer?
A: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.
Psalm 10:17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear.

The catechism is setting us up here for it’s section on the Lord’s Prayer. We see hints of the Lord’s prayer in how this answer is structured. “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will” is pointing towards the phrase, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. “With confession of our sins” reflects the portion of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. “Thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” points towards the section, “Give us this day our daily bread”. And in the coming weeks, we will explore in depth the Lord’s Prayer, all of its major sections (which the catechism breaks down by discussing four major requests in the prayer), and see how the prayer is both a model for us to use and is, indeed, a prayer in and of itself that we should make use of regularly.

But prayer is more than what the catechism lays out here, and I’d like to expand a bit upon this catechism by looking at two aspects of prayer not addressed in the catechism, at least directly. Because I think that too often we view prayer as a duty and a spiritual discipline. It is both of those things, but it’s a duty and a discipline given to us graciously for our own growth and good, and for God’s glory.

First, prayer is a means of grace. We already talked about how the means of grace are given to God’s people for their discipleship and nourishment. As a means of grace, prayer is vitally important to the life of a child of God. It is equally important, in fact, as the Word read and preached and the administration of the sacraments. God works through prayer to shape and mold our desires and feed our faith. As a means of grace, prayer is one of the ways that Christ himself communicates the benefits of our redemption!

Secondly, prayer is a privilege. Do we think about prayer in this way? As the book of Hebrews declares, we have a great high priest through whom we have been given access to the throne of God. There is one mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we go to God the Father in the name of the Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are entering into the Holy of Holies itself and able to come before the maker of all things to lay our cares, our concerns, our desires, our hopes before him. And, remarkably, God hears us. The Holy God hears us, cares for us, and will be faithful to answer us. How can we not see prayer as a privilege? Imagine how special you would feel if the president of the United States invited you into his personal living quarters to talk to him? Here is the God of all creation saying, “Come my child, speak to me. I will listen, and I will answer”.

Lastly, something the catechism does mention, is that prayer is something we do in the name of Christ. We come to God the Father, the God of all creation, through God the Son. There is no other name by which we can come. Why are we not consumed by the holiness of God when we come into the presence of the Father in prayer? No reason, other than we are coming in the name of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who has made satisfaction for all our sins and who has clothed us in his robes of righteousness. When Christ died on the cross, you will remember the curtain in the temple which divided the outer court from the inner "Holy of Holies" was torn from top to bottom. This symbolized the reality that now, through Jesus Christ, all of God's people (not just Israel's high priest) could come into the very presence of the holy God himself and not be consumed, because we have one mediator between God and man-the Lord Jesus Christ. 

If prayer is all these things (and more!), then why are we so lazy with it? Why is it so hard for us? May God give us the grace daily to pray without ceasing, to make full use of this means of grace for our good and for his glory.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #97

Q: What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord's supper?
A: It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord's supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord's body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves.
1 Corinthians 11:28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is past us for another year, and we've gotten over the humps of some pretty big catechism questions, I hope to catch up and get this blog back on schedule over the next few weeks. 

This week's question is a "biggie" as well. Some may not realize the debates around the question of who is worthy to receive the Lord's Supper. Some will argue that if our children are, indeed, members of the covenant community, if they have received the sign of that community, then why should we keep them from the covenant meal? After all, children, even infants, were more than likely participants in the covenant meals of Israel, be it the Passover or the peace offerings. This idea is not a new thought in the Christian church. The practice of including infants in the Lord's Supper is seen very early in the Church's life. And while we do not know if it was the apostolic practice, we do know that by the end of the 2nd century, it was at least a somewhat common practice. But others will argue that the reason we do not include infants in the Lord's Supper is because the meal, according to New Testament texts, requires some level of discernment. This is the position of the Westminster divines, and also the stated position of the Presbyterian Church in America. You can read our position paper on this topic here

Given the position of the PCA and of the Shorter Catechism, our goal here is to not engage in the discussion of who should partake of the Lord's Supper, but rather, as the catechism asks, what is required of those who would partake. The catechism states that there are several things we must discern before partaking. First, we are to discern the Lord's body. Do we understand what we are feeding on and drinking of when we partake of the elements of the supper? Do we understand that the bread is the body of Christ, broken for us? Do we understand that the cup is the new covenant in Christ's blood, poured out for us, that apart from the death of Jesus Christ, there is no atonement for sin and no forgiveness? We are also to discern, that is, to examine, our own faith. Are we trusting in Christ for our salvation? This is a meal for the people of God. Those who are looking elsewhere for their hope, those who are putting their faith in anything but Jesus Christ should not participate in the meal.  Furthermore, we should examine ourselves for the outworking of faith. Do we live lives of repentance, do we see the workings of love-love for God and for our neighbor? This includes the question, "are we at peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ?" This is the context of 1 Cor. 11 where Paul gives the command to examine ourselves. He writes in 11:18 that he hears of divisions among the Corinthian Christians. This should not be! The Lord's Supper is not only a reminder that we are reconciled to God, but also a reminder that, as Paul writes in 1 Cor. 10, because there is one bread, we who are many are one body. If you are not at peace with your brother or sister in Christ, you need to, as Jesus says in Matthew 5, leave your offering at the altar and first be reconciled to your brother. To not do this is to eat and drink judgment upon yourself. Finally, we are to examine our obedience to the commands of God. This is not a question of whether or not we have sinned, but rather, it is to search ourselves to see if we have in us a desire to serve and obey the true and living God. If we do not have this desire to obey, if we do not have evidence of love in us for God and for our neighbor, if we do not live lives of repentance, then we should be questioning whether we have the faith that is required to participate in the covenant meal.

Let me just close with this thought. The table of the Lord is not a table of merit. The process of discerning, of examining yourself, is not meant to keep those who are truly trusting in Christ away from the table. The process of examination is meant to remind us that the Lord's Supper is not just another meal, as the Corinthians were treating it, but rather, it is a means of grace meant to strengthen and encourage, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, to God's covenant people. It is not designed to keep the struggling Christian, the Christian who feels weak in their faith, the Christian who feels beaten down by their struggles against sin, the Christian who is plagued with doubts and fears, away. These are the people who need the meal, who need the spiritual nourishment of the body and blood of Christ, and these are the people who are invited to come! We do not "earn" the privilege to come to the table of the Lord. You don't get to come because, in your mind, you sinned less this week than you did last. Too often, these levels of examination have been used by people to pervert what the Lord's Supper is about. The call to examine ourselves has been twisted in a way that makes people afraid to come to the table. The reality is, everyone who comes to the table of the Lord is a poor and beaten down sinner. The reality is, everyone who comes has, at some point in their life, felt weak in their faith, has struggled to hold on to our confession. We all need the grace that the meal gives us. We all need the repentance and faith that the meal encourages. This meal is given to us because of our weakness, not in spite of it! Or have we forgotten that we have a great High Priest who is able to sympathize? A High Priest who was tempted in every way? Jesus Christ, the giver of this meal, knows our weaknesses and sympathizes with us.  So we who are hoping and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, who-though we sin often and sin boldly-are living lives of repentance, who, though we fail, truly do desire to live obedient lives for the glory of our God and King, may come and eat and drink! We may come and participate in the great peace offering of God and know that we are at peace with the Father through the Son. We may come and have our souls nourished, our faith fed, and our assurance strengthened as we commune with Jesus and with our brothers and sisters. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #96 Part 2

Q. What is the Lord’s Supper?
A. The Lord's supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to Christ's appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. 
Luke 22:19–20 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 

Last week's blog focused on the Old Testament roots of the Lord's Supper. I encourage you to read it as well as the blog post on "what is a sacrament?" before reading this blog. 

This week I want to focus more on what the catechism says about the Lord's Supper, that is, the more theological side to this sacrament. If you have worshiped with us at Proclamation, you know we place a high value on the Lord's Supper. We celebrate it every Lord's Day when we gather for worship. Some may ask, "why do you have the Lord's Supper every week?" Hopefully after reading this post and the posts that have come before it, you will begin to see why we place such a high importance on the sacrament.

The Lord's Supper as a Remembrance

First in the catechism, we see that this sacrament shows us Christ's death. We're shown this in the institution of the sacrament when Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of me". In the "remembrance" clause of the sacrament, it's important to keep in mind that the meal itself is, in it's very nature, a commemoration. The meal serves as a memorial, a monument of sorts, to the act of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. We often think of the language of "do this in remembrance of me" as an action we are to do. And certainly, the meal should cause us to reflect upon the death of Christ. But we want to remember that the meal itself serves as the memorial. In other words, the meal is the "remembrance", whether those who partake "remember" Christ's death or not. Just as the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument in Washington DC serve as memorials in and of themselves that, in turn, lead us to remember, so too is the Lord's Supper a monument to the death of Christ that, in turn, drives us to reflect upon and remember the central act of redemption in Scriptures-the death of Jesus Christ.

Now many Protestants stop there. There are many who believe that this is all the meal does. It simply reminds us what Christ did in his death. Historically though, as divided as the universal church has been over what is happening in the Lord's Supper, one thing most branches of Christ's Church have believed is that the meal is not merely a memorial, nor does it simply serve as a sign of Christ's death on the cross. And the Reformed heritage continues in this tradition of the church universal. We've already seen this with the post on what a sacrament is, and our post last week about the Old Testament roots of the Lord's Supper where we discussed the reality that in it's Old Testament roots, the meal also serves as proclamation that we are at peace with God and at peace with one another. 

The Elements of the Supper as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ

One area of major division in Christ's Church is the issue of how the bread and cup are the body and blood of Christ.  We would fully affirm that the bread and cup are the body and blood of Christ, but what do we mean by that? Notice the catechism states that the bread and the cup are not the body and blood of Christ "after a corporal or carnal manner". In other words, while the Westminster Divines want to affirm that the bread and wine are indeed Christ's body and blood, they want to reject any idea that somehow Christ is physically present in the elements themselves. This is a rejection of both the Roman Catholic doctrine of "transubstantiation", where when the priest consecrates the elements the bread and wine actually and truly become the body and blood of Jesus; and too the Lutheran view where Christ is physically "in, with, and under" the bread and wine (Luther too rejects transubstantiation, believing that the bread and wine remain bread and wine, but are united to the real body and blood of Jesus physically). If the elements of bread and wine remain bread and wine, if Christ is not physically present with the elements, then in what way can we say that the bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ? The Westminster Divines (the men who wrote the confession and catechisms) insist the answer is in how the Bible uses "sacramental language". Their argument is an issue of interpretation. Scripture often speaks of the sign as if it is the thing signified. So, a good example of this is Genesis 17. In Gen. 17:10 God declares, "This is my covenant, which you shall keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised." Here, the very words of God state that circumcision is the covenant. Yet just a verse later in vs 11, God says, "You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you." We know the covenant (the promise) between God and Abraham is the promise to make Abraham the father of many nations, to give him an inheritance, and to give him a land. Circumcision is not the covenant, but rather, a sign of the covenant. And yet, circumcision as the sign of the covenant is spoken of in vs 10 as if it is the covenant itself. This is "sacramental language". This is an example of how the sign is spoken of as if it is the very thing signified. And this is not the only place in Scripture where this happens. Baptism, for example, is spoken of as if it is salvation in 1 Peter 3. Peter writes in 3:21, " saves you." There are very few people who would say that baptism, in and of itself, actually saves. And if you read all of 1 Peter 3, it is clear that Peter is saying that it is what baptism represents that saves. But here, again, is this sacramental language where the sign is spoken of as if it is the thing signified. And when we see this use of language throughout Scripture, we can understand in what sense Jesus would say, "this is my body, this is my blood", and we can with confidence use the same language when speaking of the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper.

The Real Presence of Christ in the Supper

Another area of division over the Lord's Supper is the issue of whether Christ is present in the meal. We see some obvious connections to this in the discussion around the elements of the supper being the body and blood of Christ. The Roman and Lutheran view obviously have Christ physically present, which we see in their understanding of the elements of the meal. But the Reformed view also insists Christ is present in the meal, but he is present in a spiritual, not physical, sense. Why are the Reformers so insistent that Christ is not physically present in the elements of the Lord's Supper? The simple reason is because they wanted to preserve the humanity of the ascended Jesus. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he ascended body and soul. If you remember way back to the question of the catechism, "Who is the Redeemer of God's elect?" The answer reminds us that Jesus, as the redeemer of God's elect, as the eternal Son of God, became man and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures, yet one person forever.  Jesus is eternally fully God and fully man. And Christ's physical body has only the attributes of a physical body! Physical bodies, even glorified and resurrected bodies, are not physically present in more than one place at a time. If anyone would question Christ's ability to be in more than one place at a time physically, Calvin would point to our own resurrection of the body. Since Jesus is the first-fruits of all of us who will one day receive glorified resurrection bodies, since Christ is the "prototype", so to speak, of our own resurrection of the body, what is said of his resurrection body can also be said of our own resurrection bodies. This is an important point! Unless we are willing to confess that in our own resurrection bodies, we will have the ability to be more than one place at one time (and Calvin asks, who would ever say that?), how could we embrace a doctrine that would say that the embodied Jesus, who is still truly man, is physically in more than one place at a time? To make Christ physically present in the Lord's Supper, then, is to "empty heaven of Jesus Christ" (since in order to be physically present in the supper he would have to descend from heaven), and would be a denial of his true humanity. Calvin says that to make Christ physically present in multiple places at once (as he would have to be, given the reality that the sacrament is celebrated in multiple places at once) confuses the attributes of a body with the attributes of a spirit. Spirits can be omni-present, bodies cannot. 

Some may respond, "But Jesus is not only fully man, he is also fully God! And God is omnipresent!" To this point, the Reformers saw the Holy Spirit as the instrumental person in uniting the elements of the Lord's Supper and those who participate by faith to the embodied Jesus Christ. Just as Christ is able to dwell in the hearts of all his people through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so too is Christ, through the Spirit,  able to be present at the Lord's Table! It is the Holy Spirit who unites us to Jesus Christ in the supper. It is the Holy Spirit who unites the elements of the meal, when received in faith, with the body and blood of Jesus. This is why Calvin is able to say that just as bread and wine nourish the body, so too does the flesh and blood of Jesus nourish the souls of those who eat in faith at the Lord's Supper. And for the Reformers, it is not so much an issue of the Holy Spirit bringing Christ down to us in the meal, but rather, in taking us up to Christ!

This video from Michael Horton is very helpful in explaining the Reformed understanding of this (he also goes into, at the end, some interesting historical developments of the theology around the Lord's Supper that isn't particularly relevant to this blog post, but some may find interesting):

All this is to say this:  Yes, Christ is really and truly present. Yes, we participate really and truly in the body and blood of Christ. Yes, our souls are nourished and feast upon the body and blood of Christ. The Lord's Supper is more than just symbolic, it is more than just a memorial, it is an active means of grace whereby we, as God's people, when received in faith, are fed and nourished with Jesus Christ himself. It is a means of grace that, through the physical elements of the Lord's Supper, by the work of the Holy Spirit, proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ to us in a tangible, physical way. Given all of this, when answering the question as to why we at Proclamation have the Lord's Supper every week, the answer will always be, "why wouldn't we have the Lord's Supper as often as possible!?"

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #95

Q. To whom is baptism administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized. 
Genesis 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

I know the temptation is to just jump right into the issue of infant baptism, but I urge you, if you have not read our prior blogs on what sacraments are and what baptism is, please do so. As I said in those posts, there's absolutely no point in talking about who should receive the sacraments if we do not understand what they are and what their nature is. 

This week's question gives us two answers as to who should receive the sign of baptism. The first answer is a fairly accepted concept among Christians. No one outside of the visible church, that is, no one outside of that "outer" covenant community that we talked about last week, should receive the sign of baptism. That is because, by it's very nature, baptism is a sign and seal of our entrance into the covenant community. It is a sign and seal of a person's inclusion into the covenant that Christ has made with his people. Now, we talked last time about how this outer covenant community is a mixed community. That means that there are true believers who are part of it, and there are those who have professed with their lips but not believed in their hearts who are also part of this community. This is important to understand. Many people use the term, "believer's baptism". That term is not helpful because the reality is, whether you are baptizing infants or you are only baptizing people who are old enough to make a profession of faith, every church is baptizing people who are not truly Christians. Perhaps a better term to use is "professer's baptism". Notice the catechism says the sign should not be given until a person "professes" their faith in Christ. The London Baptist Confession of 1689 uses the same language. This is because these confessions recognize that baptism is based upon a profession of faith, not the true heart-condition of the person being baptized. The best the church can do is to judge whether or not a person's profession of faith is sincere or not, and apply the sacrament accordingly. And no church will ever get that right 100% of the time. So we end up with a visible church, an "outer covenant community" that is a mixed number. And it always has been that way. There were people who, in the Old Testament, were circumcised, who went through the ceremonial washings, who were not truly "of Israel". We baptize based upon what we judge to be a credible profession of faith with the full realization that we can and are wrong on many occasions. We baptize in hopes that the person will live out the reality of what their baptism points to. We baptize with the hopes that in bringing this person into the visible community of God, as he or she is exposed to the community of the church and the church's religious life, as he or she is exposed to the ordinary means of grace week after week, the Holy Spirit will make sure that the seed of that person's faith is planted in good soil. 

Now, some may argue against the idea that in the New Covenant, there is a visible/invisible, an outer/inner distinction to the covenant community. This is based upon Jeremiah 31:31-34 and an understanding of that passage that leads some to believe that all who are part of the New Covenant community are those who have experienced both regeneration and the full forgiveness of their sins. The problem with this understanding of Jeremiah 31 though is the fact that it doesn't match the reality of the New Testament church as we see in the epistles of the Apostles, or in the book of Acts. We still quite clearly see a "mixed company" in the New Covenant community. We have every reason to believe, given the content of many of the New Testament writings, that the covenant community, the local visible churches, do indeed contain those who's profession of faith would prove to be true, and those who's profession of faith would prove to be false. The covenant community is, even in the New Covenant, made up of a visible and invisible reality. And that's important to remember, particularly as we talk about what baptism is, what it does, and who should receive the sign. 

As we now talk about why we baptize infants, I encourage you again to remember that what happens in the New Testament does not happen in a bubble. We saw last week how baptism has its roots in two very important Old Testament rituals; ceremonial washings and circumcision. And we saw how those ceremonies changed a person's administrative status from "unclean" (or "unholy" in a ceremonial sense) to "clean" (or, ceremonially holy). Those ceremonies gave a person access to the benefits of the covenant community such as participation in the religious life of Israel, participation in the community of believers, it got them within the "proximity of the gospel" where they would be exposed to the means of grace, and so on. And we see how baptism really does do the same thing. Baptism brings a person into the covenant community (not the invisible, inner covenant community unless you believe in baptismal regeneration, but rather, that "outer" community) where they can participate in the religious life of the church. Baptism brings you into membership within a local church body. Baptism gives you access to the Lord's Supper. Baptism gets you into "the proximity of the gospel" as it is preached in both word and sacrament. This is why baptism is part of Christian discipleship! This is why, when Jesus gave the Great Commission and commanded his followers to "make disciples", he said that we do it by baptizing them and teaching them everything Christ has told us. And so the question is, if we understand and believe all this, why wouldn't we give the sign of baptism to our children? If the sign of the covenant was freely given to the children of believing households in the Old Covenant, and if there is continuity between the Old and New Covenants, that is, if they are both expressions of the same Covenant of Grace, and if the New Testament sacraments don't happen within a bubble but rather, build upon what came before them, if the New Testament never gives us the command to stop giving the sign of that covenant to our children, and we all agree that we are to make disciples of our children, then on what grounds do we withhold the covenant sign from our children? 

We are fully aware that some will say, "The Bible never tells us to baptize our infants and we have no example of infants being baptized in the New Testament". That is true in once sense, but we could say in response, "The Bible never tells us to withhold the covenant sign from our children until they are old enough to make a credible profession of faith for themselves either, nor do we have any New Testament example of a child growing up in a believing household who had the covenant sign withheld from him until he was old enough to make a profession of faith." So on some level, both sides of this debate are arguing from silence. But the question is, if we are both arguing from silence, which side of the debate has the burden of proof? This is what John Frame says about this issue:

We can assume continuity with the Old Testament principle of administering the sign of the covenant to children, unless the New Testament evidence directs us otherwise, and this is the paedobaptist (infant baptist) approach. Or we can assume that only adult believers are to be baptized, unless there is New Testament evidence to the contrary and this is the baptist approach. On the first approach, the burden of proof is on the baptist to show New Testament evidence against infant baptism. On the second approach, the burden of proof is on the paedobaptist to show New Testament evidence for it. In this case, deciding the burden of proof pretty much decides the question, since there is little explicit New Testament evidence on either side and since the two parties are essentially agreed on the Old Testament data. It seems to me that the first approach is correct: the church of the New Testament is essentially the same as the church of the Old.

If John Frame is right, then it means that ultimately the burden of proof, when arguing from silence, falls on those who would cut the ties of covenant continuity between the Old and New Covenant.  But Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost show us this continuation with the Old Testament covenant community when he says, "For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." Peter is taking words here from Deuteronomy 29:28 when Moses writes, "But the things that are revealed belong to us and our children." Of course, Peter also includes the Gentiles now in this promise ("for all who are far off"), as a fulfillment to God's original promise to Abraham that he would make Abraham the father of "many nations". But here, in a New Covenant reality, Peter reemphasizes the idea that the covenant promises are not only for us, but also for our children. They always have been, and they still are today. 

We also see this strong continuation with the Old Testament in the household baptisms of the book of Acts. Some will rightly point out that, "we don't know if any infants were included in those baptisms". But, that's not the point. The point is that when the head of household converted to Christianity, he (or in the case of Lydia, "she"), had their entire household baptized. They all received the sign of the covenant. This is in lines with what we see happening in Genesis 17, where after Abraham received the sign of the covenant, every male in his house was also circumcised. The issue is not whether there were infants in the household, the issue is, the head of the household is acting as a covenant representative for his wife, children, and even his servants, and the household receives the sign of the covenant based upon the faith of the head of the house. The promise was for Abraham and his children, and his children received the sign and seal of that promise.

The real question concerning baptism, then, is this. Are our children part of the covenant community, or aren't they? If they aren't, then I agree the sign of baptism should be withheld from them. But I encourage you to think about the ramifications of that. Not only does it mean that your child should not receive baptism, but it also means you treat them as someone who is outside the covenant community. I know of no Christian parent who treats their children as if they're outside the covenant community. Todd Pruitt, a PCA pastor, once said, concerning this point and his own Baptist upbringing, that: 

"My parents instinctively knew that there would be something different about a child born into a Christian home than a child born into a non-Christian home...There's a Biblical instinct, if you like, that pointed them to the fact that you don't treat their own children like the reprobate...They recognized instinctually that God has given proactive grace to that child by placing him or her in a Christian home."

His point is a good one. Instinctually, even those who would not baptize infants recognize that there is a special grace given to the children of believers. We believe God has already been gracious to them by placing them within a Christian home. We do not treat them as the reprobate, as those outside of the covenant community. And while we also don't assume that they are Christians, as we still proclaim Christ to them and pray for them, we also don't treat them as non-believers who are cut off from the communion and fellowship of the covenant community. And, as we have every reason to believe from the testimony of Scripture from the earliest pages of the Old Testament up through the New, if children are part of the covenant community, then by all means, we should be giving the sign of that covenant to our them! 

The New Covenant is more inclusive in every way from the Old. As I said in prior posts, yes there is continuity between the old and new covenants, but there are some things that are "new", that is, expanded upon, in the New Covenant. Baptism is a good example of this. In the Old Covenant, it was the males only who received the sign of the covenant. But in the New Covenant, male and female now receive the sign of the covenant. And if the New Covenant is more inclusive, if it expands in the New Testament to Jew and Gentile, to male and female, then why would people, such as our children, who were previously part of the covenant community, now be excluded? Brothers and sisters, our children, the children of believers are part of the covenant community. The promise is for them. Let us gladly mark them with the sign and seal of the covenant, and pray fervently that just as they are now ceremonially marked as clean, ceremonially marked as holy, they would, through the power of the Holy Spirit as he works through the family, the church, and through the ordinary means of grace, grow to become spiritually clean and holy.  

*A great debt of gratitude is due to C. John Collins and his essay, "What does baptism do for anyone?", published in the "Presbyterion", Spring 2012. The essay served as an invaluable resource as I've worked on this series of blogs. 

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #92 & 93

Q 92: What is a sacrament?
A: A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

Q 93: Which are the sacraments of the New Testament? 
A: The sacraments of the New Testament are baptism and the Lord's supper.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. DO this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 

We are about to get into the meat and potatoes of the sacraments. And I really want to take my time going through the sacraments as we get many questions concerning, in particular, the practice of infant baptism. I won't say anything that hasn't been said before by others, but hopefully with the blog we can summarize some of main points of baptism and the Lord's supper, helping us to understand them covenantally and within the context of the whole of Scripture. That is because while we believe that baptism and the Lord's supper are New Testament sacraments, they do not exist within a bubble of New Testament theology. The sacraments, just like all of New Testament theology, builds off of what came before it. The Old Testament is the foundation and lays the groundwork to help us understand all that is revealed in the New Testament.

But to begin, what is, exactly, a sacrament? First, we see that a sacrament is something that was ordained by Christ himself. We know that before our Lord ascended into heaven, he commanded his followers to make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We know that on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he gave his disciples the sacrament of the Lord's supper, telling them to "do this in remembrance of me". So these are things that Jesus commanded his people to do. Now, understandably, some Christian traditions, even Protestant traditions, add more sacraments. Feet washing is a common one, as Christ says that his disciples should do "just as I have done for you" (Jn. 13:15). But unlike the sacraments of the Lord's supper and baptism, none of the New Testament authors spend time writing about the theological significance of foot washing, there are no New Testament instructions or regulations laid out as to how foot washing is to be administered, and, we see no evidence that the churches in the book of Acts were carrying out foot washing ceremonies. This has led many to believe that washing feet was not a sacrament instituted by Christ, but rather, that Jesus is commanding his followers to humble themselves and serve each other.  And, if Christ's words in John 13:15 apply to the act of serving one another, then, unlike with the actual act of foot washing, we see plenty of evidence in the New Testament that the followers of Christ took up his command. The book of Acts is filled with examples of Christ's disciples serving one another, and the epistles are full of instruction and commands as to how we should carry out our service to the people of God.

We also see that the sacraments are "sensible signs". This means that the sacraments engage our outward senses. For the most part, Christian worship is an audible exercise. We hear and speak the prayers, the confessions, the sermon, the music, and so on. But in the sacraments, we get to engage all of our senses! We feel the waters of baptism and see it being poured over the recipients. We touch the wafer and cup as we hold it in our hands. We can smell the wine as we draw the cup to our lips. We can taste the elements as we partake. We see the table laid out before us and see our brothers and sisters in Christ participating in one meal as one body in Christ. We hear the words of institution and the promises of the covenant given to us. The gospel becomes a tangible, physical thing right there in the midst of our gathered worship service as we faithfully participate in the sacraments. No wonder the worship of Christ's Church has traditionally been a service of "Word and Sacrament"! The sacraments are living pictures of what Christ has done for his people and continues to do for his people as he serves as our "Minister in the high places". 

The catechism also says that the sacraments are signs and seals of the benefits of the New Covenant. What does it mean to say that the sacraments are signs and seals? To say that they're signs is to simply say that the elements of water, wine, and bread represent something. They are symbols of, as the catechism says, "Christ, and the benefits of the New Covenant". They are visible things that point to an invisible reality. But what about "seals"? How are the sacraments acting as a seal? This can be a little more complicated to understand, but I think a simple way to understand it is by saying that the sacraments act as a seal of confirmation of the benefits of the New Covenant as they are received in faith. Just like a seal or notary stamp confirms a legal document such as a deed or a bond, as it confirms legitimacy and ownership, so too do the sacraments confirm the reality of the New Covenant and the fact that we are under the "ownership" of the eternal, holy, and Triune God. But again, this is only true for those who receive the sacraments in faith. And to receive the sacraments in faith means that we receive them with a full dependency upon the invisible reality to which the sacraments point. But we'll discuss that point in much further detail as we examine each of the sacraments in the coming days.

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism #91

Q: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation? 
A: The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that does administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them. 
 1 Corinthians 3:7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Turning now to the "sacraments" portion of the ordinary means of grace, this question and answer of the shorter catechism addresses a subject that has been a point of contention for almost the full 2000 years of the Church's life. The effectualness of the sacraments, what is being accomplished and how is it accomplished in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, is not only a point of contention between the Roman church and the Protestant church, but is even debated amongst Protestants. And I think this all stems from the fact that generally throughout the history of the Church, Christians have been aware that baptism and the Lord's Supper are not merely signs. They are not merely reminders. They are not merely symbols of something. But rather, that there is something happening when the sacraments are rightly administered and received in faith. 

Just a few weeks ago, we discussed what is happening in the administration of the sacraments. We talked about how the sacraments (along with the reading and hearing of the Word and prayer) are the God-ordained means of Christian discipleship. We talked about how these means of grace "communicate the benefits of redemption", and how that is used to make us more Christ-like. This week, we'll discuss how that happens. How is it that God uses the sacraments to communicate the benefits of redemption? How do they become "effectual means of salvation"?

Once again, Starr Meade is helpful:

Because the Lord Jesus gave us the sacraments, He blesses them when we use them. The Holy Spirit, also, works inside those who receive the sacraments by faith. Water baptism shows that the Holy Spirit baptizes people into the body of Christ and makes them members of Christ's body forever. When believers share the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, they share in Christ and in His Spirit.

It is Christ, and his work by the power of the Holy Spirit, in and through the sacraments that make them effectual in communicating the benefits of redemption to us. This is why the catechism is so clear in pointing out that the sacraments' power comes, "not from any virtue in them, or in him that does administer them", but only from Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit working in and through the lives of God's people as they receive the sacraments in faith*. And Starr Meade leaves us with this very helpful reminder that the sacraments are, ultimately, only one part of "Word and Sacrament" ministry:

Fairy tales often tell of magic rituals, such as rubbing the lamp in which a genie is living. In the fairy tales, whenever the ritual is performed, even when someone does it by accident, the magic happens. The sacraments are not like magic rituals. God did not intend for the sacraments to be used all by themselves. They are to be used with God's Word.

*As we examine the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, we will examine more closely what it means to receive them "in faith"

This blog was written by Andy Styer

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A #2

Q: What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A: The word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. 
2 Timothy 3:15-17: And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

I was discussing with a fellow member at Proclamation about how important these first two questions are to our faith. Indeed, these two questions are paramount to our existence as a church. We exist to worship, glorify, and enjoy God, and Scripture alone reveals to us how we may do so. 

This question and answer emphasizes not only that the Word of God is inerrant,  inspired, authoritative, and infallible, but it also emphasizes that it is fully sufficient. The full sufficiency of the Bible is an important aspect of the doctrine of "Sola Scriptura" that we can easily forget. As Evangelicals, we are quick to emphasize (though, unfortunately, less quick these days) Scripture's authority or infallibility, but really, not much has been said about the sufficiency of Scripture. Here, though, as the catechism sums up what Paul is writing in 2 Timothy 3, we see that the Bible is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God. What is this saying? It is saying that in the pages of Scripture we are told how to live our lives. We are told how to worship God both privately and corporately. We are given everything within the pages of Scripture that we need for salvation, for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 

That is it. The Bible alone has complete and final authority to guide us through the Christian life. Not human invention, not feelings, not popes and counsels, not personal revelation. Nothing but the Word of God is to be our rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God. May we grow in our knowledge of the Word so that we may glorify and enjoy God in all things!