Posts filed under Shorter Catechism

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 106 & 107

106:
Q: 
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. 

107:
Q: 
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!"

Posted on December 28, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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. 

Posted on December 20, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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.  

Posted on December 15, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #100-101

100:
Q: 
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.

101:
Q: 
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. 

Posted on December 7, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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! 

Posted on December 7, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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.

Posted on December 7, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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. 

Posted on November 29, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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, "Baptism...now 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!?"

Posted on November 14, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #96 Part 1

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. 

Due to the size of this subject, I've decided to break this question up into two blog entries. Part one will focus more on the Old Testament background of the Lord's Supper, and part 2 will focus on the theology of this sacrament.

The subject of the Lord's Supper is a topic that, in our day, seems less controversial than infant baptism. But it has, in the history of the Church, caused probably more division among the people of God than any other issue. Which, considering what the Lord's Supper is; what it does, what it means, and what it represents, is quite an ironic tragedy. But, as J. Gresham Machen wrote once, the bigger tragedy would be to simply say, "it doesn't matter". What we believe about the sacraments, be it baptism or the Lord's Supper, does, indeed matter. It is instrumental to the life of God's people and to their discipleship. 

As we saw with baptism, the New Testament sacraments don't exist in a bubble. They don't come out of nowhere. They aren't "new inventions". They have their grounding and backing in the Old Testament. And when dealing with the theology of the Lord's Supper, there are two main Old Testament ceremonies that can help us understand this sacrament; the feast of Passover, and the peace (sometimes called "fellowship") offering, which was part of the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle/Temple.

Passover, of course, is the most obvious connection since it was at a Passover meal where Christ instituted the sacrament. Passover served as a remembrance celebration of the faithfulness of God in keeping his promise that, if the Israelites would kill a lamb without blemish and spread his blood over the doors of their houses, God would indeed deliver his people out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt. It was the moment that sparked the exodus of God's people out of slavery and began their journey to the Promise Land. The exodus out of Egypt was Israel's "Easter". It was the central theme of redemption in the Old Testament. And it is fitting that on the eve of Christ's crucifixion, on the eve of the day when the truly pure and spotless Lamb of God would spill his own blood to cover his people so that we would be delivered from the bondage of slavery to sin, death, and the devil, on the eve of the central act of redemption not only in the New Testament but in the whole of Scripture itself, Christ would give us our own remembrance meal. During Proclamation's sermon series on the book of Mark, Troy went into the connection of the Lord's Supper and Passover. I encourage you to listen to that sermon (LINK) to hear a great summary and explanation of this connection. 

But Passover is only one side of understanding the Old Testament roots of the Lord's Supper. Another aspect of understanding this sacrament is understanding the Old Testament peace/fellowship offering. This, as I said earlier, was part of the Tabernacle/Temple sacrificial system. Now, perhaps too often we tend to think about the Old Testament sacrificial system in broad terms. We can forget that when we read through Leviticus, there are many different types of sacrifices and offerings made and these offerings signified different things. The burnt offering, for example, is quite different than the grain, sin, or peace offerings. In the burnt offering, God consumes the entire sacrifice in the fire on the altar. It is based in the acknowledgement of sin and the need for atonement, that because of sin we deserve death, but unlike the various sin offerings that are later described in Leviticus, it is not offered up for any specific sin. Rather, it symbolizes a complete consecration of the worshiper to the service of the LORD. If we had to compare it to anything in our modern liturgy, we might compare this to an invocation or a call to worship. The grain offering, which is the next offering described in Leviticus, is where the priests threw a handful of grain on the altar and then would consume the rest. This was not only a way for priests to receive nourishment, but it also reminded God's people of their need for a mediator between themselves and God. God consumes part of the grain, the priest, serving as a go-between between God and the people, consumes the rest of the offering. The priest gets to, this time, participate in the offering by consuming part of it, but the laypeople of Israel do not eat. Following the grain offering, we read about the peace offering in Leviticus 3. This is a unique offering where the entrails and the fat of the animal were consumed on the altar, and the lay people consumed the meat of the animal. This is the only offering that the community at large would get to eat of, and by doing so the offering showed something very special to God's people. By God consuming part of the sacrifice and the people consuming part of the sacrifice, it showed the people of God that they now had peace, shalom, fellowship with God and with each other as they ate of this communal meal. And this is what the Lord's Supper shows us too. Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, was offered up on the altar of the cross where God would consume of the whole sacrifice. There, on the cross, our sins were completely and finally atoned for when the perfect sacrifice was offered up once and for all time. But now we get to eat of the sacrifice! We, when we eat of the bread and drink the cup, are participating in the body and blood of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). We are participating in this peace/fellowship offering. We are showing in a real, tangible way that we, as the people of God, as the covenant community of God, are now at peace with God because of the the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It shows restored communion and fellowship with God and with each other as the covenant people. 

One last note on the Old Testament background of the Lord's Supper. I want to address an idea that the shorter catechism doesn't go into, but is addressed in the Westminster Confession, and that is the idea of private communion services. The Lord's Supper, having it's roots in Passover and in the peace/fellowship offering, is by it's very nature a communal meal. Passover was a communal meal, the peace offerings were communal meals and these were not things that were done apart from a gathering of God's people. These meals expressed the reality of the covenant relationship, and we know that the reality of our covenant relationship with God is not only that we as individuals are brought back into fellowship, but we as his people are at peace with God and brought back into fellowship with him and each other. We have to remember what was lost in the Fall. It wasn't just peace with God that was lost, but also peace between ourselves and our fellow human beings. But the reality of Christ's redemption is that Christ is restoring all that was lost in the Fall. Redemption, as Isaac Watts put it, is "as far as the curse is found". These covenant meals, be it Passover, be it the peace/fellowship offerings, or be it the Lord's Supper, are reminders of the completeness of Christ's redemption. They are reminders that we have been saved as individuals to be part of a people. To participate in the covenant meal, the Lord's Supper, apart from the covenant community contradicts the reality that the meal is supposed to show us. If we are united to Christ, then we are also united to each other as the body of Christ. Or, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:17, "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."

Posted on November 10, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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. 

Posted on November 1, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #94

Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord's. 
Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

As I said in my prior post, we get a lot of questions about why we baptize infants. It may be one of the more "controversial" points of doctrine within Presbyterianism. And, as I also said, I won't be saying anything new here in these blog posts. But what I would like to do, even before discussing infant baptism, is present a theological survey, guided by the Scriptures and the catechism this week, of what baptism is. And, as noted in the prior blog, we need to understand the New Testament sacraments not only within the context of the New Testament, but also within the context of the whole of Scripture. If we don't understand the Old Testament roots of the sacraments, we will never understand their use, their application, and how God uses them as means of grace.

The catechism speaks of baptism being a sign and seal, marking our participation in the benefits of the "covenant of grace", and it's important to note that a major way in which the New Testament relates to the Old Testament is the fact that believers in both testaments were and are under the very same covenant of grace. The covenant God made with Abraham, for example, is the same covenant God made with David is the same covenant Jeremiah would predict is the same covenant Christ established the night before he was betrayed which is the same covenant we are now under. And while each covenant would reveal a little more about the covenant of grace, about God's plan to redeem a people for himself, it is all part of the same covenant. So when we get to the "new covenant" we must remember it is not entirely "new". There are new things about it, new things revealed to us in light of the coming of the Messiah, but the "new covenant" is really a RE-newed covenant between God and his people. There are no new terms and conditions, there is no new path of salvation laid out in the new covenant. It is all part of the same covenant of grace that God had already established. And when we understand this covenantal continuity between the Old and New Testaments, we begin to see how the Bible really is one story of God redeeming a people to be part of his eternal kingdom. It is one, unified history of redemption.

I know that one thing that used to puzzle me is the question, "where did baptism come from?" John the Baptist, for example, appears on the scene baptizing people in the New Testament. Christ, before his ascension, gives the command to baptize but never explains what it is. Somehow, somewhere, the Jewish people of the first century knew what baptism was! It would be wrong to say that John the Baptist "invented" the idea of baptism. The catechism begins by defining baptism with the phrase, "the washing with water". And here, I think, is the answer to the question, "where did baptism come from?" The idea of washing with water can easily be connected to the Levitical ceremonial washings, which every Jew in the first century would have been familiar with. Under the Levitical law, there are lists of things that are "clean" and "unclean". Certain animals were labeled as clean or unclean, certain activities, such as touching the corpse of a dead family member made you unclean, and of course, sin made you unclean. Being unclean is not a statement of being sinful (who would be sinning by touching the corpse of a dead family member to prepare the body for burial, for example?), but rather, it was a ceremonial distinction. Who is permitted or not permitted to participate in the religious life of Israel? Only those who are ceremonially declared as "clean". And how did one become ceremonially clean? There are many instructions in the book of Leviticus for this, and most of those instructions include the idea of washing with water. But the important thing to remember is, the ceremonial washings with water did not reflect on the condition of a person's heart, but rather, it changed a person's administrative status. In other words, it changed a person's ceremonial standing from unclean to clean, from unholy to holy in a ritualistic sense so that that person could participate in the religious life of Israel. And by being made ceremonially clean, by being made ceremonially holy, a person would then be a recipient of the benefits of being able to participate in Israel's religious ceremonies. The hope would be, then, that because they are ceremonially clean and able to participate in the religious life of Israel, their hearts would be changed and they would become not only declared holy (clean) on a ritualistic level, but also holy in their hearts. And Jews in the first century, again, who would be quite familiar with all of this, would understand at least on this level the idea of baptism, of "washing with water". 

Now, that's a lot of Old Testament to digest! But as I said, we cannot and will not understand New Testament theology without understanding it's foundation, which is the Old Testament. And as understanding ceremonial washings helps us understand baptism, so too does the sign and seal of circumcision, which is very much tied to this idea of "ceremonial washings". Circumcision was a sign and seal, a statement of administrative change (again, not a change in one's heart, but rather, in one's ceremonial standing) from "unholy" to "holy", from "unclean" to "clean", in the Old Covenant. Circumcision got you into the visible covenant community of God (the people of Israel). It was a visible sign that you were set apart and included in this people. This is why anyone who "converted" to Judaism in the Old Testament had to be circumcised. This is why, in the days of the early Church, there were a lot of discussions about whether the Gentiles who converted to Christianity should be circumcised or not. It was a sign that you now were part of the covenant people. And baptism, as a sign and seal, does the same thing in the new covenant. It's a visible, physical marking out, a sign and seal of one's change in "administrative status", a change from one being considered "unclean" to being considered "clean". It's what "gets you in" to the visible people of God (remember from last week, sacraments act as seals in that we receive a confirmation that we are the recipients of the benefits of the covenant community). This is why when someone outside of the covenant community (the visible church) professes faith in Christ, they are to receive the sign of baptism. This is why baptism is required for membership into the visible covenant community, that is, the local church. This is why baptism is required before someone is able to participate in the Lord's Supper. 

It is important to note that the catechism says baptism "signifies and seals" our ingrafting into Christ. It does not say that baptism "achieves" our ingrafting into Christ. What the catechism is saying here is that to be "baptized into Christ", as Paul would say, is not a statement of salvation, but rather, is a covenantal term. When Paul speaks of us being baptized into Christ, he is using covenantal language. He is using Old Testament language. He is not saying that being baptized into Christ achieves our union with Christ in terms of salvation, but rather, in terms of getting us into the covenant community of which Christ is the head. If anyone would understand his words in terms of salvation, that person is confessing baptismal regeneration whether they realize it or not. They are essentially saying that it is baptism, ultimately, that achieves our union with Christ. But Jesus Christ as the head of the church is not just a reality for the invisible people of God, but also the reality for the visible people of God. He is the one who represents God's covenant people, visible and invisible, before God's throne, much the same that Moses or Abraham or David represented the visible covenant people before God. An example of this is how Paul talked about being "baptized into Moses" in 1 Corinthians. No one was saved in a final sense by being "in" (or "under") Moses. Rather, Moses was acted as the covenant representative of the people before God. And just as circumcision was a sign and seal of being included into the covenant people, it put them, administratively, under the covenant representative, it made a person "ceremonially holy" so that the person could be included in the religious life of Israel and expose them to the benefits of being part of that religious community, so too is baptism a sign and seal of being "ceremonially holy". It puts them into the covenant people, with Christ as the covenant representative, and allows them to participate in the benefits of being part of the covenant body. It allows a person to participate in the religious life of God's people. And what are the benefits of the covenant of grace that a person gets to participate in once they're baptized? Some of the benefits are full participation in worship, the benefit of being in fellowship with the people of God, the benefit of sitting under the administration of the gospel, be it in preaching or in the Lord's Supper, and so on.

One way that may be helpful in thinking about this is if we think of the covenant community, be it OT Israel or the NT church, in terms of an outer and inner covenant community. The inner covenant community is the true people of God, those who have been made new creations in Christ, and the outer covenant community being the professing people of God which is a mixed number. That means that in the "outer" community, there are those who profess faith who truly do have faith in Christ, and those who profess faith who do not truly have faith. What circumcision in the Old Covenant and baptism in the New Covenant did and does is, it got you into that "outer community". It put you, as one of my seminary professors said, into the "proximity of the gospel" where you are constantly exposed to and can participate in the benefits of the covenant of grace. This "division" between the outer and inner covenant community is why Paul could say in Romans 9 that "not all who are of Israel are Israel". Just because a person was part of that "outer" covenant community, the visible Israel, and had received the sign and seal of that community (circumcision) it did not mean they were part of the true Israel, those who "children of the promise". And likewise, we could say that not all who are of the church (those who have been baptized in the flesh) are the church (part of the "inner" people of God-those who have received the "circumcision of the heart").

As you can see, this is a very "covenantal" way of understanding baptism, but that's good! The Bible is a very "covenantal" book because our God is a very covenantal God! He relates to individuals and people by means of covenants. So why shouldn't our understanding of how those covenants work and who the covenant people are guide and shape our understanding of the sacraments? 

I realize, this is a lot to take in. This is the longest blog we've done in the catechism series (so far...), and it is by no means exhaustive! But I believe it's so vital that we understand the nature of baptism before we can even begin to discuss who should receive the sign and seal, which we will begin to discuss with the next question of the catechism. There is no point in discussing the administration of a sacrament until we understand it's nature, and hopefully this post helps us understand a little more clearly the nature of the sacrament of baptism. 

Posted on October 25, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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.

Posted on October 20, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

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"

Posted on October 19, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #90

Q: How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation? 
A: That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with
diligence, preparation and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our
hearts, and practice it in our lives. 
1 Peter 2:1-2: So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like
newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into
salvation. 

As we continue to work through these ordinary means of grace, we come to a question that reminds us that we, as readers and hearers of the Word, have responsibilities. We must consider how we are to receive the Word read and preached. 

Starr Meade reminds us of something very true. She writes, "God's Word is not like a magic formula that makes things happen whenever someone uses it. We must read and hear God's Word in certain ways if it is going to be effective..." The catechism answer this week tells us of these "certain ways" that we are to read and hear the Word. First, we should be diligent in the reading and hearing of the Word. This means we need to read it and hear it preached often! The ministry of the Word, as we saw in last week's blog, is something that we need to participate in often. It's vital to both the conversion of new Christians, but also to the ongoing discipleship of God's people. Secondly, we need to prepare ourselves for the hearing and reading of God's Word. Prayer is the recommended (and probably the best) way to prepare for the reading and hearing of God's Word. Whether we are going into a worship service, or we are opening the Bible in our devotional life, our hearts need to be prepped to hear the Word of God. We can pray for the Holy Spirit's help here. We can ask for the Spirit to prepare and soften our hearts for what God is about to say to us in his Word, and we can ask the Spirit for understanding as we explore the words of the eternal God. Thirdly, we are to receive it in faith and love. We as God's people need to recognize that this is the Word of God! We receive it, trusting that God's Word is, indeed, trustworthy! B.B. Warfield, an early 20th century Presbyterian theologian, wrote about this often. He wrote about how we as Christians should come to the Word without a spirit of skepticism, but rather, in a spirit of faith, of trust, knowing that if God is indeed trustworthy, then his Word is equally trustworthy. We receive the Word in love, knowing that this is the revelation of our loving God, and he has been incredibly gracious to us in giving us his Word! Fourthly we are to lay the Word up in our hearts and practice it in our lives. This is what James is talking about in James 1:22, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves". If we read and hear the Word prayerfully, receiving it in faith and love, then what logically follows is that our actions, the way we live, will slowly be shaped by the Word. And if we do not find our lives, our actions, our works, being shaped by the Word, then it begs the question, are we truly receiving it in faith and love? Are we truly laying it up in our hearts? Or, are we being "hearers only"?

If I can get personal for a moment, I must confess that too often, I do not do this kind of preparation when I read or hear the Word. And I'm certain that I'm not alone in this. But while this catechism reminds us of our duty and responsibility when it comes to reading and hearing the Word, we know that God's grace is still at work. We have this promise of Isaiah 55:11:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 

Posted on September 21, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #89

Q: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A: The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the word, an effectual means of convicting and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.
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 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.

Jesus gave us a simple formula for Christian discipleship. Matthew 28:19 records the words of our Lord as he said, “therefore go and make disciples of all nations”. Now, too often, we act like that's all Jesus said. We hear the “great commission”, but we tend to neglect the instructions on how to carry out that commission. But Jesus did tell us how to “make disciples”. He continued, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

What Jesus gave his disciples, and what he gives us today, is a simple “Word and Sacrament” ministry. Preach the Word and administer the sacraments (baptism here in the “Great Commission”, but as we see the New Testament church grow and thrive, we see that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was and is just as vital to discipleship). Over the next several weeks, we're going to examine this “Word and Sacrament” ministry and see how it is truly effective for the spread of the gospel and for Christian discipleship.

This week and next, we will look at the ministry of the Word, particularly the preaching of the Word. This week's catechism reminds us that the Holy Spirit uses the reading, and especially the preaching, of the Word of God to convict sinners and lead them to repentance. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the effectiveness of the Spirit's work through preaching in Romans 10:14 when he writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

It's interesting that, as we look at the history of the church from the time of the Apostles forward, the true revivals, the ones with long-lasting effects such as what we see in the book of Acts, or we see in the early centuries of the Church, or in the time of the Reformation, or during the Great Awakening, have all been based around the preaching of God's Word. It's almost as if Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said to make disciples by, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”!

But notice too, that the catechism doesn't just say that the preaching of the Word is useful for conversion, but also for building us up in holiness and comfort. And this is what Paul is talking about in our Scripture reference for the week. The Word of God is not only useful for conversion, but also for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete...” In other words, the preaching of the Word is a vital ministry for the whole of the Christian experience. God, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the ministry of the Word, draws in his elect people, and then uses the same ministry of the Word, again through the power of the Holy Spirit, to conform his people to the image of his Son Jesus Christ. This is why Starr Meade writes,

The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring non-Christians to faith in Christ. The Spirit of God also uses the Word of God to cause Christians to grow in holiness. A non-Christian who never hears or reads the Word of God will probably not become a Christian. A Christian who never hears or reads the Word of God will probably not grow in holiness.

Posted on September 15, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #88

Q: What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation
Acts 2:41-42 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Recently at Proclamation, our youth Sunday School class did a series on "The Worship of God's People". During that series, we talked about how our worship services need to be services of "Word and Sacrament", soaked and saturated in prayer. And why? Because these are the very means that God has chosen to communicate his grace to us, his people. These are the very means by which God applies the benefits of redemption, reminds us and feeds us with the gospel of Jesus Christ, reminds us that we are part of God's covenant people, and through the working of the Holy Spirit as he works in and through these ordinary means, molds and conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ. Listen to what Starr Meade says about this section of the catechism:

The Lord Jesus paid fully to redeem his people when he died on the cross. Nothing more needs to be done to redeem them. But the benefits of being redeemed need to be brought to God's people. The Lord Jesus has chosen ways to bring those benefits to us. This answer lists those ways. The Word of God, the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), and prayer are the 'ordinary, external ways Christ has chosen to bring us the benefits of redemption.' As we read and hear God's Word, as we pray, and as we receive baptism and communion, we enjoy the benefits of redemption Christ bought for us.

This is God's plan for Christian discipleship! This is the ministry of Christ's Church. The Christian cannot thrive without these means of communicating God's grace, and this should be at the heart of every Christian church's "discipleship plan". Whatever else the local church does to disciple her people, at the center of it all needs to be the Word preached and read, the right administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and prayer. Everything else is negotiable. Everything else is an add-on. Everything else, quite frankly, is unnecessary. God's plan for feeding his people, for communicating his grace, for "applying the benefits of redemption", for raising up disciples, revolves around these "ordinary means" of grace, and if a church is grounded in the Word, in the sacraments, and in prayer, then that church is doing its job. Your local church may not have all the programs you desire. They may not have the youth group or the VBS or the women's Bible study or the men's fellowship group or even a small group ministry. But if she is saturated in the Word read and preached, if she feeds God's people with the sacraments, if she is steeped in prayer, then your local church is doing her job in discipleship. She is being faithful in her call because she is making use of the God-ordained means by which the "benefits of redemption" are communicated to us, God's people!

Please understand, I'm not saying these other "programs" are bad. In fact, they can be ways by which churches can feed their people and provide more opportunity for the Word to be read and taught and for God's people to join together in prayer. And they can certainly provide ways for the people of God to enjoy fellowship and encourage one another. These are good things! But we've come to a place in Evangelicalism where, in our consumer culture, we decide whether a church is giving us what we need or not based upon the "extras". The reality is, a church can have wonderful programs for babies up through seniors. A church can have every financial resource in the world. A church can provide you with an activity every single night of the week. But if the church is not feeding you with the Word, the sacraments, and with prayer, then that church is not giving you what you truly need as a son or daughter of the Living God.

If you are attending a church that is failing to feed you with these means of communicating God's grace, with these means of communicating the benefits of Christ's redemption to you, then I encourage you to find a church that is faithful in this call. Even if that church does nothing else, if they are faithful in reading and preaching the Word, in administering the sacraments, and in prayer, then you can have the assurance that that church is providing you with what you need as a disciple of Jesus Christ. 

And if you belong to a church that is faithful in feeding you with Word, sacrament, and prayer, then praise the Lord! Whatever else you may feel that church lacks, you can rejoice in knowing that God is indeed communicating the benefits of redemption to you, and that through these ordinary means your faith is being fed and you are faithfully being discipled!

Just one final note. We've been talking about the role that the means of grace play in our gathered, corporate church life, but there is a personal side to the means of grace as well. Apart from the sacraments, which are signs and seals given to the church and have their meaning within the context of the covenant community (which will be discussed in coming weeks), believers should be making full use of these means of grace in their personal and family lives. The reading of the Word and prayer should be staples in every believer's life, and for parents, we should be striving to make use of the reading of the Word and prayer in our homes as we seek to raise Godly children. And we can trust that, just as God has given these means of grace to the gathered church for Christian discipleship, these means of grace will continue to communicate the benefits of our redemption in Jesus Christ in our personal and family lives. 

Posted on September 8, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #87

Q: What is repentance unto life?
A: Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

We've been discussing how God provides everything we need for salvation. This is sometimes referred to as "monergism". Monergism is a fancy way of saying that salvation is the complete work of God. In other words, salvation is not a "team effort" between God and man. The Triune God does it all. Most of you may be familiar with the term "synergy". Synergy, or synergism, is the idea of a cooperative effort. When people team up, work well together, and accomplish a great task, we say that team of people has synergy. Some people view salvation in the same way. They believe salvation requires teamwork between God and the person being saved. But the catechism, and we believe the Bible itself, teaches that salvation is all together, from start to end, a work of the Holy God. It is not a synergistic work (a cooperative work between God and man), it is a monergistic work-the work of one, namely, the one true and living God. 

So two weeks ago we saw how God requires faith and repentance for salvation. But then last week, we saw how faith itself is a gift from God, and when someone expresses saving faith, that too is a work of the Holy Spirit in that person's life. Now, this week, we see that repentance is also a gift from God. The catechism, just as it did with faith, refers to repentance as "a saving grace". This means that even repentance is a gift from God. Once again, God is requiring something for salvation, but also is providing what he requires! 

Last week we asked, "what is faith"? And it's only right that we ask the question, "what is repentance?" I don't think there's really a better answer for this question than what the catechism already gives us. Repentance is not merely "being sorry" for your sins. It's also not the act of simply confessing that you have sinned and that you are a sinner. Repentance is much more than this. First, it's a grief and hatred for our sin. Nothing should grieve us more than the fact that we are sinners and that we have sinned against a Holy God! There is nothing more terrible than to sin, to rebel, to offend the infinitely Holy God. And that grief for and hatred of our sin should cause us to flee from sin. It should cause us to turn away from it. Repentance isn't just deep sorrow for sin, it includes action. It means that we desire to turn away from our sinful patterns. And what are we turning to? We're turning to lives lived with a "full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience."

Thank God that repentance is a gift from him! Who could ever achieve repentance apart from the work of the Holy Spirit? Part of me cringes to write this blog because, like all of you reading this, I know that I fail even at repentance. I'm so quick to fall back into the same sinful habits time and time again. We're so often like the Israelites. God delivered them from the bondage of the Egyptians, and yet in their desert wanderings, how many times did they cry out, "oh that we were still in Egypt!" God has delivered us from an even greater bondage. He has delivered us from the bondage and slavery of the power of sin, death, and the devil, and yet we live our lives in a way that screams, "we want to go back to our old slave masters!" But just the fact that we recognize this, just the fact that we battle against this day in and day out, shows us God's grace at work in our lives. Repentance is not a once-done action. It's a pattern for the life of the believer in Jesus Christ. As we live day in and day out, we should be grieved by our sin, and continue to look to God in grief and sorrow, confessing our sins, and striving to live lives with a "full purpose of, and endeavor after" obedience to God. We do this not to maintain our salvation, but rather, because our salvation has already been accomplished. And that's the great hope in all of this. We have the promise that, as the author of Hebrews wrote, he (Jesus Christ), by a single offering has "perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). In other words, at the cross Christ has already perfected his people. And while the sanctification process is a life-long grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives, a work that will only be completed when we are either called home or Christ returns, we know that as we live lives of repentance, as we strive to live lives that reflect the reality that we are indeed new creations in Jesus, our salvation-our perfection-has already been accomplished at the cross. It is a once-and-done, finished work. What better hope do we have than that!? What better motivation do we have than that to live lives of obedience to the Word of God!?

Posted on August 31, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #86

Q: What is faith in Jesus Christ? 
A: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel. 
Ephesians 2:8–9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

What I really appreciate about this week's catechism is, it shows us (along with the Scripture passage in Ephesians), how God is the one who provides everything needed to save men. We discussed last week what God requires of us to escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin. The answer is, God requires faith in Christ and repentance. And over the next few weeks, we'll see how God gives his people what is required. It's amazing that God doesn't just require something, but also provides it (for a little more insight on these things, re-read our blog on the catechism's 30th and 31s questions concerning redemption and effectual calling).

But what IS faith? "Faith" seems to be a word that we, even as Christians, can find confusing. The catechism reminds us of a few things. First, it's a saving grace. What does that mean? Well, if we remember what grace is-God blessing us with something that we don't deserve-then we see that faith is a gift from God! God provides us with something that we, ourselves lack, and what we, ourselves, do not deserve; namely, faith in Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 2:8-9 when he says, "And this is not your own doing; it (faith) is the gift of God". 

Okay great. Faith is a gift, a saving grace, from God himself. But what, exactly, is faith? What is this gift God gives us? Some people think that "faith" simply means believing. They equate "faith in Christ" with "belief in Christ". There's a problem with that, though. As James reminds us, even the demons believe! Believing, then, that Jesus Christ is real, that he is who he said he is, that he did what the gospels declare he did, that doesn't do us any good. Belief is not the same as faith, unless anyone wants to translate James 2 to say, "Even the demons have faith..." The joke in our youth group at Proclamation, as we constantly seek to remind the students of the definition of faith, is that "believing in Jesus qualifies you to be a demon!" There has to be more than simply, "belief". 

The catechism shows us how faith moves beyond simply believing the truth about Jesus Christ. Notice, "we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation". The saving grace of faith that God gives us is not mere believe in facts, but rather, a full trust and reliance upon Jesus Christ for our salvation. The faith God gives us is a trust in the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It's a faith that declares, "I can do nothing to save myself from the wrath and curse of sin that I deserve! I can only look to, trust in, and place my hope upon Jesus Christ". This is the saving grace of faith! This faith is a declaration that, as Jonathan Edwards said, "You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary", and it is a faith that relies solely on and trusts fully in the finished work of Jesus Christ

Posted on August 23, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #84 & 85

84) Q: What does every sin deserve?
A: Every sin deserves God's wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.
James 2:10  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 

85) Q: What does God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?
A: To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with diligent use of all outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.
Mark 1:15 ...and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." 

Playing catch-up again because of not being able to get the blog done last week, but it works out well because here, in these two catechism questions, we're presented with both a problem and a solution. The problem is this. We know from examining the 10 commandments, from realizing that no one keeps the commandments perfectly, that we are all guilty before God. And we know that the wages of sin, the penalty for our guilt, is death. Not just physical death, but also spiritual death. That is the curse that the catechism talks about. But not only do we deserve death, the cathecism also says we deserve God's wrath, both in this life and in the life to come. We deserve nothing less than God's anger in this life, and, if we get what we deserve, will receive nothing less than the full wrath of God poured out upon us in the next life. 

So what is a sinner's hope? We know we're infinitely guilty before an infinitely holy God. We know we deserve his anger for all of eternity. We know we deserve death in every sense of the word. Where is the hope in all of this? Thank God that the story didn't end in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve rebelled against God! Thank God there's a Genesis 3:15 where God promises that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent! Thank God that the writers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism didn't have to stop with question 84, that they got to go on and write question 85! Thank God that he is not only a God of holy wrath, but he is also a God of holy mercy and holy grace! Question 85 tells of our hope. It speaks of God's mercy. It speaks of his willingness to forgive sinners. BUT, it is conditional, isn't it? God requires something from us in order to be forgiven, in order to be shown mercy and grace. And what does God require? He requires faith in his Son Jesus Christ, and repentance. Faith, as we'll see in the following weeks, is nothing less than a trusting in the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It means that we recognize that while we have failed to keep the law of God, Jesus kept it perfectly. And not only did he keep the law perfectly, he then went to the cross, to the altar, to offer himself up as a once-for-all-time perfect sacrifice. He substituted himself for us. Just like in the Old Testament, the animal sacrifices were substitutionary deaths for the sins of God's people (although it's important to note, those sacrifices saved nobody, they were intended to point towards Christ's sacrifice), just as symbolically, the sins of the people of God were laid upon those animal sacrifices, Jesus Christ gave himself as the spotless Lamb of God. He bore the punishment we deserved, both in his body and soul, both by suffering physical and spiritual death. He bore the full weight of God's anger and wrath, not for any sin of his own, but for the sins of his people. Our sins were laid upon him so that we could be declared righteous and spotless. And faith means that we trust in THIS sacrifice alone! Faith means that we trust in what Christ has done for us, because we know we could not satisfy God's righteous demands on our own.

But faith is not all that is required of us. The catechism also talks of repentance. And again, just like we'll be exploring faith over the next several weeks, we'll also be exploring repentance. But for now, let's see that repentance is not merely the recognition that we have sinned, repentance is the turning away from our sinful thoughts, actions, and attitudes. In other words, repentance is a call to stop loving our sin, to turn away from it, and turn our love, our affections, towards God himself. Repentance is the posture of a person who truly has faith in Jesus Christ.
The thing about this is, even faith and repentance is too much for us to do as fallen sinners! But as we'll see over the next few weeks, even faith and repentance are gifts from God. They're workings of the Holy Spirit. They're a grace that God gives us. 

One final note on question 85. You have probably noticed that the catechism also mentions that we must make use of "all outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption." What the authors of the catechism have in mind here are what we call the "ordinary means of grace". Again, we'll explore this in more detail in coming weeks, but I do want us to see what these means of grace are, and why they're important. When we talk about the "ordinary means of grace", we're speaking of ways that God ordinarily communicates his grace to us, his people. These are ways that God feeds the faith of his people, and aids us in our lives of repentance. In other words, these means of grace are how God disciples his people. They include the word read and preached, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and prayer. And the catechism this week is right. These things are not optional for God's people. While making use of the means of grace does not merit or earn our salvation (they aren't works that we contribute to salvation), they're signs of a repentant life and they are the means by which God intends for us, his people, to grow in faith, knowledge, and love. We absolutely need them! We need to have our souls fed and nurtured by these means of grace if we are to truly live lives of faith and repentance. But, more on that in weeks to come!

Posted on August 16, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.

Westminster Shorter Catechism #83

Q: Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? 
A: Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. 
1 John 5:16-17 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life-to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 

It's important to remember, as we look at this week's question, that all sin is worthy of God's anger, wrath, and judgment. All sin is rebellion against God and is a severe offense to his holiness. The point of this question is not to deny this reality. Rather, it is to show that while all sins are equally offensive to God and carry with it the same ultimate punishment (death) apart from God's grace and mercy, God does view some sins as being more "evil" than others. 

What sins are more heinous than others? First, sins that are deliberately against God. Now it is true, all sins are really an offense and sin against God, but some are intentionally so. 1 Samuel 2 gives us the account of Eli's sons, who were deliberately offensive to God. They deliberately defiled sacrifices, and 1 Sam. 2:17 states, "Thu the sin of the young men was very great in the sign of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt."

Secondly, sins may be considered more "evil" in the sight of God based upon the harm they cause to others. For example, murdering someone does more harm to them than harming their marriage. Harming their marriage does more harm than stealing physical possessions. Stealing does more harm than coveting. 

Thirdly, the position a person holds adds weight to the sin. James 3:1, for example, states that those who are teachers will be held to a higher standard, "judged with greater strictness" than those who are not teachers. 

Fourthly, and perhaps most difficult for us to swallow, the sins of God's people are eviler in the eyes of the Lord than the sins of those outside of the family of God. When we as Christians sin, we do it as people who know the Lord. We know his commands. We are in personal relationship to him. It is a greater hypocrisy when we as the people of God sin. We, unlike the non-believer, have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We have help in our fight against sin, and when we give into temptation and sin, we quench the Spirit and we bring shame to the name of Jesus Christ. It's as Paul says in Romans 2:23-24, "You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For as it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'"

For this reason, we as Christians should grief over our sins more than anyone. We should see our own sins as the most severe. And yet, we also should take comfort and rejoice, because we know that while our sins may be more "evil", while our sins can bring shame to the name of Jesus Christ and quench the Spirit of God, we know that God's grace far exceeds our sinfulness. We know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus(Romans 1:1), and we know that nothing, not even our own sin, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 1:38). 

 

Posted on August 2, 2016 and filed under Shorter Catechism.