A Reformed Commentary on the 2020 Pandemic (Part 2) – July 2020 “Standard Bearer”

July Standard Bearer preview articleThe July 2020 issue of the Standard Bearer (produced only once per month in June, July, and August) is now out (in print and digital forms). This is our annual “PRC Synod” post-view issue, complete with a wrap-up of Synod 2020’s decisions and some photos of the delegates at work and in fellowship.

But the issue also contains a regular editorial and a number of other scheduled rubric articles, including Prof. D. Kuiper’s next installment on the ecumenical councils of the early church (Constantinople 381), Rev. J. Laning’s article on “God’s Sure Promise,” a powerful mission article with testimonies from the Philippines’ field, Rev. R. Barnhill’s second article on “Entitlement” (especially for the young people), a book review by Prof. R. Cammenga on Mrs. S. Casemier’s new historical novel on Katie Luther, and the latest church news.

The editorial by Prof. B. Gritters is another timely commentary on the pandemic (part 2) that continues to sweep the world and affect our lives in every aspect. He argues that Reformed theology presents the best commentary on what we are seeing and experiencing, looking this time at the last two parts of Reformed doctrine – Eschatology and Christology. Here is part of what he has to say:

We live in a very difficult time, when our Father’s hand brings disease and gives the world over to the lawlessness it so fervently seeks.

Reformed theology has the best, really the only, way to interpret for the people of God these otherwise strange and fearful happenings in the world. Reformed theology, we are convinced, is simply the doctrine of the Bible, and the Bible is the lens through which the believer must look in order to bring order out of the disorder. That is, Reformed theology is faith’s seeing what unbelief and false teaching cannot see. Reformed theology is faith’s understanding of what unbelief and heresy finds utterly confounding.

Last time I gave a sampling of doctrines from four of the six chapters (loci) of Reformed theology that help clarify what otherwise might be fuzzy to men, that shed light on what otherwise might be dim or even dark. That editorial treated theology and God’s sovereign providence and just judgments; anthropology and man’s fall into sin and death; soteriology and the graces of sanctification and hope that God works through affliction; ecclesiology and the importance of public worship and the relationship between church and state. Here, I follow up with the last two chapters, eschatology and Christology.

Eschatology (The Doctrine of the End Times): Heaven on Earth?

If it’s true that Christians wrongly react to the pandemic, and churches wrongly explain troubles in the world on account of bad theology, anthropology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, it is even more so on account of false teachings in eschatology. Eschatology teaches the people of God what to expect in the end times, what is the goal of God with the church’s labors in the world, to what believers ought to aim, and unto what they press their efforts. Eschatology deals with the future—the near future and the distant future, the future of the church and the future of this world, the future of the devil and his hosts and the future of King Jesus and His relationship to all created things.

Getting eschatology wrong has been disastrous for most nominal Christians these days because their hope is earthly. Their expectations are for improvements here and now, soon. They believe God’s goal with the church’s labor is a Christianized world. So they press their efforts to fulfill the ‘cultural mandate.’ They labor hard to create an earthly kingdom. Rather than to carry out the Great Commission to bring to the nations the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, they want to redeem society from its chaos. Their desire is to bring the nations the ‘good news’ of social equality, food for the poor, clean water, justice for women and other oppressed people, and probably a vaccine for COVID-19. They are convinced that these are what God wants for the world and that the church is the instrument to bring them about. But note well, it is not the church as institute that carries out this work, through her offices, but the church as organism.

In addition to being bad ecclesiology, it’s also false teaching regarding eschatology. Instead of quickening hope in the coming of Christ, the false teaching leads to despondency, because the depressing happenings in the world do not bode well for a Christianized world. And as for the nominal Christian church—her drift towards Roman Catholicism and her ecumenical adulteries have rendered her impotent for gospel good.

Someone once said that when a man expects to be “hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Wrong eschatology dulls one’s thinking, lulls the church to sleep. She now imagines a future of ease and prosperity. Her mind is not ‘concentrated’ at all, but clouded and then confused. If the future is to be so bright, how can such evils increase in the world? And what can be done to turn the world into a peaceful place, to make the crooked straight and the rough places plain, when men and nations are so vile? Their hopes are shaken. Worse, they expose themselves to the allurements of the Antichrist who, Scripture teaches, will someday solve the world’s problems.

This is the major error of neo-Calvinism today, in which the false teaching of ‘common grace’ predominates special, redeeming grace. Common grace prided itself in being a ‘two-track’ theology—special saving grace on one track, common grace on the other. God’s ‘common grace’ will remedy the world’s violence, poverty, injustice. Special grace saves souls and prepares them for heaven. But the two-track theology has become a monorail of common grace. Neo-Calvinists focus on the common grace that will save bodies and give a good life on earth. Neo-Calvinism is completely exposed to N.T. Wright’s “heaven is on earth” mantra.

The bracing realism of Reformed orthodoxy ‘concentrates our minds wonderfully.’ Reformed theology focuses our minds on, and directs our efforts to, preaching the gospel of God’s gracious salvation and establishing churches. Reformed ecclesiology teaches that the true church is the “Israel of God,” the new ‘nation’ for which He cares, and that the church institute is the messenger of that gospel. And Reformed eschatology is a-millennial.

Biblical doctrine of the end times promises victory to the church by faith in Jesus Christ. But it teaches that the victory comes through tribulation, suffering, persecution (John 16:33, Acts 14:22). It teaches that Christ’s coming is preceded by wars and rumors of war, pestilence and other troubles in this life, and apostasy in the church (II Thess. 2). It teaches that the days right before the coming of Christ will be like the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39), terrible days of apostasy and unbelief when the true church will be small and preachers of God’s righteousness ridiculed.

So Reformed eschatology helps believers to see clearly and to keep balanced in troubling times like today.

To read further in this issue, visit this link. To subscribe to the magazine, go here.

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