Protestant Creeds and Confessions – Dr. Ryan Reeves

The April 2017 issue of Tabletalk covers the 17th century of church history, as noted at the beginning of this month. The second featured article, which I read yesterday, focuses on the many Protestant creeds and confessions that were composed during this period. Dr. Ryan Reeves (cf. information below) writes about the various creeds written within Lutheranism, the Reformed camp (including Dordt), and Presbyterianism (especially the Westminster Confessions).

There is plenty of edifying material here for you to read, if you wish to “brush up” on your confessional church history. I give you a portion of the section treating the Reformed creeds. Find the complete article at the link below.

REFORMED CONFESSIONS PROLIFERATE

The Reformed tradition was equally committed to the cause of confessionalization. Depending on how wide a net we cast, there were roughly forty to fifty Reformed (or Reformed-influenced) confessions written between 1520 and 1650—by far the most of any Protestant tradition. In 1523, almost immediately as the Reformed tradition began, Huldrych Zwingli drew up the Sixty-Seven Articles in order to provide an articulation of the points at stake in Zurich. This was followed by the Ten Theses of Berne (1528), the First Confession of Basel (1534), and several others as cities began to adopt the Reformed perspective. Others would follow in other countries, with the French Confession of Faith (1559) and the Scots Confession (1560).

The reason for so many Reformed confessions comes as a result of their context. The Reformed faith was always led by a band of brothers (despite the modern impression that John Calvin alone created Reformed orthodoxy). But the Reformed tradition was born in several cities and countries almost at once. From 1520 onward, city after city embraced the Reformation, often piecemeal, and quite a few even before reform came to Geneva. Therefore, there was no singular voice like Luther’s to shape the foundational documents of Reformed confessions.

As a result, church after church, community after community spent a sizable portion of their energy codifying a confession for their local churches. This is why most Reformed confessions identify with the city of their origin: this was the confession for this city, this church, not for all Reformed churches to embrace as one.

Still, as historians and theologians point out, there is a harmonization of these Reformed confessions that unites their diverse voices into a singular Reformed voice. Their differences are not so great that we cannot see their unity on issues of salvation, worship, and practice. Today, many churches recognize a basic harmony of what is called the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—a unity not of authorship but of witness to Reformed principles.

This is not to say that all Reformed confessions are identical. As the Reformed faith spread from the Swiss cantons to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and then to England and Scotland, there were noticeable differences of emphasis or application. These confessional identities formed the initial steps that would give rise to the diversity of Reformed denominations and communities as we know it today.

Dr. Ryan Reeves is assistant professor of historical theology and assistant dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Fla.

Source: Protestant Creeds and Confessions by Ryan Reeves

The Gospel of “Re-“, Rev. W. Langerak – April 1, 2017 Standard Bearer

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (April 1, 2017) is once again filled with interesting, instructive, and edifying articles, as you will see from the cover image below.

One thing to call attention to is the editorial by Rev. Ken Koole. In “Our Need for Seminary Students: Time to Be Praying” he points out with numbers that do not lie that the PRC is going to be in urgent need of candidates for the ministry in the near future. Especially parents and young men ought to direct themselves to that article, but all of us ought to be praying for the fulfillment of this need.

SB-April1-2017

The article to which I call special attention is the word study by Rev. W. Langerak. The striking title “Re-” tips the reader off that his subject is those words in the Bible that begin with “re-” – and as you will notice, there are many such words in God’s Word.

Pastor Langerak ties these words to the redemption Jesus Christ secured for His people on the cross and His resurrection from the dead that we will celebrate this coming Friday and Sunday, and you will readily see the connection to such words as reconciliation, regeneration, and reward.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Re- – read and rejoice in which God has done through His Son!

The celebration of our redemption and resurrection in Jesus is a good time to remember the wonderful aspect of the gospel indicated by the prefix re- of these two words. Re- basically means “again” and denotes something repeated, returned back, or done intensely. Redemption, therefore, means “to be bought back” and resurrection “to be raised again.” And re- is one of the most common prefixes in Scripture, which shows the rich significance of “again” to the holy gospel. The gospel is the good news of re-.

Our Father has nurtured, raised, and stretched out His hand to rebellious (to war again) children, children who refused (give back as unwanted) to keep His covenant, hear His word, and obey His law, and rejected (to throw back) even His Christ (Dan. 9:9; Ps. 78:10, Hos. 4:6; Isa. 53:3). He came unto His own, but His own received (to take back) Him not (John 1:11). But the stone the builders reject and refuse, God makes the head of the corner (Ps. 118:22).

Through Christ, God gives us, therefore, the ministry of reconciliation (to bring together again)—that while we were still enemies, we were reconciled to God by His death and assured salvation by His life (Rom. 5:10, Ps. 118:22). Although sheep going astray, we are returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls and received back into His favor (L.D. 4; 1Pet. 2:25).

The gospel is that the Lord remembers (takes to mind again) His covenant forever, but remembers our sins no more (Ps. 105:8; Heb. 10:17). Although He be high, He has respect for the lowly (1Pet. 1:17). He regards the crying of His children (Ps. 106:44). He releases the captives from prison and feeds those who cannot recompense (to pay back) Him again (Luke 14:14). The Lord removes our sins, restores our soul, revives and renews our spirit, repairs our broken hearts, and regenerates (to be born again) us by the incorruptible seed of the Word unto a lively hope that always remains in us (1Pet. 1:3, 23; 1John 3:9).

Goodness and Mercy Meet at the Cross – H. Hoeksema

And remember, in the light of the righteousness of God, all the imaginary goodness and righteousness of mere man are filthy rags (Isa.64:6). What is not of faith is sin (Rom.14:23). Righteousness is to love the Lord God with all one’s heart and mind and soul and strength, always and everywhere, in one’s whole life and with every means. All the rest is transgression of the law and worthy of eternal damnation. Remember also that God does not become angry with the wicked only in some future day of judgment, but he always judges, and he always is filled with holy wrath with regard to those who do iniquity. They are in death and stand in judgment. They lie under condemnation.

Yes, God is truly merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity and full of lovingkindness and truth, but since his mercy cannot be divorced from his righteousness and justice, it is a righteous mercy. God can reveal his mercy only to the righteous. And since no man is righteous in himself, and all have sinned and come short of God’s glory (3:23), God can be merciful to no man on the basis of man’s own goodness and righteousness. God is merciful, indeed, and his mercy endures forever, but his mercy is revealed as a righteous mercy only in the cross of Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord. In Christ’s atoning sacrifice, righteousness and grace, justice and mercy, embrace each other in blessed harmony. Gracious and merciful God is to those who are in Christ Jesus. For them there is no condemnation. Blessed are all who put their trust in him.

Knowing-God-and-Man -HHTaken from Herman Hoeksema’s radio sermon “God is Good” (based on Matthew 19:17), as found in Knowing God & Man (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006), p.42.

Prof. D. Engelsma’s Interview on “Iron Sharpens Iron” Now Available in mp3

iron sharpens iron logo

DJEngelsma-2016 Prof. David J. Engelsma (emeritus PRC Seminary) was interviewed on Thursday March 30 by national Christian radio host, Chris Arnzen, on his program Iron Sharpens Iron.

The interview focused on the Reformation subjects covered in the book edited by Prof. Engelsma, The Sixteenth-Century Reformation of the Church , which are especially timely and significant in connection with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year. 

UPDATE: Mr. Arnzen has graciously made available an mp3 file of this interview.

We are grateful to Mr. Arnzen for his desire to conduct this second interview with Prof. Engelsma (for more on the first, visit this post), and pray that it is used to inform many of the great good of God’s work through the Reformation.

The following is taken from the “About” page on the “Iron Sharpens Iron” website:

Chris Arnzen | Christian Radio Programming & Advertising Executive & Talk Host of Iron Sharpens Iron.

Chris Arnzen | Christian Radio Programming & Advertising Executive & Talk Host of Iron Sharpens Iron.

If you’re weary of the typical fluffy Christian radio broadcasts, you’ll find Iron Sharpens Iron addresses a multitude of topics from a distinctly Reformed Christian worldview. Chris Arnzen asks the right questions, presents guests who have the answers, and continually challenges Christians to apply their faith to every aspect of their lives.

World-tilting Truth: God is Wise

If Creation is an act of unimaginable power, it is no less a work of immense wisdom. Every vast and staggeringly complex movement issues from His mind. He needs no manual, counsel, or outside authority.

…When you watch those marvelous nature specials [on TV or the Internet], you are beholding an exhibition of God’s wisdom. Though the narrator blathers on about ‘Mother Nature,’ you should know better. These are the works of God’s hands, and He made them all in wisdom (Ps.104:24).

….God has both an infinite array of facts at His command, and infinite wisdom concerning the meaning, significance, and weight of all those facts in every possible arrangement. He has that knowledge, because He created them and rules over them.

All of this is also a world-tilting truth. The current mind-set makes much of the supposed meaninglessness of ‘life, the universe, and all that.’ The common subtext of many media’s storylines is that life is meaningless in itself; that we must choose our meaning and define ourselves. But history itself has no aim, meaning, or purpose.

This truth [that God is wise and possesses perfect wisdom] demolishes that notion, insisting that we have neither the right nor ability to redefine the universe, since it is a created universe, and since every fact has a value assigned to it by the Creator. Including us. We have neither the right nor ability to assign meaning to the universe. Its Author is the one who assigns definition and meaning. At best, we discover and uncover that meaning.

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsTaken from Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011), Chapter 4 “The God Who Plans” (Kindle version).

In this chapter, Phillips is preparing the way to introduce God’s amazing salvation plan for lost sinners fallen in Adam (see my previous post on this book). He discusses three of God’s attributes – holiness, love, and wisdom – to explain how they come together in His sovereign purpose to save sinners – that’s chapter 5 – next time! The above quote is from the section where he treats the wisdom of God, especially as it relates to His work of creation.

 

What will you do with the crucified Christ? ~ Rev. J. Marcus

The latest issue of the Standard Bearer (March 15, 2017) contains, among other edifying articles, an instructive and inspirational meditation by Rev. John Marcus, pastor of First PRC in Edmonton, AB.

SB-March15-2017-cover

Pastor Marcus’ meditation is on John 19:18, “Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.”

Below is the ending application of that meditation. As you will see, Rev. Marcus gives us good things to ponder as we reflect on the death of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

God’s word in our text is both a warning and a comfort to everyone who faces the question concerning their response to Christ.

It’s a warning to those who want a Christ and a religion according to which they can pursue their own lusts. Both sinners came face to face with Jesus and with death. They had time enough to repent. We might think to ourselves, “I can always repent when I’m older.” But, the first thief never repented. God gives us the example of this thief as a warning to everyone who pretends they will repent on their death beds.

On the other hand, Jesus in the midst of these two sinners is also an encouragement because it shows that Jesus forgives even the greatest of sinners. Though he had lived a life of violence and wickedness, the second thief found forgiveness at the cross. We must never think to ourselves, “My sins are too many or too great.” That would be to reproach Jesus and imply that His blood was not precious enough. In fact, it cleanses even the foulest of sinners. All who go to Christ and humble themselves before Him – even in the final hour of their lives – He will in no wise cast out.

Jesus Christ suffered the curse of God for all His elect. He suffered to satisfy the justice of a holy and righteous God whose anger burns against sinners.

What will you do with the crucified Christ?

If you are not an SB subscriber and would like to become one, or would like to receive a sample copy of this Reformed magazine, visit the RFPA website (ww.rfpa.org) or the link above.

Why the Reformation Still Matters – Because of Grace

In Roman Catholicism grace was seen as a ‘thing,’ a force or fuel like Red Bull. Catholics would pray, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace,’ as if Mary were wired with spiritual caffeine.

…That is nothing how Luther and his fellow Reformers saw grace. For them, grace was not a ‘thing’ at all; it is the personal kindness of God by which he does not merely enable us but actually rescues and… freely gives us himself. Or, to be more precise: there is no such ‘thing’ as grace; there is only Christ, who is the blessing of God freely given to us. That being the case, Luther tended not to talk much about grace in the abstract, preferring to speak of Christ. For example:

  • Therefore faith justifies because it takes hold of and possesses this treasure, the present Christ… the Christ who is grasped by faith and who lives in the heart is the true Christian righteousness, on account of which God counts us righteous and grants us eternal life.

In other words, the grace and righteousness we receive in the gospel are not something other than Christ himself: ‘Christ… is the divine Power, Righteousness, Blessing, Grace, and Life.’

why-reformation-matters-reeves-2016Taken from Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016), Chapter 4, “Grace”, pp.88-89.

Confidence in God and Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”

Everything that could go wrong did. The plague had come to his city. Their infant daughter died within a few short months of her birth. He had felt the pain of betrayal. He was still reeling from the throes of a war, with both sides feeling as if he had somehow let them down. He had started a movement that was nearly drowning him. This was one of the most difficult years of his life. The year was 1527, and Martin Luther wondered if he could survive it.

Time-for-confidence-nichols-2016-2So begins Stephen J. Nichols in the second chapter of his new book,  A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society (Reformation Trust, 2016). The title of this second chapter is “Confidence in God.”

In that light, Nichols asks and answers the question, What was Luther’s response to these dark days he was experiencing? Quite simply, he trusted in God! How did he demonstrate this trust? By writing one of the great hymns of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

As Nichols goes on to say,

Luther knew the reality of human limitations. He was nearly omnicompetent, a driven individual. He was a larger-than-life personality. Yet, he knew his own limitations. In 1527, as stormy events surrounded him, he knew he needed to look beyond himself, past his own strength and ability. He knew that God alone is our ‘mighty fortress,’ our ‘bulwark never failing.’ He knew how futile it would be to trust in our own strength.

To which the author adds this wonderful summary of Luther’s theology tucked away in that grand hymn:

The point of this entire book is captured in this one hymn from Martin Luther. Luther based the hymn on Psalm 46, which thunders, ‘The God of Jacob is our fortress.’ That phrase is not abstract; it is richly textured. This is the God of Jacob. We know of the foibles of Jacob. We also know of God’s tender and never-ending care of Jacob. This is the God who sees, hears, knows and cares. This is not a far-off, aloof God. This God who cared for Jacob is our fortress. This phrase from Psalm 46 prompted Luther to think of all the benefits that belong to us.

From there, Nichols takes each line from that majestic song (“Who is on our side? “The Man of God’s own choosing.” What abides? God’s Word abideth still.” And the last line; “His kingdom is forever.”), ending with these thoughts:

That is the resounding truth that anchored Luther in the storms of 1527. It is God. It is His Son. It is His Word. It is His Spirit. It is His kingdom. This is what matters [pp.21-23].

The question for us is, Does it matter for us too, in these days? And will it matter in those times of difficulty and persecution that are sure to come? Ponder the truths of Psalm 46 and have confidence in God, as Luther did. The God of Jacob is with us and for us.

The Presbyterian Philosopher, Gordon H. Clark (2)

presby-philosoper-clark-douma-2017Today we return to a brief look at the new biography by Douglas J. Douma on Gordon H. Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark (Wipf & Stock, 2017. 292 pp.).

Last time we looked at some of the introductory material in this book; this time we look at some of the content of chapter 1 – “The Presbyterian Heritage of Gordon Clark.” Douma opens the chapter with this:

Gordon Haddon Clark (1902 – 1985) was born into the Christian tradition of Old School Presbyterianism. Known for requiring ministers to subscribe to the system of Protestant Christian doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), Old School Presbyterianism shaped Clark’s understanding of the world. In his career as a theologian and a Christian philosopher, Clark defended the Confession and sought to keep his own philosophical views in line with its teachings. In fact, it could be said that he was a philosopher of the Westminster Confession, truly a Presbyterian philosopher [p.1].

Then after relating the solid Presbyterian background of his parents and their influence on him (his father, David Scott Clark, was a Presbyterian pastor), Douma writes,

Gordon Clark embraced his Presbyterian heritage. When he was a child his father taught him the Westminster Shorter Catechism – a question and answer summary of the basic beliefs of the Presbyterian church. He also followed his father’s interest in theology by reading from the many books in their home library [I hope you make special note of this fact.]. Local neighborhood children associated Clark so strongly with the church, that they gave him the nickname ‘Clerg,’ a dig at his father’s status as a member of the clergy. Looking back on his Presbyterian heritage later in life, Clark recalled:

Well, I’ve known about Scottish Presbyterianism from both sides of my family; I guess you call it a heritage. So many of us are blindly proud of our heritage without knowing what it is. But in my experience I think heritage is like a bedtime story of grandpa’s reminiscence. It’s really kind of a naive thing like the Jews remembering the wilderness and the walls of Jericho. It’s to give you a respect for courage as well as a feeling of worth as a descendant of Abraham [pp.7-8].

As I continue to make my way through this important biography, I am learning much about Clark the person as well as about Clark “the Presbyterian philosopher.”

Dead = D.E.A.D. “What is deader than dead?” – D.Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I am currently reading is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been pleasantly impressed with its content and message. I am a couple of chapters into it and find it soundly biblical, edifying, and challenging.

I know I promised something more from Chapter 1, (“Knowing God and Man”), but today I want to quote from Chapter 3 (“, where Phillips treats the fallenness of man and his total sinful depravity.

Soundly and biblically, Phillips grounds this in Adam’s fall and the orthodox teaching on original sin (Adam’s representative headship, etc.). But the author does not use old cliches to describe our total depravity. His section on man’s spiritual deadness will demonstrate that.

Here is what Phillips has to say:

This is how Paul describes our spiritual condition: dead. The Greek word for ‘dead’ means ‘D-E-A-D.’ It doesn’t carry any special, technical, secret nuance detectable only by professional lexicographers. It is used many times – in the NT of sleep-diver Eutychus after his fatal plunge from the third story (Acts 20:9), or in the Greek translation of the narrative about Sisera, after Jael nailed his head to the ground (Judg.4:22)

What do these all have in common?

They’re all dead! As dead as Moses. As dead as King Tut. As dead as Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, Augustine, and any other dead person you can name.

Do you really believe it? All Christians who say they believe the Bible have to say they believe this verse [Eph.2:1]. But do they? I wonder.

I thought I believed it, once, as a younger Christian. But I also thought that I was saved by exercising my free will, by my deciding to choose Christ, by bringing something that made God’s offer of salvation work, by coming up with the faith through which I was saved. Yet at the same time, I did have a vague notion that it was all of God… but then, there was my part.

A dead guy’s part.

I was confused. I think a lot of Christians are confused.

But Paul says dead, and dead is what he means. In fact, ask yourself this: If Paul had meant to paint man as spiritually dead and absolutely powerless to help himself or move himself toward God in any way – what stronger word could he have chosen? What is deader than dead?

Isn’t that a powerful – and humbling – description of all of us? Have we forgotten this? It is time we remember. And then listen to this at the end of this chapter (part of Phillip’s “world-tilting” application):

We must deal with the fact: The Gospel is offensive to human pride. If what we preach as ‘Gospel’ is not offensive, we’re doing it wrong. An unoffensive Gospel is a false Gospel, a damning Gospel – because the only Gospel that saves is the Gospel that offends (1 Cor.1:18, 21, 23; 2:2; Gal.1:10; 5:11; 6:12,14).

Save