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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Church of Christ (VIII)

The Marks or Notes of the Christian
The beauty of the description of the Church in the Belgic Confession is that it doesn’t merely give us definitions and then send us on our way. There is a personal aspect or facet to this and other Reformed confessions that many today overlook. Some overlook it because they are bent on pointing out how cold, sterile, and doctrinaire they are and others simply because they are so concerned to cull out the doctrine that they either forget or overlook the personal and pastoral warmth that is waiting to be discovered.
Recently, I had the privilege of addressing the Torrey Honors Class at Biola University on the topic of the Heidelberg Catechism. As part of my introduction, I focused their attention on the first question of the catechism: What is your only comfort in life and in death? I showed them how at the outset the authors were concerned to put their booklet of comfort into the personal category. What is your only comfort in life and in death? The remainder of the Heidelberg Catechism is not merely pastoral/personal but gives us biblical ground under our feet. If you haven’t read it and then studied it, you owe it to yourself to do so.
Anyway, the B.C. possesses similar characteristics. I recall how some people I’ve met were “hardcore” on Article 29; so hardcore that they questioned whether anyone outside of their particular church affiliation was even saved. They were gung-ho when it came to the first two paragraphs, but would become angry if you tried to press the claims of the third paragraphs upon them. So what does the third paragraph say to us? Let’s take a few moments and listen to what the B.C. says.
“With respect to those who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians, namely, by faith; and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, in who they have remission of sins through faith in him.”[1]

What is Faith?
B.B. Warfield once said that not everything that passes for Christianity is Christianity. Today, the same is true in spades. I’m sure we have all heard some of the most outlandish statements coming from those who are ostensibly Christians as well as some pretty squirrelly and funky “doctrines.” Personally, I’ve heard statements that were supposedly Christian in content that contained as many errors as words. I’m not coming down on new Christians by saying this. I have all kinds of patience with and for them. My concern is someone who has been in the Christian Church for quite a while and still is at the proverbial square one; who cannot begin to articulate the basics of the Christian faith.
The discerning reader will recall that in the last issue I raised the issue of the young man, who had just been baptized, coming back and doing a cannonball into the baptistery. What I’m about to put in quotes is in the public domain and was added by someone responding to me on my blog site. Here is the kind of drivel that passes for spirituality in modern evangelicalism: “As for the little guy jumping into the water. I recognize our desire for the solemn and holy. Yet it also seems entirely appropriate to jump into the water after baptism. There must be some sort of celebrating among the heavenly hosts with each baptism. Perhaps a cannonball would be appropriate after each baptism to recognize God among us! Just a thought that puts a different biblical perspective on the case in point.” I want to thank the jolly blogger for making my point for me. If you don’t believe that this is an actual quote, you can check it out on my blog site. With this kind of shallow thinking is there any wonder the modern Church is in such deep weeds?
So to the point: what is faith? It seems so simple until you try to put it into words. This is precisely where Scripture and reliable confessions can be of immeasurable help to and for us. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q/A 86) asks, What is faith in Jesus Christ? and answers in this manner: “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.” (Emphasis mine.) The caveat is that we cannot fabricate a Jesus to our liking, but we must settle for the Jesus who is offered to us in the Good News. The content of that Good News is found in Scripture that comes to us with divine authority. He alone is our salvation and we are to rest upon him and receive him as he comes to us in Scripture.
The Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 7, Q/A 21) gives us a definition that was common during the Reformation when in answer to the question What is true faith? Olevianus and Ursinus say, “True faith is not only certain (or true—RG) knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also an assured (or firm—RG) confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart, that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”[2]What are we told? Faith has at least two aspects, components, or facets: knowledge and confidence. One references the head of the Christian and the other the heart. If either one is out of balance, we do not possess biblical faith.

[1] Joel Beeke & Sinclair Ferguson (eds.), Reformed Confession Harmonized, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), p. 193.
[2] Ibid., 94. Italics mine—RG. See John 6:69; 17:3; Heb. 11:3, 6; Eph. 3:12; Rom 4:16, 20-21; Heb. 11:1; Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:21; Acts 16:14; Matt. 16:17; John 3:5; Rom. 10:14, 17; Matt. 9:2; Rom. 5:1; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 3:24-26.


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