Archive for March 2012

Effective

30 March 2012 by Frank Turk

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.



My son is a perfectly-healthy boy who (let's face it: he's my son) would rather play video games than do anything else.  I mean: rather than eat.

If the house caught on fire while he was playing video games, what would be the most fatherly thing for me to do?

  1. Run out of the house and call 911 in order to have my child saved.
  2. Call out in a loud voice as I run out of the house, so it is possible that the boy will listen and will be therefore saved.
  3. Literally go get him and run him out of the house without regard to whether or not his level is complete?
As you answer that question, consider these follow-ups: which of these is actually an effective calling of the boy out of death and into life?  And in which one am I actually saving him rather than hoping he will be saved?

No More of Works

29 March 2012 by Frank Turk


The covenant of life is not preached equally to all, and among those to whom it is preached, does not always meet with the same reception. This diversity displays the unsearchable depth of the divine judgment, and is without doubt subordinate to God’s purpose of eternal election. But if it is plainly owing to the mere pleasure of God that salvation is spontaneously offered to some, while others have no access to it, great and difficult questions immediately arise, questions which are inexplicable, when just views are not entertained concerning election and predestination. To many this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it most incongruous that of the great body of mankind some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction. How ceaselessly they entangle themselves will appear as we proceed. We may add, that in the very obscurity which deters them, we may see not only the utility of this doctrine, but also its most pleasant fruits. We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast—viz. that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others.

It is plain how greatly ignorance of this principle detracts from the glory of God, and impairs true humility. But though thus necessary to be known, Paul declares that it cannot be known unless God, throwing works entirely out of view, elect those whom he has predestined. His words are, “Even so then at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work,” (Rom. 11:6). If to make it appear that our salvation flows entirely from the good mercy of God, we must be carried back to the origin of election, then those who would extinguish it, wickedly do as much as in them lies to obscure what they ought most loudly to extol, and pluck up humility by the very roots. Paul clearly declares that it is only when the salvation of a remnant is ascribed to gratuitous election, we arrive at the knowledge that God saves whom he wills of his mere good pleasure, and does not pay a debt, a debt which never can be due. Those who preclude access, and would not have any one to obtain a taste of this doctrine, are equally unjust to God and men, there being no other means of humbling us as we ought, or making us feel how much we are bound to him. Nor, indeed, have we elsewhere any sure ground of confidence. This we say on the authority of Christ, who, to deliver us from all fear, and render us invincible amid our many dangers, snares and mortal conflicts, promises safety to all that the Father has taken under his protection (John 10:26). From this we infer, that all who know not that they are the peculiar people of God, must be wretched from perpetual trepidation, and that those therefore, who, by overlooking the three advantages which we have noted, would destroy the very foundation of our safety, consult ill for themselves and for all the faithful.
-- John Calvin, Institutes III.21.1

Did he fail miserably?

27 March 2012 by Frank Turk

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.


Not Divine Bonhomie

26 March 2012 by Frank Turk

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.


I'm sure this statement of the catechism raises ire among all manner of people -- the whole world, in fact.  But it's a pretty limited statement.

Here's some of the things it does NOT say:
  • It does NOT say that there are some who will believe who cannot be saved by Christ
  • It does NOT say that evangelism is a useless endeavor
  • It does NOT say that God is evil because of some post-biblical logical conundrum dreamed up by people who are afraid of God being God and not merely president of all things or some such diminished notion.
What this statement actually says is this: Union with Christ equals God's Grace.  That is: unless God decides to save anyone, and takes action to save anyone (not just in theory, or perhaps even as just one of several possibilities), no one will be saved.

This is because the way the Bible describes God, we can't just call him an Optimist.  He's doesn't just have divine bonhomie toward his creation, a general feeling of encouragement and hope for the future.  Unlike us, God is able to make promises about the future which can't be broken, and when he says he will save the repentant and the broken-hearted he's stating an unthwartable plan and not just a slogan or a bumper sticker of religious exhuberance.

If God chooses to save you, you get saved.  You have union with Christ.  You are grafted into something which, let's face it, men didn't build and which men aren't up to the task of destroying.

The Whole World

23 March 2012 by David Regier

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 62. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

Myopic. I truly can't see clearly past my nose, unless it's corrected. My vision, that is, not my nose (which needs to be corrected too, but that's another story).

I've been nearsighted since before I can remember. When I was a small child, I'm told that I could hear airplanes roaring through the sky above me, but when my parents tried to point them out, I'd look up, confused. I had seen pictures of them, and I had heard them, but they were invisible to me.

Understand, therefore, that I was very excited when I was 4 1/2 years old and got glasses. These airplanes I'd been hearing, I could see them! In the sky! Look! I would cry to my parents. An airplane! Of course I developed something of a fascination with them, and I drew more than a few in my notebooks and sketchpads.

But really, nothing prepared me for the glory that came when I was able to ride in one and see, with corrected vision, the whole world beneath me.

What if?

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 62. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

I beg your pardon, but I need a little space to be contrary. I will endeavor to be so as graciously as I can. I want to bristle a little at the invisible/visible distinction from a pastoral (or better yet: Christian) perspective.

I am fine with talking about 'invisible' Christians insofar as we know that wheat grows up with the tares, and that many times the one is indistinguishable from the other. Let them alone, I say, for the Lord said as much as well. If the angels cannot root them apart without much damage, then I wonder how the sons of man, as clumsy and wicked as they are, will go about the job without making a mess of the Lord's harvest.

If you wish to say that there are lost folks among the saved in the 'true' church, that is well and good. Indeed, where the sheep gather, we shall undoubtedly know that there will be wolves sniffing about. But if you use that as an excuse to toss your hands heavenwards to give up, to say that they are grown up together and there is no use in trying, then I say you've lost your gospel-changed mind. You've lost your hope.

Hope, you say? Yes, hope, dear brother or sister. Our Lord can change the leopard's spots. He can bring life to the dead. If you go to a fellowship of the saints, the gathering of the first-born sons and daughters of God, inheritors of all that is and ever will be, and you suspect that someone has come to the party without suitable attire, your duty is not despair, it is hope. You see to it that they have every opportunity to get out of the grave clothes and into the glory clothes. See to it that they might be adorned with the gospel and not with lies.

But what if they aren't elect? It makes no difference. You preach. You pray. And you hope. And you love. They ought to repent, and you ought to plead with them to do so. Never let your destiny or theirs get in the way of your gospel compassion. And for Christ's sake, be anything but invisible.

Dude, Where's My Church?

22 March 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 62. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

We have come to the doctrine of the church, at which point it is inevitable that our baptistic blog on a Presbyterian catechism will become controversial. Questions 61 through 65 of the Larger Catechism address the subject of church in terms of a distinction between a “visible” and an “invisible” church. This is problematic not only because it is only rarely understood but also because it is a distinction which has been emphasized in order to allow for unbiblical practice, and as such it often leads to tragedy.

“Church” in its simplest translated form means “assembly.” In the New Testament it is the word used to identify the assembly of the people of God. The most basic lesson of the word “church” is that Christ did not save us to a life of lonely spiritual wonderings, but to a life in which we assemble with others to worship, to fellowship, and to work for the good of God’s kingdom. But what exactly is this assembly?

It is true that the New Testament speaks occasionally of the church in wide and universal terms. Sometimes “church” means the assembly of God’s people who will be gathered at the end of days. This church is “universal” in the sense that it includes every person who ever has or ever will call upon the name of the Lord. Of course this grand assembly has not yet been convened; the universal church has not yet churched together. Most often, therefore, the New Testament rather obviously uses the word “church” for local assemblies. These congregations come together as visible manifestations of the body of Christ on earth.

The Catechism uses the language of “visible” and “invisible” church as a way of addressing the evident fact that there are those who assemble visibly with God’s people who have not genuinely called upon the name of the Lord. They are those who will cry out in the last day, “Lord, Lord!” but He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Now as Baptists, we do not pretend that any congregation is free of such persons. The Second London Confession of the Baptists retains the language of the Westminster Confession: “The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error.” Until we reach the universal church in heaven, no church will be without the mixture of truth and error - or of true faith and hypocrisy.

But is the distinction between a visible and an invisible church really the best framework within which to define the church? Questions 62 and 63 of the Larger Catechism show us how the Westminster Divines employed the category of the visible church. First, they used it to account for the presence of hypocrisy in the church. Second, they used it to acknowledge the considerable advantages which accrue to even unconverted persons who become in some manner attached to the church. But thirdly (and we suspect most importantly) they used it to create an opening for the doctrine of the covenant child. The children of believers may be considered in the church so long as we say not only that the outward church does not consist exclusively of true believers, but further that it is not intended to be so limited. The visible church, we are told, is broad, while the invisible church is more narrowly defined.

Each of these uses is more or less problematic. We would agree that hypocrisy will always exist within the church, but wonder if we ought to encourage it. Does not the process of church discipline suggest to us that the visible church is at least intended to consist of those who make a credible profession of faith? We would further admit that there are great advantages to being around the church, and even that those advantages are particularly grand for those whose parents believe, but we doubt that the enjoyment of such advantages is the equivalent of being in the church. To eat at a table is not to be a member of a family, and to hear the gospel preached is not to be a member of the church. As for covenant children, we cannot see how unbelieving children are included in an assembly that is founded not on ethnicity, but on common faith. A true child of the covenant, we say with Paul, is one who has a faith like Abraham’s.

So while we share our Presbyterian brothers’ concern with the mixture that is in every church, we cannot agree to define the church primarily according to a visible/invisible distinction that we neither find in Scripture, nor (quite frankly) find simple to explain. The Westminster Confession is, we are afraid, rather baffling on the subject of the church. Chapter 25 begins with a statement of the universal church, which is invisible. Then we are introduced to the visible church, which is also universal. After a perplexing statement about the church being sometimes more and sometimes less visible (?), the confession suddenly introduces a plurality of churches. No explanation of what these “churches” are or where they came from is forthcoming. Are they local? Denominational? We are uncertain.

It strikes us as unsurprising that our infant-baptizing friends have regularly fallen into confusion about the boundaries of the church - whether in the Halfway Covenant of the New England Puritans or the ravages of the Federal Vision today.

The Second London Confession, in Chapter 26, clarifies much. Three citations should serve to exemplify the Bapitst approach to the visibility of the church:
The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect… LCF 26:1
And thus ends all that we have to say about the invisibility of the church. It is true that the internal work of the Spirit cannot be seen, and that therefore we are never in this life entirely certain who is and who is not destined to join the great assembly in Heaven. But when that church is at last called together it will be quite visible.
All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted. LCF 26:2
Particular congregations (local churches we call them today) are to be made up of those who give visible evidence that they are God’s people. The evidence is never perfectly discerned, but it is a type of visibility which is far more helpful than a visibility which excludes evidence altogether. The same visibility is evidenced a few paragraphs later:
The members of these churches are saints by calling, visibly manifesting and evidencing (in and by their profession and walking) their obedience unto that call of Christ… LCF 26:6
I said at the outset that part of our concern with the Westminster approach is that this distinction sometimes leads to tragedy. The danger is that when a visible church is not even expected to be made up of God’s true children, it is possible that too much emphasis may be put upon proper order and form, so much so that waning attention is given the hearts of lost souls within the church. The best of Presbyterians evangelize their children diligently and passionately, but of course there are others who do not. Is it possible that this failing is related to an emphasis on the outward form of the visible church?

Consider the following: both the Westminster and London confessions acknowledge that every church is “subject to mixture and error.” But they conclude that statement very differently. The Presbyterian statement ends in this manner:
Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to His will. WCF 25:5
Now that is indeed a comfort, and we salute our brethren for their concern that God be worshiped properly. But can this be our only concern? Is it enough that the visible church continue to exist in its outward form?

The Baptist statement is perhaps more complete:
nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name. LCF 26:3
God is worshiped, yes. Christ’s name is professed, but more than this: it is professed by those who believe in Him.
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Not Yet

21 March 2012 by Neil

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 62. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

At our local church, I have responsibility for the midweek discussion and discipleship group of junior high boys. The session a couple weeks ago was lively, which is to say, the nine frightful lunatics manifested their jolly joie de vivre via avenues heretofore undreamt of.  Pandemonium and topsy-turvydom.

Lively is fine (and fun!), but it was more than lively. It was problematic, troubling, heart-rending, and it was one of the most honest times so far. They soon settled down (a little), and we got to chatting about the devotional we had just sat through. It had centred around what the wrath of a jealous God will be like. They were provoked. A couple of the guys "came out" as it were, tore off their invisibility cloaks and took a stand: they don't believe this crap. Or maybe they don't want to believe. Or both. One specific question was, “why should I believe that your bible is anything other than just a book?”

The room went wild. Some of them indignantly set upon the declarers. One started hooting about whether he even wants to go to a heaven with no Battlefield3. One started a dancing chicken routine.

One prays and thinks at hyperspeed when confronted with so many moving parts. I set upon the set-uponers, and told them that the uncloaked guys were asking exactly the right questions. I told the Battlefield3 guy that he wasn't the deepest fellow I'd ever met, but that I looked forward to defeating him in multiplayer. I made the dancing chicken sit down, and told him that we would most certainly take his Bible question seriously, if he would. I made many mistakes. I spoke truth. I offended too much. I didn't offend enough. I went home deflated. This past week, only two of the nine showed up. But next week it might be eleven.

The story isn't over. You see, we won't know to whom Ephesians 1:3-5 is speaking until we see all the redeemed before the throne of the Lamb.

Now listen: You readers are invisible to me, but please pray for these young guys, okay? And pray for a whole world full of others just like them, souls bereft of hope, dead, sitting next to you in your own church, who need the one and only Saviour to make them alive. Weep for them. Provoke them. Otherwise, what are you good for?

Fruit Inspectors

20 March 2012 by Daniel

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 62. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

From the scriptures one is left to conclude that most of the Jews in Christ's time were convinced that their lineage made them inheritors of God's promises to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. I find it telling then, that the Holy Spirit chose to summarize the entirety of Christ's ministry in Matthew 4:17 in this way, "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

Can you imagine that message in the ears of a Jew who was convinced that the kingdom of heaven was already his? When Christ taught the parable wherein a field was sown with good seed by its owner, and then sown again with tares by his enemy (cf. Matthew 13), the lesson was that not everyone who appeared to be in the kingdom of heaven was in fact a son of of the kingdom. The Apostle Paul echoes this same sentiment in the ninth chapter of his epistle to the Romans when he says, "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel". In that chapter Paul explains clearly that God's promise to Abraham is inherited by those who are of a like faith, rather than by those who are simply descended from Abraham in the flesh.

I expect that many who read the parable of the field will automatically assume that Christ was speaking about the NT church; since it should be clear to everyone that there are presently tares among the wheat in the NT church. But Christ was preaching about the kingdom of heaven to the very people who were the object of the parable: a mixed crowd of OT Jews; some whom were of the same faith as Abraham, and some whom were not; that is, some of whom were wheat, and some of whom were tares.

Recognizing that Christ was applying this parable to those who were there does not mean that this parable does not apply to present day christian congregations; the parable does apply, and I believe was intended to apply. The question is: how do we know a parable directed at a group of OT Jews applies to the church today? The answer is that it applies to us because we have the same mixed group in our churches today: those who are of genuine faith, and those who are deceived. The faithful OT Jew has this in common with the faithful NT believer: genuine, saving, faith.

In the parable, the good seed sown by the owner pictures the sons of the kingdom - or said another way, it represents those who (by faith) were the inheritors/recipients of the promises given to Abraham. The tares were those Jews who even though they rejected Christ believed themselves to be in the kingdom on account of their ancestry. Christ Himself described these as "sons of the evil one". The distinction Christ was making, even though He was addressing only OT Jews at the time, applies to the church today because it identifies in the church the same two groups: those who are in the kingdom, and those who are not.

The Westminster Catechism identifies genuine believers as the "invisible" church. Invisible because you can't tell (by looking) whether the person is genuine or not. Since some make a genuine profession of faith, and some make a false profession of faith, it follows that both genuine and false believers are going to claim to be Christians. The world makes no distinction between false and genuine Christians: if you claim to be a Christian, and believe yourself to be one, then you "are" one as far as the world is concerned. Consider how CNN lumps Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism under the same label ("Christian") and you get the idea.

Simply stated, among all who profess to be Christians (the "visible" church), only some are genuine believers (these are the "invisible" church). The labels help to simplify discussions where stating the distinction in full each time might so clutter an explanation as to confuse the person receiving the instruction. Take for example how God supplies the invisible church (i.e. those who are genuinely His children) with such blessings as being under His rule. Some might not consider this a blessing, but the command to love one another, to look after one another's needs etc., is quite a blessing to those who are in the congregation. If an unsaved person believes himself to be a Christian, and joins himself to a church, he immediately begins to benefit from hanging around with people who are surrendered to God's rule. One could say that God's blessing, which is directed at the invisible church, spills over into those who are in the visible church, but not in the invisible church. One could just as easily say, I suspect, that the tares benefit from the blessings God pours out on the wheat, even as the tares in the field benefit from the sun and rain that God sends to bless the wheat.

On a practical note, a lot of people, especially those who are younger or less mature in the faith, react to the knowledge that there are unbelievers seeded throughout every Christian congregation by trying to weed them out. They forego God's instructions concerning how to keep the church pure (church discipline) and instead consider themselves to be fruit (of the Spirit) inspectors, judging one another to find out who is and who is not, a Christian. Unhindered by the fact that angels who are greater in wisdom and knowledge are not wise or knowledgeable enough to discern who is who; these take it upon themselves to thrash about boldly (and more or less blindly) where angels are too wise to tread.

What we want to be on guard against is going beyond scripture in our application. There is a distinction made between the children of God's promise, and those who are counterfeit - and we must be aware of that. We must understand that false believers who share our pews receive real, tangible benefits for being there, and that many may, through the grace that is being poured upon them every time they gather, may eventually come to see themselves as lost, and in doing so become found in Christ, but we must be on guard against using such doctrine for practices (or even new doctrines) that cannot find support in scripture.

Not Seminarians

19 March 2012 by Frank Turk

One of the things that's important to note about this effort -- and I mean this specific blog -- to talk about "Calvinism" or "Reformed" theology is that there are no Presbyterians in our ranks as contributors.  So from time to time we run into things which the contributors of the blog may or may not understand (just to be fair to our friends who would critique us), and we disagree with it.  Slavishness to covenantal theology is one of those areas, and it trickles over into a couple of other subjects which are related to how we reason through the question of God making a covenant to save.

One of those areas is the next section of the catechism:

Q. 61. Are all they saved who hear the gospel, and live in the church?
A. All that hear the gospel, and live in the visible church, are not saved; but they only who are true members of the church invisible.

Q. 62. What is the visible church?
A. The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

Q. 64. What is the invisible church?
A. The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.

Q. 65. What special benefits do the members of the invisible church enjoy by Christ?
A. The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory.

So one of the consequences of having a "covenantal" theology is that God has a visible covenant we has declared, and there are beneficiaries of that covenant, but some of them don't seem to be very good beneficiaries. This whole thing gets wrapped up in baptism and boundary markers and all manner of seminarian shop talk, but it winds up looking like this when people who aren't seminarians find themselves faced with this problem:

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Which is amusing, but not very helpful.  I mean: if we really believe all that stuff about God making and God doing and people believing as Calvin has helpfully discussed, how do we get ourselves tangled up in this kerfuffle of "invisible" church and "visible" churches?

Here's what I think:

I think we don't like it when Jesus is less clear than we want him to be.  I mean: he's the one who gave us the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, and that ought to be good enough -- the Tares aren't invisible in that parable, but in fact hard to pull up without destroying the Wheat.  There's no invisible church -- just visible tares.  We can act like that's to our discredit, or the Gospel's discredit, but Jesus was simply saying, "it's not your problem."

So those of us here representing "Calvinism" are going to take some effort to expose some of the challenges (good and bad) which the Catechism provides on this topic.  We'll leave the comments open on the more-inflammatory statements we'll make so that those who disagree with us (both more Reformed and more needing-Reform) can have a fair shake at saying something useful about our reflections on this issue.

Enjoy.

The Ordinary Dispensation

15 March 2012 by Frank Turk

In Romans 10:14, Paul intends to connect prayer with faith, as they are indeed things most closely connected, for he who calls on God carries himself, as it were, to the only true haven of salvation, and to a most secure refuge; he acts like the son, who commits himself into the bosom of the best and the most loving of fathers, that he may be protected by his care, cherished by his kindness and love, relieved by his bounty, and supported by his power. This is what no man can do who has not previously entertained in his mind such a persuasion of God’s paternal kindness towards him, that he dares to expect everything from him.

He then who calls on God necessarily feels assured that there is protection laid up for him; for Paul speaks here of that calling which is approved by God. Hypocrites also pray, but not unto salvation; for it is with no conviction of faith. It hence appears how completely ignorant are all the schoolmen, who doubtingly present themselves before God, being sustained by no confidence. Paul thought far otherwise; for he assumes this as an acknowledged axiom, that we cannot rightly pray unless we are surely persuaded of success. For he does not refer here to hesitating faith, but to that certainty which our minds entertain respecting his paternal kindness, when by the gospel he reconciles us to himself, and adopts us for his children. By this confidence only we have access to him, as we are also taught in Ephesians 3:12.

But, on the other hand, learn that true faith is only that which brings forth prayer to God; for it cannot be but that he who has tasted the goodness of God will ever by prayer seek the enjoyment of it.

Therefore we are in a manner mute until God’s promise opens our mouth to pray, and this is the order which he points out by the Prophet, when he says, “I will say to them, my people are ye;” and they shall say to me, “Thou art our God.” (Zechariah 13:9.) It belongs not indeed to us to imagine a God according to what we may fancy; we ought to possess a right knowledge of him, such as is set forth in his word. And when any one forms an idea of God as good, according to his own understanding, it is not a sure nor a solid faith which he has, but an uncertain and evanescent imagination; it is therefore necessary to have the word, that we may have a right knowledge of God. No other word has he mentioned here but that which is preached, because it is the ordinary mode which the Lord has appointed for conveying his word. But were any on this account to contend that God cannot transfer to men the knowledge of himself, except by the instrumentality of preaching, we deny that to teach this was the Apostle’s intention; for he had only in view the ordinary dispensation of God, and did not intend to prescribe a law for the distribution of his grace.


-- John Calvin, Commentary on Romans 10:14

The Basic Problem

14 March 2012 by Frank Turk

Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A.
They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

There is actually a problem with the Gospel which men cannot fix.  But that doesn't stop them from trying.

On the other hand, The "problem" with the Gospel is that Christ's perfect and finished work, which cannot be added to, doesn't declare itself.  Someone has to declare it to those who, as the catechism astutely says, "frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess."

 

Epic Villainy

13 March 2012 by Neil

Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A.
They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

The English speaking peoples use up a lot of useful adjectives. We hear someone overreach with a wild description, we snicker, and then we perpetuate the crime ourselves and turn the word into a meaningless throwaway. Example of some words that have lost their vibrant power? Awesome, wonderful, fantastic, incredible, and today's favourite: epic. "Epic" should not describe a compelling cut scene from a video game, nor some sap's tobogganing mishap, nor inappropriate engrish signage.

Epic isn't even properly an adjective. An epic is a heroic poem or narrative, a long story, spanning wide reaches of time and space. An epic traces setbacks and advances, victories and despairing losses. Mistakes are made and people die. An epic will cause you to mourn, but it may also give you hope. There are surprises. You may find that the life or death of an entire people is at stake. There are four or five conspicuous themes and competing long games recurring throughout the 1000+ pages. Some epics are tragic. Most of the characters in the tale don't know whether they have a future. And the ending blows your mind.

In one particular epic, in fact the mother of all epics, we come to the following recurring hinge: Romans 10:13-15, Isaiah 6:7-8, Matthew 9:36-38, John 4:34-36, Matthew 28:17-20. An entire people is lost and careening towards damnation. God calls his own people to do his will, to obey his command: to proclaim and live the Gospel.

It's urgent. Do you get it? This epic is real, it's ongoing, the stakes are monumental, and we don't know just how it's going to end for every participant. Do you hate your boss? Do you hate your son's bad-news friend with too many piercings? Your neighbour? That dog-owner acquaintance who gives you an absent minded hello when you walk your own doggie? Your own children? If you hate all these people, then by all means continue theologizing instead of evangelizing. And embrace your role as an epic villain. You've earned it.

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. -- 1 Corinthians 9:21-23

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Exclusively Worthy

12 March 2012 by Matt Gumm

Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A.
They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12, ESV)

One of the consequences of universal salvation is the negative effect it has on the role of Jesus Christ as humanity's redeemer.

If you've been reading along with us, you'll remember the section we just finished that spent a great deal of time spelling out the various roles that Jesus has. Each of these roles, like the facets of a diamond, bring out out a little bit more of the beauty of the Messiah.

But consider what "other paths to God" do to this picture.

For example, is it right to characterize Christ's sacrifice as being "once for all time" if it was not the ultimate sacrifice? God's response to Jesus' sacrifice—exalting him above the angels—seems way off base if it only did some of what was necessary.

Also, what about those who "diligently frame their lives," according to either the light of nature or the laws of the religion they profess? If their diligence or sincerity are sufficient to bring them into God's presence, it would seem they should be due some special honor, because they didn't need the mediator's work on their behalf.

The Bible's answer on these matters is clear: God's plan has always been that human beings would not boast in themselves, but in Him. Exclusivity in salvation allows Jesus to be proclaimed the Worthy Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The Naked Savages Next Door

09 March 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A.
They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

“It’s just so unfair! All those poor, good, primitive peoples - living close to nature and never polluting anything, loving everyone freely and fully! And you say they’ll go to hell because of some message they never even heard! What monstrous sort of God do you believe in, anyway?”

Needless to say this is an entirely contemporary notion of anthropology. We could spend some time deconstructing it. Or we could dig into how scientists of earlier ages viewed cultural differences. Or, best of all, we could ask what God Himself has to say about the peoples of the world:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. -Romans 1:19-23
If God is to be taken at His word, then all the “diligence” of men and all the “laws of that religion which they profess” are not moving them toward God, but always further away. And to put a fine point on it: this is true not only of the naked savages who live in remote places; it is true also of Westerners of every age, race, gender, and socio-economic status. Our neighbors profess a religion which they follow diligently, and through it their foolish hearts are darkened.

It is no wonder that there is no “salvation in any other, but in Christ alone.” Who else could lead us to the Father?

How to Fearlessly Destroy Death

08 March 2012 by Brad Williams

Q. 60. Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?
A.
They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

According to Wikipedia, there are at least 70 tribes of people in the world who have never had any contact with 'civilization' outside their tribe. They live in the forests of Brazil, New Guinea, and on islands near Indonesia. In most instances, they resist any contact with the outside world through acts of violence. They want to be left alone.

To make matters worse, if we did contact them, up to 50% of them would perish of disease. They have no immunity to things like pneumonia. To contact them would likely result in death for the one who contacted them, or else it would lead to death of many in the tribe by disease.

The Bible is clear that all men and women are sinful and morally bankrupt before God, and that the only hope of salvation lies in Christ Jesus the Lord. These people must hear the gospel or they will die in their sins. Someone must go to them, at the risk of their own lives and the lives of the tribe, or these tribes have no hope.

Jesus said, "Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18). We need not fear killing the natives with disease if we realize that they are dead already apart from the only gospel that can save them.

As for us, we need not fear dying at their hands. We are a crucified people. We, too, are already dead.

One Foundation

07 March 2012 by David Regier





The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!

Take That to the Bank

06 March 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ?
A.
Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ has purchased it; who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ according to the gospel.


When I was a kid going to summer camp I discovered this neat invention called the “camp bank” - basically a way to avoid having kids running around in the woods with cash dropping out of their pockets. At the start of the week, my parents would deposit money in the camp bank, and by doing so they purchased credit for me. If I signed up for an activity that had cost, I had credit. If I wanted a snack at the store, I had credit. They had purchased it, and so it was mine.

Now, imagine that no one had told me that I had that credit, or that I hadn’t believed or understood the concept, and that as a result I was deprived of the benefit I should have had. In point of fact, that did happen to new kids at camp, and it resulted in some frustrated moms and dads at week’s end. At least they got their money back.

Now, Christ purchased redemption, and on that point Christians are agreed. Is it your opinion that in some - perhaps many - cases, those for whom He purchased it miss out on the benefit? Is it possible that He purchased heaven on the cross, only to see it denied to some because they were too clueless to take advantage of it? Is He like those frustrated parents at summer camp (only worse, because there’s no getting His purchase price back!)?

I can think of three good reasons why it is impossible for Christ to be frustrated in this way:

First, He can’t really be frustrated in anything because He’s God.

Second, He can’t really be frustrated in anything having to do with the plan of redemption because His Father, whose plan it was, is God.

And finally, He simply cannot be frustrated in the certain application and effectual communication of that Redemption, because the Spirit who communicates and applies it is, well, God.

Obligatory John 6 Mayhem

05 March 2012 by Neil

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and belives in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”
-- John 6:37-39


A stumbling block looms before us: Christ did not purchase redemption for everyone.  It's not universal; it is as they say, Limited. But don't panic; even though it is Limited, it is not capricious, and even though it is Limited, it is exhaustive and sufficient.

How so?  Listen attentively to the words of our Lord: “All that the Father gives me will come.” All real Christians that are or ever will be, are an explicit gift from the Father to the Christ. They belong to Jesus Christ. And everyone that is on the Father's gift list, will come to Jesus. They will. All of them will. Jesus said so. How could it be otherwise?

“...whoever comes to me I will never cast out... and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me...” Once they come into the grasp of Jesus Christ, all real Christians that are or ever will be, will always be just that: Christians. They will always be redeemed. They shall not be taken from Jesus, he won't misplace them, and he will never toss them away. This is the will of God, and his will will stand. How could it be otherwise?

Why does the Father give these gifts to the Son? Why does he do this? Once again, ask Jesus in John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” He does it to save. He does it to save the lives of those that he gives to the Son.

Calvin as Gadfly

01 March 2012 by Frank Turk


Usually I paraphrase John Calvin for the rest of us when we post him as Gadfly, with commentary on a Catechism prooftext.  Today I offer him up on John 14:13 unconstrained:

The Spirit, whom Christ promised to the apostles, is declared to be perfect Master or Teacher 96 of truth And why was he promised, but that they might deliver from hand to hand the wisdom which they had received from him? The Spirit was given to them, and under his guidance and direction they discharged the office to which they had been appointed.

He will lead you into all truth. That very Spirit had lead them into all truth, when they committed to writing the substance of their doctrine. Whoever imagines that anything must be added to their doctrine, as if it were imperfect and but half-finished, not only accuses the apostles of dishonesty, but blasphemes against the Spirit If the doctrine which they committed to writing had proceeded from mere learners or persons imperfectly taught, an addition to it would not have been superfluous; but now that their writings may be regarded as perpetual records of that revelation which was promised and given to them, nothing can be added to them without doing grievous injury to the Holy Spirit.

When they come to determine what those things actually were, the Papists act a highly ridiculous part, for they define those mysteries, which the apostles were unable to bear, to be certain childish fooleries, the most absurd and stupid things that can be imagined. Was it necessary that the Spirit should come down from heaven that the apostles might learn what ceremony must be used in consecrating cups with their altars, in baptizing church-bells, in blessing the holy water, and in celebrating Mass? Whence then do fools and children obtain their learning, who understand all those matters most thoroughly? Nothing is more evident than that the Papists mock God, when they pretend that those things came from heaven, which resemble as much the mysteries of Ceres or Proserpine as they are at variance with the pure wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

If we do not wish to be ungrateful to God, let us rest satisfied with that doctrine of which the writings of the apostles declare them to be the authors, since in it the highest perfection of heavenly wisdom is made known to us, fitted to make the man of God perfect (2 Timothy 3:17.) Beyond this let us not reckon ourselves at liberty to go; for our height, and breadth, and depth, consist in knowing the love of God, which is manifested to us in Christ. This knowledge, as Paul informs us, far exceeds all learning, (Ephesians 3:18;) and when he declares that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ,  (Colossians 2:3,) he does not contrive some unknown Christ, but one whom by his preaching he painted to the life, so that, as he tells the Galatians, we see him, as it were, crucified before our eyes,(Galatians 3:1.) But that no ambiguity may remain, Christ himself afterwards explains by his own words what those things are which the apostles were not yet able to bear.

So basically, Calvin Says the Holy Spirit comes to debunk all the fraudulent religions that spring up around the true faith in Christ, the true salvation in the Gospel, and the true people of God.  Nice Work.