Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (IV)

The articles in this series oppose the widely held view that the ungodly are the image of God. Our first three arguments were based upon the nature, the number and the idea of the imago dei. We also reasoned from the inseparable connection between divine sonship and the divine image. In addition, we pointed out both the amazing incongruities and the dangerous consequences which arise from the notion that the wicked are God’s likeness.

In this installment, we shall consider two additional arguments from two verses from the Book of Psalms: Psalm 17:15 and Psalm 73:20. The first was penned by David and refers to God’s “likeness”, while the second was written by Asaph and speaks of God’s “image”.

Psalm 17:15

Psalm 17 is a Psalm of David, as its heading indicates. The man after God’s own heart prays, “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings” (v. 8). David was a divine image-bearer, one who was confident that he was precious to, and preserved by, his covenant Lord. In this assurance, the earthly king of Israel makes his petitions to Israel’s heavenly King.

The Psalmist asks the Almighty to keep him “From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about. They are inclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly. They have now compassed us in our steps: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth; Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places” (vv. 9-12). Is one to think that the perverse opponents of holy David really image God as those who are like Him?

Next David prays against his ungodly persecutors: “Arise, O Lord, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword: From men which are thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes” (vv. 13-14). Are David’s worldly enemies really divine image-bearers?

This question is all the more pointed because, in the very next verse, the Psalmist refers to himself—and not his enemies!—as in the image and likeness of God: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (v. 15). Here the divine image or likeness includes “righteousness”, as it does in Ephesians 4:24. Paul, the human penman of that epistle, may even have been thinking of Psalm 17:15.

We share David’s confident hope that we, who are in the divine image (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; 1 Cor. 11:7), and who are being more and more conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18), will be completely righteous as those in the perfect likeness of God in the new heavens and the new earth. Then we, along with the man after God’s own heart, will “awake” on the resurrection day (Ps. 17:15; Isa. 26:19), as those who “bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Psalm 73:20

Psalm 73 is the first of eleven inspired hymns written by Asaph (Ps. 73-83), who also penned Psalm 50, as all their headings reveal. It is also the first chapter in the third book of the Psalms (Ps. 73-89). Geoffrey W. Grogan even reckons that “the message of the Psalter can be seen in its essence in [Psalm] 73” (Prayer, Praise and Prophecy: A Theology of the Psalms [UK: Christian Focus Publications, repr. 2009], p. 245). He adds,

It is increasingly recognised that [Psalm] 73 is of great importance in the structure of the Psalter. It has in fact been well suggested that it virtually sums up the message, not only of whole Book of Psalms but of the whole Old Testament, and so becomes a kind of Old Testament theology in microcosm (pp. 211-212).

For the purposes of this article, the key verse in this God-breathed song is Psalm 73:20: “As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image”.

Asaph here is alluding to common human phenomena: sleeping and waking; dreaming and partially remembering one’s dream when one regains normal consciousness. We are all very familiar with this.

In Psalm 73:20, Asaph makes a daring comparison between human beings, who wake after a dreamy sleep, in the first part of the verse before the semi- colon; and God’s remembering the image of a dream after He wakes from slumber (so to speak), in the second part of the verse after the semi-colon: “As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image”.

The God who, in reality, neither slumbers   nor   sleeps   (Ps.   121:3-4) is here pictured as a man who has a dream. When He wakes up, He cannot remember all His dream. He merely recalls an image of the wicked people He dreamt about. But He loathes even the image of the ungodly: “thou shalt despise their image”!

Prof David Engelsma comments on this:

Whatever the image of the wicked may be, in despising the image of the wicked God despises the wicked themselves. Their image is themselves in a certain respect. Despising their image, God despises them. This adds something to the divine hatred of the prosperous wicked. God holds them in contempt. He regards them as despicable, shameful creatures (Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints: An Exposition of Psalm 73 [Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2007], p. 63).

Would the Holy Spirit inspire these words: “O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image,” if the wicked were truly the image (and likeness and glory) of God?

In his earlier reckoning that the outward prosperity of the ungodly meant that God was blessing them (Ps. 73:1-16), Asaph tells us that he was actually being “foolish”, “ignorant” and brutish (v. 22). This unbelieving thinking was only rectified when the Psalmist returned to worship Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel: “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (v. 17).

Their “end” or destiny is described in the next two verses: “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors” (vv. 18-19).

The awfulness of eternal punishment! The truth of hell as the destiny of all the reprobate wicked destroys, consumes and makes desolate (to use Asaph’s language) the false doctrine of common grace, which claims that the earthly prosperity of the wicked means that God loves and blesses them.

Thus Psalm 73 is of service on two fronts. First, it militates against the notion that unbelievers are in the divine image. Second, it opposes common grace.

This is especially significant if, as Grogan posits, Psalm 73 presents the “essence” of “the message of the Psalter” and is “a kind of Old Testament theology in microcosm”. Both grace and the imago dei are not common, according to the Psalms and the Old Testament!

On the one hand, the erroneous ideas of common grace and a universal imago dei go together theologically. All those who hold to common grace believe that everybody is God’s image. They invariably use the latter to support the former, like Abraham Kuyper, the father of common grace.

On the other hand, the truth of particular grace fits beautifully with the graces of spiritual knowledge, infused righteousness and true holiness—the image of God!—being wrought by the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of Jehovah’s elect and redeemed people alone. This happens initially in regeneration, progressively in sanctification and perfectly in glorification—all in Jesus Christ, the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4)!

The combined testimony of Psalm 17:15 and Psalm 73:20 is compelling. Both verses speak of awaking. First, Psalm 17:15 speaks of David’s waking with spotless righteousness in God’s perfect likeness at the very start of the eternal state of bliss (believers are in the imago dei). Second, Psalm 73:20 refers to Jehovah’s waking at the very end of the earthly lives of the impenitent wicked, and despising and destroying them (unbelievers are not in the imago dei).

But what about the texts that people appeal to in order to “prove” that unbelievers are God’s image-bearers? We will turn to these verses next time, Lord willing.

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 46

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Present Developments in Reformed Churches

The Reformed church is always reforming. That reformation consists of her constant development of the truth to bring her confession and life more and more into conformity with the Word of God. There is also the constant reality of departure. Churches that once held to the truth in a certain way forsake the truth and adopt false doctrine. In both senses there are developments in Reformed churches today.

The single greatest threat to Reformed churches is the heresy of the federal vision. This false doctrine is a threat to their very existence as churches of Christ in the world. This is because the federal vision denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Justification is the message of the gospel recovered by Martin Luther in the Reformation of the sixteenth century and faithfully taught by all the great reformers after him. Justification by faith alone is the truth that God forgives the sins of all those who believe in Jesus Christ and imputes to them Christ’s righteousness by faith alone and for Christ’s sake declares the believer worthy of eternal life. To corrupt this doctrine is to corrupt the heart of the gospel. The false teacher that corrupts this doctrine is anathema. The church that corrupts this doctrine has become the false.

The federal vision corrupts the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It denies that the justification of the sinner is by faith only without any works. It teaches especially that the sinner’s justification in the final judgment will be by works. Men like Norman Shepherd, Richard Lusk, Peter Leithart, Douglas Wilson, and James Jordan have introduced this into Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

The federal vision’s starting point for its denial of justification by faith alone is the doctrine of the conditional covenant. Thus far this root of the doctrine and many of its evil doctrinal consequences have not been condemned at the broader assembles. The conditional covenant has had widespread and almost universal acceptance in Reformed churches. Those who taught it in the past defended the error by saying that the conditions were fulfilled by grace. The federal vision has aggressively developed this idea. For it the covenant is made with both elect and reprobate alike—with Jacob and Esau so that God promised to be the God of Jacob as well as Esau. In the covenant, God gives grace to all. The continuation of this covenant on earth and perfection of this covenant in heaven depend on the faith and obedience of the covenant member by grace. For this reason, the federal vision teaches the covenant member can, and often does, fall out of the covenant and perish. Furthermore, the final judgment will be based partly on the work of Christ and partly on the covenant member’s faith and obedience by grace: what one does in the covenant by grace will be part of the reason for his salvation. For the federal vision salvation is partly by Christ’s work and partly by the works of the sinner. For the federal vision salvation must be based on the covenant member’s works by grace because the covenant is conditional.

This heresy has swept over Reformed churches like a typhoon. Because of their commitment to the conditional covenant these churches are completely powerless to defend against this heresy. Every Reformed and Presbyterian church and church member must be on his guard against the subtlety of this soul-destroying heresy. Every Reformed and Presbyterian church and church member is called to reject that false doctrine and those who teach it, even if they promote it with the charisma, eloquence, and authority of the angel Gabriel.

The widespread acceptance of this false doctrine, chiefly its doctrinal foundation of the conditional covenant, has led to another curious development in the Reformed church world. That development is the redefinition of the charge of antinomianism.

Antinomian means against law. The term describes the heresy that denies the necessity of good works in the life of the justified believer and that excuses sin in the life of the professing Christian by appeals to grace. Its blatant form is the doctrine that the child of God has been delivered by grace to sin freely. Its subtle form is the denial that the justified believer must do good works and that he must be exhorted to do good works. This heresy was present in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 7. It was present in the New Testament in Revelation 2 among the “Nicolaitans” and in “that woman Jezebel”. It troubled Luther in John Agricola and Calvin in Geneva. It remains a real threat today.

The development is the redefinition of the term antinomian. This is found in the book, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest?, by the well-known, learned, and articulate author, Mark Jones.

In his book he minimizes the classic definition of antinomianism, “we have not understood the debate if we simply identify antinomians as those who flatly reject the use and necessity of the moral law in the life of Christians”.1

This comes out in the repeated warnings that antinomianism “must not be confused with the etymological meaning of antinomian (i.e., ‘against the law’)”.2 By this he also minimizes wickedness of life in violation of God’s law as the measure of the antinomian.

This minimization of the classic definition of antinomianism as “against law”, and its necessary minimization of wickedness of life as the measure of the antinomian is evident in the Reformed church world today. For example, where is the law of God about marriage honoured today? It is ironic in the extreme that the warnings against antinomianism come from those who by appeals to grace defend or fail to condemn the rank violation of the law of God concerning marriage by pew and clergy. Excuse for sin by appeals to grace is antinomianism. This practice is widespread with regard to divorce and remarriage, so that those who live impenitently in that sin are given an honourable place in the pew and the offices. Antinomianism is present wherever that takes place and whoever does that is an antinomian. This all seems to pass Mark Jones by in his pursuit of a definition of antinomianism.

But what, then, is his definition of antinomianism? His first question to determine whether a theologian is antinomian is ominous: “are there conditions in salvation?” He asserts about supposed antinomians that “the divine element and the human responsibility”, what he calls the “conditional aspect of the covenant of grace”, were not upheld by “the majority of antinomian theologians”.3

He further explains about conditions in the covenant in the book, A Puritan Theology,

The conditions of the covenant were principally faith in Christ and its fruit of new obedience. The former condition was understood, against the Antinomians, as an antecedent condition, so that no blessing procured by Christ could be applied to the believer until he or she exercised faith in Christ…To maintain that the covenant of grace is not conditional…has no biblical warrant, for that reason, the Reformed orthodox spoke of requirements or conditions demanded of those who would inherit the promise of salvation.4

For Mark Jones the covenant is emphatically conditional. To speak of it as unconditional is not Reformed, but antinomian. This is also a new definition of antinomianism. By means of it, denial of the conditional covenant and the defence of the unconditional covenant of grace may be smeared as the gross false doctrine of antinomianism, in a similar way as denial of the well- meant gospel offer and defence of the particularity of the call of the gospel are slandered as hyper-Calvinism.

In this connection it is significant that Mark Jones makes precisely that connection himself in his book, Antinomianism. He vaguely defines antinomians   as   those   who   “make Christ totally responsible, not only for our imputed righteousness, but also for our imparted righteousness”.5 He is criticizing the thought that Christ is our justification (imputed righteousness) and our sanctification (imparted righteousness). Against this view, he makes the supposedly devastating charge, “this view obliterates human responsibility to the point that antinomianism ends us becoming a form of hyper-Calvinism”.6

What Mark Jones believes by hyper- Calvinism he explains in the book, A Puritan Theology: the hyper-Calvinist believes “that God does not sincerely offer grace unconditionally to every hearer of the gospel”.7 That is not historic hyper-Calvinism. Real hyper- Calvinism taught that the church could only preach to the elect. Mark Jones’ version is the redefinition of hyper- Calvinism that is bandied about by proponents of the well-meant gospel offer.

His definition of hyper-Calvinism, though false, is revelatory about his view of antinomianism, since he makes them basically the same. When Mark Jones speaks about man’s responsibility in salvation, he does not mean that in salvation God treats man as a rational creature, so that man is responsible for his rejection of the gospel, even though God reprobated him. By responsibility he does not mean that when God works faith in man he actually believes and repents. When he uses responsibility, he means man’s response to God’s offered grace. When Mark Jones speaks of faith as a condition, he does not mean what so many in the old days meant when they referred to faith as condition, namely, that God works faith in his elect as the necessary means of their salvation. When he speaks of faith as a condition, he means man’s response in the covenant to offered grace, by which   man   distinguishes   himself from others in the covenant equally furnished with grace. By these terms he means what the proponents of the well-meant offer mean when they speak about conditions and responsibility: that God offers grace to all and man must respond to that offered grace in faith and so distinguish himself from others who are equally furnished with grace. For him the supposed hyper- Calvinist, who denies the well-meant offer, and the supposed antinomian, who denies conditions in the covenant, are the same. For him, they both deny a universal offer of grace, a grace made effectual by an act of the sinner and without which the grace of God fails to save the sinner.

By these definitions he makes the denial of conditions in the covenant the new antinomianism. The definition is false, as false as the definition of hyper- Calvinism as the denial of a well-meant offer. The charge of antinomianism is false, as false as the slander that to deny the well-meant offer is hyper- Calvinism.

Reformed churches and believers must be on guard against this tactic. In the face of the legalism of the federal vision, the Reformed church, preacher, and believer must be willing to draw the charge of antinomianism from those who preach another gospel, which is no gospel at all.

This also brings up a positive development   in   the   Reformed church world: the new book by Prof. David Engelsma, The Gospel Truth of Justification. His book was published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association to honour the 500th anniversary   of   the   Reformation. The book is a faithful proclamation and defence of the classic, creedal, Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. All the different parts of the doctrine are explained in clear language over against denials of it past and present. For that alone it is worthy of promotion and study. The book is also a development by its careful and clear relating of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the unconditional covenant of grace. Thus far, that connection has not been made or not made very clearly or so systematically and thoroughly. Because it was not made, the federal vision exploited the doctrine of the conditional covenant to teach justification by works, deny the gospel, and spread it far and wide. The book demonstrates that justification by faith alone demands the unconditional covenant of grace and at the same time that belief in the conditional covenant demands a conditional justification, which denies the gospel. It proves that because Scripture teaches justification by faith alone, the conditional covenant has no warrant in scripture and the Reformed creeds at all. This book and its development ought to be closely studied by every Reformed believer so that they can better understand these developments both of the false doctrine of the federal vision and the conditional covenant and of the advance of the truth of justification through confrontation with that heresy. This book ought to be promoted vigorously for its stirring and spirited defence of the gospel of grace and the unconditional covenant of grace. In light of these developments the Reformed believer and church ought to recommit themselves to hold fast the traditions and reject every heresy repugnant thereto.

 

1 Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theol- ogy’s Unwelcome Guest? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 124.

2 Ibid., 124.

3 Ibid, 28.

⁴ Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 318.

⁵ Antinomianism, 29.

⁶ Ibid., 29.

⁷ A Puritan Theology, 963.

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 45

Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (III)

So far, we have presented four arguments against the popular notion that all unbelievers are in the divine image. In the first three, we reasoned from the nature, the number and the idea of the imago dei. Then we pointed out some of the amazing incongruities and massive equivocations which logically follow from the erroneous position  that absolutely everybody bears the image of God.

 

In this article, we shall produce two more arguments. The first proceeds from the relationship between divine sonship and the divine image, and the second traces several dangerous ethical and theological consequences of the notion that unbelievers are in the image of God.

Divine Sonship

Let us return to the four parties whom all sides in this debate agree are in the image of God. First, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is both the image of God and the eternal Son of God the Father. Second, Jesus Christ is both the imago dei and the incarnate Son of God. Third, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) as a son and daughter of God (cf. Luke 3:38). Fourth, all believers have been recreated in the image of God (e.g., Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10) and are the sons or daughters of God.

Do you see the pattern here? All four parties (the eternal Son, the incarnate Son, pre-fall Adam and Eve, and all believers) are both the image of God and the Son or sons (or daughters) of God. The connection is obvious: sons (or daughters) look like their fathers!

Even in the earthly sphere, this is obvious. Moreover, the visible realm reflects the spiritual realm. By eternal generation, God the Son is the “express image” of God the Father (cf. Heb. 1:3). By spiritual regeneration, God’s sons (and daughters) are the image of God in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

Let us build on an argument made in the last instalment of this series. The claim that unbelievers are in the image of God means that they are not only the likeness of God and the glory of God, but they are also the sons of God and the daughters of God!

However, Scripture declares that unbelieving, impenitent, reprobate humans are the seed of Satan, the old serpent (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:9), and the sons and daughters of Satan. The Lord Jesus denied the claims of the ungodly Jews that God was their Father (John 8:38, 41-42). Instead, He told them, “Ye are of your father the devil [and, therefore, you are his sons and daughters], and the lusts of your father ye will do [because you are like your father and in his image]” (v. 44).

Our Lord went on to explain why the ungodly Jews sought to kill Him (vv. 37, 40, 59) and why they could not receive His truth (vv. 40, 43, 45-47, 55): “Ye do the deeds of your father” (v. 41; cf. v. 38). Here Jesus highlighted two sins (those against the sixth and the ninth commandments) in which the ungodly sons imitated their satanic father: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (v. 44). Ethically and spiritually, the wicked sons imaged their diabolical father!

Dangerous Consequences

Now we are in a position to outline some of the dangerous consequences which flow from the idea that unbelievers are the image of God.

If sodomites and lesbians really are the image of God (and, therefore, also His likeness and glory), homosexuality is OK. This argument is made repeatedly by various Jews and professed Christians, as it was in connection with the appointment of homosexual Canon Jeffrey John as the Church of England Bishop of Reading in 2003 (though he later withdrew his acceptance). Watch out for more instances of this claim in the days ahead!

This doctrine of the imago dei feeds into the liberal notion of the universal brotherhood of man, for all bear God’s image. If everyone is in the image of God, then everyone is a child of God, for all look like God their Father. Thus we have the false gospel of the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity under the universal fatherhood of God. This is the old modernist heresy proclaimed by many, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

Logically, the doctrine of man is corrupted through this teaching of the divine image. If all are in the image of God, what about the truth of total depravity? Surely, the image of God is good, morally good, for the God who is imaged is good, morally good! Therefore, man is not totally depraved. This is the argument of many.

Similarly, if everybody is God’s image, likeness and glory, then man must have free will. What is the image of the infinitely good God, if it does not entail ethical goodness? And free will (the ability to desire and choose that which is morally good) is crucial for ethical goodness!

Not only the doctrine of man but also the doctrine of God is affected by the notion that everybody bears the imago dei. After all, the Almighty must love His image, likeness and glory in the reprobate! This is called a universal or common grace, according to which the unchangeable Jehovah is merciful to those whom He has passed by and ordained to destruction in the way of their sins (Westminster Confession 3:7). It is instructive that Abraham Kuyper, the father of common grace, builds so much of his case for this false doctrine upon the erroneous idea of the imago dei.

Likewise, the well-meant offer (a passionate desire in the Most High to save the reprobate) fits perfectly with this doctrine of God’s image. Surely, Jehovah must desire the salvation of those in whom His image, likeness and glory are manifest?

In the doctrine of eschatology or the last things, it is the truth concerning hell that is most endangered by a universal image of God in man. God’s image-bearers in hell? Those who are Jehovah’s likeness enduring everlasting burnings? The divine glory in the lake of fire? Could the ever blessed God tolerate such a blasphemous thing as this? If the image of God is in a man, surely there is a spark of His glory in him (the issue is not that of quantity but quality!)? Thus there is no such thing as hell or eternal punishment. Such is the argument of Harry R. Boer, a theologian of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), in his heretical book, An Ember Still Glowing: Humankind as the Image of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990).

I realise that there are some who want to hold that all men are in the image of God (in some sense) within a more orthodox framework of beliefs (regarding homosexuality, man’s total depravity, God’s sovereign grace, hell, etc.). They argue that the so-called broader sense of the image of God consists solely in the categories of creation or nature and does not concern ethical or moral issues.

Besides the problems with this view pointed out in this and the previous two articles, there is the underlying fact that the term “the image of God” of itself carries great theological and ethical freight. Moreover, the idea that the ungodly are in God’s image in some sense has no scriptural support, for the few texts which are brought forward are wrongly interpreted, as we shall see.

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 45

The Necessity of Being Distinctively Reformed

The editors of Salt Shakers asked me to write on the necessity of being Reformed. To treat this subject, it is necessary to define the terms.

Reformed

The first term is Reformed, which describes the confession of the truth of scripture as it is summarised in the three forms of unity—the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt—which were officially adopted by the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618–19. Included as minor creeds in the Reformed confessions are the doctrinal forms for baptism, confession of faith, Lord’s Supper, excommunication, marriage, and the installation of officebearers.

These documents are called Reformed standards, creeds, symbols, and confessions. They are called Reformed standards because they are the rule of what is and what is not Reformed and the judge of all doctrinal controversies in Reformed churches. An appeal to the creeds is the end of controversy for the Reformed church and believer. They are called Reformed creeds—from the Latin credo (I believe) because they are the statement of what every Reformed believer and church believes to be the truth of the word of God. They are called Reformed symbols—from the Latin symbolum (badge) because like a distinguishing insignia they separate the Reformed believer and church from all others and state what it means to be Reformed. They are called Reformed confessions, from the Latin confessio (to speak together with) because by means of the creeds believers speak together as members of Reformed churches with Christ and all likeminded Reformed believers. According to scripture, what one believes must be spoken with the mouth:

But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed (Rom. 10:8–11).

These confessions are the standards of unity for Reformed churches, and they state what is necessary for the Reformed believer to believe and a Reformed church to teach in order to be considered Reformed.

In the light of certain controversies, it is necessary to state that there is no room in the Reformed standards—they specifically deny it—for any doctrine of a general favour of God to the elect and reprobate. This has and remains the issue in the controversy over common grace and a conditional covenant. The issue is not whether certain people or churches can find some texts in the Bible that they suppose teach common grace and a conditional covenant. The issue is whether the Reformed creeds teach these things? Are they Reformed according to the creeds? No proof is forthcoming. On the basis of supposed scriptural texts no one has argued that these doctrines should be included in the Reformed creeds.

The Reformed creeds do not teach a general offer of grace and salvation in the preaching of the gospel. They do not teach a general operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the reprobate, which restrains sin in them and allows them to do good works in God’s eyes. The creeds do not teach a general favour of God expressed toward   the   unregenerate   in   giving them rain and sunshine and other gifts of creation. The creeds do not teach a general favour of God in the covenant, by which God gives grace to every baptised child and promises to be the God of every baptised child. Today these false doctrines are all assumed to be Reformed, and those who deny them are set outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy or ridiculed for their rejection of them.

The Reformed creeds teach that the grace of God is for the elect only by teaching that the grace of God flows out of election: “Election is the fountain of every saving good, from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects” (Canons 1.9).1

The creeds teach the grace of God for the elect only by teaching that the cross of Christ, which is the ground of every blessing, is for the elect alone: “It was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross…should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation” (Canons 2.8). The Reformed creeds, as the standard of what is or is not Reformed, reject the doctrines of general grace as inventions and intrusions into the Reformed confessions and condemn them as false doctrines.

Being Reformed is also to be covenantal in one’s doctrine and life. The doctrine of the covenant is more distinctly Reformed than the doctrine of election. The covenant, specifically as the bond of friendship and fellowship between the triune God and His elect people in Christ their Head, is the peculiar heritage of Reformed churches. This doctrine is most simply and beautifully expressed in the Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism: “God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us [by baptism] that he doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs”.

There is also a very important practical element of Reformed orthodoxy— especially Reformed covenantal orthodoxy—in   the   development   of the truth of marriage as a lifelong, unbreakable bond. The Reformed church is always reforming, and this is true with regard to the doctrine of marriage. Marriage was always highly esteemed among the Reformed, even to the point of making its confirmation a part of the worship service. The Reformed, according to scripture, also connected marriage with the truth of God’s covenant. For instance, the Form for the Confirmation of Marriage exhorts the husband to love his wife as his own body, “as Christ hath loved his church”. The form exhorts the wife to be obedient to her husband, “as the body is obedient to the head, and the church to Christ”. And the form calls the marriage bond “a holy state”. All these statements allude to the great marriage passage in Ephesians 5:32, where Paul speaks of the “great mystery” of the marriage between Christ and His church. In the Form for the Confirmation of Marriage the Reformed fathers made statements that hint at this later development of the marriage doctrine: “Hear now from the gospel how firm the bond of marriage is, as described in Matthew 19:3–9”. In that passage Jesus said, “I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”.

In practice the Reformed did not carry through the principle that the marriage bond cannot be broken except by death. Later, in connection with the development of the truth of the covenant as   unconditional   and   unbreakable, the truth regarding marriage was also developed, specifically basing this truth on the reality that God’s grace toward His people never fails and His covenant is unbreakable. In that light it was seen that the covenant of marriage cannot be broken in this life. A Reformed church today must preach this, and Reformed believers today must believe this and practice it as a development and application of the Reformed truth of God’s grace and covenant.

The Reformed standards are authoritative for the Reformed believer and the Reformed church, because in all points of doctrine they do fully agree with the word of God. Every Reformed officebearer swears in the Formula of Subscription: “We heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed   Churches,   together   with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618–19, do fully agree with the Word of God”.

Because they fully agree with the word of God, the Reformed faith of the forms of unity is not the creed of one nation, tribe, or tongue, but is universal. It is universal because it is the teaching of the word of God, which is universal and holds for all men in all time and places. The authority of the Reformed faith is not derived of itself, by virtue of its antiquity, or because of the theological brilliance of those who wrote the creeds, but its authority is derived from and is dependent on the word of God. The Reformed faith as it is expressed in the three forms can also only be judged by the word of God. To preach it is to preach the word of God. To believe it is to believe the word of God. To confess it is to confess the word of God. To defend it is to defend the word of God.

Reformed is also a church political term. Church polity is as distinctly a Reformed matter as is confession and doctrine. Church polity refers to the organisation and government of the church institute—the local church—in the world. By her unique polity Reformed churches distinguish themselves from all others. The Reformed also highly value this polity as essential for church life. Wrong church polity is the frequent cause, or at least major contributing factor, in doctrinal departure, chaotic church life, and paralysis in the church’s work.

The Reformed themselves stated the source of proper church government: “We believe that this true church must be governed by that spiritual policy which our Lord hath taught us in His Word” (Belgic Confession 30). The policy that must govern the church is not manmade, of man’s wisdom, or a matter of convenience, but it is the Lord’s and is taught in His word. It is His law and wisdom concerning the organisation of the church as His kingdom in the world. The church ignores it or sets it aside to her ruin. Jesus Christ is the sole king of the church, and His policy is the only policy that may rule in the church. The Reformed summarised this policy as to its main principles and certain practical applications in the Church Order of Dordrecht, which it adopted at the Dordt synod in 1618–19.

The importance of this polity is also expressed by the Belgic Confession in article 30: “By these means [right church government] the true religion may be preserved and the true doctrine everywhere propagated, likewise transgressors punished and restrained by   spiritual   means;   also   that   the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted”. All the grand and glorious work of the church—also the maintenance and spread of right doctrine—depends on right polity.

Without it the church descends into chaos, ceases to function, and eventually dies.

Being

The second term that is necessary to define is being. Being Reformed is the issue, that is, whether an individual or a church is Reformed. To be Reformed is not merely a claim or a name, either on the church building or in the name registered with the government. If it is only a name, to be Reformed is nothing but hypocrisy. A church and believer must be what they claim to be.

To be Reformed is not being a certain ethnicity, coming from some nation, or having some racial or national pedigree. Reformed is not a parochial or provincial term. Reformed is as universal as the word of God is universal and as applicable to one tribe, nation, and time as it is to another tribe, nation, and tribe. Being Reformed is not having some Reformed doctrines among one’s creeds, if there are other doctrines in those creeds that contradict and overthrow them. Reformed is not synonymous with Calvinism, and there is no such thing as a Reformed Baptist.

To be Reformed is not finding support for one’s doctrinal or practical positions among   certain   theologians   who identify themselves as Reformed. To be Reformed is not being able to speak learnedly of the Reformed tradition, for as highly as it values tradition and as suspicious as it is of anything novel, it values scripture above all else and demands that all things in the church— in doctrine, life, and worship—wholly conform to the word of God. To that end the Reformed faith demands that all conform to the creeds and church order as the faithful summary of the word of God concerning faith, life, and church government.

To be Reformed is not merely to have the Reformed creeds as one’s official creeds so that if some churches have the Reformed creeds as their creeds they may uncritically be assumed to be Reformed. If churches have the Reformed creeds as their creeds and by that make the claim that they are Reformed, then that claim may and must be tested as to whether they actually hold to those creeds faithfully. To be Reformed, then, is to be faithful to the creeds and church order in all things. It is very popular in these ecumenical days—false Reformed ecumenicity—to excuse error in the name of unity by substituting another standard for faithfulness that sounds similar but is fundamentally different. That other standard is faithfulness to one’s own tradition, faithfulness to one’s own interpretation of the creeds, or faithfulness as far as one’s church confesses the creeds. It consists at best in a reduction of the creeds to those doctrines in the creeds that the greatest number of people can agree on, and a willingness to set aside other doctrines in the creeds as less important or non- essential. This erroneous idea of being Reformed leads those who espouse it to speak of lesser Reformed churches and to excuse fellowship with them on the basis that they at least they have the Reformed creeds as their official confession, or are faithful to their church’s confession and interpretation of the creeds as far as it goes.

Rather,   being   Reformed   according to the creeds means that there are churches in the world that are truly Reformed according to this standard who faithfully teach and stoutly defend all of their doctrines. It also means that there are churches that apostatize from this standard by approving of doctrines and practices that conflict with the Reformed standards. These are not less faithful, or lesser Reformed churches, but apostatizing and unfaithful Reformed churches, which therefore are not truly Reformed but have departed and are departing from the Reformed faith. The standard, the only standard, is faithfulness to the creeds in their entirety and rejection of all that is contrary to the creeds.

To be Reformed then means heartily to believe and to be persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine in the creeds fully agree with the word of God. To be Reformed means that one confesses this truth and adorns it with the godly life that it demands and is disposed to defend that truth. To be Reformed means to reject all that is contrary to the creeds and militates against them. For a church to be Reformed means that this doctrine is openly taught, readily received, and faithfully defended in the pulpit.

To be Reformed is also to be organised as a church according to the polity of the Church Order of Dordt. For an individual to be Reformed also means being a member of such a church in the world. The Reformed faith truly becomes a confession—to say with others—only   when   one   confesses it as a member in a true church of Christ where these things are faithfully believed and preached.

Necessity

The final term to define is necessity. What is the necessity of being Reformed, Reformed as has been defined here? Is there a necessity to be Reformed, or may an individual pick and choose his confession as a consumer picks his favourite food from the menu? Necessity implies an imperative, a demand, or command. For the believer his necessity can only be the word of God. It is necessary in this sense to be Reformed.

The Reformed faith does not come— and no Reformed church may preach it so—as an option, as a system or philosophy that men may take or leave, or alter, add to, or diminish at their pleasure. It comes as the gospel and the very word of God. The Reformed faith fully agrees with the word of God. The Reformed faith comes with the same call as the word of God: believe and thou shalt be saved; and it warns sharply that those who reject it do so at their peril. Departing from the Reformed faith one imperils his own soul and the souls of his generations. A Reformed church that departs from it imperils the souls of all its members and their generations. Believing it one believes the word of God, believes the gospel, and has the promise of salvation and life.

Because the Reformed faith fully agrees with the word of God, knowing and believing these things one knows God in Jesus Christ and that knowledge is eternal life (Jn. 17:3). Being ignorant of these truths one is ignorant of eternal life.

For the Reformed church and believer to be Reformed in confession and polity is necessary as a matter of obedience to her sole king, Jesus Christ. The necessity is a matter of faithfulness to her Lord and to the gospel. Rejecting it one hardens himself against Christ.

The necessity is thus also that being Reformed the gospel governs the whole life of the church and the believer. It is liberty for the church and believer to be ruled by the word of God and not by the word, doctrine, and commandments of men. Therein also she is useful in the maintenance and spread of the gospel, for in maintaining and spreading the Reformed faith, she maintains and spreads the gospel.

Most of all, God revealed these things for His glory; therein is the ultimate reason to be Reformed. It glorifies God in the confession of the truth of God as God himself intended in its revelation. Departing from it one must necessarily say something false about God to the denigration of His name, which for the believer is the most horrible thing imaginable and that at which he shutters. The confession of the Reformed faith, the life of holiness that the Reformed confession demands is the believer’s and the Reformed church’s soli Deo gloria.

About the necessity that compelled him and his fellow believers to be Reformed, the author of the Belgic Confession, Guido de Brès, wrote to their chief persecutor, Philip II, king of Spain:

The banishments, prisons, racks, exiles, tortures and countless other persecutions plainly demonstrate that our desire and conviction are not carnal, for we would lead a far easier life if we did not embrace and maintain this doctrine. But having the fear of God before our eyes, and being in dread of the warning of Jesus Christ, who tells us that He shall forsake us before God and His Father if we deny Him before men, we suffer our backs to be beaten, our tongues to be cut, our mouths to be gagged and our whole body to be burnt, for we know that he who would follow Christ must take up his cross and deny himself.2

In the suffering and loss that inevitably followed upon their confession, they comforted themselves—and us—with this comfort that belongs in the final judgment to those who faithfully confess Christ’s name in the world: “The faithful and elect shall be crowned with glory and honour; and the Son of God will confess their names before God his Father and his elect angels; all tears shall be wiped form their eyes; and their cause, which is now condemned by many judges and magistrates as heretical and impious, will then be known to be the cause of the Son of God” (Belgic Confession 37).

Let us be boldly, faithfully, and unashamedly Reformed in doctrine, life, and polity.

 

1 Quotations from the creeds and forms are taken from The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005).assigns to each covenant mother what children of God’s covenant they must bring forth, and to them He gives this great privilege. Christ determines His “children.”

2 Dedicatory Epistle to Reformed Confession of Faith, Addressed to Philip II, 1561, Trans. Marvin Kamps, Dutch and French versions in De Nederlandse Belij- denisgeschriften, ed. J.N. Bakhuizen van den Brink (2nd ed. Amsterdam, 1976 pp. 62-69.

 

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 44

Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (II)

Last time, in the light of both the nature and the number of the imago dei, we considered significant problems with the view that unbelievers are in the image of God. In this article, we shall critique this theory further. We will begin with arguments from the idea of the image of God, and then we will point out some of the amazing incongruities and massive equivocations which follow from the erroneous position that absolutely everybody bears the imago dei.

The Idea of the Image of God

There are two types of image. First, there is an image with little or no similarity to that which it images. Think of the image of Audi: four interlocking, horizontal circles. This image does not look like an Audi car but you have learned to link it to Audi. Such an image is a symbol, for it represents something else purely by means of association or convention.

Second, there is an image with a significant degree of similarity to that which it images. Think of the image of yourself in the mirror; it sure looks like you!

The image of God is an instance of the latter sort of image. This is evident even from a brief consideration of the four parties that all sides agree are in the image of God. First, the eternal Son of God possesses all the divine attributes and is the perfect image of the Father. Second, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, is the “express image” of God (Heb. 1:3) so that those who have seen Him have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). Third, Adam and Eve before the fall were in the imago dei as those who spiritually looked like their Creator (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6). Fourth, all those who are elect and regenerate are in the image of God as those who know Him savingly, and are righteous and holy by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

Moreover, those who are in the image of God are also in the likeness of God. The very first reference to the imago dei in the Bible joins these two ideas: “And God said [on day 6], Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). If a party is in the image of God, it is also in the likeness of God (Gen. 1:27; cf. 5:1).

So the question, “Are unbelievers in the image of God?” is equivalent to the question, “Are unbelievers in the likeness of God?” Are those willing to answer yes to the former question also willing to embrace the latter?

Let us go further. Someone who is in the image of another is the image of another; someone who is in the likeness of another is the likeness of another (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15). Do we really want to say this regarding the wicked: the ungodly are the image of God and those who hate Him are the likeness of God?

Scripture not only joins together the image of God and the likeness of God, but it also joins these concepts with the glory of God. Of course! Since God is glorious, those who are His image and likeness are glorious too! Thus Scripture refers to “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7).

Adolf Hitler, the image and glory of God? Osama bin Laden, the image and glory of God! Richard Dawkins, the image, likeness and glory of God? Joseph Stalin, the image, likeness and glory of God!

“Ah,” someone might object, “these are emotive figures, particularly wicked men who hated the holy Triune God with an especially great vehemence”. Yes, but the position we are opposing is that all unbelievers absolutely are God’s image and, therefore, are His likeness and are His glory. Clearly, identifying the ungodly as the image of God goes too far! This important biblical concept carries a lot of theological freight.

Amazing Incongruities and Massive Equivocations

Identifying   unbelievers   as   the image of God also involves further amazing incongruities and massive equivocations.

How does this notion square with the truth of God Himself? Is ungodly man really in the image of God when he does not even worship the God he is supposed to be like? If the wicked were the glory of God, surely they would glorify the God of glory!

The Lord Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). But unbelievers, who are supposedly in the image of God, do not recognize the Lord Jesus as the image of God! The wicked, who are allegedly God’s image-bearers, are “blinded” by Satan with regard to the “light” of Jesus Christ, “the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Moreover, 2,000 years ago, those who were, allegedly, the image, likeness and glory of God actually crucified the Messiah, who is the perfect image, likeness and glory of God!

On the plain of Dura outside Babylon in Daniel 3, unbelievers in the image of God, according to the theory which we are opposing, bowed down to and worshipped Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. Those who were the image and glory of God adored and glorified an image of gold!

In Isaiah 46:7, those who are God’s image-bearers bear images of Bel and Nebo, Babylonian gods!

In Romans 1:23, those in the image and likeness of God make and worship images in the likeness of men, birds, beasts and creeping things. Those who are the image and glory of God change the glory of the incorruptible God into images of corruptible creatures!

In Revelation 13:17, those who are the image of God, according to the theory we are opposing, worship the image of the beast. Those who supposedly bear the likeness and mark of God actually bear the mark of the beast! Can all this theory really be true?

Do you remember Christ’s response to the Pharisees and Herodians who asked if it was lawful to pay taxes to the Romans (Matt. 22:15-22)? The truth is that these Jewish leaders were more interested in coins with the “image and subscription” of Caesar than the God they were supposed to image or in His great image-bearer, the Lord Jesus. Unbelievers in all ages, though allegedly in the image and glory of God, are gripped by the imaginary glory of money rather than the glory of God (cf. Luke 16:13).

What about Satan? If the image of God (in its alleged “broader sense”) consists of rationality and personality, the possession of intellect and will, and creaturely freedom and language, then it follows necessarily that the devil is in the image of God! Yea, Satan is the image of God, the likeness of God and the glory of God! In fact, having such a good memory, powerful intellect and resolute will, the devil has a much, much greater image of God (in the “broader sense”) than any of us!

So it is not just all of fallen humanity that is in the image of God but also be Beelzebub and all his host! Advocates of the theory that we are opposing may object at this, yet it necessarily follows from their own principles.

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 44

Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (I)

Introduction

There is one thing in Scripture that the ungodly refer to as an “image” of God, but which is certainly not: that is idols (e.g., Ex. 20:4-6; Isa. 44:9-20; Rom. 1:23; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 35)!

There are four parties who are spoken of in Holy Writ as truly being in God’s image. Here they are arranged in “chronological” order:

  1. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity (cf. Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3; Belgic Confession 10)
  2. Pre-fall Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; Belgic Confession 14; Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 6; Canons III/IV:1)
  3. The incarnate Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ (II Cor. 4:4)
  4. All born again through the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 115)

Two of these four parties in God’s image are divine: the eternal Son simpliciter and that same eternal Son when He became incarnate. The other two of these four parties are human beings: Adam and Eve before the fall, and those regenerated after the fall.

All   individuals   and   churches   that have any claim to be orthodox gladly acknowledge the truth of the above four identities regarding the image of God or imago dei. However, there is disagreement regarding the unregenerate:   is   unbelieving   man in God’s image? This is the most controversial question involved in the whole subject of the imago dei. It is also a very important issue, especially in our day, when the notion that everybody is in God’s image is being used to promote common grace, women in church office, homosexuality, the salvation of unconverted pagans, etc.

The thesis of this and subsequent articles is that unregenerate and unbelieving men, women and children are not in the image of God. In this and later instalments, Lord willing, we shall see that this is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine of the Reformed confessions.

The Nature of the Image of God

Let us begin by analysing the nature of the image of God. The Bible clearly describes God’s image in His believing people as consisting of three things: knowledge, righteousness and true holiness.

The proof of this comes from two passages in Paul’s epistles. Colossians 3:10 states, “[You] have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him [i.e., God] that created him”. Notice, first, that here we have a reference to the “image” of God. Second, these Christians at Colossae (and all believers) have been “created” in God’s image in regeneration. Third, this image of God, in which we have been created through the new birth, includes “knowledge”, the knowledge of God.

Our second Scripture is the parallel passage in Ephesians 4:24: “ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”. First, since Ephesians 4:24 refers to the “new man” which is “created” in God’s “image” and Colossians 3:10 speaks of the “new man” which is “created” “after God”, the phrases God’s “image” and “after God” are equivalent. Second, our being “created” “after God” or in His “image” in regeneration includes “righteousness” and “true holiness”.

This use of Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 in defining the content of the image of God in His born again and believing people (and pre-fall Adam and Eve) as consisting of knowledge, righteousness and true holiness (all ethical, moral or spiritual virtues) is clearly biblical and widely recognised. It is also confessional (Belgic Confession 14; Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 6, 115; Canons III/IV:1;   Westminster     Confession 4:2; Westminster Larger Questions, Q. & A. 17, 75; Westminster Shorter Questions, Q. & A. 10, 35).

But what is the imago dei in which unbelievers are supposed to be? Unlike what we have just seen regarding the nature of the image of God in believers, there are no biblical text which specify the nature of the (alleged) divine image in the ungodly. Nor is there any solid exegesis of any biblical texts that prove the content of the (supposed) imago dei in the wicked.

Instead, the content of this alleged image of God in unbelievers is arbitrary. Typically, some or all of the following are mentioned: morality and rationality; spirituality and personality; possession of the “faculties” of memory and/or intellect and/or will and/or conscience; personhood, freedom, dignity, language, etc.

These things surely characterise man— whether believing or unbelieving—but there is no proof that these things are the content of the image of God. Those who maintain that the unregenerate are in the divine image can point to no scriptural testimony as to its content. On this subject, one searches their books and articles in vain for any cogent exegesis of even a single biblical text.

The Number of the Image of God

Moving from the nature of the alleged imago dei in unbelievers, we come to the number of images of God in man. According to the theory that absolutely everyone is in the image of God, there are necessarily two images of God in man. First, there is the image of God in the narrow sense, as many of them put it, which consists, as we have seen, in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). Second, they posit an image of God in the broader sense, which is the only imago dei in unbelievers.

In short, according to the view that we are here opposing, the number is two, for there are two images of God in man. To express their view more kindly, there are two aspects of the image of God in man.

Reader, which of these two images of God, do you think, is most talked about? Is it the manifestly scriptural truth that believers in Christ crucified and risen are in the imago dei (the image of God in the so-called narrow sense) or the idea that unbelievers are in the imago dei (the so-called image of God in the broader sense)?

What about the teaching of the liberal Protestant churches? Or the Roman Catholic Church? Undoubtedly, they lay great emphasis upon the notion that absolutely everybody is in the image of God. This notion is fundamental in their false doctrine and practice. Indeed, this idea is one of their main theological building blocks!

What about purportedly conservative churches and organizations and people? My experience—and many others I know would say the same thing—is that in their pulpits, periodicals, books and witnessing they speak a lot more about the (alleged) image of God (broader sense) in all men head for head than the very clearly biblical teaching that those are in His image who are in fellowship with the Father through Jesus Christ and by His Holy Spirit.

Let us see know how this applies to unbelievers and believers in this life. According to the theory that we are refuting, the unbeliever is in the imago dei (broader sense), so he has one image of God or one aspect of the image of God. The believer, however, is both in the imago dei in the broader sense and the imago dei in the narrow sense, so he has two divine images or two aspects of the image of God.

But is there any Scripture for this idea of two images of God in His children? Are you aware of anywhere in the Bible that speaks of two divine images in us? Yet the theory that unbelievers are in the image of God necessarily entails two images of God in the regenerate.

We should also consider how this notion applies to the elect before and after their regeneration or conversion. “While we were yet sinners” (to echo Romans 5:8), we possessed one imago dei, the image of God in the so-called broader sense. After the Holy Spirit “quickened us together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5), we possess two images of God, both the divine image in the broader sense and the divine image in the narrow sense, as they speak of them.

But is there any warrant in God’s Word for such a thing? A man being born with one image of God and then being born again and so possessing two images of God? Does Christ teach this in the gospel accounts? Is this found in the letters of Paul or Peter or John, or anywhere in Scripture? Yet these notions of two images of God in man, of unbelievers having one image and believers having two images, and of the elect possessing one divine image before their conversion and two divine images after their new birth, are required by the theory that we are opposing.

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 43

Lest We Forget (III)

A Fighting Church

The true church is a fighting church. She fights on behalf of the cause of Jesus Christ. She fights against all who would oppose Christ and His truth. She fights against all who oppose her Lover. She resists all other enticements that would draw her away from her Lover. Fighting faithfully, she enjoys the intimacy of her Lover’s affection. Fighting faithfully, she is blessed by her Lover. Fighting faithfully, she has the hope that her fighting will not be in vain at the coming again of her Saviour.

Scripture makes plain that fighting for the truth is an essential attribute of a believer. Most of Old Testament history was characterised by warfare. Already in the garden of Eden, God had established warfare as an inherent part of the Christian’s life (Gen. 3:15). Israel’s entire history was marked by continual warfare against her enemies who sought to destroy her, and Christ who was in her bosom.

The New Testament applies Israel’s warfare to the life of the believer. The Christian is called to “fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). He must “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). He must “put on the whole armour of God, that ye might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). The confession of the apostle Paul shortly before his death, which ought to represent our own confession is this: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Lifelong fighting characterises the believer.

The Reformed confessions also teach that fighting spiritual battles is an essential characteristic of the Reformed believer. One reason why believers are called Christians is that they must with a free and good conscience “fight against sin and Satan in this life”.1

Confessing that they have many infirmities, believers “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”.2

At baptism, Reformed believers pray that God will equip their children so that they “manfully fight against and overcome sin, the devil and his whole dominion”.3

Reformed office bearers are especially called to fight for the cause of Christ and His truth. They are the watchmen on the walls of Zion, watching out for the enemy who seek to enter the sheepfold. Concerning these watchmen, God declares to the church: “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence” (Isa. 62:6). It is quite remarkable that these watchmen are instructed not to hold their peace or to keep silent. They are to make mention of the Lord, not only in praising His name, but also in warning the people against the threats of the enemies.

Binding upon all Reformed office bearers is the Formula of Subscription, a liturgical form which “arose out of a desire to preserve unity in the church, which unity is based squarely on oneness in doctrine”.4   The Formula “requires   complete   agreement   with all the doctrines contained in the Reformed creeds”.5 By signing the Formula upon their entrance into the offices, they promise “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine (of the Reformed confessions), without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same, by our public preaching   or   writing”.   Moreover, they promise to “reject all errors that militate against this doctrine…and to exert ourselves in keeping the church free from such errors”.6

Given to the ministers of the Word is the charge that they must be “refuting with the Holy Scriptures all schisms and heresies which are repugnant to the pure doctrine”.7   Moreover, the office of the professors of theology is to “expound the Holy Scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors”.8 The professors are called to caution the students “in regard to the errors and heresies of the old, but especially of the new day”.9 By their preaching, teaching, and writing, they are constantly refuting false doctrines and heresies which seek to enter the church and corrupt the sheepfold.

The elders, moreover, are to see to it that “no strange doctrine be taught”.10 They are to “take heed that purity of doctrine and godliness of life be maintained in the church of God”. Moreover, “to ward off false doctrines and errors that multiply exceedingly through heretical writings, the ministers and elders shall use the means of teaching, of refutation or warning, and of admonition, as well in the ministry of the Word as in Christian teaching and family- visiting”.11

Upon the young believer making confession in the church is placed the calling to fight spiritually. He swears before God and His church that he is “resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine; to reject all heresies repugnant thereto; and to lead a new, godly life”.12 An older form for public confession of faith phrases this calling more forcefully: “Do you promise, by the grace of God, to continue steadfastly in the profession of this doctrine and to live and die in accordance therewith?”13

The young people, with all their energy and zeal, are to be rejecting heresies repugnant to, that is, offensive to the doctrines that they have been taught. They are to live and die in accordance with the doctrines that they confess.

 

Lest We Forget History

In the last ten years since the split of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS), God has used important developments here to teach us important lessons. The history of the split in the ERCS is of tremendous importance to CERC. No member, and certainly no office bearer, ought to shy away from speaking about this significant history. This history must be told, and taught to the next generation of faithful believers in CERC.

In the last ten years, by God’s grace, CERC has grown in her love for God and has been reforming according to the truth concerning marriage, the sovereignty of God’s grace, and the unconditional, sovereign covenant between God and His people in Jesus Christ.

But when a church receives not the love of the truth by allowing false doctrines into her midst, God sends her a strong delusion, so that she believes a lie (2 Thess. 2:10-11). The English Standard Version translates the verse this way: “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false”. Gradually, she believes more lies and adopts more false doctrines. In His wrath, God gives such a church which has lost her first love over to the lie, so that she is “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). What results is a future generation that grows up without the knowledge of the truth. Gradually, this church loses more important and fundamental doctrines of Scripture. Loving the truth goes hand in hand with God’s blessing, just as losing the love of the truth goes hand in hand with God’s judgment.

No church becomes false or apostate overnight, even though she embraces false doctrines. Prof. David Engelsma accurately defines a false or apostate church as “a congregation or denomination that, while claiming to be the church of Christ and displaying an appearance of being a church, has so far departed from the truth of the gospel, and thus from Christ the head of the church, that it no longer is a manifestation of the body of Christ at all”.14 He further elaborates that “a church does not become a false church at once. Usually it is a process of gradual development from bad to worse until finally the church becomes false, or fully apostate”.15 When a believer finds himself in a church that is embracing new doctrines, it is absolutely important that he searches the Word diligently and compare those doctrines with the standard of Scripture and the Reformed confessions.

When a church or denomination realises the error of her ways, there is mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation in the cross. It is hoped that through these editorials, the churches which may be enticed by the false doctrines of common grace, the well-meant gospel offer, and the conditional covenant may flee from those falsehoods and see the glorious truths of Scripture once again. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Pro. 27:6). Jesus’ promise of reconciliation and fellowship comes to the erring church today, just as it did to the erring church of the Laodiceans: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:20-1).

The warning is also sharp to all the members of CERC. Love the truth, and sell it not. Be a faithful witness to the truth, and live faithfully in it. Teach the truth to your children and their generations. Only in that way will the truth be maintained and confessed in the hearts, mouths, and lives of our people.

Our fighting will not be vain. We fight with the absolute confidence in God’s Word. We fight with the absolute confidence that no sacrifice is too great for the truth. This battle will be costly. But let us fight the good fight of faith, for henceforth there is laid up for us a crown of righteousness, not to us only but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Tim 4:7-8).

 

1 The Heidelberg Catechism, LD 12, Q&A 32.

2 The Belgic Confession, Article 29.

3 Prayer of Thanksgiving in the Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism.

4 The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches, (Grandville: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005), 324.

5 The Confessions, 324.

6 The Formula of Subscription.

7 Form for the Ordination (or Installation) of Ministers of God’s Word.

8 Article 18, in The Church Order of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore.

9 Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology.

10 Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons.

11 Article 55, in The Church Order of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore.

12 Form for Public Confession of Faith.

13 Form for the Public Confession of Faith (http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/nethlit.htm).

14 David Engelsma, Bound to Join: Letters on Church Membership, (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2010),

15 Bound to Join, 9.

 

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 43

Catechism and Memory

Introduction

Dear young people, you and I can be very thankful to our covenant God that He has preserved the practice of catechism instruction and learning for you and our children in our church. This practice is an ‘old path’ that goes all the way to the beginning of the church in the Old Testament.1 Though it languished for a while in the Middle Ages, it was restored during the Reformation. But alas, this heritage of the Reformation is all but lost in modern Christendom today. The concept, much less the practice, of catechism instruction is hardly known in the church world today. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why many churches are weak in doctrine and do not know the basics of the Christian faith. The truth of the Bible is not systematically taught to covenant children and new adult believers to ground them firmly in the faith. Doctrine is glossed over, decried as divisive, and downplayed in favour of a teaching that is man- centred, minimises sin and focuses on universal love and ecumenical union. God’s Word is not taught, but man’s godless philosophy. Unless a church returns to the old path of faithful catechism instruction, she will not maintain the truth of the Scriptures in her generations.

The inestimable value of faithful catechism instruction cannot be overstated.   It   will   take   a   separate article (or even a book) all by itself to underscore this point. In this article, this fact will be assumed. We then move on to discuss the practical aspect of catechism and memory. A few words about the importance of memorising catechism ought to be said so that you have the proper motivation in memorising your catechism. Then we’ll look at some ways to help you in your practice of catechism memorisation.

Why

Why must you memorise your catechism each week before you go to class? Why do your minister and parents require it of you? Because your parents and this church take our calling and baptismal vow to instruct you in the doctrine of the Scriptures to the utmost of our power seriously. We know that the tried and tested way of ‘sounding down’ the truth to you and have you ‘echo back the truth’, is one of the best ways, if not the best way, for you to learn and remember the grand, biblical truths of the Reformed faith. Memorising the catechism questions and answers will fix the truth in your minds.   When as young children, you memorise the Bible stories, you inscribe biblical history and facts deep in your young and absorbent minds. As the doctrines and truths of Scripture are taught to you and woven into your lives from as young as you can remember, they shape your thinking and mould your character, so that you grow up to be God-fearing young men and women. And by God’s grace, you will one day confess publicly before the church that precious faith you’ve been taught and have come to love.

As you grow into adulthood and face the trials of life, as you certainly will, then having the catechism in your memories will enable you to draw strength and find comfort to go through those difficult times. The beautiful language of   our   Heidelberg   Catechism   will come to you as you lay hold, by faith, of the glorious truth of our certain preservation as God’s children unto the end, assured that “I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation”. Thus strengthened, you persevere in your pilgrim’s pathway, looking for the city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.

And if the Lord leads you to find a godly spouse and enter marriage, and give you children, then you will also teach   them   the   catechism,   require that   they   memorise   the   questions and answers, and explain to them the inestimable spiritual value of doing so by your own experience. In this way, the church, through you and other godly families, will raise up another generation who knows the Lord. And the cycle continues from generation to generation. Thus, God by His sovereign grace is pleased to preserve His truth among us and His church in our generations until the Lord Jesus Christ returns.

How

I hope you see why it is important that you memorise your catechism, and you are now properly motivated to do it. So how can you better memorise your catechism? Here are two ways I have found helpful for myself and my family.

First, Memorise the overview or big picture of the catechism. For the younger children’s catechism, memorise which main sections of OT or NT history the various stories fall into. For the older children, memorise the overall structure of the Heidelberg Catechism (Introduction : Q&A 1-2; Sin : Q&A 3-11; Salvation : Q&A 12-85; Service : Q&A 86-129). Having this big picture constantly at the back of your mind would not only help you to memorise the specific questions and answers better, but also helps you appreciate how a particular truth fits into the overall biblical narrative or the entire body of faith. For example, when the HC deals with the requirements of the law commandment by commandment, it does so under the 3rd section of the catechism on ‘Thankfulness’, showing that the 10 Commandments continue to be relevant in the life of a child of God as a rule for thankful living. So, as you memorise the questions and answers to each of the Commandments, you are always mindful that you obey them not to earn any favour or reward with God, but to express your deep gratitude for His sovereign grace in saving you from all your sin and misery.

Second, make catechism memory part of your daily routine. Parents, make it part of the daily routine of your child. Perhaps during lunch or dinner time, you could take out your catechism book (or an electronic version on your mobile phone) and memorise the questions (you have one week – so you don’t have to memorise everything in one sitting!). Parents can go through the catechism with their children before or after family devotion times. Just like we do for our personal and family devotions, build catechism memorisation into your daily routine. Once you establish the habit, it will become easier. Perhaps initially the daily memorisation feels onerous.

Some days you would probably miss doing it. Many times, you might feel like giving up. But don’t! Pray and ask the Lord for strength. Persevere, for in the long term, not only does it become easier, but you will also begin to enjoy it and realise how much you’re learning each day! The benefits far outweigh any difficulties you may encounter, for you are building up an entire storehouse of the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word. That is priceless!

Conclusion

Catechism instruction and memorisation is one of the greatest blessings for the church. It is part of our rich reformed heritage. Let us treasure it and preserve its practice in CERC.

Parents, be not weary in the well-doing of having your children memorise the catechism, week in and week out. For in due season, you shall reap. This is the Lord’s promise: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Pro. 22:6). Young people, memorise your catechism! It will do you, and the church of which you are a living member, great spiritual good – now and in the generations to come.

REFERENCE

Engelsma, David, (1997). Catechism! Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 73, Issue 21. http:// standar dbear er.r fpa.org/ar ticles/ catechism-1

Cammenga, Ronald, (1984). Catechism. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 60, Issue 21. http://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/ catechism-0

Gritters, Barry, (2008). Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (1). Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 84, Issue 20.

Gritters, Barry, (2008). Catechism: The Old Path, the Good Way (2). Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 84, Issue 20.

Van Dyken, Donald, (2000). Rediscovering Catechism: The Art of Equipping Covenant Children. New Jersey, USA.

Written by: Lee Kong Wee | Issue 42

Lest We Forget (II)

In the last editorial, I mentioned that through the ecclesiastical contacts of First Evangelical Reformed Church (FERC) in Singapore, the Arminian doctrines of common grace, the well- meant offer of the gospel, and the conditional covenant have made inroads into the Reformed churches in Singapore. In ten short years after their adoption of divorce and remarriage, these Arminian doctrines have found fertile ground in FERC.

Lest we forget, it was only ten years ago in 2007 that FERC still belonged to a faithful denomination, the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS). For over twenty years, the ERCS confessed the sovereignty and particularity of God’s grace in salvation. Prior to her institution in 1982, she had   received   distinctive   instruction in the Reformed faith through her contact with the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA).

As early as 1979, emissaries from the PRCA began instructing the young group of believers in Singapore concerning the heresy of common grace and the particularity of God’s grace. These emissaries reported the instruction that they gave:

We stressed that the grace called common is a non-entity and exists only in the minds of those who seek justification for fellowship with the world, whose good deeds are ethically ever only corrupt, while they indeed may be good in a functional sense. We emphasized the absolute antithesis established by God’s particular grace as our God calls children of light out of the children of darkness, life out of death, etc. This speech was very appreciatively received by many and they saw clearly that we are called to an antithetical walk.1

The emissaries also explained the PRCA’s rejection of the well-meant gospel offer:

We emphasized that the truth of election is not an hindrance to missions as is often alleged, but that it is instead an incentive for the guarantee that God has His people and that Christ has sheep which He must gather through the preaching of the Gospel by the Church.2

In 1982, after the young group of believers was organised into the ERCS, they expressed wholehearted agreement with the truths confessed by the PRCA:

We believe God has blessed you in a very special way and given you a measure of the truth that is largely lost to the churches of our day. We believe that God who gives you this truth so that we may learn from you, will in no wise leave you no avenue to proclaim it…We in the E.R.C.S. love the truth your churches have brought us…3

Through the ministries of two PRCA ministers working in the ERCS, Rev. Arie den Hartog and Rev. Jason Kortering, the ERCS continued to be instructed more fully in the Reformed faith. The two ministers on loan to the ERCS were instrumental in developing the young church’s understanding and conviction of the Reformed faith. Zealously,   they   preached,   taught, and gave much advice to the young church. They officiated at many weddings, instructing young couples in the biblical truth of marriage and the covenant home. They were also actively involved in the mission work of the ERCS. Their faithful ministries were used powerfully by God to develop the ERCS into a faithful Reformed church.

The Lord prospered the ERCS in those years. Many were gathered into the church out of heathendom. Marriages were aplenty. Young, godly families were characteristic of the ERCS. The denomination was entering into another phase of life, where the second generation   of   Reformed   believers was rising. In 1986, a daughter congregation, Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, was organised. At their peak, the ERCS numbered over three hundred members. The denomination was spiritually healthy and vibrant.

In 1996, based on the reports of the ERCS’ minister-on-loan, Rev. Kortering, the PRCA’s Contact Committee reported that the doctrinal distinctives concerning the preaching, God’s   covenant   and   grace   were preached:

Although the ERCS has not taken an official position on the doctrines of the covenant, common grace, and free offer, they continue to preach and teach the faithful Reformed position.4

In   1997,   Rev.   Kortering   reported that the doctrinal distinctives were understood and settled:

The doctrines of the covenant, the well- meant offer, and common grace are no longer issues in the ERCS. The ERCS have grown in their understanding and appreciation of the Reformed position in these areas. The ERCS are also being more and more identified with the PRC by the church community in Singapore.5

Giving hearty approval to the instruction given by the ministers on loan, the ERCS expressed their unity in the faith with the PRCA:

This indeed is another golden opportunity for our two churches to express our unity in the faith and support of each other in this increasingly dark and sinful world of unbelief…The Reformed faith, which we have come to know and love through the ministry of your churches, we will uphold and defend with all our might in the Far East…In our observation of you, we continue to notice, with great delight, your steadfast defense of the Reformed faith in all your publications. Your undaunted effort to clarify your fine theological position is helping the Reformed community more and more to develop in greater depth of understanding of the truth.6

A Broad-Minded Spirit

Nevertheless, trouble was already brewing in the ERCS. When emissaries from the PRCA’s contact committee visited the ERCS in 2003, they expressed some “real concerns about a ‘broad-minded’ spirit in the ERCS”. This broad-minded spirit would surface a year later in the controversy over divorce and remarriage that wrecked chaos in the denomination. This broad- minded spirit manifested itself in an eagerness to learn and embrace the doctrine of divorce and remarriage that was taught by other denominations, which doctrine had been repudiated by the two PRCA ministers during their lengthy ministries in the ERCS. Today, the broad-minded spirit is very much alive in FERC. Ministers of different theological stripes are invited to preach there.

Recounting the history of the ERCS, Rev. den Hartog astutely observes that one of the main reasons for apostasy in the ERCS was a broad-minded spirit in her leadership:

 

There were those in the ERCS who in these controversies became convinced that they did not want to continue in the direction presented by men from the PRCA. The direction was considered too narrow, and there arose a desire instead to have closer fellowship with other churches. There was a strong desire on the part of some of the leaders to be more broad minded and open in tolerating different doctrinal teachings in the church that came from several different denominations which came through new members who joined the ERCS over the years.8

A broad-minded spirit always spells the destruction of a faithful denomination, as history proves. Broad-mindedness necessarily implies a toleration of different doctrines, worldviews, and practices in the church. When a church is not narrowly on guard against the wolves that seek to enter the sheepfold, she becomes susceptible to many errors and temptations.

The only remedy for a broad-minded spirit is the narrow-mindedness of Scripture and the narrow-mindedness of the Reformed confessions. In an age which celebrates an open-mindedness to every conceivable false doctrine and immorality, being narrow-minded is not popular. It is scorned and rejected by many. Jesus Himself told us: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-4). Many indeed prefer the broad and comfortable way, but shun the narrow and difficult way of the cross, of the holy Scriptures, and of the Reformed faith.

But Jesus assures us that the narrow way is the way of life and of salvation. That narrow way is the way of walking faithfully in His Word, and rejecting all things contrary to it. That is the way that CERC embraces. We are a narrow- minded church. In the way of the narrow-mindedness of the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions, we remain a faithful Reformed church.

 

1 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1979, 71-2.

2 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1979, 71-2.

3 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1982, 82.

4 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1996, 97-8.

5 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1997, 91.

6 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1996, 151-2.

7 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2003, 93.

8 Arie den Hartog, Lessons from the Beloved Church of Jesus Christ Now Among Us, in the Salt Shakers (Aug. 2014, Issue 27), 22.

 

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 42

Election: The Source of the Church’s Comfort

The doctrine of election is something we Reformed Christians are familiar with. It is the doctrine we confess that speaks about how the Holy God, in His sovereign good pleasure, chooses to set His love on certain individuals based on no merit of their own. (Deut 7:7, Rom 9: 11-13, Eph 1:4, 2 Tim 1:9, John 15:16 etc). However, the Word of God not only speaks of individual election, but of corporate election. The entire church, which is the body of Christ consisting of the elect only, is chosen by God, according to His sovereign good pleasure. Ephesians 1:4 says “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:” In this verse, Apostle Paul is addressing the church at Ephesus. This means that Ephesians 1: 4 can be read as “According as he hath chosen the church ….” This choosing of the church is referred to as corporate election.

Having said all that, why then is election the source of the church’s comfort?

This is because election is the source of the church! It is election that determines the existence, size, location, continuance and membership of the church. According to early reformers John Wycliffe and John Hus, the church is the company of the elect. So, as long as there are the elected ones, the church exists! Would there be a church in Singapore? China? Vietnam? Yes there would, if God has His elected ones there! Would a church continue to grow? Yes it would, if God blesses the church with covenant seed or calls out His people from a heathen world! Would the church have good leaders that look after the flock? Yes it would, since God elects some to special offices and gives some spiritual gifts for the edification of the church! (Eph 4:8-12) All in all, the church is controlled and shaped by its unconditional election in Christ. This doctrine lies at the very heart of a Reformed church. Without God electing individuals to make up His elect church, there is no church at all! This is the very reason why all a heretic has to do is to attack this doctrine to destroy the church.

This truth has implications for the church. This means that all the church has to do is to faithfully preach the gospel so that the elect can come to faith (Rom 10:17, Canons of Dort 3rd and 4th Head Article 17). This means that the church does not have to engage in ‘soul winning’ activities of the many present churches. It means that the church does not have to blunt the sharp edges of the gospel so that more people would join the church. It means that the church has no need to degrade the gospel to some “sales pitch” and beg people to come and believe to increase its membership. It means that there is no need for revival meetings and altar calls, or adding contemporary music into the worship service so as to get people to be more interested. This is of special comfort to the pastor and the leaders of a church. The church does not have to wreck her brain to continually come up with new ideas so that it can grow. Neither would the pastor need to think of the best way to make his speech most engaging or attract potential members with his personality. It is a comfort to know the existence, size location, continuance and membership of the church does not rest on the devices of sinful and depraved men, who through those efforts mentioned above, only cause people to stray even further from the truth.

The doctrine of election, providing tremendous comfort to the church, can be explained in relation to the 5 points of Calvinism. The 5 points of Calvinism consists of the doctrines of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. God has elected His church out of a world of totally depraved sinners.

And since the church is elected in Christ, Christ died for her, and only her! She is the object of God’s love! This is comforting to know because she is separated from the world, righteous before the holy God despite the debt of sins she owed and continues to owe. She is no more friends with the devil, but is reconciled with God and is guaranteed eternal life because Christ’s death covered all her sins. Because she is elected in Christ, she is given grace that cannot be effectively and ultimately resisted by the most obstinate of sinners. God will certainly change the ugliest and vilest of her members into one that is after His own heart, so that the church would one day be ready to be received into glory. And although life on this earth is wearisome and tough, and sometimes full of persecution from the world and the devil, God promises her that nothing can separate her from His love (Rom 8:37-39). God will see to it that the entire church reaches Heaven safely.

This truth is immensely practical for the church. The church consists of sinful, totally depraved creatures who are not yet made perfect on this earth. This means that there are countless times her members step on each other’s toes and offend one another, sometimes to very great extents. Using our physical eyes, it is sometimes very discouraging to see such sins and weaknesses in the church, especially when it seems as though the members of the church are not behaving very differently from the world. However, having this knowledge that Christ died for her despite all these, we obtain great comfort. God still forgives, and thus, it encourages us to learn to forgive one another. Moreover, we have the assurance that God will grant His people grace that would change them to the likeness of Christ in His time. This encourages us to learn to be patient, forgiving and understanding of one another’s weaknesses and to continually strive to keep the unity of the church, especially because we are going to spend eternity with one another.

Besides this, we gain much personal comfort from the doctrine of election because it assures us that our salvation is certain and sure. This is because those who are elected of God are regenerated, then justified, then glorified, according to the golden chain of salvation in Rom 8:29-30. This means that no child of God can be lost and not end up in Heaven. This gives us comfort especially in times when we start to doubt our salvation. There are times when we cry out, like the psalmist, and wonder if God has forgotten to be gracious (Psalm 77:9). Also, there are times when the Christian’s foot almost slips when he looks at the great prosperity of the wicked (Psalms 73:2-3). However, we do well to remember God’s particular goodness and all the blessings He freely gives to His elect. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” (Psalm 73:1). It is promises like these, to God’s elect, that grant them the confidence to face each day with the consciousness and assurance of His great love. Furthermore, because the church is elected, her members are given the new man which thoroughly opposes their sinful nature. As a result, there arises a great spiritual battle within. However, the knowledge of how far short we stand before the holy God does not discourage us. Instead, it cures our spiritual complacency. It helps us remain humble and stay at the foot of the cross, striving more and more to be sanctified so that we may be more and more holy. Knowing that we are preserved to the very end, we become truly humble, reverent, pious and rejoice solely in God. The purpose of this work that God does in conforming us to the image of Christ is so that we may be used for His glory. The doctrine of election makes us spiritually strong and confident Christians, who are assured of our salvation. It is through such people that God builds spiritually strong and godly families, which make up a strong church. All in all, God builds His church for His glory.

In conclusion, the doctrine of election is so comforting for the church. It means that God builds His church! It is His work! None of this work depends on sinful men! That in itself is such a great comfort.

Written by: Nicole Wong | Issue 10