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

Perseverance of the Saints

“And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” John 6:39

This is what the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints or also known as the Preservation of the Saints, the last point in the Five Points of Calvinism speaks of. Those who are elected by God will never lose the salvation given to them nor fall away. So how is this doctrine a comfort to believers?

Preservation of the Saints

God by His grace eternally preserves those whose hearts He has regenerated. In John 10:28 “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Without any condition, our gracious God gives us eternal life! Not only that, our Most Highest God pledges that He will preserve His sheep and nothing can stop God from bringing His people to heaven.

In the Old Testament, God didn’t forsake Israel even when Israel turned their backs on God, sinning against Him countless of times. In the book of Jeremiah, in chapter 32, Israel worshipped idols openly, provoking God to wrath! God called them to repentance again and again but Israel ignored God, the One who had been diligently “rising up early and teaching them”. As a result of Israel’s disobedience and sin, they caused Judah to sin too. But, God who is graciously merciful to His people, promised restoration to Israel and Judah and He will “cause them to dwell safely”. Despite Israel’s and Judah’s sins, God still brings His people back to Him. Why? Because He is their God! And in verse 40, God declares “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” God works in the elect sinners’ hearts that we will always go back to Him. The fear that God puts in our hearts isn’t the kind of fear that causes us to be afraid of Him, but it is the kind of fear that causes us to look to Him in awe and in reverence and acknowledge Him as a merciful God. Also, we know we can come back to Him when we sin to ask for forgiveness. We will not continually sin and fall away but come back to Him to seek forgiveness and repent. (Jeremiah 32:29-40)

Here’s an analogy: Our life is like a rock wall. The rock wall has many different kinds and types of rocks mounted onto the wall. There are rocks which are easy to grab on which represents the prosperity in our lives, while there are rocks which are difficult to grab on represents the tribulations in our lives. When we are holding on to those rocks which are easy to grab, we find that ascending up the wall is easy; we are not tired at all. However, when we are holding on to those rocks which are difficult to grab, we find ourselves struggling to ascend. But whichever rock we hold on to, it helps us to ascend to the top of the wall, which is Heaven. As we mount higher, the climbing gets harder. We are faced with strong winds which try to blow us down, and we start to lose our strength and stamina. The wind blows us hard and our grip starts to slip. This is like our pilgrim journey on Earth. The battle with Satan gets harder each day. At times we find ourselves spiritually down, tired, and at the losing end; we think there is no hope left. However, we are not blown away from the wall; we know we will not fall. Why? Firstly, because we are supported by our Be layer. God is our Be layer! He is always supporting us, making sure that we never fall. Secondly, like the Rope that joins the Be layer to us, Christ death on the cross reconciles us with God. Christ is the Rope! We have the assurance of a sure and steadfast anchor (Hebrews 6:19). What a comfort we have!

We are actually fighting a winning battle! We know we have won because when Christ comes again, God by His great power will defeat Satan once and for all (Genesis 3:15)!

Perseverance of the Saints

On the other hand, although God sovereignly preserves His elected saints, His people are still responsible to live holy and thankful lives.

In 1 John 3:2-3 “Beloved, now are we the sons of GOD, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” As children of God, we ought to ‘walk by faith and live in hope’ – taken from Matthew Henry. Walking by faith means trusting and having the assurance that God will deliver His promises – God will give us grace to press on until the second coming of Christ. Living in hope means believing that when Christ comes again, we will be glorified and be brought back to our Heavenly home. We know that our Lord is holy and pure. God and sin can never dwell together. Therefore, while waiting for Christ to come again, we should strive to lead holy and acceptable lives by using God’s word as the principles of our lives and fleeing from sin and temptation (2 Peter 2:11), thus growing in grace and holiness. In addition, the Bible teaches “…Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16 and Leviticus 11:44) This is what the Lord commands us to do. As regenerated children of God, we ought to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;” (Ephesians 4:22-23). Also, we will be inclined to do so (2 Peter 1:10).

In Psalm 119:33 “Teach me, O Lord, the ways of thy status; and I shall keep in unto the end.” David is certain that when God teaches him His   commandments,   God   will   also give David grace and strength to keep them. Likewise, whether in times of prosperity or in times of tribulation, God will always give us grace to keep His statues. By God’s infinite grace, we are able to persevere!

Applications

After knowing the doctrine of Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints, how should we apply it in our lives? We know that we are preserved by God’s grace and we are only able to persevere by God’s grace too. Every day we are battling with sin. In Matthew 26:41 “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit is indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” We need to constantly look to God in prayer, asking Him for grace to help us say no to sin. Thus, when we pray according to God’s word and seek to do His will (Luke 11:9, Jeremiah 33:3), God delivers us and we see His power and glory and His love for us. This strengthens our faith as we trust on Him more. However, this takes time. We have to continuously study God’s Word to seek His will and pray without ceasing. And God according to His sovereign plan will answer us. It is through prayer that God helps us. Therefore, prayer is apt in a Christian’s life.

Secondly,   by   listening   and   reading the word of God, God preserves His people. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” God’s exhortations, admonitions, encouragements, are all used to keep us from straying. Thus, reading of God’s word is important. In addition, listening to the preaching of God’s word during worship services or through audio sermons is equally important. In John 10:27-28 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Therefore the more we should be diligent in doing daily devotions and keeping the Sabbath day holy.

Relation to the other four points

God preserves the elect because He, by His sovereign will, without any condition chose them (The Doctrine of Unconditional Election). God preserves those whom He has chosen because Christ has died for them (The Doctrine of Limited atonement). God preserves them by giving them an efficacious and irresistible grace so that nothing at all can separate them from having eternal salvation (The doctrine of Irresistible grace). They need this grace because without it, they are unable to do any good at all, much less able to obtain everlasting life because they are totally depraved (The Doctrine of Total Depravity). May we guard this truth dearly in our hearts.

Conclusion

Press on! We have this peace and comfort which assures us that by God’s grace, He will preserve us and we will be able to persevere in whatever circumstances we face (Philippians 4:7). Psalm 18:49 “Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.” All praise and glory go to our one and only sovereign Lord! Soli Deo Gloria!

Written by: Lim Tze Yan | Issue 7

Irresistible Grace

Does our salvation depend on god’s grace or on the sinner’s free will? Can god’s will to save His elect be made void eventually? Can it happen that god’s grace can actually be resisted?

These are essential questions, and in this article we shall try to explore these issues.

The doctrine of Irresistible Grace (or efficacious grace) is the fourth point of the Reformed faith which teaches that the saving grace of God cannot be resisted. When God in eternity elects a man, that man is saved. And nothing, not even the devil, can prevent his salvation. However, it is important to note that the crux of the issue is when we say that God’s grace is irresistible, we are also acknowledging that God is also indeed irresistible. God is sovereign, and in essence, His will cannot be made void. “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and none can stay his hand.” (Daniel 4:35)

Saved by grace alone

When a sinner is being saved, God calls him first through the preaching of the gospel which is an external calling. However, for the sinner to be saved, there needs to be an internal call where through the Holy Spirit, regeneration happens in the innermost recesses of the man. God opens and softens his heart and changes him from a dead, unbelieving sinner to a living and believing adopted child of God. It is only the power of grace that can cause this radical change in him.

Salvation is by grace alone! There is no denying this as the Scriptures clearly teach this. In Ephesians 2:8, the apostle Paul teaches,   “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” This means that our works make no contribution whatsoever to our salvation. Even what we consider as our best works do not merit our salvation because we are already dead in sin and nothing we do can save ourselves. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) Moreover, in Titus 3:5, Paul declares, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Thus, without a doubt, we can see that the grace of God is indeed the force and energy that converts the sinner’s heart and makes it willing to repent and believe in the Saviour.

An Irresistible Grace

The grace that enters our soul and converts our stubborn will cannot be resisted. There is nothing that can stop God’s will and plan to save a sinner. Because God is an irresistible and sovereign God, thus His saving grace is irresistible and sovereign too. Even the most obstinate sinner cannot resist this grace. When God chooses to give saving grace to a sinner, it is by His almighty power that it will triumph in the heart of the sinner. He will definitely be saved. Moreover, when grace is given by God to the sinner, it is already effective before man can act. Hence, man cannot even act to resist it. This grace is so effective that it will work faith in the sinner to draw the sinner to Christ. There are many verses in the scripture which teach the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. God does not merely try to save sinners, depending on how they respond; no, He saves sinners sovereignly, efficaciously and irresistibly.

John 6:37 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” In this text, the “shall come” shows indication that the sinner will definitely come to Christ when God has chosen him. This shows that when God has chosen him, he cannot resist God’s will and the power of God is an irresistible force.

Romans 8:29-30 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” This text shows that once a sinner has been elected in God’s eternal counsel, he will surely proceed to being justified and glorified. Nothing can stand in the way of the sinner obtaining salvation and the final glorification of those being called.

There is no doubt that this doctrine of Irresistible Grace is the teaching of the Scriptures. To deny this doctrine is akin to calling our God an ineffective, weak and powerless God.

Practical Importance

For reformed Christians like us, it is important that we wholeheartedly believe in this doctrine. Our assurance of salvation depends on the truth of Irresistible Grace. If indeed we can resist and lose grace, how can we be assured that our salvation is certain? We would then be living in constant doubt and fear if we will ever be saved. The thought of it is indeed frightening and depressing!

In addition, our belief in Irresistible Grace parallels our confession that salvation is by grace alone, and not by a mixture of works and grace. We know the latter is the false doctrine and hence we need to hold tightly onto this doctrine of Irresistible Grace.

Another point we can note is that by believing in Irresistible Grace, we can then pray for the conversion and repentance of ourselves and our loved ones. If grace is not irresistible, we do not have the comfort of knowing that a backsliding Christian may one day turn back to God. Our prayers for his conversion and repentance would then be in vain because grace can be resisted and that makes God powerless to do anything. Hence, through the doctrine of Irresistible Grace, we can have the blessed assurance that wayward or straying members of the church can indeed come back to God, through His grace.

Relation to the other points of TULIP

Total depravity teaches that man is totally dead in sin and because of this, we are unworthy of salvation. Therefore, our salvation must be by grace alone. Since man has no good in him, and no ability to do good, this grace must be irresistible.

Unconditional election is the basis for Irresistible Grace. Since election does not occur due to any merit of ours, therefore, our salvation is not by our works. This works parallel to Irresistible Grace.

The teaching of Irresistible Grace preserves the truth of limited atonement. If free will and resistible grace holds true, then Christ would have died in vain. Although Christ died for the man and wants to save him, He cannot because the grace was resisted and the sinner is unwilling to be converted.

Irresistible Grace also guarantees the preservation of saints. Since we cannot resist grace, we also cannot prevent God from ensuring that we are saved till the very end. Those who are brought to salvation by the Irresistible Grace of God are by the power of that same grace preserved in salvation.

Written by: Jemima Lee

Free Willism: Another Gospel

There is one gospel.

This gospel is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ by grace alone. “Grace alone” means that God saves sinners. God saves sinners according   to His own attitude of favour (grace) toward those sinners whom He saves. God saves sinners by His own quickening power (grace) in the hearts of those whom He wills to save. “Grace alone” means that grace is without supplement, condition, or assistance.

“Grace alone” means that the salvation   of   sinners   does   not depend on, is not due to, and is not accomplished by the worth, will, or work of those sinners. Not at all! Not any aspect of salvation! “Grace alone” means that man does not save himself.

This is why the gospel is good news. This is why the gospel exalts God. This is also why the gospel is offensive to men.

Offended by grace – free, sovereign, particular, almighty grace –   men change God’s gospel, creating other gospels more to their liking. There are many of them. All have one thing in common: they are gospels of man.

One such gospel is free-willism. This is the message that God’s salvation of the sinner depends upon the activity of the sinner’s will. The sinner’s will is free, that is, it is able to choose for God as well as against Him. By the free, sovereign activity of his will, the sinner makes God’s willingness (grace) to save him effectual.

By this act of his will, the sinner allows God’s quickening power (grace) to have its way with him. The salvation proclaimed by the gospel of free- willism is man’s salvation of himself by choosing God, opening up his heart to let Jesus in, making a decision for Christ, accepting the offer made well-meaningly to all, and fulfilling the prerequisite for regeneration and conversion.

This gospel is wildly popular.

But it is “another” gospel. It is “another gospel” precisely   in the sense in which the apostle speaks of “another gospel” in Galatians 1:6-9. It is a gospel that adds a work of man to the work of God in Jesus Christ. It is a message that makes the grace of God dependent upon some act of man. It is a message that calls the sinner to cooperate with God in Christ. It is a message that rejects “grace alone” for “grace and” (or, “grace but”). The other gospel in the Galatian churches was “grace and human circumcision” Free-willism is the gospel of “grace and human will.”

As “another gospel,” free-willism is not an acceptable, though somewhat deficient, version of the gospel, but a perversion of the one gospel. It is not an encouraging, though undeveloped, beginning of the gospel, out of which the full gospel can be expected to grow, but an enemy of the one gospel that nurses a murderous hatred toward the one gospel and those who confess it.

Free-willism is no gospel. It is not the good news that the gracious God conceived in eternity and revealed in time in Jesus Christ. It is not the faith of the Bible. Free-willism sets forth another way of salvation than the way of faith in Christ: the decision decision for Christ by the dead sinner.

It proclaims   another saviour than Jesus Christ:   the   willing sinner. It worships another god than the God of the one gospel: a nice, well- intentioned, loving, helpless, bumbling deity, who is perfectly, willing to share the glory of salvation with every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Free-willism denies the cross.   The cross redeemed no one. The cross accomplished nothing.   The cross was not substitutionary satisfaction of the justice of God regarding those for whom Christ died. Many for whom Christ died perish in hell. Those who are saved by the cross are saved, not because of their decision for Christ, their acceptance of the well-meant offer, their act of believing.

This condemnation of free-willism is not the private opinion of the author of this article. Much less is it the eccentric stand of the denomination of churches in which he is a minister.

That free-willism is another gospel, which is no gospel, is the official confession, and urgent testimony, of the Reformed churches in the world. They have voiced   their confession, once for all time, in the Canons of Dordt. Free-willism, which at that time took form in the heresy of Arminianism, the Reformed churches have damned as “the Pelagian error out of hell.” Many Reformed   churches require all their officebearers to subscribe this creed. Subscription explicitly expresses that the one subscribing agrees with Dordt’s condemnation of free-willism. It binds the subscriber “to refute and contradict” this false teaching and “to exert (himself) in keeping the Church free from such errors.”

Presbyterians who affirm commitment to the system of doctrine set down in the Westminster Standards likewise express condemnation of free-willism as another gospel. For the system of doctrine set down in the confession and catechisms of Westminster is the gospel of salvation by grace alone, to which free-willism is diametrically opposite. God judges free-willism as another gospel in His inspired, clear, and   authoritative Word. He does this in every passage that teaches salvation by His own gracious will and work. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that (faith) not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9).

God exposes free-willism by name as one of the leading forms of the false gospel that always threatens to supplant the one gospel: “So then it (salvation) is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Salvation is not of man’s will. Man’s will and willing have nothing to do with the saving of elect sinners. They are excluded as much as is man’s running, or working. But the teaching that salvation is at least partly’ a matter of man’s will is as much an enemy of the gospel of salvation by God’s mercy alone as is the teaching that   man’s own works cooperate in salvation. The one gospel is the message that salvation is alone of God who shows mercy.

Against the one gospel stand two other gospels, which are no gospels: salvation by man’s willing, and salvation   by man’s working. Both agree that man saves himself, at least in part.

To teach that salvation depends on, or is due to, or is made effectual by man’s choosing Christ, or opening his heart   to let Christ come   in, or accepting an offer made well- meaninly to all, or fulfilling a condition in order then to be born against and converted is the lie. It is not merely a lie. It is the lie. In comparison with this gross blasphemy, this monstrous robbery of God of His glory in the work of salvation, women in church office is a small sin. Free-willism is a real threat today to the true churches of Christ. Free-willism has   always been the heart of the false church that is Rome. Luther taught us this in his On the Bondage of the Will. Now free-willism has infiltrated and corrupted much of Protestantism. Many of the self-styled “evangelical” churches and preachers are free- willist.   These   are   the   churches and churchmen represented by the magazine Christianity Today. These are the preachers who dominate religious radio and television. This is the reason why Billy Graham and his associates cooperate with the Roman Catholic clergy in their “evangelical” endeavours. This is the reason why prominent Protestant “evangelicals” are   defecting   to   Rome.   This is the reason for the recent union of “evangelicals”‘ and Roman Catholics. The “evangelicals” have the same gospel that Rome has: man   saves man by his free-will.

The threat is graver. There are toleration of, compromise with, and even approval of free-willism within the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Men who profess Calvinism (a mere identifying label of the gospel that God saves men-elect men-by sovereign grace alone) and who are esteemed as Calvinists speak well of, and defend, free-willism as gospel. Arminian free- willism is not the best and highest form of the gospel. It definitely leaves something to be desired. It could be wished that it would shake off certain of its weaknesses. But it is, for .a11 this, gospel. It is the one gospel. James I. Packer, who, though not ecclesiastically   Presbyterian or Reformed himself, nevertheless has tremendous influence on Presbyterian and Reformed churches and Christians, compromises with Wesleyian free-willism in an article that is bearing bitter fruit in Reformed circles. Packer is intent on defending the gospel preached by John Wesley- Wesley, who blasphemed God’s eternal predestination (source and foundation of the gospel of grace) as few enemies of grace have ever done.

Packer speaks of “evangelical Arminianism.” He claims that “Wesley’s teaching included so much Reformation truth.” Packer diagnoses Arminianism, that is, the gospel of free-willism, as “an impoverishing reaction from it (Reformation teaching), involving a partial denial of the biblical faith in the God of all grace. The lapse is less serious in some cases …” “Calvinists should therefore approach professed Arminians as brother evangelicals trapped in weakening theological mistakes, and seek to help them to a better mind” (“Arminianisms,” in The Manifold Grace of God, Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference, 1968).

Free-willism is not “another gospel.” The condemnation of Dordt does not apply to this brand of free-willism. The Presbyterian theologian John M. Frame tolerates, if he does not approve, free-willism in his recent work on C. Van Til: There is a great gulf between Christianity and unbelief…. Is there also a “great gulf” between Reformed Christians and non-Reformed Christians . . . ? Arminianism . . . (is) erroneous in some measure, I would say, but (it has) much in common with the Reformed faith at the deepest level. Thus, we should not criticize (it) in the same terms that we use to criticize unbelief…. I am confident that Reformed believers are, in general, of one heart with their Arminian brothers and sisters (Cornelius Van Til, P&R, 1995, pp.   211,212). Free-willism is not “another gospel.” Dordt was wrong in its condemnation of free- willism.

The acceptance of free-willism within the nominally Reformed   churches is evident from the murderous opposition on the part of these churches to churches and ministers that condemn free-willism as soul- destroying, God-dishonouring heresy. The “Conclusion” of the Canons of Dordt indicates the enraged slander of the Reformed churches by the free- willists at the time of the synod of Dordt. Today, all these slanders are wrapped up in one epithet, and hurled at the churches that are faithful to Dordt: “hyper-calvinist!”

There are ministers who are being killed all the day long by nominal Calvinists for no other offense than that they preach the gospel of grace in such a way that they expose and condemn free-willism as the lie.

As might be expected from the expressions of tolerance for free- willism and from the rage at those who dare to condemn free-willism, the error itself now corrupts the confession and preaching of many Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Wherever the doctrine of a love of God in the gospel for all me and a desire of God in the preaching of the gospel   to save all men is accepted and defended, there free-willism has established its stronghold. In time, the entire system of the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace alone will be systematically destroyed.

And the end will be sheer theological modernism.

In his Crossed Fingers, reviewed in this issue of the Standard Bearer, Gary North demonstrates that the apostasy of the Northern Presbyterian Church began   with the   toleration of Arminianism. The history of the Christian Reformed Church provides the same terrible lesson. Herman Bavinck gave the warning long ago when he wrote, “Remonstrantism (Arminianism) paved the way for rationalism” (The Doctrine of God, Eerdmans, 1951, p 366). Reformed churches must preach and teach salvation by sovereign grace alone. As they do, they must condemn free- willism.

Reformed Christians must confess salvation by sovereign grace alone. As they do, they must condemn free- willism.

This stand will preserve us, as Reformed churches and as Reformed Christians, in the dangerous times in which we live and are called to glorify God by a sound confession and an obedient walk. It will keep us as churches out of ungodly, destructive ecumenical alliances. We have no unity with free-willist Rome.

We have no unity with free-willist “evangelical” Protestantism. We have no unity with compromising Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

It will keep the Reformed Christian out of such a movement as Promise Keepers.   The Reformed   Christian may not subject himself to free- willist preaching. He may not worship with those who claim to have saved themselves by their free will. He may not pretend spiritual oneness with those who hold “another gospel.” He may not promise to help break down the denominational barriers between Calvinist and Arminian churches. God forbid!

It will keep the Reformed Christian out of interdenominational Bible studies. How can a Reformed Christian tolerate study of the Word of God that professes to be neutral and non-committal regarding the doctrinal difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, that is, between the one gospel and “another gospel”? How can a Reformed Christian participate in a Bible study that gives equal time to free-willism and sovereign grace? How can a Reformed Christian be involved in a Bible study that does not defend salvation by grace alone and condemn free-willism?

The good and right stand for grace and against free-will must govern our church membership, our Iively church membership.

Where is sovereign grace faithfully and uncompromisingly preached and defended, with an accompanying condemnation of free-will?

There, and nowhere else, every child of God belongs, come what may.

There, and nowhere else, I belong, with my family, come what may.

For there, and nowhere else, is the one gospel.

Written by: Prof. David Engelsma | Issue 7