Reformed Polemics for the Reformed Believer (II)

Polemics is the church’s warfare on behalf of the truth and against the lies that Satan raises against the truth. Polemics is a Reformed calling. This calling is explicitly commanded in Scripture: contend earnestly for the faith. In carrying out this calling the church is faithful to her king, Jesus Christ, who is a warring Christ. He came to crush the head of the Serpent and all his seed. He speaks of his own resolve to carry on polemics and his purpose with those polemics in Psalm 101:8, “I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the LORD”. Polemics by the church is the work of Christ who carries on this warfare in and through His church. Since Christ is a warring Christ, the church must be a warring church.

The calling of the whole church, of her officebearers, especially of the professors of theology, and of every believer, is to do polemics. Doing polemics the church earnestly contends for the truth of the Word of God against all heresies that militate against it. The word of God curses the deceitful refusal of those who bear the sword of the Lord, His Word, to wield it in spiritual warfare against God’s enemies, lies, false doctrine, and heresy. This behaviour is akin to the disgraceful behaviour of the soldier who is armed for warfare, but stays on the back lines and never engages the enemy. Doing polemics is also contrasted with the deceitful practice of those who cover their refusal to do polemics with a vain show of polemics by means of many words and definitions about polemics without ever actually engaging in this hard, painful, and bloody spiritual warfare. The difference between merely talking about polemics and the practice of polemics is as big a difference as merely writing about warfare at the military academy at West Point and actually engaging in warfare on the beaches of Normandy. The Reformed believer   may   not   deceitfully   keep back his sword in the day of battle, but neither must he merely talk about polemics without actually engaging in the practice. Reformed polemics is not only a Reformed calling, but a Reformed practice.

This necessary practice of polemics involves especially confronting the precise error that threatens the truth of the gospel at that moment. Martin Luther, the greatest polemicist since the Apostle Paul, wrote about this reality: “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point”. That should be the motto of every Reformed believer in his polemics. The believer practices precision in spiritual warfare. That precision serves not only the destruction of the precise form of the lie that threatens the church, but also serves the development of that specific doctrine under threat so that by means of that precise polemics the truth is brought to a higher state of development. Such controversy always takes places under the sovereign direction of the Lord who will not only have the lie defeated but the faith of the church established more and more.

The practice of polemics practically, then, involves naming names. Just as it impossible to wage war in the world without defining and naming the enemy against which some country is opposed, it is equally impossible to engage in the practice of Reformed polemics without naming names. The Reformed believer in his polemics is not only opposed to false ideas and heresies, but also to those that teach and promote them. The purpose of naming names is so that others may be warned and that those who teach those false doctrines may have opportunity to repent of their errors, or at the very least that they may be warned that they oppose the truth of Christ and the Reformed believer freed from their blood in the day of Christ. Luther explained his great zeal for polemics as in part motivated by this consideration: “I will do my part faithfully so that none may be able to cast on me the blame for their lack of faith and their ignorance of the truth when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ”.

Since in warfare it is necessary to know one’s enemy it is necessary that the Reformed church and believer in the practice of polemics also know their enemy. This knowledge of the enemy is not merely a general recognition and acknowledgement that they fight with Satan, but also includes knowledge of the tactics of this enemy. One word more than any other describes his tactics: deception.

Belonging to his deception involves the fact that Satan rarely comes against the church nakedly revealed as the Great Red Dragon. He came in the garden as a subtle serpent. He came to Jesus under the form of his dear disciple Peter who casually took him aside to whisper in his ear that he need not go to the cross. He comes yet today under the form of articulate, winsome, learned, and popular men. This reality is the point of the Apostle in his warning to the church in Ephesians 6:12. Speaking of the “wiles of the devil”, he explains, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. The church in her warfare fights against flesh and blood. The errors, lies, and false doctrines come through the instrumentality of men. The faces of men are the faces of the threat. This can lead the church to believe that she fights only with men. But the church must ever keep in mind that standing behind those men and motivating them is Satan, the inveterate enemy of God, Christ, the church, and all that is good. Whether those men serve Satan wittingly or unwittingly makes no difference as to the fact of the church’s warfare with Satan. In all her warfare she in fact wars not with flesh and blood—men—but “against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. The real enemy always is the spiritual forces of the Prince of Darkness grim.

Martin Luther constantly reminded his readers of this fact. After he badly abused the Swiss Reformers Oecolampadius and Zwingli in the controversy over the Lord’s Supper, in the course of which he accused them of everything from villainy to blasphemy, he wrote, “God knows, with these crude illustrations I do not wish to offend Zwingli, and   especially   not   Oecolampadius, to whom God has given many gifts beyond so many others. Indeed, I am heartily sorry for the man. I aim such words not at them but only upon the arrogant, mocking devil who has so deceived and mislead them”. He added later, “This spirit is not good, and means no good through these fanatics, although I think the preachers against whom I write have no malice in mind.

But dear God, they are not their own masters; the spirit has blinded and taken them prisoner. Therefore they are not to be trusted”. He was alive to the reality that he did not fight with flesh and blood, but spiritual wickedness in high places and that his real opponent was always Satan’s minions, sometimes Luther felt Satan personally. The reason that the church must recognize the enemy as being principally Satan is so that the church never attempts to fight that enemy in her own strength, but that she “take… the whole armour of God” (Eph. 6:13).

Involved in the practice of polemics is church’s resolve to defeat the enemy by spiritual means: prayer, faith, the word of God, and the rest of the spiritual weapons   with   which   Christ   arms his church. She is forbidden in her spiritual warfare to use carnal weapons of man’s philosophy, man’s rhetoric, or man’s tactics. The word of God is her weapon. By means of the careful study, explanation, and application of that word to the controversy the lie is defeated on the field of battle.

Besides the recognition that Satan comes behind men, the church must also recognize that the men that Satan uses are deceptive with all the arts of the prince of deception. So speaking of false teachers Paul warns the church of “the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). The purpose of false teachers is to deceive and to entrap the believer and church in the lie. The methods that they use are “sleight” and “cunning craftiness”. The word “sleight” refers to playing cards or dice. The false teacher is a like a card shark who is adept at fooling his audience with his tricks. In this he is cunning and crafty. He plays hocus pocus with the word and truth of God. By this means he entraps with the lie.

In the same passage the Apostle also speaks of the defence of the church against such cunning craftiness, “speaking the truth in love”. Whatever else speaking the truth in love means, it means principally this, that all the church’s speaking of the truth proceed out of a love for that truth and be spoken with the love of that truth in mind. The goal of the church in her polemics may not merely be formal victory in an argument, to overcome an opponent, or to show the logic of her arguments in contrast to the fallacies of the opponent, but the goal must be the victory of the truth. The goal must be that the truth stands out clearly and victoriously over the lie in order that the truth be esteemed and glorified as the word of God. Belonging to this is especially the church’s zeal for the glory and name of God and Jesus Christ. The sine qua non, then, of the church’s polemics is her love of the truth. That love of the truth is the esteem of the truth as precious and dear to her. It is also her firm resolve to keep communion with that truth as all costs, including the loss of her earthly friendships, standing, and ultimately of her own earthly life. In this love for the truth she speaks it, confessing with her mouth what is in her heart. Through this speaking the love of the truth is also strengthened by her continual acquaintance with the truth through the pure preaching of that truth. Loving the truth as precious and dear she defends it with all her might. Loving the truth, she hates the lie and wills its defeat.

Adding to the deceptiveness of the false teachers is that as Satan’s ministers they are able to transform themselves in ministers of Christ. Scripture speaks of this reality in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works”. They do not come telling the church that they are speaking a lie, but they proclaim that they are speaking the truth, that they are only interested in the holiness of the church, or that they are jealous for the purity of Christ’s bride. Belonging to this aspect of the deceptiveness of the false teacher is the fact that the false teacher is almost always one of the most pleasant and likeable person the believer will ever meet. All of this serves the purpose to disarm the believer and to deceive the church.

Further, the church may not be ignorant of the object of Satan in his warfare. This object is summarized admirably by the Belgic Confession in Article 12, “The devils and evil spirits are so depraved that they are enemies of God and every good thing, to the utmost of their power, as murderers, watching to ruin the church and every member thereof, and by their wicked stratagems   to   destroy   all”.   Satan’s object is nothing less than the total destruction of God’s church. In short the warfare of the church is total war. This warfare cannot be waged by half- measures, or half-heartedly, but requires an equal determination on the part of the church not merely to defeat the lie, but to destroy it. It is this for which the Lord taught the church to pray in the second petition of the Lord’s prayer according to the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 48, “Destroy the works of the devil and all violence which would exalt itself against thee; and also, all wicked counsels devised against thy holy Word”. Praying for that, she must be zealous in that purpose and work of Christ and do polemics wherever the battle rages.

To do polemics requires that the Reformed believer be engaged. He must first all be engaged in the battle with sin in his own heart and life. The fervent prayer of the believer who will do polemics in the church must daily be what the Heidelberg Catechism teaches in Lord’s Day 52, “do thou therefore preserve and strengthen us by the power of thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare, but constantly and strenuously may resist our foes, till at last we obtain a complete victory”. Daily the believer must put off the old man and put on the new man, a kind of personal polemics.

Second, the believer must be engaged in the church. This involves his knowledge of the issues that currently face the church, especially at the broader assemblies. When the agendas for the assemblies come out, then it is perfectly proper and good for believers in the pew to ask for them in order know what is on the agendas, to discuss the agendas, and to follow the deliberations of the items on the agendas on the floor of the assemblies. The agendas are not private documents, but public as are the discussions on the floor of the church meetings that follow from them. The broader assemblies must encourage this engagement by the believer by treating as little in closed session as possible and only where absolutely necessary. The believer has the right and the duty in his capacity in the office of believer to know and to follow these developments in the church. One example of this engagement of the believer in the happenings at the church assemblies is found regularly on the pages of the Standard Bearer magazine where by long standing precedent the editor of that magazine previews for the people of God the content of that year’s synodical agenda. Another example is that many societies in the churches have the practice of discussing the agendas of upcoming classical or synodical meetings. When the acts and announcements of the decisions of the assemblies are distributed, then, the engaged believer reads this carefully and judges it spiritually according to the word of God. All this belongs to the necessary engagement of the believer in the life and struggles of the church of God.

Third, this engagement of the believer extends to the believer’s knowledge of the current issues that characterize the broader church world in which the Reformed believer finds himself. More than likely one or more of these issues will also confront his church sooner or later. It has to be one the most naïve and dangerous responses to controversy in the broader church world to think or say that this is not a threat to us. Such a response almost guarantees that the church will face that exact threat in some form if for no other reason than her near suicidal lack of preparation and engagement with that issue.

Such an engaged believer is the believer that will also be prepared spiritually and intellectually to engage in polemics. Churches full of such believers will also be polemical churches engaged actively in the warfare of Christ their king. Being engaged they will not only talk about polemics, but do it for the glory God and the defence of the truth they love.

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 48

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Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (VI)

We answer the question, “Are unbelievers   in   God’s   image?”   with a firm negative! After five articles in which we have treated this issue both biblically and theologically, we now come to the Reformed confessions, first, our Three Forms of Unity and, second, the Westminster Standards. In the next instalment, we shall consider other Reformed creeds.

Three Forms of Unity

The first of the Three Forms of Unity historically is the Belgic Confession (1561). Article 14 defines the imago dei in terms of moral and spiritual qualities, and treats it in connection with man’s creation and the Fall:

We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after His own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will, agreeably to the will of God. But being in honour, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he hath lost all his excellent gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not, where St. John calleth men darkness.

Two years later our Heidelberg Catechism (1563) was written. It defines the divine image in terms of righteousness, holiness and the knowledge of God, and teaches that man became “wicked and perverse” through the Fall (cf. Q. & A. 7):

Q. 6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?

A. By no means; but God created man good, and after His own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him.

The only other reference to the imago in the first two of the Three Forms of Unity is the Heidelberg Catechism’s later reference to it as the image of Christ, in connection with sanctification and good works:

Q. 86. Since then we are delivered from our misery merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?

A. Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image; that so we may testify by the whole of our conduct our gratitude to God for His blessings, and that He may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith by the fruits thereof; and that by our godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.

Finally, we come to the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619). This creed also defines the divine likeness in terms of the familiar trio, which were lost at the Fall: knowledge, righteousness and holiness. It does so in terms of man’s “faculties”: his “understanding,” “heart and will,” and “affections,” which, together with his body, constitute the “whole man.”

Man   was   originally   formed after the image of God. His understanding     was     adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy. But,   revolting   from   God   by the instigation of the devil and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts, and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections (III/ IV:1).

Immediately after this, the Canons state, “Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring” (III/ IV:2). Fallen mankind has children in its own corrupt image and not in the divine likeness!

A later article in the Canons of Dordt, reflecting on the teaching regarding the imago dei above, speaks of it in terms of “spiritual gifts,” “good qualities” and “virtues”:

[The Synod rejects the errors of those] Who teach that the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall (III/IV:R:2).

To conclude, there is not a word in our Three Forms of Unity about the alleged “broader sense” of the image of God, which defines it, for example, in terms of man’s rationality or continued existence after death, though man’s rationality and possession of a soul is, of course, part of his humanity. Moreover, everything in our official creeds fits perfectly with our teaching regarding the divine likeness.

Westminster Standards

Moving   from   these   continental European Reformed creeds, we come to the Westminster Standards (1646-1647) produced by British Presbyterianism. All three of these documents speak of the imago dei in connection with man’s creation, and as consisting in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, explicitly citing in their footnotes the two classic proof texts: Ephesians 4:24 (“And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”) and Colossians 3:10 (“And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him”).

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge,   righteousness,   and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it: and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures (Westminster Confession 4:2).

Q. How did God create man?

A. After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man out of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 17).

Q. How did God create man?

A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 10).

The remaining two references to the divine likeness in the Westminster Standards speak of it in connection with the believer’s sanctification (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 75; Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 35), as does Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 86, quoted earlier.

In short, all three documents in the Westminster Standards (the Westminster Confession, the Westminster Larger Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism) define and explain the image of God in the same way as the Three Forms of Unity. Nothing that they teach conflicts with our view that unbelievers are not in God’s image. Everything they say sweetly accords with our doctrine that only those men, women and children who are in covenant communion with God in Jesus Christ are His likeness, image and glory!

Next time, we shall turn to other Reformed creeds on the imago dei, DV.

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 48

Reformed Polemics for the Reformed Believer (I)

Polemics is the calling of the Reformed believer. The English word polemics comes from the Greek word poleméw, which means to wage war. That word describes what is meant in the church by polemics. Polemics is the church’s warfare   waged   for   the   truth   over against the lie in which war the lie is defeated and the truth is victorious. In this warfare the lie is exposed as lie and refuted with the word of God. In this warfare the church contends earnestly for the truth.

This spiritual warfare of the church is not the church’s warfare first of all, but Christ’s. Christ is a warring Christ. This is the revelation of the exalted Christ in Revelation 19:11, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war”. Such also is the revelation of the stirring vision of Christ in Isaiah 63:1-3, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak   in   righteousness,   mighty   to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment”. Christ himself said about his own work in the world in Matthew 10:34, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”. This warfare of Christ was carried on in the Old Testament through His church. He personally came in the incarnation to wage this warfare and in prosecuting this war suffered on the cross in order to crush the head of the Serpent and to destroy Satan, sin, death, hell, and the grave for His people. He continues this war after His ascension through His church.

The church must be a warring church because Christ is a warring Christ. Christ is not at peace with Satan, but came to destroy all the works of the devil.

Scripture everywhere demands this activity of the church, but nowhere more plainly or emphatically than in Jude 1:3: “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints”. Here the Holy Ghost binds on the church the calling to oppose the heresies and false doctrines that aim to corrupt the pure faith of the church. She is called to oppose those false doctrines with all the strength that she can muster and at all times in order to keep the faith pure and undefiled.

Polemics is a special application of the antithesis. In Genesis 3:15, God promised to put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. This hatred and warfare between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman in the sphere of doctrine is polemics. Polemics is directed especially against false and deceptive doctrines and heresies directed by Satan against the truth. Satan on his part introduces lies, false doctrines, and wicked thinking into the church. The church on her part is called to expose and refute these lies, false doctrines, and wicked thinking.

The reality of the devil’s relentless attacks upon the truth demands polemics by the church. In one of his fullest treatments of the subject of polemics in, That These Words of Christ, “This is My BodyStill Stand Firm Against The Fanatics, Martin Luther gives a compelling survey of Satan’s efforts throughout history to destroy the truth of Scripture and Scripture itself as the source of all truth. He concludes with this observation, “He [the Devil] must be an adversary and cause misfortune; he cannot do otherwise. Moreover he is the prince and god of this world, so that he has sufficient power to so. Since he is able and determined to do all this, we should not think that we will have peace from him. He takes no vacation and he does not sleep. Choose, then, whether you would rather wrestle with the devil or else belong to him. If you refuse to be his, then grab him by the hair! He won’t fail you but will create such dissension and factions over Scripture that you will not know where Scripture, faith, Christ and you yourself stand.”1 Here Luther makes plain first of all that warfare is an abiding reality for the church. While in this earth she must be the church militant for the simple reason that she is constantly attacked by Satan. He also makes plain that because of this activity of Satan there are two choices for the church: she can contend with him or belong to him. That makes sharp the necessity of polemics. The church that will not engage in polemics loses the truth and becomes the habitation of Satan.

The activity of polemics by the church is the manifestation of her love for Christ and God. Marin Luther, perhaps the greatest polemicist that has lived since the apostles, wrote concerning this reality of polemics when he was sharply criticized for his polemics. He mentions the criticism of his opponents: “We begin at the point where they write, produce books, and admonish that these subjects ought not be the occasion for rending Christian unity, love, and peace. It is a minor matter, say they, and an insignificant quarrel, for the sake of which Christian love should not be obstructed. They chide us for being so stubborn and obstinate about it and creating disunity”. To this Luther responded, “No, dear sirs, none of this peace and unity for me! If I were to strangle someone’s father, mother, wife and child, and try to choke him too, and then say, “Keep the peace, dear friend, we wish to love one another; the matter is not so important that we should be divided over it!”…Thus the fanatics strangle Christ my Lord, and God the Father in his words, and my mother the church, too, along with my brethren. Moreover, they would have me dead too, and they would say I should be at peace, for they would like to cultivate love in their relations with me”.2 Here Luther makes the issue of polemics as an act of love for Christ stark. An attack on the truth is an attack on the family of the believer inasmuch as the false teacher attacks the believer’s Father and mother and brethren. It would be a thing incredible if someone would attack a man’s family and he would not defend his family. But this is exactly the kind of wicked counsel that many give with regard to the defence of the truth. Luther’s analogy exposes the total lack of love for God, Christ, the church, and the truth apparent in the attitude of those that will not contend earnestly for the faith. Luther said about just such a man, Erasmus, “He was far from the knowledge of grace, since in all his writings he is not concerned for the cross, but for peace”.

The activity of polemics serves several purposes in the history of Christ’s kingdom. First, polemics exposes false doctrines and the false teachers. They come in as angels of light, as wolves in sheep’s clothing, and as caretakers seemingly concerned for the sheep. These masks must be torn off to reveal the devil, wolves, and hireling hiding beneath. Second, polemics delivers Christ’s sheep from those false doctrines and delivers them into the light and liberty of the truth. The sheep are scattered and oppressed by these false teachers and must be gathered again not only with a positive presentation of the truth, but also by a refutation of the errors holding them captive. Paul wrote about this function of polemics in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to obedience to Christ”. Here the scripture makes plain that only in the way of tearing down Satan’s strongholds of false doctrine are thoughts also brought into subjection to Christ and the truth. Third, polemics serves the development of the truth. The truth of God once delivered to the saints does not develop ordinarily in the ivory tower of the theologian isolated from the day to day struggles of the church of Christ in the world, but the truth develops in controversy. The history of the church gives abundant evidence of this truth. It was in confrontation with those that denied Christ’s divinity that the church in the first three centuries of the New Testament developed the doctrine that Christ is true Man and true God. It was in Augustine’s confrontation with Pelagius that the doctrines of grace were developed. At the time of the Reformation Luther was pushed by his Roman Catholic opponents to take positions that he was not inclined to take. For instance, in his confrontation with Roman Catholic theologian John Eck, Luther saw that the church is the company of the predestinated, and aligned himself with the much maligned John Hus who had been burned at the stake for that position by the Council of Constance prior to the Reformation. The development of the truth through controversy is not only a principle established by history, but scripture reveals this as one of the purposes of heresy in 1 Corinthians 11:19, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you”. Here the apostle says that heresies are necessary in order that the elect of God be made manifest. The heresies are of Satan, but as all evil, serve the good purpose of the salvation of the elect by making them manifest, especially in their rejection of those heresies, the development of their faith, and by the exposure of those that are unbelievers through their adoption of those heresies.

The whole church and not merely one section or group in the church is called to doctrinal warfare. It is the calling of every officebearer according to the Reformed Formula of Subscription: “We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine…but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these, and to exert ourselves in keeping the church free from such errors”. It is especially the calling of professors of theology according to the Church Order, Article 18: “The office of professors of theology is to expound the Holy Scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors”. Professors especially are to give themselves to the study of false doctrine and to warring against those heresies that oppose the truth. Polemics is also the calling of the believer according to the Reformed Form for Confession of Faith: “Have you resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine; to reject all heresies repugnant thereto; and to lead a new, godly life?”

The believer may not be surprised that this warfare comes very close to home. Jesus warned in Matthew 10:35-26 that when he brings the sword, “I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household”. The Apostle Paul warned the church in Acts 20:29-30: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them”. Polemics, being warfare, is a spiritually painful and bloody affair. Inasmuch as this warfare comes into the very family, relationships, and churches of believers it partakes of the nature of the bloodiest and most terrible of all warfare, the civil war. The antithesis of which this warfare is a part cuts along the lines of sovereign grace; election and reprobation run through the sphere of the covenant, and they are not all Israel that are of Israel.

Because of the reality that polemics is hard, flesh-denying work, and often involves the believer in bloody spiritual warfare with his own acquaintances, scripture also warns against a mere appearance of polemics by one who in reality does not do polemics. In Jeremiah 48:10 God warns, “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the LORD deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood”. The work of the Lord is the work of the sword, the work of polemics against the enemies of God. The word translated deceitfully means lackadaisically. It is defined later in the verse as keeping his sword back from blood. The man warned in the text will not do the hard and spiritually bloody work of polemics. He will not point out the heresies that threaten the church, name the names of those that teach it, threaten his friendships, or give up his personal agenda of peace and unity with those that teach false doctrine. The translation deceitfully to describe the activity of this man on the field of polemics is also exactly correct. His polemics are a vile deceit. The man cursed in the verse is not merely the one who does not do the work of polemics, but one who makes a great show of bearing the sword. He bears the sword, but he does not use it to shed spiritual blood. He is a man who merely speaks about polemics, defines polemics, and makes a grand show with his polished sword of doing polemics, perhaps even making his way onto the field of battle, but his sword remains unstained in the battle. For all his words about polemics, he does not actually do polemics at all. Luther described such men: “Their writings accomplish nothing because they refrain from chiding, biting, and giving offense”. Such men in their deceitful laziness with the sword of God are cursed by God. Their writings and work will accomplish nothing because God does not bless such a use of his word, but curses it and turns it to nothing. He gave his word in part to destroy the lies of the devil, to defend the truth, and to expose false doctrine. Jehovah Himself sets Himself against all those that oppose Him and His truth as Moses and the children of Israel sang in Exodus 15:3, “The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name”. So must the church and every believer do—not merely speak about—polemics.

1 Martin Luther, That These Words of Christ…Still Stand Firm, The Annotated Luther, vol. 3, ed. Paul W. Robinson (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016), 174.

2 Ibid, 180.

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 47

Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (V)

Unbelievers are not in the image of God—this is the thesis and burden of this series of articles. So far we have considered arguments from the nature, number and idea of the imago dei, as well as the relationship between the image of God and divine sonship. We pointed out the amazing incongruities, massive equivocations and dangerous consequences involved in the position that the ungodly are Jehovah’s image- bearers. In the last installment, we looked especially at two verses of Scripture from the Psalms: Psalm 17:15 (believers are God’s likeness) and Psalm 73:20 (unbelievers are not in God’s image).

Now it is time to respond to the three texts to which some appeal in an attempt to prove that the wicked are in the imago dei in the so-called “broader” sense: 1 Corinthians 11:7, Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9.

1 Corinthians 11:7

The first verse is 1 Corinthians 11:7:

“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man”.

“You see”, exclaim our opponents, “everybody is in the image of God!” However, we should note two very simple points. First, this text says that man “is” the image of God, not merely that he is in the image of God. Second, 1 Corinthians 11:7 states that man “is the image and glory of God”. Do our adversaries on this issue really want to say that an ungodly man “is the image and glory of God”, the Holy One of Israel, who is “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6)?

Apart from the problem that 1 Corinthians 11:7 proves too much for those who are our theological opponents at this point, the fatal weakness of their view of this text is its context. Paul is writing to the church, those whom he calls his “brethren” (2) and whose “head” is the Lord Jesus (3), not unbelievers. Thus the apostle calls the saints at Corinth to imitate him even as he imitates “Christ” (1), and praises them for remembering him in all things and keeping the ordinances that he delivered to them (2).

Paul tells us that he is writing about the instituted “churches” (16), in which the Lord’s Supper is administered (17-34). The subject of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is the roles of godly men and women in the organized church, with respect to headship, praying, prophesying, etc.

It is in this context that we must read our text: “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man”. It clearly refers to believing man as “the image and glory of God”, as even some advocates of the so-called “broader” aspect of the image realise, for they do not use it in support of their position.

Genesis 9:6

A second verse cited to by those who claim that absolutely everybody is in the imago dei (in some sense) is Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man”.

Unlike 1 Corinthians 11:7, which only pertains to believers, Genesis 9:6 speaks of mankind. However, Genesis 9:6 does not teach that mankind is in the divine image now.

In stating that “in the image of God made he man,” Genesis 9:6 harkens back to Genesis 1:26-27 and the creation of man on day six. In Genesis 3, two chapters later, the human race fell and lost the image of God, becoming the sons and daughters of Satan (John 8:44).

The opening articles of the Canons of Dordt III/IV explain this:

  1. Man was    originally    formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy. But, revolting from God by the instigation of the devil and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts, and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.
  2. Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature.

Thus Genesis 5:3 states, “Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image”. This Scripture does not teach that our first father had a son in the image of God. Instead, Adam “begat a son in his own likeness, after his image”, a totally depraved image, not the imago dei (cf. Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12-21).

The argument of Genesis 9:6 is that man was created in the image of God, unlike the animals. Therefore, the death penalty is to be administered to those who murder human beings (5-6), not those who kill animals (2-3), which have been given to man (2), especially for food (3-4). Genesis 9:6 does not teach that all the sons of fallen Adam, who are in “his image” (5:3), are also in the divine image.

All of this can be summarized in biblical order as follows:

Genesis 1—Creation: man is made in the image of God

Genesis 3—Fall: man loses the image of God and now bears the image of Satan

Genesis 5—Procreation: fallen humanity has children in its own (fallen) image

Genesis 9—Capital punishment: murderers are to be executed because man, unlike the animals, was originally created in God’s image (1:26-27)

James 3:9

James 3, the greatest chapter in the Bible on the tongue, states, “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude [or likeness] of God” (9).

The Greek verb translated “are made” is in the perfect tense. Thus it refers to both a past action (when people were made in the imago dei) and a present state resulting from this action, so that people are now in God’s likeness.

The question is: Does “are made” in the perfect tense refer to man’s original creation in Genesis 1 (and hence to everybody) or does it speak of man’s re- creation (and hence to believers only)?

The latter is the answer, for James 3:9 in its context is dealing with God’s people, who have been regenerated in the image of their heavenly Father (1:18). Thus James 3 is addressed to the “brethren” (1, 10, 12) and speaks of “masters”, that is, teachers, in the church (1). All Christians, and especially church teachers, are to be “perfect” (2) in their words (2-12) and “wise” (13) in their deeds (13-16).

James 4, the next chapter, explains that this is necessary to avoid “wars” and “fightings” “among you,” that is, in the church (1). Some believers are not praying as they ought (2-3), and are forming friendships with the world and so are not living the antithesis (4-5). After warnings against pride in their midst (6-10), James exhorts, “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth of his brother, speaketh evil of the law” (11). The next verse also forbids this evil judging of one “another” (12).

Thus we return to James 3:9: “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude [or likeness] of God”. It refers to believers hypocritically using their tongues, on the one hand, to bless God their Father but, on the other hand, to curse human beings who have been made in the image of God in regeneration (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 86) and so are now in the image of God.

Believers speaking evil of one another (4:11-12) starts and continues “wars” and “fightings” in the church (1) or, to express it more graphically, it kindles and feeds spiritual “fire” in the congregation (3:5-6). People engaged in such activities are not equipped to be teachers in the church (1) for they are speaking wickedly (2-12) as those lacking wisdom (13-16).

Next time, DV, we shall consider the teaching of the Reformed confessions on the image of God.

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 47

Calvin’s Instruction on Church Membership

John Calvin on Church Membership

John Calvin (1509-1564), one of the main leaders of the Reformation, had important instruction on the necessity of membership in the church institute. Calvin recognized that the instituted church is the mother of all believers. Writing in Book Four of his Institutes of the Christian Religion: of the visible church, let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, no, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels (Matt 22:30). For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for… 1

It is the church institute that gives birth to believers. Ordinarily, believers are born, baptized, and raised in the church institute. They grow under her instruction, are fed to spiritual maturity, and are preserved in her fellowship. Calvin had a high regard for the church institute. He maintained that the church institute is responsible for raising her members to spiritual maturity. Apart from the church institute, we would still be babes in the faith: the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children, not only that by her aid and ministry they may be nourished so long as they are babes and children, but may also be guided by her maternal care until they grow up to manhood and, finally, attain to the perfection of faith.2

Membership in the true church institute is necessary for the preservation of the truth. Calvin declared that “so long as we continue in the bosom of the church, we are sure that the truth will remain with us”.3 Calvin also wisely recognised that God is the one who ordained the church institute to educate His people in the truth. God uses the church as a means to feed His people spiritually, so that they are not destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6).

We see that God, who might perfect his people in a moment, chooses not to bring them to manhood in any other way than by the education of the church… Hence it follows, that all who reject the spiritual food of the soul divinely offered to them by the hands of the church, deserve to perish of hunger and famine.4

Communion with the saints in church is   communion   with   God.   Calvin states emphatically that “so available is communion with the church to keep us in the fellowship of God”.5

Anticipating the temptation that believers may face with regard to church membership, Calvin insisted that they must gather publicly to worship God. He attributed the practice of private worship to pride and arrogance. He would not allow believers to worship privately in their own homes, like what the present house church movement promotes. He writes that “pride, or fastidiousness, or emulation, induces many to   persuade   themselves   that they can profit sufficiently by reading and meditating in private, and thus to despise public meetings, and deem preaching superfluous”.6

The instituted church is important because she is the faithful guardian of the truth. God is pleased to use the church to proclaim and to preserve His truth in the world. He uses the church to prevent the truth from perishing in the world; the church is its faithful guardian, because God has been pleased to preserve the pure preaching of his word by her instrumentality, and to exhibit himself to us as a parent while he feeds us with spiritual nourishment, and provides whatever is conducive to our salvation.7

So important is membership in the church institute that Calvin severely warned against leaving her for any slight reason. He insists that “we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord”.8

Those who are in the church must exhaust their gifts for the unity and peace of the church. Calvin writes that “we must neither renounce the communion of the church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and discipline   when   duly   arranged”.9

Believers are duty bound to maintain the unity and peace of the church of Jesus Christ by joining themselves to her, and not separating themselves from her fellowship. Accordingly, Calvin declares: “How perilous, then, no, how fatal the temptation, when we even entertain a thought of separating ourselves from that assembly in which are beheld the signs and badges which the Lord has deemed sufficient to characterize his church!”10

To “revolt from the church is denial of God and Christ”.11

Calvin’s Catechism (1545)

Before the final edition of his institutes was published in 1559, Calvin had written a catechism for his church. He wrote it especially with the instruction of the children and young people in mind. In the catechism, he ties the experience of the forgiveness of sins with the church institute. In question 104 of the catechism, the question is asked:

Why do you insert this article [the forgiveness of sins] after the Church?

Because no man obtains pardon for his sins without being previously incorporated into the people of God, persevering in unity and communion with the Body of Christ in such a way as to be a true member of the Church.12

Those who are the people of God must persevere in unity and communion with the Body of Christ. That characterizes them as true members of His Body.

In his explanation of the fourth commandment,   Calvin   insists   that the public gathering of God’s people is necessary for every believer. They are to congregate with the assembly of Christians to hear the Word, pray, and use the sacraments.

Explaining the fourth commandment – What else is there here for us?

That we observe the order constituted in the Church, to hear the Word of God, to engage in public prayers and in the Sacraments, and that we do not contravene the spiritual order among the faithful.

But are we not to take trouble and be diligent, and zealously strive by hearing and reading its teaching, as it is declared to us? Yes, indeed: for each one of us in particular ought to study it: and above all, we are frequently to attend the sermons in which this Word is expounded in the Assembly of the Christians. 13

Calvin astutely anticipates the temptation of believers to read the Bible at home, while neglecting the public gathering of the church. He instructs believers that we must not be wiser than God in thinking that we can do away with His appointed ordinances.

Do you mean that it is not enough for people to read it privately at home, without altogether hearing its teaching in common?

That is just what I mean, while God proves the way for it.

Why do you say that?

Because Jesus Christ has established this order in His Church, and He has declared this to be the only means of edifying and preserving it. Thus we must keep ourselves to it and not be wiser than our Master.14

Calvin issues the same warning against those who leave the instituted church. They are sectarian, and those who are part of them may not expect salvation. Asking in the catechism, “And so outside the Church there is nothing but damnation and death? Certainly, for all those who separate themselves from the community of the faithful to form a sect on its own, have no hope of salvation so long as they are in schism.”15

Calvin’s ‘Anti-Nicodemite’ Writings

During the Reformation, Calvin wrote to Protestants in France who were living under the dominion of the Papists. They were being persecuted, and were tempted to compromise their faith. Many thought that they could go to the Romish church and participate in the mass while retaining their Protestant beliefs.   Many   Protestants   “hoped to maintain their social standing by outward conformity to Romish rituals and worship; these dissemblers claimed that it was lawful to attend the outward ordinances of Romish worship, so long as they did not inwardly receive the heretical tenets of Rome”.16 Calvin makes it clear that “true believers must remain separate from both false worship and the false church”.17 Obedience “to the word of God requires of believers an outward practice consistent with an inner commitment to the truth”. 18 Believers may not wilfully separate themselves from the true instituted church because this is the order and policy which God has established in his church; that we be taught by his word, that we all worship him of one accord, and that we call upon him, having the observance of the sacraments to help us do this. This is how we train ourselves to become better and better confirmed in the faith, in the fear of God, in holiness, in despising the world, and in the love of the life of heaven.19

In times of severe persecution, the Christian religion is often banished altogether from the land. Calvin insists that “a godly man living in such a country   should   consider   relocating his family to some other place where he can join with the true church in worship”.20     We must be diligent “in attending upon the sermons and public prayers”.21 It is “an inestimable possession and privilege to be in God’s church, to partake of the means which this good Father has given his children to draw near to him”.22 Those who are “deprived of the use of the sacraments and of the freedom of calling upon his name, and yet do not feel their ill and wretchedness so as to groan under it, are more stupid than dumb beasts”.23

1John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 4.1.4, 674.

2Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.1, 672.

3Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.3, 673.

4Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.5, 674.

5Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.3, 674.

6Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.5, 675.

7Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.10, 679.

8Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.12. 680.

9Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.12. 680.

1⁰Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.11, 679.

11Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.10, 679.

12James T. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Vol 1, (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 482.

13Dennison, Vol 1, 492.

14Dennison, Vol 1, 509.

15 Dennison, Vol 1, 482-3.

16 John Calvin, Come Out From Among Them: ‘An- ti-Nicodemite’ Writings of John Calvin, (Protestant Heritage Press, 2001), 8.

17 Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, 22.

18 Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, 9.

19 Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, 178.

2⁰ Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, 22.

21 Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, 193.

22 Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, 179.

23 Calvin, Come Out From Among Them, 184.
Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 47

Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (IV)

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

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

Psalm 17:15

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 73:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prof David Engelsma comments on this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 46

Present Developments in Reformed Churches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

2 Ibid., 124.

3 Ibid, 28.

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

⁵ Antinomianism, 29.

⁶ Ibid., 29.

⁷ A Puritan Theology, 963.

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 45

Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (III)

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

 

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

Divine Sonship

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerous Consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 45

The Necessity of Being Distinctively Reformed

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

Reformed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Necessity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 44

Are Unbelievers in God’s Image? (II)

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

The Idea of the Image of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Incongruities and Massive Equivocations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Rev. Angus Stewart | Issue 44