Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Do Reformed Christians Believe? Part 1

I have been negligent of late in writing for my blog due to my discussions and debates on Facebook.  You can visit my Facebook groups at Reformed Anglicans for Scripturalism and Calvinism Defended Against All.  That being said, I want to start a new series of articles where I will compare and contrast the Anglican Formularies (Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican Homilies), the Westminster Standards (Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms), and the Three Forms of Unity (The Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechisms, and the Canons of Dort).  Wherever pertinent I will also interact with other Reformed confessional documents and/or Protestant Reformation era theologians or the Anglican and Puritan divines.  In short, I may appeal to other resources besides the primary ones.

I will try to provide a bibliography for my sources at a future date.  For now I want to state upfront that my primary theological resources will be the writings of Dr. Gordon H. Clark or Dr. Carl F. H. Henry.  In particular, I will be making frequent reference to Dr. Clark's book, What Do Presbyterians Believe? 1965.  2nd Edition.   John W. Robbins, ed.  (Unicoi: Trinity Foundation, 2001).

To begin this discussion two issues first come to mind.  The first one is what do we believe and why do we believe it?  The short answer is that all knowledge must start somewhere.  As the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark correctly pointed out, the beginning of Christian knowledge--and in fact all other knowledge as well--is the Bible.  The axiom for Christianity and the Christian worldview is that Scripture alone is the Word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16).  Also, it should be pointed out that every epistemological system begins with unproven starting points.  To begin in the middle of an argument and to presuppose the system is in essence an axiom.  Even the scientific worldviews espoused by empiricism, logical positivism, and secular humanism do not being with empirically verifiable starting points but instead begin with unproven axioms that are considered to be self-evident.  Even Thomas Jefferson most famously began the Declaration of Independence with an axiom: 
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  The Declaration of Independence.

Rather than jumping into the philosophical and theological issues, however, I have chosen to start with the Bible and the Reformational era confessions of faith which effectually summarize the system of propositional truths contained within the Scriptures.  Of all the confessions, only the Westminster Confession begins with the doctrine of Scripture or sola Scriptura.  Chapter 1 is called "Of the Holy Scriptures.  Every denomination has a written or unwritten confession of faith or what the churches in that denomination believe the Bible says.  That being the case the Westminster Confession of Faith is no different.  The exception is that the Protestant Reformers and the Puritan divines were careful to make a detailed exposition of the system of theology in the Bible with pertinent and appropriate proof texts.

I want to begin with what the 1647 Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms have to say about Scripture.  I will be breaking this down into manageable portions.  If you wish to read the entire context you will need to refer to an online edition of the appropriate confessions:


CHAPTER I—Of the Holy Scripture

  1.      Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; (Rom. 2:14–15, Rom. 1:19–20, Ps. 19:1–3, Rom. 1:32, Rom. 2:1) yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation. (1 Cor. 1:21, 1 Cor. 2:13–14) Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manner, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; (Heb. 1:1) and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: (Prov. 22:19–21, Luke 1:3–4, Rom. 15:4, Matt. 4:4,7,10, Isa. 8:19–20) which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; (2 Tim. 3:15, 2 Pet. 1:19) those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. (Heb. 1:1–2)

The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

First of all, please note that the Confession does not disregard general revelation or natural revelation.  The apostle Paul tells us this as well in Romans 1:18-21.  But general revelation cannot tell us enough information for saving faith.  That is why we need special revelation in Holy Scripture.  The evidentialists and empiricists wish to start with science; the rationalists wish to start with pure reason; and the neo-orthodox wish to begin with irrationalism.  But the Christian must begin with the axiom of Scripture for the simple reason that God only speaks in Scripture.  The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be deduced logically from a rock or a tree, although some substance abuse programs like Alcoholics Anonymous seem to think that your higher power can be a rock or a leaf.  I have often wondered how a rock or a leaf could make an alcoholic stop drinking?  If that be the case, would not A.A. be superfluous?

What is general or natural revelation anyway?  General or natural revelation is what God has revealed in nature or creation.  It might also include what man can know only from his being a created being in God's image and likeness.  Man has the innate light of reason and logic built into his soul because God is Himself a spirit (John 4:24) and because God is the very essence of Logic.  (John 1:1).  Man is not his body but is instead a spirit or soul living in a body.  When the body dies the soul lives on.  (Matthew 10:28; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8).  Indeed John 1:9 does not refer to salvation but is instead the light that God grants to all men by virtue of man's being created in God's image.  (Genesis 1:27).  As the late Dr. Gordon H. Clark liked to say, "Man is the image of God."  Obviously, however, the noetic effects of sin causes man's ability to reason to be affected as well.  That's why the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:18 that man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.

The distinction between general and special revelation is further delineated in the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 2:

Question 2

How doth it appear that there is a God?
The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; (Rom. 1:19–20, Ps. 19:1–3, Acts 17:28) but his word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation. (1 Cor. 2:9–10, 2 Tim. 3:15–17, Isa. 59:21)

The Westminster Larger Catechism: With Scripture Proofs. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

The very light of nature in man would include John 1:9 and the references in Romans 2 to the Gentiles having the law of God written in their hearts:

Romans 2:12–16 (NKJV)
12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

Notice, however, that Paul is not saying that the Gentiles can be saved by keeping the law of God.  Far from it!  His point is rather that even the Gentiles have some form of morality and this is due to their being created in the image and likeness of God and having the moral law of God written in their hearts.  But to prove this does not entail saving faith, Paul says:

Romans 3:9–11 (NKJV)
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.

The fact of the matter is that the Scriptures alone can tell us what to believe unto saving faith.  Paul says this in 2 Timothy 3:15 and Jesus Himself emphasized Scripture many times over in the Gospels.  (John 10:35; Matthew 4:4; Luke 24:44-46).

The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion emphasize the sufficiency of Scripture over against the Roman Catholic view that Scripture is insufficient to provide enough information or understanding for saving faith.  Rome teaches that the Scriptures needs an infallible interpretation in order to be understood toward saving faith.  And Rome supplies the magisterium and the so-called deposit of faith to interpret the Scriptures for the church.  But if an infallible and inerrant Bible cannot be understood, how would believers then understand the many so-called infallible and inerrant magisterial pronouncements of Rome and the papal bulls?  After all, when the pope speaks authoritatively it is supposed to be the voice of Christ.  Article 6 says:

VI. Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
HOLY Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of Holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.  Article 6

Therefore, no Christian is obligated to believe what Rome says that is not demonstrated in, of and by the Holy Scriptures alone.  The same can be said for any Protestant denomination which tries to go beyond what is written in the Holy Scriptures.  (1 Corinthians 4:6).

Due to a shortage of time today, I will end here for now.  But much more needs to be said in regards to the doctrine of Scripture.  So I will continue this tomorrow.

Belgic Confession of Faith

Article 3
The Written Word of God

We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith.1 And that afterwards God, from a special care which He has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets2 and apostles,3 to commit His revealed Word to writing; and He Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law.4 Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.

1 2 Pet. 1:21
2 Ex. 24:4; Ps. 102:19; Hab. 2:2
3 2 Tim. 3:16; Rev. 1:11
4 Ex. 31:18

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