Second Helvetic Confession: On the Scriptures

I have been reading the Second Helvetic Confession. What is that you ask? Here is a little background. Here is the document itself, which is longer than either the Westminster Confession or the Belgic Confession. While I don’t agree with all of it, such as its “ever virgin” phrase or its excessive pessimistic view of the church in history, overall it is rich and is worth consulting. Here is the first section of the confession on the Scriptures.  I have put in a bold a few phrases I enjoyed.

CANONICAL SCRIPTURE. We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.

And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.

SCRIPTURE TEACHES FULLY ALL GODLINESS. We judge, therefore, that from these Scriptures are to be derived true wisdom and godliness, the reformation and government of churches; as also instruction in all duties of piety; and, to be short, the confirmation of doctrines, and the rejection of all errors, moreover, all exhortations according to that word of the apostle, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,” etc. (II Timothy 3:16-17). Again, “I am writing these instructions to you,” says the apostle to Timothy, “So that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God,” etc. (I Timothy 3:14-15). SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD. Again, the selfsame apostle to the Thessalonians: “When,” says he, “You received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God,” etc. (I Thess. 2:13) For the Lord himself has said in the gospel, “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of my Father speaking through you”; therefore “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Matt. 10:20; Luke 10:16; John 13:20).

The sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture are key battlegrounds in the church today and will be in the coming years. Those of us in the reformed world would be wise to read not just the key works on Scripture (Warfield, Whitaker, and systematics), but also to mine the depths of the confessions and catechisms.

A Word Shaped Life

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Reading, hearing, believing, and obeying Scripture is the sum of the Christian life. In the Holy Scriptures we meet Christ and learn to become like Christ.  If a man is to be truly Christian then he must be a man of the Bible. The Bible will shape how he thinks, feels, and acts. This means we reject rationalism and emotionalism as foundations for truth.We do not reject emotion or rational thought. But we seek to bring our actions, thoughts, and emotions in line with God’s Word.

We are not emotionalists. We do not believe the Bible simply when we experience something emotionally. Most people today believe something to be true only if they feel it is true. True worship is worship which makes us feel a certain way.  Many Christians approach both the reading and preaching of Scripture the same way. If I experience a good feeling when I read the Bible then what I read spoke to me. Otherwise it did not. Christians are to believe and obey the Bible whether or not we feel it to be true.  Truth shapes our emotions. Emotion does not determine truth. If our feelings object to certain truths in the Scriptures, we need to change our feelings, not reject or change the Scriptures. This is not to reject emotion, but rather to say that our emotions are sinful and need to governed by God’s Word.

We are not rationalists. Truth is not determined by what makes sense to us. There are many truths in Scripture that hard to reconcile in our minds, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and even the creation of the world from nothing. And even beyond those obvious examples there are other Biblical truths that are odd or hard to reconcile with what we see. Is suffering good for us? Why should I have a bunch of kids in this terrible world we live? Our minds and eyes say, “No.” But reason should bend to the Bible, not vice-versa.  This does not mean that we do not use our mind. We are to honor God with our mind. We are to think, observe, meditate on, and analyze the world with our  minds. But our mind must be shaped by the Word.

Finally, not only must our mind and our emotions be shaped by God’s Word, but our actions must be also. Often the things we do and why we do them are influenced by the world more than by Scripture. This world could be the home we grew up in, the books we read, our friends, or the movies we watch.  Usually the influence from these various worlds lurks beneath the surface. We do not recognize  how heavily influenced by the world our actions are. The reading and preaching of the Word remind us that we are living like the world instead growing up into Christ. We should constantly be asking, “Am I walking in the ways of God?” The only way we know the answer to that question is by examining our life in light of God’s Word. 
 

We are to read and then re-read the Scriptures. But is this enough? The answer is no. We all come to the Scriptures with our own set of glasses, which can cause us to see things in the Bible which are not there or miss what is there. We should read the Bible privately. But beyond that and more importantly we must read the Bible with other believers in church and especially to give heed to the preached word. It is from the pulpit that our assumptions about God’s Word are most forcefully challenged. As we sit there week after week the Word works on us. In the Scriptures, the preached Word is the great tool God uses to make us like Christ.

Read the Bible. Listen to the Bible preached by men who know, love, and obey the Scriptures. Then shape your life, emotions, and mind by God’s good Word.

Psalm 119:71~It was Good for Me to be Afflicted

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One of the primary values of our age is that suffering is bad. Physical pain and suffering must be eliminated at all costs. If it cannot be eliminated then we should have the right to end our lives. Children born with diseases should not have been born at all. Boys and girls are not taught to “fight through pain” anymore. They are taught to look for a way out. Pain, affliction, and suffering are enemies to be vanquished. Emotional pain is approached the same way. We avoid close relationships because they will create deeper scars when they are ruptured. We rarely commit to anything of substance because we could be criticized for it or it could go bad and we would look foolish. We guard ourselves against emotional pain.

There is some truth in our gut reaction to pain and suffering. It is not the way it was supposed to be. Without sin there would not be pain, at least as we know it. But in this fallen world pain and suffering don’t just exist. They are good for us. In the world, as it is now, suffering plays a central role in the life of the Christian. We might say that God has redeemed suffering and pain. In a few short verses the Psalmists tells us three times the value of affliction.

Psalm 119:67, Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
Psalm 119:71, It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
Psalm 119: 75, I know, O Lord , that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted.

The word translated “afflicted” in all three verses means to hurt, humiliate, cause to suffer, or cause pain. It is used in Psalm 105:18 where it says that Joseph’s feet were “hurt” when they were put in irons. It is used in Psalm 89:22 where it says that David will not be afflicted by the wicked. Perhaps most striking is Isaiah 53:4 where it says that Christ was “smitten by God and afflicted.” These three verses in Psalm 119 give us a rich theology of suffering. Continue reading

Good as Dead

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God does not work the same way we do. We look at the situations and try to find the advantages we can gain. A farmer will look for the best soil, a businessman will look for a good investment opportunity, and a football coach will recruit the best players. But God looks for the situation that is least advantageous, as least by human standards. He takes the eighth son of man from Bethlehem to lead his people. He takes a former persecutor of the church and makes him into his greatest missionary. He calls fishermen and tax collectors to preach His name to the world. But perhaps no example, outside of Christ Himself, is as marvelous as Abraham. A man from the land of Ur is plucked up by God to be the father of His people. He promises this wandered land. He promises this impotent man children as numerous as the stars. Abraham and Sarah were dead. Their line would die out when they were laid in the dust. For 25 years Abraham waited for the son of promise. He even cheated by sleeping with Hagar. But God does not disappoint and:

Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. (Heb 11:12)

When John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:9 that God can raise up children of Abraham from stones he is not speaking in metaphor or giving a good illustration. He is speaking truth. God does not need all the advantages  we think of when it comes to creating followers. He makes worshipers from stones. He can bring a nation from a dead womb. He takes dead men and makes them alive. Not only can he do this. He loves to do this. That is how God works. He scours the earth and says,”Oh, look there is an Augustinian monk, let me use him to start a Reformation.” “Oh, look there is a 19 year old untrained preacher. Let me use him to turn London upside down.” “There is well-trained fornicator who dabbles in various false theologies. I will make him the greatest father in the early church.”  “There is an English atheist. I am going to make him one of the greatest apologist of the modern age”  And on and on it goes.

Why does God do it this way? Because His glory is the greatest aim. God does not often call (sometimes he does) the powerful, mighty, wise, and rich of the world. He uses the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the wise so “no flesh can glory in His presence” (I Cor. 1:26-29).  Abraham could not boast about his descendants. He was a dead man. Israel could not boast about being descended from Abraham. She came from a dead man. When God is done there is no room for man to boast.

The church in America is in a bad way. There are glimmers of light here and there. There are many faithful leaders who have led God’s people over the last 25 years. But on the whole she is empty of truth, goodness, and beauty. Compromise is a regular problem. We continue to fold on major issues or make allowances for those who do. But God loves to work in this environment. Just like Israel when Jesus showed up, we are gasping for breath. But somewhere God is preparing some unlikely men to lead his people in the next generation. Men who by His power and might will reform and revive the church he bought with his own blood.

In the meantime, what do we do? Like Sarah we consider God faithful to his promises (Hebrews 11:11). We work and wait patiently for the Lord to bring worshipers from stones, apologists from persecutors, and life from death.

Psalm 119:51~Mocked on the Stage

Stage Light

The proud have me in great derision, yet I do not turn aside from your law…the proud have forged a lie against me, but I will keep your precepts with my whole heart. Psalm 119:51, 69

The American landscape is littered with men and women (and whole denominations!) who once professed faith in Christ.  Men and women who read God’s Word, sat under preaching, were baptized, and ate at the Lord’s table. Yet at some point these people decided that following Christ was no longer worth it. An outsider who knows nothing of America may assume that some great persecution arose and has caused these people to leave the faith. But those of us living here and watching the events of the last 50 years know that is not the case.  What has caused such a large number of professing Christians to either leave the faith or opt for a  Christian walk that looks nothing like the Bible?

One answer is found here in Psalm 119.  Christians in America do not fear physical persecution. It is a non-existent threat. We do not worry about our church services being broken in to, our women being raped, or being beheaded for our faith. But we do worry about our reputation. There are two main reasons people leave the faith: they either wanted to indulge a sin the Scriptures condemn or they wanted to be thought of as cool. It is this last category that the Psalmist is addressing in these two verses.

He is being derided by the proud. The word here is used throughout Proverbs and is often translated scoffer. It is also used in Psalm 1:1 where the righteous man does not “sit in the seat of scorners.”  The picture here is not of ISIS militants killing him, but of someone making fun of the Psalmist. They are laughing at him. He is the butt of the jokes at the water cooler. His family thinks he is too uptight. He used to have friends, but they don’t want to hang out with him any more. Maybe a blog or two has been dedicated to mocking his views. He is laughed at.

The second verse talks about the proud lying about the Psalmist. The word translated “forged” actually means “to smear” and can be used of glue. The enemies of the Psalmist have smeared him with lies and they have stuck to some degree. Again no physical persecution, but rather the proud attempt to ruin the reputation of the Psalmist. His life has been plastered over by the lies of his enemies. They talk about him behind his back to other employees. The family gets together without her and spreads little rumors about her home life. They lie about what is preached or taught at his church. And these lies stick and dog the Psalmist wherever he goes.

In our culture one of the biggest threats to our walk with Christ is the fear of being left out, rejected, of losing our reputation and status. We want the world to like us and approve of us. We want to be part of the in-crowd. We don’t want to be the geek who still believes the God made the world in six days, that sex is for marriage, children are a blessing, self-fulfillment is not the ultimate goal, the lost need to repent, the Bible is God’s Word, greed is sin, and women should not be pastors. So we bend. We compromise, slowly but surely moving away from the Bible.The Psalmist goes the opposite direction. When his reputation is threatened he moves towards the Bible.  He refuses to turn aside from God’s Word no matter what the cost is to him.

In Hebrews 10:33 the author says the congregation there was willing to become a “spectacle” or be “publicly exposed.” The word is “theatrizo” which means to be brought up on the stage to be mocked. Paul uses a similar word in I Corinthians 4:9 when he says, “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.” In the coming years, we will not hold fast to Christ unless we are willing to be mocked and scorned.  Unless we can stand on the stage and let the world laugh at us our faith will fail. Our biggest danger will not be death, but rejection. If we long to be part of the cool kids and refuse to be rejected then we have already lost the battle.  We must not fear their derision, scorn, scoffing, and lies. Our reputation is not more important than Christ. Let us cling to His Word and be willing to suffer shame before the world. Are we ready to be a spectacle before our friends, neighbors, family members, and community?

2016.Episode 20 Westminster Larger Catechism on Bearing False Witness

Swearing on the Bible

In this podcast I look at two phrases that struck me from WLC Q 145 forbidding us to “undue silence in a just cause” and speaking “too meanly of ourselves.”