Archive for the ‘Post-Reformation Orthodoxy’ Category

Heidelberg Catechism #44

Q. 44 – Why does the Creed add, “He descended into Hell”?

A. To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.

Theological: It is interesting to note that the Catechism basically bypasses all the discussion of the harrowing of hell in its answer. The wisdom in this policy is the controversy is not very edifying. (more…)

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Baptism Hawaiian Style

Heidelberg Catechism #43

Q: What further advantage do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?

A: Through Christ’s death our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to him.

Theological: Do you ever find yourself marveling at the way the Bible speaks of our definitive break from sin and darkness? I do. Paul tells us that our old man has been put to death in Christ, that we are new creations. (more…)

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Heidelberg Catechism #41

Question: Why was he “buried”?

Answer: His burial testifies that he really died.

Theological: The word “buried” comes from the Apostles’ Creed: Jesus “was crucified, dead, and buried.” The word “dead” certainly indicates that he died. His burial testifies to the same. Further, it was prophesied that he should not only die, but that he should be buried in association with the rich: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death” (Is 53:9). This was fulfilled in his burial by the hand of Joseph of Arimathea (Mt 27:57-60). Furthermore, a significant theological image is that the burial of the body is the sowing of a seed for the resurrection. “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15: 42-4). Christ’s body was sown in human weakness, but raised in divine power. Thus, our human frailty is buried with him in his death, and his divine power is ours as we’re raised together with him. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the just: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).

Practical: Baptism is important. Read Romans 6. Here’s a reminder: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:1-4). As those baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we’re called to live in resurrection life. Sin no longer has dominion over us, for Christ has conquered sin and death. Since we’re united to him and his victory in our baptism, we’re to live in that union and life. We’re to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (vs 11). The Christian life is one of life and victory over sin, not one of death and defeat. Christ has come to save us the uttermost. Let us walk with joy in that fulsome salvation.

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St. Augustine

One of the great quandaries of Christianity (and even more broadly, of philosophy) is how the sovereignty of God is balanced with the responsibility of humanity. Somehow or other I’ve been in too many conversations on this topic both on Facebook and on some blogs. What’s interesting is that I have not really done too much arguing for Calvinism since I was in college.  Maybe I’m out of practice (I’m definitely a little soggy around the mid-section), but I do think I can add some value to these conversations, so I’ll address the topic here.


There are many directions to take this. I’ve been interacting with Billy over at TheArminian.net – see the comments for some dialog. Billy’s a good man, a Christian brother, and I appreciate him. I think he misunderstands both the Bible and Calvinism, but I love him anyway. I suspect that I misunderstand both the Bible and Arminianism at points, too. God bless him.

Rather than rehash that discussion on John 3:16 (the discussion with Billy), I’ll focus on Ephesians chapter one. I was reading an Arminian exegesis of Ephesians 1 earlier today. I’ll give a quote of this interpretation:

In the case of Eph. 1:4, Christ is presented as existing before the foundation of the world and chosen by God as the head of his people and the heir to all of his blessings. All those who come to be in Christ then necessarily come to share in his election, identity, and inheritance. What is true of Christ the covenant head also becomes true of those who are in him. He is the Son of God, so they are sons of God. He is holy, so they become holy, indeed holy ones…

Now, I quite agree that we share in Christ. We are, for example, prophets, priests, and kings in the One who is the Prophet, Priest, and King. All that is a theological construct that is quite true. The problem is that this construct has nothing to do with a proper exegesis of Ephesians 1. It’s simply imposed by the Arminian. The text of verse four says: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Now, God chose us in Christ. “Us” is the direct object of God’s choice. The Arminian construes this as though Christ is the direct object and we are the indirect object. That’s clearly NOT what the text says. Sorry. We are the chosen ones in Christ. God deals with us through the Mediator, to be sure. But the text doesn’t say that Christ is the chosen one and we share in his election. It says that we are the elect ones.

The Arminian makes much of the corporate aspect of election. I don’t dispute that the majority of the Bible is written to the Body, not to individuals. Here’s the rub. The Arminian wants to talk about, say, the “world” in John 3:16 and particularize it to “each and every individual,” but is reticent to particularize Paul’s words here to the church. What’s funny is that the Bible EXPLICITLY speaks of the body being made up of particular, individual members (Ephesians 4; 1 Cor 12:12; Romans 12:4), but it does not speak of the world as such. The Arminian turns this on its head. That contortion is quite telling for anyone paying attention.


John Cassian

Now, we know that there are a group of people that God foreknew (not foresaw!), predestined, called, justified and glorified (Rom 8:28-30). This group of people is called the elect. There’s no break in the chain. Everyone God foreknew is glorified (and everything in between).  There’s a lot more to it, but this is ol’ timey Calvinism. It’s really ol’ timey Augustianism. This is the backbone of Christianity. Say it ain’t so, but Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism are both condemned as aberrant and heretical. It is this strong old Augustianism that is the majority report of the Christian church down through the ages. The Magisterial Reformers attested to it with one voice. The Reformed and Gnesio Lutherans have held to it since then. Arminianism is a perversion of this biblical teaching, a perversion as old as John Cassian and the Semi-Pelagians (actually older). There are different flavors of the week, but it’s all the same: a rejection of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation and a rejection of the absolute dependence of men upon God in the same.


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Heidelberg Catechism #40

Q. Why did Christ have to go all the way to death?

A. Because God’s justice and truth demand it: only the death of God’s Son could pay for our sin.

Theological: Human death was necessary (Gen. 2:17 – “but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”), as the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Not just any human would do, however. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:3-4). It had to be God in the flesh; he had to taste death on our behalf: “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).

Practical: As death is so prominent, it deserves more attention that we usually give it. First, all men die. This truth must be proclaimed, as it will certainly resonate with people. Second, the reason for death must be preached, too. Death, indeed, is scandalous. It’s shockingly unnatural. It’s the necessary result of sin. Sin breeds death. Sin is and will be our ruin. But Jesus Christ was ruined for sinners. He died in order to transform death into a portal to life. Jesus shouldered this unnatural (how much more unnatural to him?!) scandal for us, his enemies! He died for us while we were still in our sins. For those who believe, to draw on Owen, we have the death of death in the death of Christ. Hallelujah! What a Savior! Death is, indeed, most prominent. Through it comes eternal damnation. Through it also comes eternal life for those in Christ Jesus.

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Pilate Washing Hands

Heidelberg Catechism #38

Q. Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?

A. So that he, though innocent, might be condemned by an earthly judge, and so set us free from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.

Theological: Here we find something we might call substitutionary condemnation. Christ, the innocent One, was condemned, in order to set us free from the severe judgment of God that was in store for us. Jesus took our penalty; he bore the divine wrath against our sin. This is a goodly part of the Gospel.

Christ, though innocent, was condemned by an unjust earthy judge. Here we have a triumph of divine justice and mercy through an absolute miscarriage of justice on the human level. And it’s not that God “made use” of a wicked human judge. This was God’s predetermined plan: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-8). God WANTED this miscarriage of justice. He wanted the murder of the innocent Man at the hands of a crooked judge, a licentious sign-seekers, and blood thirsty populace. This was is plan to save crooked judges, licentious mystics and blood thirsty men. Does the notion that God predestined all this sin make you uncomfortable?

Practical: First, we must trust God. The Gospel preached simply isn’t that popular. In fact, some preachers are quite embarrassed by the Gospel. So many preachers would have self-help seminars instead of Gospel sermons. We KNOW that the Gospel is foolishness to those who are enamored with worldly wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-31). It always has been. But the Gospel is and always has been the power of God to salvation. Preach it both in and out of season.

God’s absolute sovereignty should be a source of great rest and peace for the believer. Instead, too many believers don’t believe that God is exhaustively sovereign. They don’t believe he rules, overrules, and predetermined all things. They fight against that truth, and that at the expense of their own rest and peace. How pitiable and foolish!

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Heidelberg Catechism #37

Q. What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

A. That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race. This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.

Theological: The first thing I notice about this answer is the “body and soul” motif (similar to Q&A #1). Christ was no disembodied spirit saving disembodied spirits. He was a man saving men with a complete salvation. Second thing I notice is that bore “the anger of God against the whole human race.” I’m not the first to notice this universalistic language. I don’t think that Ursinus was a universalist or even a hypothetical universalist. Here’s a ditty from his commentary on answer #20 from the Catechism:

The reason why all are not saved through Christ, is not because of any insufficiency of merit and grace in him for the atonement of Christ is for the sins of the whole world, as it respects the dignity and sufficiency of the satisfaction which he made but it arises from unbelief; because men reject the benefits of Christ offered in the gospel, and so perish by their own fault, and not because of any insufficiency in the merits of Christ.

This is not any sort of universalism. The Catechist wants to make sure that there is no insufficiency in Christ, but only in the unbeliever. In stating things this way, however, I think that he comes pretty close to sounding like a hypothetical universalist of sorts. Ursinus (like Calvin) seems comfortable speaking in terms of sufficient for the world, but efficient only for the elect. This type of language would later be largely unacceptable to most Calvinists, but that is a later development.

Practical: When we preach the suffering of Christ, do we focus more on the physical suffering or upon the spiritual suffering? We *must* have them both, but I fear we often put more of an emphasis on the physical suffering. We tend this direction, I think, because we can more easily identify with physical pain. While the physical stripes of Christ were impressive, the weight of the sins of the world upon a man who knew no sin had to be unthinkable. Similarly, the divine wrath upon that sin was unspeakable. Let’s make sure we preach the whole package: Christ suffered in body and soul for sinners. What an amazing Savior!

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