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Posts Tagged ‘Reformed Orthodox’

Heidelberg Catechism #42

Q: Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?

A: Our death does not pay the debt of our sins. Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life.

Theological: Christians still die… why? First thing is that Christ has transformed EVERYTHING for Christians. Death is something. Ergo, Christ has transformed death for Christians. Death, for the Christian, might be unknown, and, to that degree, might be scary. Death is not, however, a punishment for the Christian. Death IS a punishment for those outside of Christ. One gets the impression that death for the Christian (that is, when it actually happens) is actually a pleasure. Without doubt, it’s certainly a portal to eternal pleasure. After all, at Yahweh’s right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11).  Death is an entrance into those pleasures. The saint will live in those pleasures until the resurrection, when those pleasures will be perfected. Similarly (or maybe conversely), for those outside of Christ, death is punishment and an entrance into eternal punishment, which will be perfected at the resurrection. Christ has removed the sting of death (1 Cor 15), but not its use as a major point of transition.

Practical: You know, everyone’s gotta die… at least for the most part. There will be one generation that doesn’t have to, but, aside from them, we all face death. Steve Job’s comments about death are interesting, but seem flat when compared with eternal joys or punishment. You can see Steve’s full speech here. People outside of Christ should be horrified by death. Typically they are. Sometimes, however, they are act as if they don’t care, or that it doesn’t bother them. These folks are either simply lying (to themselves and/or to others) or are deluded. Death, therefore, is an evangelistic tool… use it. Preach it. Speak about it. If folks accuse you of being morbid, tell them you only speak of death in order to draw attention to the eternal life found only in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

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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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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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Get a load of this:

The theological prolegomena of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are, arguably, the most exhaustive and most finely tooled prolegomena in the history of theology. The intense polemics of the century following the Reformation forced all parties in the theological debate to examine, clarify, and defend their presuppositions more carefully than ever before. This generalization is as true of the Roman Catholic systems of the day as it is of the Protestant ones. In the case of the Protestant theologians, however, the construction of prolegomena was a twofold or even threefold endeavor involving the statement of views of the theological task grounded in the experiences of the Reformation, the appropriation and the modification of the earlier tradition of prolegomena, and the polemical and apologetic defense of Protestant theological presuppositions over against Roman Catholic attack. The resulting prolegomena manifest a mastery of the issues and debates underlying the theological enterprise that has seldom been achieved in the history of theology either before or since. Without exaggeration, the theological prolegomena of the seventeenth-century Protestant scholastics provide a model for the development of a distinctively Protestant but nonetheless universally Christian or catholic theology — a model that Protestant theology today can ignore only at great risk. (Muller, PRRD, 1:109)

Go ahead and read that again. Muller’s speaking specifically of prolegomena, not of all the theological loci (all the many topics of theology). That said, I think that Protestant theology today can ignore the great scholastic theologians (on all the loci of theology) only at great risk. Back to the point: have you ever read any theological prolegomena? Have you ever grappled with those questions? If not, I’d suggest getting yourself familiar with some of the topics and issues by taking the first course in systematic theology at a seminary like this. Short of that, read the notes for that class. As you pursue the issues raised, you’ll find that most inquiries will end up landing you smack dab in the middle of the scholastic theologians. Moral of the story? It’s well worth being familiar with our own history.

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Caspar Olevianus (1536-1587)

Heidelberg Catechism #36

Q. How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?

A. He is our mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness he removes from God’s sight my sin—mine since I was conceived.

Theological: Three things come to mind: 1) The innocence of Christ (especially with reference to his conception and virgin birth) is a statement that he, touching his humanity, was born in the same state as the unfallen Adam. Adam’s innocence and Christ’s innocence are parallel; they were both morally upright and sinless. 2) The perfect holiness of Christ, I suspect, refers to what theologians call his “active obedience,” which is his keeping of the law of God perfectly. (Christ’s “passive obedience” was his suffering and death, or his passion. His active obedience requires the miracle of the virgin birth. If Christ were polluted with corruption of nature common to all other men (called original sin), there’s no way he could keep the law perfectly. 3) The Catechism says that Christ, specifically by his innocence and holiness, removes my sin from God’s sight. This, it seems to me, is a curious way to articulate the effects of Christ’s redemptive work… follow me here. The Reformed understanding of justification (which, I submit, is the Biblical one) includes a double imputation: our sins to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us. Our sins are “removed” from God’s sight as Christ, in his suffering and death (passive obedience), has taken them upon himself (via imputation) and completely paid for them. Now, if this were all the effect of Christ’s work upon us, we’d be sinless, but not righteous. God, however, requires perfect righteousness. Thus, the active obedience of Christ is imputed to the believer, and in that the believer is not just found “Not Guilty,” but is counted as perfectly righteous in God’s sight. Praise God! Now, the Catechism seems to link the “not guilty” side of things with the innocence and holiness, but I think it should rather be linked with the sacrificial death side of things. Do you see what I’m getting at? There’s no reason whatever to say that the Catechism is wrong, as the work of Christ is all one glorious package, wrapped up in his person. It does seem to me, however, that the articulation could be a little sharper. Maybe one of you Heidelberg scholars (like Dr. Scott Clark) could set me straight, if I’m messed up.

Practical: Every sermon must address the person and work of Jesus Christ, but not every aspect of the person and work. Over the course of time, however, all the aspects should be covered and covered again. Preachers of the Word ought to be able to link what seem like the small parts of Christ’s person and work to the salvation of the world. Nothing is insignificant. All must be preached and taught. Further, all must be preached with vigor and interest. Theological details are not just I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed on licensure exams, they are lively and important things to be preached with joy.

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The Blessed Virgin

Heidelberg Catechism #35

Q. What does it mean that he “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”?

A. That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took to himself, through the working of the Holy Spirit, from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature so that he might become David’s true descendant, like his brothers in every way except for sin.

Theological: This was one of the touch points in the Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy that ripped apart almost every mainline Protestant denomination in the United States in the early 20th century. The “enlightened” Modernists (sometimes called theological Liberals) contended that modern, educated people could no longer believe the mythical and nonsensical parts of the Bible. These Modernists either questioned or out-rightly denied things like the bodily resurrection, miracles, and of course the virgin birth of Jesus. What, after all, is more ridiculous than Jesus being born of a virgin? So, as J. Gresham Machen argued in his famous book, Christianity and Liberalism, our choice is between historic Christianity and an entirely different religion called Liberalism or Modernism. How could something like Christ’s virgin birth be so important? Two things: 1) the denial of it betrays a departure from the Scripture. If a man is willing to deny what’s clearly taught in the Scripture, it shows that the Scripture is not his authority. Such a departure from the authority of the Bible will, I repeat: will, will, will always bear fruit… and not the kind of fruit you wanna eat. 2) The virgin birth safeguards both the complete divinity and complete humanity of Jesus. Without both complete divinity and complete humanity, we don’t have ourselves capable savior.

Practical: Do we cheerfully and boldly preach the virgin birth? Do we marvel at the miracle of the incarnation? Do we glory in the mythical aspects of the absolutely true story of God becoming man? In connection with that last question, if any of you preachers/pastors have not read C.S. Lewis’s little essay, “Myth Became Fact,” stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and read it. It should be required reading for every seminary student, especially in seminaries that take thorough-going theology very seriously, like mine. God sent forth his Son in a way that is absolutely mind-blowing. We should appreciate the impact of that and pass it along, with great power, in our preaching.

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