Some Historical Confessions on the Passion Week

One of the visible characteristics of Reformed (or reforming) churches is that it is confessional, not in a Roman Catholic sense where you confess your sins to a priest, but confessional like in doctrinal. Although I rejoice witnessing resurgence of Reformed interests, especially, from the neo-Reformed (so called “young, restless, reformed”), my concern is that one is not really Reformed without being confessional, namely historical confessions.

To think that somehow we just discovered the mammoth of theological truths is simply a sign of arrogance in our part, and does a huge injustice to historical theology. Hence, to help us to think through some aspects of this Passion Week, let me offer some of the confessions from our church history:

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563):

40. Why did Christ have to go all the way to death? Because God’s justice and truth demand it: only the death of God’s Son could pay for our sin.

41. Why was he “buried”? His burial testifies that he really died.

42. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die? 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.

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

44. Why does the creed [i.e. the Apostle’s Creed] add, “He descended into hell”? 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 ealier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell (from Lord’s Day 16).

The London Baptist Confession (1689):

Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator

4. This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, which that he might discharge he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.

5. The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.

6. Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.

Chapter 11: Of Justification

3. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf; yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

Comments on London Baptist Confession Chapters 20-22

I am currently teaching a comparative study of London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) with Westminster Confession of Faith during our Sunday school hour. I’ve been having rich experiences both preparing for the class and lively discussions during the class. The following are my highlighted points and comments from last night when we covered Chapters XX to XXII:

LBCF – Chapter XX: Of the Gospel and the Extent of Grace Thereof

Point 2 makes a clear distinction between the special revelation and natural revelation, and then it points out the superiority and sufficiency of Scripture over the inferiority of natural revelation. Here’s a case in point: “This promise of Christ, and salvation by him, is revealed only by the Word of God.” That means God exclusively chose to unfold the hidden wonders of the gospel through the only means of God’s revealed word. And this has several important implications. For instance, God did not choose to reveal his redemptive gospel through interpretative dance, drama, or any other means but the word. Apart from clear expositions of Scripture Christ and the gospel cannot be heard.

Now notice the inferiority of the natural revelation: “Neither do the works of creation or providence, with the light of nature, make discovery of Christ.”

Point 3 once again reminds us the primacy of preaching, since it is God’s chosen means in getting the gospel to peoples of various nations: “the preaching of the gospel has been granted unto persons and nations, as to the extent or straitening of it.”

LBCF – Chapter XXI: Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

Ultimately Scripture is the highest court in regards to faith and living. However, there are areas where it is opened (liberality) to one’s conscience – (e.g., having wine once in a while with meals, going to movies, listening to secular music, etc.). And this is where controversies lie amongst many well-meaning folks. If not careful, it easily falls into one of two camps – legalism or liberalism (antinomianism).

Since our conscience can be self-deceived (been tainted with sin), this is where community of God’s covenant people is extremely helpful in discussing and discerning issues.

LBCF – Chapter XXII: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day

The first statement of Point 1 begins with the function of natural revelation, that is, it sheds “light” on the fact that God exists: “The light of nature shews that there is a God.” In fact the natural revelation illuminates on the reality that God has lordship and sovereignty over all of his creations. It further reveals that God is just, good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might.

However, the problem with natural revelation is that it is insufficient in revealing what God wants in how he is to be worshipped. This is where the Scripture proves once again of its superiority and sufficiency over natural revelation. Unlike natural revelation, the special revelation, namely the Bible, both explicitly and implicitly reveals what is expected and how God is to be worshipped. This single truth shatters much of erroneous notions and questionable applications that are seen in many churches today. For instance, what nonsense to think and say “God doesn’t care how we worship as long as we worship Him with sincerity.” This is why LBCF states: “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself.” That means we don’t set the policy and procedure in how we worship; instead it is God who instituted what is the acceptable way of worshipping him. The fact that there is “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God” clearly implies that there is also the wrong way(s) of worshipping him. That is why Point 1 states “that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.” This is what theologians call “the regulative principle of worship.” It simply means do what God prescribes and don’t do what he didn’t prescribe. So where do so-called interpretive dancing, skits, burning candles, drawing pictures, woman preaching, and so on fit into worship service? They don’t.