The Key Passage in the Paedo-Communion Debate

All of our previous posts can in one sense be said to be a preface to this post. It should be fairly obvious that the ultimate question cannot be settled without a detailed examination of 1 Corinthians 11. There can be no serious doubt that it is the single most important text in the debate. Venema devotes an entire chapter to this passage, and I would highly recommend his careful treatment not only of the passage, but also of the various views that have striven for supremacy in the interpretation of it. I would sincerely hope that all PC advocates would find their position fairly treated. Venema’s treatment of the PC exegeses of the passage certainly jibes with my own reading of PC positions on the passage.

We will start with some more contextual concerns. We can start with this question: what is the situation which Paul is addressing? PC readings have concluded that the situation is one of factionalism, ungodly pride, and humiliation of the poorer members of the congregation by those who are richer. Thus the Supper was becoming a means of denying the unity of the body, which is inherently opposed to the nature of the Sacrament itself. So, if the Supper is supposed to show unity, that happens when everyone participates, with no one excluded. Thus, if children are excluded, that would defeat the very purpose of the Sacrament, which is to show unity in the body. PC advocates point to 1 Cor. 10:16-17 in particular to show that this is the case. Now, certainly we can say that the unity of the body of Christ is of paramount importance all throughout the letter of 1 Corinthians. Paul says it in very many different ways, ranging from the outright condemnation of factions (chapters 1,3), the condemnation of sin in the body for the good of the church (chapter 5), the avoidance of legal disputes (chapter 6), an encouragement to view Paul’s ministry as true apostleship (chapter 9), and the example of OT Israel (chapter 10), the Lord’s Supper (11), spiritual gifts as exemplifying unity in diversity, and especially the metaphor of the body (11), and the discussion of love (13). One can say that the unity of the body is perhaps the main thread that holds all of 1 Corinthians together. However, that fact does not preclude the discussion of who may participate in the Lord’s Supper, nor does unity in the church body as a whole exert some kind of particular pull one way or the other on the participation of the Lord’s Supper. And that is true for this one simple reason: credo-communion advocates do not agree that exclusion of infants from the Supper shows disunity in the body of Christ. This is especially true if the entire church agrees that this is how they should participate in the Lord’s Supper. Unity is more than possible even if not everyone participates in the Lord’s Supper.

The second contextual issue is the beginning of chapter 10, which Venema does not treat. If all participated in baptism into Moses, and all ate of the Spiritual Rock that followed them, which was Christ (no matter what their age), then does this not give prima facie evidence that fundamental continuity should exist between the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel and the Lord’s Supper? This passage, by the way, is a very difficult passage for credobaptists, since it is a clear instance of “baptizo” being used in the New Testament of infants. Is it true then, that credo-communionists are being inconsistent in their reading of this passage? I would argue that it is not the case. For one thing, as Venema says of another passage, but it could also apply to the first part of 1 Cor 10, “I object to the use of the context to override the clear particulars of the passage.” With regard to baptism, there is no 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 in the New Testament. So, the participation in baptism has continuity with regard to infants in 1 Corinthians 10. And with regard to adult participation of the Lord’s Supper, there is also continuity between 1 Corinthians 10 and 1 Corinthians 11. However, the way in which participation is required in 1 Corinthians 11 means that 1 Corinthians 10 does not tell us that infants have to partake. This will need to be argued more fully below.

And now, to the passage itself. Let us ask a series of exegetical questions which will focus our discussion. First of all, what is the nature of the remembrance in verses 24-25? Should it be translated as an objective memorial, as some PC advocates suggest? Or should it refer to subjective remembering? Advocates of the former reading point to Noah and the rainbow, where God is said to be the one doing the remembering. However, the background connection between Noah and the Lord’s Supper seems to me to be questionable at best. There is a much nearer antecedent of the word “remembering” for our purposes, and one much more likely to be in the background here. It is not the same root, although it is related. But in Exodus 12:24, the memorial nature of the Passover fairly clearly points to human remembering of God, not God remembering of His own acts. The emphasis is on how the people will observe this day, how they will be reminded of God’s activity. The word ἀνάμνησιν can mean either a human remembering, or God remembering, but in the context of Exodus 12, it would seem to me much more likely that humans are doing the remembering. This does not solve the question of who should participate. That much is evident, because in Exodus, the context is that of the first Passover, in which all Israel participated, or at the least, a good case can be made for it. However, the appeal to Noah seems to me quite far-fetched. It certainly does NOT prove that all instance of the word mean a memorial to make God remember, a position some PC advocates seem to put forward. Since the instances listed in BDAG include both meanings, it would seem to me that context must decide. For me, the decisive factor in the context of 1 Corinthians 11 is verse 26, which fairly clearly indicates that the activity in view of proclamation is done by the participants. The “for” at the beginning of verse 26 indicates that verse 26 is an explanation of the remembering in verses 24-25.

The next question is really the most crucial question, and perhaps the best insight in the entirety of Venema’s book: the switch to a generalizing “whoever,” “a man,” and “he” in verses 27-29, which indicate that Paul is now talking about how anyone can participate worthily in the Lord’s Supper. In other words, the focus has shifted from the particular abuses which gave rise to the discussion about the Lord’s Supper. No longer is that paramount in the passage. Instead, Paul moves from that concern to a discussion about how anyone participates correctly in the Lord’s Supper. See Venema, pg. 117. He puts it this way: “Though the apostle began his treatment of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 with a description of the inappropriate behavior of some members of the Corinthian church, he now moves to a series of general instructions that apply to all members of the covenant community.” In my mind, this is the most devastating argument against the PC position. The exegetical evidence which Venema adduces seems to me conclusive on this point. I have not seen any PC advocate deal with this argument. Instead, they run roughshod over the passage, arguing from the context and ignoring the particulars of this shift that happens at the beginning of verse 27.

A Pilgrim’s Life

Today being the day when every single blogger of Calvinistic leanings (and maybe even some who are not) will be noting that Calvin was born on this day 500 years ago, I thought I would review a new life of Calvin.

The slant in this biography is as the title of the blog post would suggest: Calvin as a pilgrim through life. The chapters are arranged chronologically, with an apt noun describing each period (orphan, pilgrim, stranger, refugee, etc.). I would highly recommend this life of Calvin, as Selderhuis seems to have gotten into the shoes of Calvin, and you get insight into how the man thought, and why he did and said what he did.

For instance, Calvin got the nickname accusativus while he was studying at the Collège de Montaigu. Selderhuis notes that this comment “was not meant as a compliment. The name appears to have had nothing to do with grammar, but with a perception that Calvin felt a moral obligation to tell on others to the administration” (p. 14). This helps explain Calvin’s role in the burning of Servetus, on which Selderhuis has a very balanced and sane opinion. Servetus was a dead man all over Europe (p. 204). Disbelief and active opposition of the doctrine of the Trinity was a capital offense in those days, not just in Geneva, but all through the Holy Roman Empire, according to the edict of the emperor Charles V. Selderhuis thinks that Servetus chose Geneva possibly because he wanted to get the council on his side. At any rate, he seems to have been suffering from a chronic death wish. Servetus went to Calvin’s church on August 13, 1553 (p. 205). Servetus, while eating after the service, was spotted by someone, who reported the event to Calvin, who in turn felt it his civic duty to report Servetus to the authorities. Calvin did this, and therein his involvement in the Servetus case came to an end, except that he petitioned (after the council deliberated to have him burned at the stake) to have him hanged rather than burned, as it was more humane. One has to understand that it was the council and not Calvin, who condemned Servetus to death. Calvin undoubtedly approved of the council’s decision, but it was not his decision. He was not on the council. Selderhuis also notes that “Any city that became known as tolerant of those who would deny the Trinity would be abandoned by friend and foe alike” (p. 206). This put Geneva in a very difficult position if it wanted to defend heretics. But all the advice from all the neighboring cities was to execute the man. Therefore, if Calvin is to be implicated in the burning of Servetus, then so should all the rest of Europe, for rejoicing in said crime. This may not excuse Calvin in the minds of many, but to single out Calvin, as if he were the sole person responsible, is irresponsible scholarship, and only engaged in by those who have it in for Calvin.

Selderhuis’s description of Calvin’s love for his wife Idelette, humanizes Calvin for us. He was a man, not a machine. Calvin wrote to a colleague in Frankfurt, seven years after he had lost Idelette, “What a terrible injury, what a pain the death of your wife has caused you, and I speak from my own experience. For even now I fully know how difficult it was, seven years ago now, to deal with such grief” (quoted on p. 172).

Of course, Calvin was not perfect, and Selderhuis does not have rose-tinted glasses. For instance, Calvin noted after Idelette’s death that she had never hindered him in his work. Selderhuis notes that “we might also wish that Calvin had simply dropped this remark” (p. 171). Perhaps Calvin’s work was too important in his own estimation.

All in all, I found it a very enjoyable read, based on original sources, having the feel of a scholar who had soaked deeply into Calvin’s life and work (Selderhuis has also published on Calvin’s theology of the Psalms).

Some Areas of Agreement

Doug and I are showing some signs that there is some ground at least, on which we can meet. I had to laugh at his dragging in Sarah Palin to the discussion (see, I can do it, too!). His waiting for me reminds me of the definition of infinity I came across a while back: two Midwesterners, one going north, and one going east, meeting at an intersection.

We agree that the Lord’s Supper is the fulfillment of various feasts and rituals, not just Passover. Venema agrees with that as well. What conclusions we draw from that may go out like two different tangents from a circle, but we do agree there.

We also agree that we should not presume a child to be unregenerated. I never presume that. However, I do not presume the other way, either. How many in the church have shown themselves to be unregenerated? Maybe even more than half, if you include all denominations of the visible church. The question is this: how should we treat children? Do borrow Doug’s own language in the Strawbridge book on infant baptism, we do not regard our new infant as the newly arrived Amalekite sitting at the table (a phrase I have always liked). Nevertheless, we still have to stress repentance and faith for each person. What is required for being present at the Lord’s Table?

Is representation part of the Lord’s Supper? Could we go that route? I am of two minds. I have never considered this particular question before. On the one hand, it feels right. Federal headship is absolutely the way to go on quite a few things, and this would fit right in with that. On the other hand, the requirements for participation in 1 Corinthians 11 seem to me to be addressed to all who would participate. We can say that small children can participate by watching and learning. But of course, that isn’t the same as actually eating and drinking. Is it true, then, that the only way of considering non-participating children as not excommunicated is by seeing them as represented by federal participation? I am not so sure about this. The federal principle is very strong indeed when it comes to baptism. Indeed, covenantal continuation and federal headship are the linchpins of the argument for baptizing children, and in so doing, we reckon them as part of the visible church. Is this not sufficient all by itself for saying that children are not excommunicated? Why would participation in the Lord’s Supper, whether actual or representative, be needed over and above baptism to say that they are part of the visible church? Besides, I thought excommunication was related only to sins that force the church to expel said member. This could not happen (or at least, it is extremely rare if not non-existent) or be said to happen about children. I think I understand the concern here: the concern is to make children feel included in church. This is entirely laudable. We don’t want them to feel excluded. But we can still say something like this: “Here is something special to which you can look forward,” just as we might say that about driver’s licenses, or voting, or drinking.

As to unbelievers partaking, the confessional position has always been that unbeliever do not partake of the thing signified in the Supper, since faith is necessary for proper partaking of the Supper. Is this Doug’s position? There are certain signs that say no, but it would be nice to clarify.

This Just In

The third volume of this important series is now out. Included in it are important articles by Ligon Duncan on covenant theology, Rowland Ward on subscription to the confessions, Donald MacLeod on the New Perspective, and Chad Van Dixhoorn on the Westminster Assembly at work, although all the articles will be well worth the read. A complete table of contents is available by clicking on the “sample pages” link available from the first link provided above. This is essential reading for those interested in the Westminster standards, especially is placing their work in historical context, as well as noting the assembly’s relevance for today’s debates.

A Problem Passage for the Definition of “Covenant”

I was just reading 1 Kings 8 in preparation for the Lord’s Day coming up, and I noticed a use of the term “covenant” which is extremely problematic for those who define “covenant” as “relationship.” This passage is 1 Kings 8:21. In the context, which is Solomon’s dedication of the temple, we note some interesting things.

First of all, what Solomon says indicates very clearly that the temple is the fulfillment of God’s promise made to his father David. However, verse 21 also implies that the fulfillment of the promise made to David is in turn connected to the covenant God made with the fathers when He brought them out of Egypt. This is indicated by the pronoun “our” connected to the noun “fathers.”

One is reminded of the preface to the second giving of the law in Deuteronomy 5, where Moses makes the point that it was not with their fathers (it was, but not absolutely and exclusively) that God had made the covenant, but with those present right there, all of them who were alive at the time of Deuteronomy being given to the people. In other words, 1 Kings 8:21 is a very important verse for deciding what the word “covenant” means, since Solomon is connecting the word not only with the Davidic promise-covenant, but also with the Mosaic covenant.

And here is what he says: the covenant actually resides in the ark of the covenant. What was in the ark of the covenant? The law of God (see verse 9). If covenant equals relationship, then it could not reside in the ark of the covenant. A relationship does not reside in a physical place. But it is actually said that the covenant was IN the ark of the covenant in the obvious form of the tablets of stone, on which were written the Ten Commandments. This points fairly conclusively to a definition of covenant as “agreement.” Of course, the relationship is based on the agreement, and the agreement and the relationship built upon it are closely tied together. And no, contrary to all the rhetoric of the FV folks, saying a covenant is an agreement is not a cold, legal, paperish sort of thing, any more than a marriage certificate is. Looking at my marriage certificate brings many happy memories back to me of the wedding, and of my wife, just as looking at the covenantal agreement in Scripture brings us back to God’s love for us, and the love we are required to give back to God in the form of obedience to the Ten Commandments.

Connections of the Lord’s Supper

Just to know where we are currently, this post and this post have not yet received a response from Doug.

What we are going to do in this post is a bit of intertextuality. This practice, by the way, can be defined as seeing what echoes of the Old Testament are in a particular New Testament passage, although it is not limited to this. For there are echoes of the OT in other OT passages as well, and the same for the NT. But the main issue in scholarship these days concerning this facet is the New Testament’s use of the Old. The passage we want to examine is Matthew 26:28.

τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου τῆς διαθήκης τὸ περὶ πολλῶν ἐκχυννόμενον εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.

In translation (as literal as possible): For this is my blood of the testament (or covenant), which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Quite simply put, the question is this: what is the Old Testament background for this statement? Is it the Passover, or something else? I would argue, with Venema that it is something else (see Venema, page 87). The particular echo is that of Exodus 24:8, which reads this way in Hebrew:

וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת־הַדָּם וַיִּזְרֹק עַל־הָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה דַם־הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר

כָּרַת יְהוָה עִמָּכֶם עַל כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה׃

This way in Greek: λαβὼν δὲ Μωυσῆς τὸ αἷμα κατεσκέδασε τοῦ λαοῦ καὶ εἶπεν· ἰδοὺ τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης, ἧς διέθετο Κύριος πρὸς ὑμᾶς περὶ πάντων τῶν λόγων τούτων.

Translation (of the Hebrew): And Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people and said, “Look, the blood of the covenant which the Lord cut with you, according to all these words.”

A couple of points to notice here: 1. the phrase “the blood of the covenant” is the important linking phrase. 2. The phrase is fairly rare, occurring in the Old Testament in only one other place, which is Zechariah 9:11. Interestingly, in Zechariah 9, the phrase comes just after the prophecy concerning the king coming to Zion lowly and riding on a donkey. We can say, therefore, that the phrase definitely points us to Christ. 3. In the New Testament, the majority of occurrences are in the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Mt 26:28, Mk 14:24, Lk 22:20, 1 Co 11:25). However, there are a few occurrences of the phrase in Hebrews (9:20, 10:29, and of course in 13:20). They are certainly all connected to Jesus’ sacrifice. That is the way it is used in all Scripture, which gives us additional confidence that Exodus 24 points us the same way. Notice the one key difference, however, in our passage in Matthew. Jesus inserts a key word: “my.” It is HIS blood that is now the blood of the covenant. That is because He is the perfect lamb sacrificed.

So, from this evidence, we can say that Jesus is the new Moses, offering the new blood of the new covenant, which sprinkles those in the new covenant unto salvation. Now, the point of this is not that only the leaders of the church should participate. Remember, a direct appeal to the Old Testament should not be definitive for New Testament practice (see Venema, p. 60). Rather, we see here that this evidence makes the appeal ambiguous. No one denies that the Passover is one of the precedents for the Lord’s Supper. However, Exodus 24 seems to me to be just as clear a precedent, especially given the extremely similar wording. Those who participated in this covenant renewal ceremony were representatives of the community. We can therefore phrase the question this way: in terms of Old Testament precedent for who belongs in the participation of the Lord’s Supper, which has greater weight, the Passover (which evidence is already ambiguous, see previous posts), or the covenant renewal ceremony? We are NOT arguing that the Lord’s Supper should be limited to the leadership of the church. Rather, all we seek to demonstrate is that the supposedly direct line from Passover to Lord’s Supper is not a direct line, and has other parallel lines intersecting with it, and muddying up the footprints, as it were. All that is needed with regard to the Old Testament evidence is to point out that it is ambiguous, and does not prove what PC advocates claim it does. Of course, the real debate begins and ends with 1 Corinthians, to which we shall turn in the next few posts.

The Leaven of False Teaching



Several years ago, a group of 5 so-called New Testament scholars put their heads together, and came up with the idea of going through the Gospels and marking which statements of Jesus were original, and which were made up by the apostles. They used beads to vote on each passage. If they thought that a particular statement of Jesus was genuine, they would mark it in red. If they thought it was probably genuine, they marked it in pink. If they thought it was more likely invented by the apostles, they marked it in gray, and if they “knew” that Jesus never said it, they marked it in black. What was their criteria by which they judged these things? Primarily, it came down to this: anything that sounded like the early church was obviously invented by the early church, and did not come from Jesus Himself. These 5 “scholars” were called the Jesus Seminar. They published their version of the Gospel in all these different colors. I hope you can see how absurd this all is. If the early church was actually based on Jesus’ teaching, then we would expect all of Jesus’ teachings to find echoes in the early church. So, rather than looking different from the early church, we would expect Jesus’ teaching to look just like what the early church taught. These scholars were incredibly arrogant to think that they knew better than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John what Jesus actually said. The most harmful result of their labors, of course, was that people started to lose confidence in the pages of the Bible. Then they started to think that if they didn’t like something that Jesus said, such as one of His sayings about Hell, then they could just label it as something that the church put in later, and so they could ignore it. This is an example of false teaching that has disastrous consequences for anyone who trust in it. That kind of teaching is like leaven. It spreads through your whole system of doctrine until nothing is certain anymore, and you don’t even have the Jesus of the Bible. In fact, it results in total shipwreck.

What I want us to see tonight is not only that false teaching is much, much worse than we usually think it is, but also that true teaching is much more important than we think it is. What I mean is this: most Christians today do not care about doctrine at all. We don’t care what someone is saying, as long as it is sincere, and as long as they look loving when they do it. In fact, we often judge a person’s teaching on how it makes us feel, whether loved or not. The thought of comparing a person’s teaching to actual Scripture, like the Bereans did (and were highly commended for doing so) in the book of Acts, never crosses our minds. What I hope we can see here is that Jesus warns us to be on our guard against false teaching.

Our story here starts with the disciples overlooking something rather important: they had forgotten to bring any bread. So, when Jesus talks to them about leaven, the disciples naturally jump to the logical (but erroneous!) conclusion that Jesus was talking about literal bread. But how exactly did they come to this conclusion? Well, the disciples were probably thinking that Jesus was commanding them not to get bread from Pharisees or Sadducees. But Jesus quickly corrects their false idea of what He was saying. He reproaches them for the slowness of mind. Verse 9 says, “Do you not yet perceive?” “Don’t you understand yet?”, Jesus is saying. “If bread were really a problem, don’t you think I could create another miracle like I did with the 4,000, and the 5,000? Aren’t you forgetting that I could create bread our of stones, if I wanted to do so? You are standing and talking with the one who is the very Bread of Life! Stop worrying about bread when you’re in the presence of God Almighty! Instead, worry about a different kind of problem. Instead of lack of bread, worry about the presence of false teaching.”

Now, that is a perspective on false teaching that is worlds different from most of us. What is Jesus saying? He is saying that false teaching is a greater problem than lack of bread! Lack of bread means that you might go hungry. It might even mean that we could starve to death. But false teaching means that the soul could be in danger of eternal hell-fire! This is why false teaching is so dangerous. It is because false teaching leads people astray into the path of destruction. I am reminded of the scene in John Bunyan’s book Pilgrim’s Progress where the main character, a pilgrim named Christian, is on the way to the Celestial city, another name for heaven. He still has the burden of guilt on his back, and he wants so much to get rid of it. Shortly after his entrance into the path, however, Mr. Worldly Wiseman comes to him and tells him of a great moral teacher named Mr. Legality, who can remove the burden, supposedly. However, as Christian goes off the path towards Mr. Legality’s house, there is a mountain (symbolic of Mount Sinai) that threatens him until he can go no further. Then Christian realizes that instead of helping with the burden, this advice really made the situation far worse. The false teaching of salvation by law-keeping, you see, only made it clear all the more to Christian, that he could not get rid of this burden, no matter how hard he tried. The only way Christian got rid of his burden was by traveling to the foot of the cross, where the burden loosened from off his shoulders, bounced on down the hill, and disappeared into an empty tomb.

You see, the teaching of the Pharisees was legalistic. There are some scholars who would dispute that interpretation of Judaism in this period, but it seems fairly evident that the Pharisees were legalistic. They thought that obeying the law of God was actually possible for sinful man, and so they tried to insure that it could happen. They figured that they could make up a bunch of laws, which, if you kept them, would make it so that you wouldn’t break the actual law of God. This was called “putting a fence around the law.” The trouble was, as we have already seen, they wound up putting their laws ahead of God’s law, teaching as commandments the opinions of mere men. Ironically, the Pharisees were right about one thing: and that is that salvation is by law. They were wrong, however, about who could perform that perfect obedience to the law. They thought that mere humans could do it. However, it should be clear to us that mere fallen humans cannot obey the law. But Jesus can. And it is His law-keeping that is reckoned as ours if we trust in Him.

Now, the Sadducees, as we saw last week, did not believe in the resurrection. Jesus tangled with them in another part of the Gospels, where He had shown from Moses, which was the only part of the OT that the Sadducees thought was inspired, that God was the God of the resurrection. We saw this in our Easter sermon this year. The passage from the burning bush where God says that “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel” proves the resurrection, since God is not God of the dead, but of the living. So the Sadducees taught wrong things as well.

Why should we beware of false teaching like this? What makes false teaching so dangerous? Here is a principle that is absolutely vital to understand: doctrine always results in practice. What we do always stems from what we believe. There is no such thing as impractical doctrine, unless it is false doctrine, in which case it still affects our lives. The Pharisees believed that salvation was by law-keeping. Therefore, they became legalists, and did not trust in the grace of God. The Sadducees believed there was no resurrection. Hence, obeying the law wasn’t really important at all.

Let me give us some modern examples of false teaching and how they affect our lives. There are some people out there who believe that God is always changing His plans in accordance with what people do. So God is not really sovereign. He is always moving on to plan B. If that is the case, then why pray to God at all? If God’s original plan could always be thwarted by mere men (and if mere men can thwart God’s plan, then certainly Satan could!), then there is no point in praying to God. We should only pray if we know that God can do something about the problem. You see how a wrong idea of God could threaten our prayer lives? Or, take the doctrine of the Jehovan’s Witnesses. They do not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God. However, if Jesus is not fully God, then He could not have borne the sins of all His people, for that punishment is infinite. Only Jesus as fully man and fully God could have borne our sins upon Himself. In short, if Jesus is not fully God, then there is no salvation whatsoever. Despair is the only result. Take the recent book entitled The Shack. In this book, William Young writes about a man who lost his 6-year old daughter to a vicious killer. He loses his faith in God. But then he gets a letter telling him to meet God in the Shack, the very place where his daughter was killed. He meets with God in a physical form. The Father is this large African-american woman, Jesus is a carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is this wispy, mysterious, Asian woman. This is blasphemous, since God does not have a body like men, and only the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate. Furthermore, the outcome of the book is that God is not all-powerful. There are so many doctrinal problems with the book that it is difficult to know where to begin. However, I will say just this: in the book, man becomes the judge of God. Rather than God judging us, we judge God. This puts man in an unbearable state of pride and arrogance. We won’t be tempted in the least to repent of our sins until God repents of His sins. It makes God into a very human person. This will wreck our souls if we follow that path.

Paul says in his letters that we should be well-grounded in doctrine, so that we are not swayed here and there by every wind of doctrine. I hope I have shown that false teaching can make us shipwrecked. The only way to safety is in trusting Christ, and believing correct doctrine. How do we know if something is correct doctrine? Ultimately we know that if something preaches the full Scriptural doctrine of Christ, and preaches the full doctrine of justification by faith alone, and preaches the biblical doctrine of God, then it is true. The Scripture is our touchstone for knowing whether something is true or not. We should be like the admirable Bereans, always testing what we hear against what Scripture teaches. Now, the creeds and confessions of our church can be helpful in this regard as well. We should not think of them as inspired or inerrant, like Scripture is. However, we as a church confess that the creeds and confessions of our church are accurate summaries of what Scripture teaches. So, we can use the confessions of the church to help us this way as well. In fact, they become very important once we realize that, as one venerable old Dutch pastor said, “Every heretic has his text of Scripture.” In other words, every heretic says and thinks that he is just following what Scripture says. Of course, he is twisting Scripture, but that can be difficult to see. The confessions of the church help us here, since every confession of the church was formulated against certain heresies. It would take too much time to show you this. However, we can see that the Nicene Creed, for instance, was formulated against the teaching of Arius, a heretic who taught that Christ was the first created being, and that Jesus was not fully God. In fact, Arianism is the precursor to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They believe the same thing about Jesus. The Nicene Creed guards us against such teaching by proving from Scripture that Jesus is fully God and fully man. All the confessions of the true church are summaries of Scripture’s teaching that we can use to see what false teaching is, and how dangerous it can be. We always need to be on our guard. False teaching is everywhere. Therefore, we need to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anyone who denies justification by faith alone, anyone who denies the Trinity, anyone who denies Scripture, anyone who denies that Jesus is fully God and fully man in one person. These are absolutely central.

One last comment. It is entirely possible that we could disagree with someone else about something that is not central to the Christian faith. For instance, we disagree with Baptist brothers on what age a person should be to be baptized. I hope we can all realize that although this disagreement means that we cannot exist in the same denomination with them, we are still part of the true church of Christ with them. I have many Baptist brothers and sisters who are true believers. In other words, we need to realize that some things are more central and important than others. We need to develop that discernment so that we can stand for truth when it is something central to the Christian faith, and where we can be gracious and patient when it is not something central. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, but do not beware of the teaching of Jesus Himself, or the teaching of the Bible. Cling to that which is good, and reject what is false.

William Ames on the Heidelberg Catechism

This book is a very interesting book. For one thing, it is a Puritan’s (and Ramist’s!) commentary on the Continental Heidelberg Catechism. This means that there was definitely cross-pollinating going on in the time of the post-Reformation. For more, see the excellent introduction by Joel Beeke and Todd Rester (pp. xii-xxxii). Ames was one of the Puritans invited to the Synod of Dordt. The introduction gives a brief sketch of his life and work, including an excellent discussion of Ramism (pp. xvii-xviii). This volume is the inaugural volume in the series Classic Reformed Theology. There is an excellent introduction to the entire series by R. Scott Clark. The series intends to “produce and provide critical English translations of some of the more important but generally neglected texts of the orthodox period.” One can only say a hearty amen to that!

The commentary itself is not quite what we would expect, however, in a catechism commentary, for he does not primarily comment on the catechism itself, but rather on a passage of Scripture upon which that Lord’s Day of the Catechism was based. So, for instance, Lord’s Day one is a commentary on Psalm 4:6-8, wherein is shown that the Psalmist’s “highest good… is located in God’s favor towards him” (p. 5), an excellent summary of question 1 of the HC. In other words, this book would be an excellent study in moving from Scripture to Catechism, seeing how the Catechism is based on the Word.

Just to take a few ideas from the book, under Lord’s Day 23 on justification, he says several helpful things: “People are justified either by nature, or by law, or by the gospel, but they can be justified neither by nature nor by the law” (p. 116); “In the resurrecting of our Head, Jesus Christ, from the dead, we have all been justified virtually, in whatever manner all of His posterity had been virtually sinners in Adam’s sinning” (p. 117). This latter quotation is especially important, as it proves that the connection between justification and resurrection is not original with Gaffin, however much he emphasized it. In fact, the connection is quite old.

So there is significant historical interest in this book, as a specimen of cross-pollination of the British and the Continental streams of Reformed theology; it is of interest systematically, when considered from the perspective of moving from text to catechism, and it is of interest theologically simply in what it says. I recommend it.

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