Sola Fide

We know that we are saved by grace, through faith, so that no one can boast. We know also that we are saved by faith alone, sola fide. But we must take care. What kind of faith can be trusted to go out alone?

Whenever we make theological distinctions, we have to be careful not to act like a high school biology student dissecting a frog. We are to live (and do our theology) in the same integrative way that we worship the triune God—we distinguish without separating. That said, our fathers in the church, both medieval and reformed, taught that faith had three aspects—assensus (or assent), notitia (or knowledge) and fiducia (or loyal trust).

The Scriptures say that the just will live by faith. The Hebrew word that Habbakuk uses here is most commonly rendered as loyalty. The New Testament translates this with the word for faith. What does this tell us? It tells us that faith contains within it loyalty and fidelity.

And this is why James tells us that a certain kind of faith is actually demonic. You believe that there is one God? Good for you. You think that certain doctrines are true? You know that God is one? There is nothing in this that the devil himself cannot affirm. In the current controversy afflicting the Reformed world, there are some who actually say that true faith is nothing more than mere assent to propositions. This is not merely erroneous—it is the soul destroying doctrine that undergirds all forms of modernism.

Now, you are here to worship God as a central part of your expression of your covenant loyalty to God. Biblically speaking, this means you are here in faith. You hear His word, and not the word of another. You have been washed with His water, and have refused other baptisms. You have gathered to His table, and have repented of taking morsels from the table of the world.

This is fidelity. This is loyalty. This is faith.

Westminster XXVII: Of the Word and Sacraments

1. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace (Rom. 4:11; Gen. 17:7, 10), immediately instituted by God (Matt 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:23), to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25–26; Gal. 3:27; 17): as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world (Rom. 15:8; Exod. 12:48; Gen. 34:14); and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word (Rom. 6:3–4; 1 Cor. 10:16, 21).

What is a sacrament? A sacrament is a sign, and a sign that seals what it signifies. The sacraments of the Christian religion therefore are those which signify and seal the covenant of grace. We know that a practice is such a sacrament if it was instituted by God in order to represent Christ and His salvation. A sacrament is place upon a particular individual in order to establish a link between the promises of the covenant and that person. A sacrament is also given as a means of distinguishing the saints of God from those who are not. As a result, those with such a divine mark are obligated by it. We must remember in this discussion that sacraments are inescapable; if we do not accept the two sacraments established in the Word of God, then we will make up our own sacraments. Here, sign this card. Throw your stick in the fire.

2. There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other (Gen. 17:10; Matt. 26:27–28; Tit. 3:5).

This is something we understand quite well in other realms, and it is not hard to master. With this ring, I thee wed. Really? The water cleanses us, and washes our sins away. But only a spiritual bonehead would think that water all by itself can wash away sins.

3. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it (Rom. 2:28–29; 1 Pet. 3:21): but upon the work of the Spirit (Matt. 3:11; 1 Cor. 12:13), and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers (Matt. 26:27–28; 28:19–20).

There is no power in the sacrament itself; there is power in that which the sacrament is tied to—the blessings and curses of the covenant itself. This being the case, the sacrament does not depend for its efficacy on the godliness of the one administering the sacrament. Suppose a pastor runs off with the church organist the day after somebody’s baptism. Does that nullify the baptism? Not at all. The applications of the sacraments are objective, meaning that the Spirit is at work in the words of institution. This is what brings about the resultant blessings (or curses).

4. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained (Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:20, 23; 4:1; Heb. 5:4).

As opposes to the teaching of Rome, there are only two sacraments, and not seven. They are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. According to the Confession, they are to be administered by lawfully ordained ministers of the Word. This is a good idea for reasons of good government and accountability, but I do not believe it should be a confessional issue. What should be a confessional issue is that the rulers of the Church are responsible to see to it that a right understanding of the sacraments is to be preserved, and so, at the very least, they should oversee and approve all occasions where the sacraments are administered.

5. The sacraments of the old testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new (1 Cor. 10:1–4).

The New Testament era did not usher in new sacramental realities—the people of God have always had the sacramental reality of initiation and nurture. What changed was the visible nature of the signs, not the constant reality of the things signified.

Westminster XXVI: Of the Communion of Saints

1. All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory (1 John 1:3; Eph. 3:16–19; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5–6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5–6; 2 Tim. 2:12): and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces (Eph. 4:15–16; 1 Cor. 12:7; 3:21–23; Col. 2:19), and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (1 Thess. 5:11, 14; Rom. 1:11–12, 14; 1 John 3:16–18; Gal. 6:10).

Referring here to the company of the regenerate (the saints are those united to Christ by the Spirit and by faith), the Westminster theologians make the scriptural point that such regenerate believers have complete fellowship in Christ in all that He has—grace, suffering, etc. As a result of being united to Christ, they are therefore united to one another in love. How could two people both be united to Christ, and not be united to one another? With this union, we are tied together in our gifts and graces. Following this, we are bound in our duties one to another. These duties are both public and private, and pertain to the good of one another, whether external or internal.

2. Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification (Heb. 10:24–25; Acts 2:42, 46; Isa. 2:3; 1 Cor. 11:20); as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:44–45; 2 Cor. 8; 9; 1 John 3:17; Acts 11:29–30).

At the center of our duties to one another, we find our duty to maintain this union in the worship of God. In other words, the point of unity should be cultivated in order to maintain our unity. If we turn to face one another as the principle of unity, we lose our ability to keep the unity. But unity in worship does not exclude ministering to one another in the necessities of this life—food, shelter, comfort, etc. The only requirements for this communion would be the common faith, and the providential opportunities.

3. This communion which the saints have with Christ, doth not make them in any wise partakers of the substance of His Godhead; or to be equal with Christ in any respect: either of which to affirm is impious and blasphemous (Col. 1:18–19; 1 Cor. 8:6; Isa. 42:8; 1 Tim. 6:15–16; Ps. 45:7; Heb. 1:8–9). Nor doth their communion one with another, as saints, take away, or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions (Exod. 20:15; Eph. 4:28; Acts 5:4).

Our communion with Christ is covenantal, and not ontological. If we neglect covenant theology, we get into trouble because the Bible clearly teaches our union with Him. But if there is no such thing as covenant union, then ontological union is the only option left. In the same way, the saints do not become ontologically one with each other, making property and marital relations common. Rather, we are covenantally one with one another, and this means our obligations are limited and defined by covenant.

Westminster XXV: Of the Church

1. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:10, 22–23; 5:23, 27, 32; Col. 1:18).

The invisible catholic Church is defined here as the elect, all the chosen of God from the beginning of the world to the end of it. As the elect, they constitute the body of Christ, His bride. He is the Head of the Church, and the Church (in this sense) is the fullness of Christ, who is in turn the fullness of everything. Thus defined, there is no immediate problem with affirming that the elect are the invisible Church. There are some downstream problems (depending on application) which will be addressed in the following section.

2. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion (1 Cor. 1:2; 12:12–13; Ps. 2:8; Rev. 7:9; Rom. 15:9–12); and of their children (1 Cor. 7:14; Acts 2:39; Ezek. 16:20–21; Rom. 11:16; Gen. 3:15; 17:7): and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 13:47; Isa. 9:7), the house and family of God (Eph. 2:19; 3:15), out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (Acts 2:47).

The visible Church is also catholic in an earthly sense, meaning that it is no longer confined to one nation, as it was before under the law. This visible Church is composed of anyone in the world who professes (biblically) to believe the Christian faith. When they make this profession, their children are included with them. This visible Church is to be understood as the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. This Church is the household of God, and outside of this Church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Speaking of the invisible Church (in the sense defined above), there is no possibility of salvation whatsoever.

But here is another of those rare places where we must differ with the Confession of Faith, although it is not a difference of substance, but rather a difference in how a metaphor is to be applied. A problem is created when you affirm a belief in two Churches, one visible and the other invisible. Are they the same Church or not? If they are, then why are “membership rosters” different? If they are not the same, then which one is the true Church? We know that Christ has only one bride. The natural supposition is that the invisible Church, because it is made up of the elect, must be the true Church. But this leads to a disparagement of the visible Church, and eventually necessitates, I believe, a baptistic understanding of the visible Church. Because time is not taken into account, we have two Churches, on different ontological levels.

It would be less problematic to consider the one Church under a different set of terms, and which preserve the necessary distinction made by visible and invisible. Those replacement terms would be historical and eschatological. Because time and history are taken into account, we preserve the understanding of just one Church, and at the same time preserve the necessary distinction between those church members who are saved and those who are finally lost. The historical Church is the counterpart to the visible Church, and consists of those throughout history who profess the true faith, together with their children. The eschatological Church is the elect, but when it is revealed, it is not invisible. At the last day, every true child of God will be there, not one missing, and every false professor will have been removed.

A second problem with the Confession here is the assumption that the Jews of the Old Covenant constituted the historical Church, outside of which there was no ordinary possibility of salvation. But the nation of Israel was established to be a priestly nation among the nations. Many thousands outside of Israel were saved in the time of the law. What about Melchizedek, Job, Lot, Jethro, Namaan, the inhabitants of Ninevah who repented under the preaching of Jonah, and those Gentile worshippers for whom Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple?

3. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11–13; Matt. 28:19–20; Isa. 59:21).

Within the visible Church, Christ ministers by various means of His appointment. He has granted the ministry of God to the Church, the oracles of God to the Church, and the ordinances of God to the Church. The reason He has done so is so that the saints could be gathered and perfected in the context of His household throughout the course of their lives. This Church will remain unto the end of the world, doing this essential work. Christ, through His covenantal presence, and through His Spirit, makes all these gifts effectual to their appointed end. The Lord’s Supper is effectual because Christ makes it so. The preaching of the Word is effectual because Christ makes it so.

4. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible (Rom. 11:3–4; Rev. 12:6, 14). And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them (Rev. 2; 3; 1 Cor. 5:6–7).

A perfectionistic approach to the visible or historical Church is not biblical. The catholic, visible Church does not always present the same degree of visibility or purity. And particular Churches, members of the catholic Church, exhibit this same tendency. They are more or less pure, depending on how the Gospel is taught and embraced, depending on how the ordinances are practiced, and depending on the purity of worship in their service of God. The visible, historic Church is on a dimmer switch, not an on/off switch.

5. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error (1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 2; 3; Matt. 13:24–30, 47); and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan (Rev. 18:2; Rom. 11:18–22). Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will (Matt. 16:18; Ps. 72:17; 102:28; Matt. 28:19–20).

No perfect Church exists in this fallen world. All Churches are fallible, and prone to error and compromise. This does not necessarily alter their status as Churches of Christ. Left unchecked, however, the mixture and error does threaten their status as Churches of Christ eventually because it is possible for a particular Church to degenerate to the point where apostasy occurs. In Romans 11, the apostle Paul warns the Gentile churches that they may fall through covenantal presumption in just the same way that the Jews fell. Particular Churches can be removed from the olive tree. However the olive tree itself will always stand.

This is why we can say that there will always be a Church on earth to worship God according to His will. The olive tree will never be chopped down, and one day will fill the earth with her fruit. But this does not mean that particular branches cannot be pruned from the tree. This is why we insist that the catholic Church was given a promise that she would never fall. The Church at Rome was given no such promise, and in fact, the dire covenantal warnings mentioned above (with regard to severance from the olive tree) were delivered expressly to the Church at Rome. They are found, after all, in the letter to the Romans.

6. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22). Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof: but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God (Matt. 23:8–10; 2 Thess. 2:3–4, 8–9; Rev. 13:6).

The Church cannot have an earthly Head, but only the Lord Jesus Christ. This excludes any earthly head, but particularly the bishop of Rome. The section in bold, indentifying the pope as the Antichrist, has been deleted from the American version of the Confession. This improvement involves more than rejecting just an interesting doctrinal understanding of the papacy. This removal opens the way for a preterist understanding of New Testament prophecy, over against this particular historicist understanding.

Art Is Not A Tupperware Container for Truth

“It is this omnipresent flavour of feel that makes bad inventions so mawkish and suffocating, and good ones so tonic. The good ones allow us temporarily to share a sort of passionate sanity. And we may also—which is less important—expect to find in them many psychological truths and profound, at least profoundly felt, reflections. But this comes to us, and was very possibly called out of the poet, as the ‘spirit’ . . . of a work of art, a play. To formulate it as a philosophy, even if it were a rational philosophy, and regard the actual play as primarily a vehicle for that philosophy, is an outrage to the thing the poet has made for us” (C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, p. 82).

Retailer of Rejuvenating Violence

“When Heidegger laments modernity’s reluctance to exercise the ‘will to mastery,’ it should be remembered that his lament is being expressed in a University of Freiburg lecture hall in 1935, at the height of Germany’s Nazi frenzy. Given that historical setting, how is one to assess Heidegger’s grandiloquence, delivered to those whose ears were ringing with the bombast of Hitlet’s rally speeches? We must place Heidegger’s Olympian prose in precisely this setting in order to feel its darker implications. ‘The violent one, the creative man,’ writes Heidegger, ‘must risk dispersion, in-stability, disorder, mischief.’ The ‘violent one knows no kindness and conciliation.’ Like Nietzsche before him, Heidegger sensed how dependent humanity has always been on the structures of sacred violence, and, like Nietzsche, he felt that a return to these structures was imperative and that it was the biblical tradition that stood in the way of this important revival. What is missing in Heidegger’s subtile and evocative discourse is the suffering of the victims who are at the receiving end of all the culture-rejuvenating violence. For someone of Heidegger’s genius, this oversight is not likely to have been inadvertant. He was, after all, retailing Nietzsche’s will to power to the world, and everything depended on the ability of the superman to override the moral misgivings with which the Judeo-Christian tradition had burdened him . . . When all the metaphysical mists fade away, at the heart of the Nietzschean and Heideggerian project is the hardening of the human heart” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, pp. 255-256).

Building Her House

And the collection of columns that Nancy wrote for Credenda is also in. This one was printed with two different covers, so don’t let that fool you. Same book, two covers.