Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 26-28)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 26-28)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 26-28. Here is a brief review.

WLC 26  How is original sin conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity?
A.
Original sin is conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity by natural generation, so as all that proceed from them in that way are conceived and born in sin.

WLC 22 established that “all mankind descending from him [Adam] by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell in that first transgression.” Here in WLC 26, we learn how original sin is conveyed from Adam to the rest of humanity. The phrase that the catechism uses to describe the conveyance of original sin is “by natural generation.” This means that all human beings, except Jesus Christ who was born by supernatural generation (Luke 1:35), “are conceived and born in sin” (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:19).

We must be careful, however, to understand that when we speak of how we inherit a sinful nature from Adam, we recognize that this is a spiritual and moral issue and not one of biology or genetics (as was the case in some early theologians and in the Middle Ages). Today, in our age of scientism, there are those who seek to explain or reduce these discussions to the physical world and that which can be measured and examined through the scientific method. Yet, as we just learned in the previous question, our sinful estate includes the corruption of our whole nature, whereby we are “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil” (WLC 25).

WLC 27  What misery did the fall bring upon mankind?
A. 
The fall brought upon mankind the loss of communion with God, his displeasure and curse; so as we are by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.

The misery into which the fall brought mankind may be summarized under two types: (1) Loss of communion with God and (2) God’s displeasure and curse. God’s immediate displeasure and curse is described in the judgments which He brings upon Eve and Adam immediately following their first transgression (Genesis 3:16-19). And the loss of communion with God is clearly seen in the fact that God drove man out of the garden of Eden and then barred his access back into the garden with cherubim and a flaming sword (Genesis 3:24).

Due to our loss of communion with God and His displeasure and curse, all human beings are now by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), bondslaves of Satan (Colossians 1:13-14; 2 Timothy 2:26), and “justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.” This last phrase is a lead-in to the next two questions of the catechism in which we learn of the punishments of sin in this world (WLC 28) and the punishments of sin in the world to come (WLC 29).

WLC 28  What are the punishments of sin in this world?
A. T
he punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself.

The catechism lists three kinds of punishments in this world: inward, outward, and death itself. Let’s consider these three things in turn.

First, inward punishments of sin include blindness of mind (Ephesians 4:17-19), a reprobate sense (Romans 1:28), strong delusions (2 Thessalonians 2:11), hardness of heart (Romans 2:5), horror of conscience (Isaiah 33:14), and vile affections (Romans 1:26). This is why it is necessary for God to regenerate us before we can understand and believe the gospel. As Jesus taught Nicodemus, unless a person is born again or cleansed by the Spirit he cannot see or enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5). The Holy Spirit must remove the veil of delusion and blindness that lies over our hearts before we may turn to the Lord and be freed (2 Corinthians 3:15-18).

Second, outward punishments of sin include the natural world (the curse of God upon the creatures), and all of our societal relationships (all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments). In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul explains how creation is related to both the fall and the redemption of man. After the fall God subjected creation to futility (Romans 8:20) so that presently the whole creation is groaning and longing for the revealing of sons of God at the end of the age (Romans 8:19, 22). For at the second coming of Christ, the glory of the children of God will be revealed and creation itself will be set free from its slavery to corruption (Romans 9:21).

Third, the punishment of sin in this world includes death itself. The Scripture could not be more clear: “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).

Conclusion & Good News

Thinking about what the Bible teaches regarding our inherited sinfulness from our first parents can be depressing. It’s bad news. But the Bible also teaches us the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

The good news is that the punishments of sin apply only to men and women apart from Christ. And, while believers may feel the effects of the fall and the punishment of sin in this world, the good news of the gospel is that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). So, while believers still continue to war against the remnants of sin and their own corrupt natures, we have been forgiven in Christ – the condemnation and punishment for our sin has been paid in full by our Savior. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 21-25)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 21-25)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 21-25. Here is a brief review.

WLC 21  Did man continue in that estate wherein God first created him?
A. O
ur first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.

As we have seen in a previous catechism question (WLC 17), Adam and Eve were created by God in a state of innocence, yet subject to fall (WLC 17). So, being left to the freedom of their own will, our first parents sinned and transgressed the commandment of God by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evel (Genesis 3:6-8).

WLC 22  Did all mankind fall in that first transgression?
A.
The covenant being made with Adam as a publick person, not for himself only, but for his posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell in that first transgression.

According to Scripture, there are two covenant (or federal) heads: all men have either Adam or Christ as their head – “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

This question, however, deals with how the covenant headship of Adam affects the whole human race. One of the key passages in the New Testament that describes our relationship to Adam as our covenant head is Romans 5:12-21. In this passage, we learn that Adam’s first sin brought sin and death into the world, and that all mankind sinned in Adam’s first transgression (Romans 5:12). Because Adam was our representative, all mankind receives condemnation through Adam’s first sin (Romans 5:18). And, we are all born with a corrupt or sinful nature (Romans 5:19).

In this answer, it’s important to note that it is those who are descended from Adam by “ordinary generation” who have sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is descended from Adam not by ordinary generation, but by extraordinary (or supernatural) generation (Luke 1:34-35). As the perfect God-man, Jesus is exempt from the consequences of the fall of Adam.

WLC 23  Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. T
he fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

An estate of sin and misery is the natural condition for all mankind descended from Adam. As Romans 3:23 tells us, “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And again, from Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

WLC 24  What is sin?
A.
Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.

Here, the catechism gives us the definition of sin. Having a clear and biblical definition of sin is important because it helps us to understand our lost condition and how every man falls short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And, the two kinds of sin which are defined here are sins of omission (the want of conformity unto any law of God) and sins of commission (the transgression of any law of God).

It is easier to understand sins of commission where in everyone who practices sin practices lawlessness (1 John 3:4). In the case of sins of commission, one breaks the law of God. However, in the case of sins of omission, one fails to live up to the standards of God’s law, and “cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10).

Thus, we sin when we fail to live up to God’s standards. And, we sin when we break God’s standards.

WLC 25  Wherein consisteth the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. T
he sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called Original Sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.

In WLC 25, we learn that there are three aspects of the fallen state of man. The first two aspects make up what we commonly refer to as “original sin.” Original sin includes two parts which we might refer to as “legal” and “organic.”

The legal part of original sin is the imputed penalty of Adam’s first sin. This is the judgment or condemnation due for Adam’s sin, which the Bible tells us is imputed to all men (Romans 5:16). The organic part of original sin is the corrupt and sinful nature which all men inherit from Adam (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9). In Ephesians 2:1-3, the Apostle Paul speaks of both of these parts of original sin when he says that before believers were born again, we lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind (the organic part of original sin – a corrupt nature); and we were by nature children of wrath (the legal part of original sin – the imputed penalty of Adam’s first sin).

The third aspect of the fallen state of man is “actual transgressions” – individual sins of our thoughts, words, and deeds. These actual sins proceed or flow from the original sin in which we’re born. Jesus taught that the actual sins that we commit – things like evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander – these all come out of our sinful hearts (Matthew 15:19). Likewise, James tells us that we are tempted when we are carried away and entices by our own lust, which when conceived, gives birth to sin, resulting in death (James 1:14-15).

Conclusion & Application

Some of these distinctions – especially in this last question (WLC 25) regarding the different aspects of our fallen, sinful estate and the different parts of original sin – may seem overly pedantic and of no practical usefulness. Yet, properly understanding the definition of sin and these categories of original sin is very important and practical.

Let me give you just one current example of an issue that is plaguing Christians and the church today. There are some professing Christians who are part of what has come to be known as the “Side B, Gay Christian Movement.” In essence, they confess to be “gay but celibate” Christians. In so doing, they are actually saying (or at least, implying) that one of the aspects of original sin (the organic part – our corrupt nature) is not sin itself and therefore does not need to be repented of. Only “actual sins” need be repented of.

This is essentially an adoption of the Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) doctrine of concupiscence. According to the RCC, concupiscence is the desire, lust, or inclination to evil in all human beings, but it is not sin itself and therefore, we are not thereby made guilty; and, we need not repent of this inclination (see the Catechism of the RCC, 405). Just so, there are some in the “gay but celibate Christian” movement who may repent and abstain of “actual sins” but who do not recognize the inclination to sin (a corrupt nature) as sinful in itself.

Additionally, this movement also tends to speak about sins of commission (the actually breaking of God’s law) but fails to adequately deal with sins of omission (failure to abide by God’s law). Viewed this way, the pursuit of righteousness is not about positively seeking to keep God’s law, but only negatively seeking to not break God’s law.

In stark contrast, the good news of the gospel tells us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those who are born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-9) are washed, sanctified, and justified!

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-12)

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 19-20)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 19-20)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday we covered questions 19-20. Here is a brief review.

WLC 19  What is God’s providence towards the angels?
A.
God by his providence permitted some of the angels, wilfully and irrecoverably, to fall into sin and damnation, limiting and ordering that, and all their sins, to his own glory; and established the rest in holiness and happiness employing them all at his pleasure, in the administrations of his power, mercy, and justice.

This catechism deals with a topic for which there is often much unfounded speculation: angelology. Yes, that’s actually a word which, according to Merriam-Webster, means “the theological doctrine of angels or its study.” WLC 16 dealt with the creation of angels, here we are concerned with the fall of some angels and the work of angels in general.

First, we learn that God providentially permitted some of the angels to willfully and irrecoverably fall into sin and damnation. The word “irrecoverably” refers to the fact that, according to what we learn in Scripture, there is no plan of salvation for fallen angels as there is for fallen men (John 8:44; Hebrews 2:16). And there are at least two places in Scripture that speak of the fall of some of the angels and their subsequent judgment:
(2 Peter 2:4) “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…”
(Jude 1:6) “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day…”

Commenting on the passage in Jude, John Calvin writes, “like military deserters, they left the station in which they had been placed.”

But what is the job of the angels? For what purpose did God create the angels? The catechism summarizes the job of the angels by speaking of how God employs them, at His pleasure, in the administrations of His power, mercy, and justice. Simply put, they perform the word of God, obeying the voice of His word (Psalm 103:20-21) and thus do all that He commands in order show mercy and execute justice. Regarding God’s people, one of the specific jobs of the angels is to serve and protect believers; the angels are “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:13-14).

WLC 20  What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created?
A.
The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the Sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.

The next series of questions in the WLC deal with God’s providence toward man in his original state of innocence, his fall into sin, and God’s provision of redemption from the fall. We begin, in this question, with a description of God’s providential provision to man in the garden of Eden. And, God’s providential provision includes at least six things:
(1) Habitat: God placed man in paradise in order to dress (or work) it, along with the freedom to each of the fruit of the earth (Genesis 2:8, 15-16)
(2) Dominion: God gave man rule over the creatures (Genesis 1:28)
(3) Companionship: God ordained marriage for his help (Genesis 2:18)
(4) Communion: God afforded man an intimate relationship with Himself (Genesis 1:26-29; 3:8)
(5) Order: God instituted the Sabbath day (Genesis 2:3)
(6) Covenant: God entered into a covenant of life with man (Genesis 2:16-17; Hosea 6:7)

This covenant which the Lord entered into with Adam in the garden is called a “covenant of life” because the promise for Adam’s obedience was the tree of life (Genesis 2:9). Though we do not know how long this probationary period could have lasted, it would seem that if Adam had not sinned, he would have been granted access to the tree of life.

Later in the catechism, this covenant is also referred to as the “covenant of works” (WLC 30 & 97) because Adam was required to maintain person, perfect, and perpetual obedience to the Lord (Galatians 3:12; Romans 10:5). In other words, Adam had to work – do works of righteousness in obedience to God’s law – or incur God’s judgement (Gensis 2:17).

Conclusion & Application

Understanding the covenant of life (or works) is of the utmost importance for understanding the gospel. This covenant, which Adam failed to uphold by sinning against God, is parallel to God’s provision of redemption through the covenant of grace. Understanding how Adam fell, as the head of the human race, is a necessary component of understanding the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18).

The Bible teaches us that when Adam sinned and broke the covenant of life (or works), all mankind sinned in him and fell with him. But all those who belong to Christ, the second Adam, receive the forgiveness of sins and inherit eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). The Apostle Paul summarizes this good news of the gospel in this way:

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:17-19)

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 18)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 18)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday, we covered question 18. Here is a brief overview.

WLC 18  What are the works of providence?
A.
God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.

Having established that God executes His decrees in the works of creation and providence (WLC 14), last week we concluded our look at God’s work of creation: His creation of all things (WLC 15), His creation of angels (WLC 16), and His creation of mankind (WLC 17). The next set of questions describe God’s work of providence according to the same pattern: God’s general providence over all things (WLC 18), His providence towards angels (WLC 19), and His providence toward man (WLC 20 and following).

WLC 18 seems relatively short and simple; however, it engendered a great amount of discussion and study of the Scriptures in our Sunday school class. This is not unusual but is often the case when one begins to think through the importance and implications of understanding the fact that God “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).

Dissenting Voices to God’s Providence

But let’s back up a little bit and recognize that there are religious systems in our day that deny God’s providence. For instance, naturalists and those who embrace scientism, along with some other religions such as Hinduism, believe that the world is a closed system. According to these systems there is no outside force or God who rules over creation or is able to affect any change in the world.

Then there are deists who believe that God created the world, but that He is no longer involved; He has left the world to work out its own destiny. Near the end of the 20th century, some Christians began to embrace a philosophy known as open theism, the central tenet being that God is not sovereign over history, but actually learns the outcomes of history as they unfold.

Unfortunately, there are many professing Christians who say that they believe in the sovereignty and providence of God, yet become practical deists in certain areas. The two main areas in which many Christians deny God’s sovereignty and providence and become practical deists are the doctrine of salvation and the doctrine of evil. With regard to the doctrine of salvation, many professing Christians deny God’s sovereignty and providence by seeking to elevate the free will and autonomy of man. We discussed the Biblical doctrine of election and predestination when we considered WLC 13 (https://hillcountrypca.org/westminster-larger-catechism-q-11-13/).

The Problem of Evil

With regard to the doctrine of evil, many professing Christians deny God’s sovereignty and providence over sin, disease, and calamity out of a desire to protect God’s lovingkindness and holiness. It can be difficult to understand how God providentially ordains and orders even the sinful actions of men, disease, and natural disasters for His glory and the good of His people. After all, we are not God. However, the Scriptures clearly teach that God, in His holiness, wisdom, and power, preserves and governs all His creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to His own glory (WLC 18). And, at the same time, God is not the author of sin or approver of sin (James 1:13-17; 1 John 1:5; 2:16; Psalm 50:21).

Let’s consider some examples. When Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, he explains how it was according to the plan and providence of God that he came to Egypt: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7). This is an astounding statement when you consider that the means that God used to send Joseph to Egypt were the sinful actions of his brothers who kidnapped him, almost killed him, and then sold him into slavery. Likewise, after their father Jacob dies, Joseph seeks to comfort his brothers with the same appeal to God’s providence: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).

The New Testament bears a similar testimony to God’s providence over sin and the evil actions of men. In his sermon the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter bears testimony to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 2:22-36). In the midst of this testimony, he declares that Jesus was delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God and nailed to the cross by the hands of godless men who put Him to death (Acts 2:23). It was God’s predetermined plan that godless and sinful men would nail Jesus to the cross.

Later in the book of Acts, Peter and John bear witness to Jesus Christ before the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1ff). After they are released from the custody of this religious council, the Christian believers in Jerusalem offer up a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord (Acts 4:24-30). In the midst of that prayer, they make this declaration: “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 purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28). Again, notice the assertion here that all those who were in committed opposition to Jesus and His followers (Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel) did what God’s hand and purpose predestined to occur.

We find another testimony to God’s sovereignty and providence over sin, disease, or calamity, in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul explains how he received some kind of physical affliction in order to keep him humble, to keep him from exalting himself. He says, “there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul’s implication here is that though his physical affliction was a messenger of Satan, it was given to him by God. It would seem that Satan was the unwitting tool in God’s plan of sanctification for Paul.

Conclusion & Application

As we said from the outset, the fact that God providentially ordains and orders sin, disease, and calamity while not being the author or approve of sin is something that is difficult for our finite minds to grasp. Yet, we find both of these truths taught side by side in the Bible. And notice that when speaking of God’s providence over evil, God’s Word doesn’t use words like “allowed” or “permitted,” but that it was according to His “predetermined plan.”

So, what are some of the applicable “take-aways” from understanding the full extent of God’s providence? Well, for one thing, it reminds us that God is God and we are not! Indeed, it reminds us that He is the only true and powerful God who created all things out of nothing and rules over all things by the word of His power.

It is also a great comfort for those who have repented and trusted in Christ, the adopted children of God. Because God powerfully preserves and governs all His creatures and all their actions, we can rest in the fact that our loving and powerful God “causes all things [including sin, disease, and calamity] to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). He is not passive; He actively ‘causes’ all things.

And so, we are assured and convinced “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 14-17)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 14-17)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday, we covered questions 14-17. Here is a brief overview.

WLC 14  How doth God execute his decrees?
A.
God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will.

This question and answer concludes the section dealing with God’s decrees (WLC 12-14); and, it also introduces the next section regarding how God executes His decrees in the works of creation (WLC 15-17) and in the works of providence (WLC 18-20). God created all things, and rules over all things by His providence, according to the “counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

WLC 15  What is the work of creation?
A. T
he work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein, for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good.

The doctrine of creation has been the subject of many different controversies over the years, particularly with the rise of the predominance of the theory of evolution in the 19th century. Bible-believing Christians, however, take God’s Word at face value, understanding the creation account in the opening chapters of Genesis to be an accurate historical account. Thus, God created the world within the space of six days and declared it all “very good” (Genesis 1:1-2:2).

There are two other phrases from the answer to the question that bear emphasizing. Many people have sought to speculate as to the exact date of creation. For example, James Ussher (1581-1656), an archbishop in the Church of Ireland meticulously analyzed the genealogies of Scripture to arrive at October 23, 4004 B.C. as the date of creation. Yes, the WLC simply avoids speculation by declaring that God created the world “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1).

The other phrase that is of interest is the reference to how God made “of nothing the world.” This doctrine is often referred to by way of the Latin phrase: creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”). That is to say that God is eternal, but matter is not. “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

WLC 16  How did God create angels?
A.
God created all the angels spirits, immortal, holy, excelling in knowledge, mighty in power, to execute his commandments, and to praise his name, yet subject to change.

We may deduce from the fact that God created all things (Colossians 1:16), that He created the angels. Yet, we told very little in Scripture about how or when God created the angels. Still, by their descriptions in the Bible, we learn that the angels differ from human beings in some significant ways. While man is a composite being of body and soul, angels are spirits without bodies (Psalm 104:4). Also, unlike man, angels are not organically created and descended from one another as humans are.

We do know the purpose, however, for which God created the angels: to execute His commands and to praise His name (Psalm 103:20-21; Isaiah 6:2-3). And, because the angels were created holy (Matthew 25:31) but some of the angels sinned and fall under the judgment of God (2 Peter 2:4), we know that God created the angels “subject to change.” A later catechism question (WLC 19) explores what we learn from Scripture regarding the fall and judgement of those angels that sin against God.

WLC 17  How did God create man?
A.
After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.

On the sixth day of creation, God created mankind as the pinnacle and crown of all that He had made and declared His creation to be “very good” (Genesis 1:24-31). Regarding the God’s creation of man in the Garden of Eden, we may summarize the teaching of this question under four main headings:

(1) The Givenness of Man’s Nature

In a confused and confusing world, understanding the inherent objective givenness of human nature is of the utmost importance. The Bible teaches us God created man with one of two genders: male or female (Genesis 1:27). This is not something that we can modify or change according to our own proclivities or imagination. Gender is not determined by the opinion or state of one’s mine; it is a God-given objective reality.

(2) The Composite Nature of Man

Regarding the composite nature of mankind, there is some confusion in this area today as well. Man is not merely a body without an eternal soul like the animals. Nor is man a soul who has a body. Man is unique among God’s creation (different from animals and different from the angels) in that he is a composite being of body and soul (Genesis 2:7, 22).

(3) The Image of God in Man

Thus, distinct from the animals, man is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This image of God includes knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24). Since the fall, though it is marred and corrupted by sin, man still retains this image of God (Genesis 5:3; Romans 5:19). The fact that man retains the image of God is the basis of the answer of many ethical and moral questions of our day that encroach upon human dignity.

(4) The Mutable Status of Man

Finally, man’s original status in the Garden of Eden was one of being in a state of innocence. The law of God was written upon his heart (Romans 2:14-15), the same moral law that was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai in the ten commandments (WCF 19.1-2). In his state of innocence, man had the power to fulfill this law (Ecclesiastes 7:29). As His vice-regent in this world, God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply in order to fill the earth and subdue, and to rule over all the animals of the earth (Genesis 1:28).

Yet, because our first parents did not keep the law of God, but rather sinned and rebelled against God (Genesis 3:6), we recognize that mankind was subject to fall (it was possible for their state of innocence to change). Thus, since the fall and due to the curse of God, woman’s pain in childbirth has been greatly multiplied (Genesis 3:16), man’s work in creation is made more difficult (Genesis 3:17-19), and all those descended from Adam are born under a sentence of death (Genesis 3:19; John 3:36; Ephesians 2:3).

Conclusion

The Biblical doctrine of creation, particularly with regard to the special creation of man in God’s image, is under attack from many quarters today. Whether it be the theory of evolution, the homosexual agenda, or the transgender movement, a proper understanding of the uniqueness and givenness of human nature is sorely needed. That’s why it is important for us to revisit these topics as we study the Westminster Larger Catechism and look to the Scriptures to understand who we are as created in God’s image.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 11-13)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 11-13)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday, we covered questions 11-13. Here is a brief overview.

WLC 11  How doth it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?
A. The scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.

The previous three questions established from Scripture that there is only one living and true God (WLC 8), that there are three Persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (WLC 9), and describes the special relationship that exists between the Persons of the Godhead (WLC 10). This question (WLC 11) now sets forth to establish from Scripture that the Son and the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) are equal with the Father.

The evidence from Scripture which proves that the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father falls into at least four categories: the Scriptures ascribe to the Son and the Holy Spirit such (1) names, (2) attributes, (3) works, and (4) worship, as are proper only to God. For example, God’s Son Jesus Christ is called “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20); likewise, when confronting Ananias in his deception, the Apostle Peter declares that Ananias has lied to the Holy Spirit – he has not lied to men but to God (Acts 5:3-4).

Additionally, both the Son and the Holy Spirit are spoken of in Scripture as being involved in the work of creation, something that only God can do. The Apostle Paul declares that “by Him [the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God] all things were created…all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). And, from the opening verses of the Scriptures, “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). These are just a few of the examples of how the Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father.

The next two questions of the WLC have to do with the decrees of God.

WLC 12  What are the decrees of God?
A.
God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.

The decrees of God are those things which He has determined (unchangeably foreordained) by Divine edict outside of time (from all eternity). The Scriptures speak of God’s decrees being established before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8; 17:8).

The catechism employs three adjectives to describe God’s decrees. First, God’s decrees are wise, they use the right means to attain the right ends; He is a Wonder of a Counselor (Isaiah 9:6; Romans 11:33). Second, God’s decrees are free, not constrained or influenced by anything other than Himself; He shows mercy to some and hardens others according to His own desire (Romans 9:18). Third, God’s decrees are holy, righteous and free from sin; God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

While some may balk at the idea that God is sovereign over His creation and that “He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” the Scriptures are very clear that there is nothing which falls outside of God’s rule; He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). For the one who has placed His faith and trust in Christ and is an adopted child of God, the doctrine of God’s decrees is a great comfort. Our loving Father is the sovereign God of the universe who cares for the sparrows and numbers the very hairs of our heads; therefore, we need not fear any created thing (Matthew 10:28).

And with the Psalmist, we may declare, “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

WLC 13  What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
A.
God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favour as he pleaseth,) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonour and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.

While God’s decrees include whatsoever comes to pass, this question and answer seeks to explain what the Scriptures teach concerning the particular decree of election: He has elected some angels to glory and in Christ has chosen some men to eternal life. Later questions of the catechism explain God’s creation of the angels (WLC 16) and God’s providence towards the angels (WLC 19). For now, it enough to simply point out that while not much is said about God’s decree of election and angels, at one point the Apostle Paul speaks of the election of some angels when he describes them as God’s “chosen angels” (1 Timothy 5:21).

With regard to God’s decree of election and mankind, the Scriptures say much more. For instance, in Romans, chapter 8, God’s Word describes the effectual call of God to justification and glorification as being rooted in God’s predestinating those whom He foreknew: For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified (Romans 8:29-30).

Later in Romans, the Apostle Paul draws upon well-established prophetic imagery (Isaiah 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-11) to describe the relationship between God and humanity in terms of the relationship between a potter and his clay. God “has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans 9:18). The clay has no right to question the work of the potter (Romans 9:19-20). Indeed, the potter has a right over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use (Romans 9:21).

God’s predestination and election of some men to salvation displays the glory of His justice, but it also displays the glory of His grace. God’s grace in election is highlighted in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus: “He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:4-6).

This passage clearly teaches the truth that God chose those who would come to believe in Christ before the foundation of the world, He predestined us. And, this predestination was to the praise of the glory of His grace, to magnify God’s lovingkindness and mercy.

One other clear teaching from these verses bears highlighting. God’s predestination and election of some men for salvation is rooted in His love and kind intention of His will. It is of the utmost importance that we keep the love of God and the predestination of God in the proper order. If we put these things in the wrong order, it will affect our view of God’s character, and not in a good way. God does not love us because He elected us, because He is beholden to His covenant promises. Rather, God elected us and makes covenant promises to His people because He first loved us.

Finally, we should note the different language that the catechism uses to describe election to eternal life (God’s choosing some to salvation) and reprobation (God’s condemning others to eternal punishment in hell). Some hold to a view known as double-predestination. The idea of double-predestination is that God is the cause of both salvation and reprobation in the same way (by the same kind of positive decree); however, the language of the catechism helps to see the biblical teaching that God’s acts of salvation and reprobation are asymmetrical. God’s choosing of some men for salvation is described as His having “chosen some men to eternal life.,’ God’s condemning others to eternal punishment in hell is described as His having “passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath.”

While some people dally in the logical out-workings double-predestination, it is important and helpful to understand the doctrine of predestination according to the language and teaching of Scripture. Thus, we must begin with the disposition of man since the Fall: sinful, cut off from God, deserving of His wrath. All men are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), born abiding under the wrath of God (John 3:36), and by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).

Therefore, since man’s natural condition since the Fall is sinful, depraved, and dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), in order for anyone to be delivered from the punishment of his sins, God must first regenerate and make us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). By His grace, He must save us through giving us the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thus, all those whom God has not elected, He passes by and leaves them to the consequences and punishment which is due to their own sin (Romans 9:13-16).

Conclusion & Application

God’s decree of election can be difficult to understand, and sometimes difficult to swallow. Indeed, the Westminster Confession of Faith explains that “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care” (WCF 3.8). So, we must be careful, humble, and biblical in our handling of this doctrine. That same paragraph in the confession speaks of the purpose and benefits of rightly understanding this doctrine.

The right understanding and application of the decree of election and predestination teaches us that God is the One who saves. This is the foundation of our hope in evangelism, and in our own salvation, sanctification, and perseverance. The doctrine of election is also the foundation of our assurance of salvation; God not only determines the end of our salvation in glorification, but He also makes sure that the means are put in place to see us through to that end.

Finally, a proper and reverential understanding of the doctrine of election causes us to be diligent in making our calling and election sure by adding to our faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:1-11).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 8-10)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 8-10)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday, we covered questions 8-10. Here is a brief overview.

WLC 8  Are there more Gods than one?
A.
There is but one only, the living and true God.

The fact that the Christian faith is monotheistic (the belief and worship of the one true God as He is revealed in the Scripture) is a foundational doctrine. It’s so important that this question and answer is also a part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC 5). Our belief that there is only one living and true God is confirmed in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6).

WLC 9  How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A.
There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.

While there are technically other religions that may be classified as monotheistic (e.g., Judaism, Islam, Unitarianism), the Christian faith is unique in it’s understanding and belief that there are three Persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Of course, the word “Trinity” does not occur in the Bible; however, the New Testament is especially clear in teaching that all three Persons are “one true, eternal God.”

A later question in the WLC (Question 11) deals with how we know that the Son and the Holy Spirit are divine and equal to the Father. So, for now, we’ll just mention a few places in the New Testament where we find the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly or implicitly taught. At the beginning of His earthly ministry, when Jesus was baptized at the Jordan River, all three Persons of the Godhead are present and interacting with one another; the Spirit of God descended as a dove upon the Son of God and the voice of God the Father declared from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:16). In what we have come to call the Great Commission, Jesus instructs His Church to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). And, the Apostle Paul concludes his second letter to the church in Corinth with a Trinitarian benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

WLC 10  What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A.
It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes the difficulty for us to understand the Trinity as akin to two-dimensional beings trying to understand a three-dimensional being. Of all the illustrations that I have heard that try to explain the Trinity, I find this one to be the most helpful. As creatures there are just some things that we cannot understand or fathom about our Creator.

Yet, we do learn some things about the relationships and “personal properties” of the three persons of the Godhead in Scripture. This catechism question and answer speaks of two of these: (1) “It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father” (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:5-8 (Psalm 2:7)); and (2) “It is proper…to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity”  (John 15:26; Galatians 4:6).

The relationship of the God the Father to God the Son has historically been described as the “eternal generation of the Son.” Another way of saying this is to speak of how the Son of God is always being begotten of the Father. We say it this way because the Scriptures speak of the Son of God as “begotten of God the Father” (Hebrews 1:5; John 1:18) and that the Son of God is God (Hebrews 1:8; John 1:18) who therefore cannot change. This language can be confusing; if you’d like to read more about this doctrine, I recommend beginning in with article from Table Talk magazine: https://tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/what-is-eternal-generation/.

The understanding of the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other two Persons of the Trinity was the source of controversy in the history of the Church. Mark Noll explains, “The Latin word filioque, which means ‘and from the Son,’ was a seemingly small, but highly divisive later addition to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. In AD 589 the Third Council of Toledo inserted filioque after the affirmation of faith in ‘the Holy Spirit…who proceeds from the Father.’ Gradually adopted by the Western church, this doctrine of the Holy Spirit proceeding from both the Father and the Son (‘double procession’) – as opposed to from the Father only (‘single procession’) – was a major factor in the later split between the Eastern and Western churches.” (Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Third Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997, 2000, 2012), 51).

The Eastern Church’s complaint against the addition of the filioque clause was based on two points: (1) in their view, the Western church had made a unilateral change to the Nicene Creed which was supposed to be universally ecumenical; (2) the East saw the addition of this clause as part of an effort to equalize relationships among the members of the Trinity and thus a grievous theological error. Thus, this was one of the items that led to the split between Eastern and Western Christianity in 1054 A.D.

Conclusion

With this short survey of these catechism questions and answers, the difficulty for us to understand and explain the doctrine of the Trinity and the relationship of the three Persons of the Godhead to one another is quite apparent. That is why it is important for us to be careful to remain within the “guard rails” of Scripture, to not try and say more (or less) than God’s Word does on these matters. Speculation will only lead us astray and cause us to have a distorted understanding of God and potentially lead us into heresy. When that happens, we risk worshiping a god of our own imagination and not the God of the Bible. And so, we must remember and take to heart the lesson that we learned from a previous question of the catechism: “The Holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience” (WLC 3).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 4-7)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 4-7)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism, this past Sunday, we covered questions 4-7. Here is a brief overview.

WLC 4  How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation. But the Spirit of God, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.

This question asks how the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament show themselves – or are proven to be – the word of God. The answer to this questions lists four basic ways in which the Scriptures appear to be the word of God: (1) the majesty and purity of the Scriptures; (2) the fact that all the parts of the Bible, despite having been written by over forty different authors over the course of about 1,500 years, form a unity and agree with one another; (3) the ability of the Scriptures to convince and convert sinners and to comfort and built up believers; (4) the Spirit of God speaking in the Scriptures to the heart of man.

While all of these are important, this last way in which the Scriptures appear to be the word of God is the only way by which men are fully persuaded (John 16:13-14). This is an important distinction because it helps us to see that though evidence from other disciplines (archeology, history, astrology, biology, etc.) may be helpful in confirming that the Scriptures are the Word of God, they are not sufficient. In evangelism and apologetics, in the end, Scripture and the Holy Spirit are what will be effective.

WLC 5  What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

This question and answer summarizes the teaching of the Scriptures under two broad categories. In the Bible, we learn: (1) what we are to believe concerning God (doctrine); and (2) what duty requires of us (life or obedience). Unfortunately, some people try to turn faith and obedience into an either/or issue. For instance, some have said, “Christianity is not a doctrine but a life.” However, we must always remember that orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (obedient living) go together, for “by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:3). And, as Romans 12:1-2 teaches us, coming to know right doctrine (through the renewing of our minds) is the basis for right living (our spiritual service of worship).

WLC 6  What do the scriptures make known of God?
A.
The scriptures make known what God is, the persons of the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees.

Question and answer #6 of the Westminster Larger Catechism provides an outline for the next large set of questions:

The Character of God                        WLC 7
The Persons of the Godhead              WLC 8-11
The Decrees of God                            WLC 12-13
The Execution of God’s Decrees         WLC 14-90

WLC 7  What is God?A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

The first statement in this answer can sometimes trip people up. In John 4:24, Jesus declares that “God is spirit.” Yet, this statement begins, “God is *a* Spirit.” The reason for that difference is due to the context. In John 4, Jesus is emphasizing to the woman at the well that the worship of God is not confined to a particular geographical location because God is spirit and everywhere present. In the catechism, the God is spoken of as “a Spirit” to emphasize that the Personhood of God and that He is not just an ambiguous force.

Another word in this catechism answer that can also be a bit confusing is “incomprehensible.” This doesn’t mean that God is unknowable. After all, the Bible speaks of how believers have come to know God (Galatians 5:9; 1 John 2:3-4; 4:16). Actually, the term is used here according to its archaic definition, meaning “having or subject to no limits.” That is, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Him (1 Kings 8:27).

One final thing to note about these aspects of God’s character as they are listed in this question and answer. Sometimes, people will want to choose one aspect as the core element of God’s character, and make the others ancillary to it; however, we ought not to think this way. Each of these aspects of God’s character are equally true, equally important, and equally essential to His being.

Conclusion

In the coming lessons, we will discuss the important doctrine of the Trinity, and then God’s decrees and how He executes them. I hope you will join in Sunday school as we delve deeper into the Westminster Larger Catechism and these important truths as they are revealed to us in Scripture.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 1-3)

Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 1-3)

Dear Church Family,

After a brief overview of the Westminster Larger Catechism, in our Sunday school lesson this past Sunday we began our study of the actual questions and answers. In the present context, it would be too much to give a detailed account of the class, but here are some of the highlights as we studied the first three questions.

WLC 1  What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s Chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

The “chief and highest end” refers to the ultimate purpose for which something exists. The Scriptures declare that everything has been created from God, through Him, and to Him, for His glory (Romans 11:36); specifically, believers are admonished to do all that they do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s the purpose for which God created us: to glorify Him and fully to enjoy Him forever.

In our sinful fallenness, however, man creates idols and false “ends.” For example, utilitarianism says that man’s ultimate purpose is to seek the greatest good for the greatest number of people. While seemingly noble, it is a man-centered way of thinking. Then there is hedonism which espouses the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good. Living in a therapeutic culture as we do, hedonism seems to the be the order of the day.

WLC 2  How doth it appear that there is a God?
A.
The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his word and Spirit only, do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation.

This second question provides a biblical epistemology (a theory of knowledge, how we know things). Specifically, it speaks of two ways that we know that there is a God: general and special revelation. General revelation has two components: the light of nature in man (the fact that all men are created in God’s image) and the works of God (the created universe). Both this inner and external revelation declare plainly that there is a God.

But the catechism is quick to add that there are two things that are necessary to sufficiently and effectually reveal God to men so that they may be saved: His word and His Spirit. One of the clearest places that we find this teaching in Scripture is in the first chapter of Romans. The knowledge of God is evident within man and His invisible attributes are revealed through what has been made; this general (or natural) revelation is only sufficient, however, to leave men condemned and without excuse before a holy God (Romans 1:18-20). In his natural state, man suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness and exchanges the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creature (Romans 1:21-25).

The two things which are necessary to reveal the will of God for our salvation (actually, one is a Person) are His Word and Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). One of the implications of this truth is that those who have never read the Bible or heard the preaching of gospel are not able to be saved. It drives home the imperative and necessity of sending missionaries and preachers out into the world, for “how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:12-17). And, this truth also reminds that the Word of God – or the preaching of the gospel – is not alone sufficient. Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) and the Holy Spirit works faith in us before we may believe and understand His Word (2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8). Both His Word and His Spirit are necessary.

WLC 3  What is the word of God?
A.
The Holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

The Bible declares itself to be the inspired Word of God: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So, all of the doctrines that we believe (faith), and all of our moral activities (obedience) are to be governed by God’s Word. It is the only rule of faith and obedience.

Even from the early days, Christians were referred to as “the people of the Word.” However, throughout history people have sought to displace or augment God’s Word with other man-made “rules of faith and obedience.” Some have sought to elevate tradition, while others have looked within themselves to a supposed inner light for guidance, but the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments is our final authority.

If that is the case, then the question might be posed: why do we use a confession and catechisms? The answer is that our confession and catechisms are not a rule of faith and obedience. They are simply systematic summaries of what the Bible teaches. They are only legitimate and useful insofar as they are faithful to the teachings of Scripture.

Conclusion

The catechism begins with some very important questions and answers about epistemology, natural revelation, and Scripture. It might seem odd that the catechism begins this way, rather than with the doctrine of God, Himself. But if you think about it, this just makes sense. First, we must know how we know and where to find the truth. Then, we may begin to discover and speak about the truths which are given to us in Scripture. So, it’s actually very important to begin with the doctrine of Scripture, and then to consider what the Scriptures teach, which is the next topic of the Westminster Larger Catechism.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Imperative of Catechesis

The Imperative of Catechesis

Dear Church Family,

As I wrote last week, this past Sunday we began a new Sunday school lesson series in the Westminster Larger Catechism. In our first introductory lesson, we talked about the historical context in which the Westminster Standards were written in England in the 1640s. We also talked about some of the American revisions to the Westminster Standards, their Biblical basis, and why those were made. Finally, we began looking at an overview of the Westminster Larger Catechism but will actually begin our study of the questions and answers this coming Sunday, September 25th.

So now, in addition to our Youth Catechism Class on Sunday evenings where we are going through the Westminster Shorter Catechism, I am also teaching the Larger Catechism in on Sunday mornings. At this point, you might be thinking, “Why are you so obsessed with the catechisms?!”

Well, I don’t think I’m obsessed, but I have increasingly grown convinced that there are three things that are generally lacking in modern American evangelicalism: Christ-centered expository preaching, reverential worship, and catechesis. I think I’ve written and preached about those first items quite a bit but let me emphasize here the importance of catechesis.

Catechesis

J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett define catechesis as “the growing of God’s people in the gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight.” If you did not grow up in a family or a church that used catechisms for this purpose of spiritual growth, I want to encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in the church, and to implement a regular study of the catechisms in your home – for yourself, and if you’re a parent, for your children.

Earlier this year, as part of a series of essays about why we worship the way we do, I wrote about the purpose of using catechisms in our corporate worship service. If you’re looking for resources for studying and memorizing the catechism at home, I included some resources in that essay that I think you will find helpful.

But still, you may be wondering why I believe that catechesis is so important. Actually, I have two reasons; one is personal and the other is statistical.

Personal Testimony

Personally, for me as an individual and for our family, catechesis (especially in the Westminster Shorter Catechism) has been integral for growth in faith and understanding. For me, it wasn’t until I attended seminary that I learned about the Westminster Standards and the Reformed faith. It was actually through the study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism for the first time at twenty-six years old that I came to understand the doctrines of Scripture in a more coherent and applicable way. It helped me to wrestle with the Scriptures and grow in my faith.

So, as my wife and I started having children, we began teaching them the Westminster Shorter Catechism from an early age. You’d be surprised how easy it is for young children to memorize these things. Of course, they may not fully understand everything that they’re memorizing at the time; however, over the years we also instructed them in the meaning of what they were learning and using the catechism as another tool to study the Scriptures. As they’ve grown and begun to leave the home for college and head out into the world, I’ve noticed how often they are able to use the categories that they’ve learned in the catechism. Sometimes, it has helped them to better understand, remember, and apply the teaching from a sermon or Bible study; at other times, it has helped them to discern erroneous teachings that they’ve been exposed to.

Statistical Evidence

But here’s something that really brought this home for me this week. In 2022, Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research partnered together to conduct a survey of American evangelicals to try and find out what they believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible. The results of that survey may be found online here: https://thestateoftheology.com/. I warn you: it can be pretty shocking and depressing.

Their findings are not difficult to read, but if you’d like to read a summary, a couple of days ago Christianity Today published an article about the survey entitled, “The Top 5 Heresies Among American Evangelicals.” The lead line under the title of the article reads, “It’s 2022, but Arianism and Pelagianism are steadily making a comeback, according to the State of Theology report.” You can check out the data for yourself at the above links; here, I’ll just give you the five “top heresies” from the CT article:

(1) Jesus isn’t the only way to God. (56% of surveyed evangelicals affirmed the statement, “God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”)
(2) Jesus was created by God. (73% of surveyed evangelicals affirmed the statement, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.”)
(3) Jesus is not God. (43% of surveyed evangelicals affirmed the statement, “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.”
(4) The Holy Spirit is not a personal being. (60% of surveyed evangelicals affirmed the statement, “The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.”)
(5) Humans aren’t sinful by nature. (57% of surveyed evangelicals affirmed the statement, “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.”

Conclusion

During one of our recent Westminster Shorter Catechism lessons with the youth on a Sunday evening, we were talking about the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I was telling a story of how I had met self-professing evangelical Christians who did not believe that the Son of God existed before the incarnation, before Jesus’ birth. I am happy to report that every person in our study was incredulous and hard-pressed to believe that such a self-professing Christian could exist.

But, as I meet people in the world, and as I read the results of the recent “State of Theology” survey, it is apparent that there is a lot of confusion – and even heresy – among American evangelicals today. That is why catechesis is so important. For in the confession and catechisms, we learn a summary what the Scriptures principally teach: that is, what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man (WLC 5; WSC 3).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch