Results tagged “confessions” from Reformation21 Blog

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?

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One of my close friends was telling me about a recent interaction he had at a Reformed seminary with a student who was preparing to go into college ministry. In the course of their conversation, my friend and this seminarian entered in on the subject of sexual sin. This young man insisted that there is no sexual sin that is more heinous than another. My friend pushed back on that idea, explaining to him that the Scriptures and our Reformed Confessions teach otherwise. The young man then gave my friend the common rebuttal, "Jesus talked more about self-righteousness than sexual sin; and, he said that self-righteousness was worse than sexual sin." Ironically, this response only lends support to the idea that some sins are more heinous than others. However, it has sadly become the most common way in which many pastors have recently sought to downplay the severity of sexual sin. Contrary to the current narrative, the Scriptures, the Reformed Confessions and principles of nature teach us that some sins are more reprehensible than others.

Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus references Sodom and Gomorrah in order to teach varying degrees of condemnation for the unrepentant. When he first commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel to the cities in Israel, Jesus told them, 

"Whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!" 

Then, after the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum rejected His words and works, Jesus said to his disciples, 

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes...And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."

Commenting on Jesus' appeal to Sodom, John Calvin wrote: 

"Christ mentioned Sodom rather than other cities, not only because it went beyond them all in villainous crimes, but because God destroyed it in an extraordinary manner, that it might serve as an example to all ages, and that its very name might be held in abomination. And we need not wonder if Christ declares that they will be treated less severely than those who refuse to hear the gospel. When men deny the authority of Him who made and formed them, when they refuse to listen to his voice, nay, reject disdainfully his gentle invitations, and withhold the confidence which is due to his gracious promises, such impiety is the utmost accumulation, as it were, of all crimes. But if the rejection of that obscure preaching was followed by such dreadful vengeance, how awful must be the punishment that awaits those who reject Christ when he speaks openly!"1

The purpose of Jesus' appeal to Sodom and Gomorrah was not to lighten the sin of those cities. It was to heighten the sin of the cities in which he did his mighty works and wonders. When he wanted to find the most egregious example with which to draw a comparison, Christ appealed to those cities that were engaging in homosexual gang rape and violence. In Israel in Jesus' day, no civilizations were considered to be as far gone as those of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God spoke through the Old Testament prophets about the sin and judgment of Israel and the nations, He often did so by comparing them with Sodom (Isaiah 1:9, 10; 3:9; 13:19; Jer. 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 53, 55, 56; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9). 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 83 captures the essence of Jesus' teaching: 

Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? 

A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. 

The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 151 explains that the aggravations of offense are based a number of different factors. The first of which has respect to the persons offending. When explaining what they meant when they spoke of "persons offending," the members of the Westminster Assembly wrote:

"If they be of riper (i.e. older) age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others." 

Certainly, no one would take issue with this explanation--at least, not in part. Our society unequivocally acknowledges that it is a heightened offense for men who hold positions of power to abuse that power in order to prey on women for sexual gratification. When God places men or women in positions of power or influence, such individuals have an increased responsibility to use that power for the glory of God and the well-being of others. When, instead, men or women chose to abuse that power for self-pleasing ends, God considers it to be a more heinous sin. This is just one small example of what the members of the Assembly mean when they refer "aggregations from...place" and "aggravations from...office." 

While there is a great deal more to unpack and glean from Westminster Larger Catechism 151, it is important for us to note what the members of the Assembly say in Larger Catechism 152

Q. 152. What does every sin deserve at the hands of God? 

A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserves his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.

Though some sins are most certainly more abhorent than others--and deserve greater judgment than others--"every sin, even the least...deserves the wrath and curse" of God and "cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ." There are no grounds for anyone to think that he or she is in a better spiritual position than others by nature. We are all, by nature, under the wrath and curse of God (Eph. 2:1-4). Just because we may not have fallen into some particular sin doesn't mean that we are, by nature, more righteous than others. The Scriptures level the playing field, so to speak, at this point. All of us are condemned by the Law of God, by nature, because of our natural depravity (Rom. 3:19; Gal. 3:22). Neither does this, in any way whatsoever, give us a license to make light of what we may deem to be "less heinous sin." We cannot, because of Jesus' teaching on varying degrees of judgment, downplay even the least sin in our lives. The same Jesus that teaches us that there are varying degrees of judgment teaches us that if we so much as look at someone to lust after them we have already committed adultery with them in our hearts; and are, therefore, liable to judgment--unless we repent (Matt. 5:28-30). Additionally, we must acknowledge that the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover the sins of any, no matter what sins they have committed or what sinful lifestyles they have embraced. If men and women will repent and turn to Christ, trusting only in His blood and righteousness, they will be forgiven and redeemed. The blood of Jesus is of such infinite and eternal value that it covers every sin of those for whom it was shed, no matter how atrocious that sin. 

The Alliance has a growing list of scholars and contributors leading our efforts to proclaim historic confessional doctrine for a modern reformation. One of those contributors is Dr. Scott Redd on ChristwardCollective.org.

In order to keep you in the loop about what our contributors are doing, we alert you to an exciting conference next week in DC. Reformed Theological Seminary, where Redd is President, invites you to join the third annual ReForum: Confessing Christianity: Yesterday's Reformation for Today's Public Life.

The event will include a message from Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn, followed by a panel discussion with Scott Redd and other faculty members. Dr. Van Dixhoorn's recently published Confessing the Faith: A Reader's Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith will be the springboard for discussion.

The event is Thursday, November 13, 2014, 7pm-9pm at Foley & Lardner LLP, located at 3000 K Street, N.W., Suite 600 Washington, D.C. 20007. If you would like to attend, RSVP to nherndon@rts.edu. This is not an Alliance event, so be sure to interact with RTS.

And if you attend, be sure to stop Scott and let him know you heard about this from the Alliance!

Confessors and confessions

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I wonder if I might draw your attention to a series of volumes that ought to be known to church historians and historical theologians, and those who are interested in the same? The series is published by Reformation Heritage Books, and each volume so far has been compiled and introduced by James T. Dennison, Jr. (Professor of Church History and Biblical Theology and Academic Dean at Northwest Theological Seminary). The series is entitled, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. The volumes are not cheap, but serious historians and those interested in the confessional heritage of the church will certainly appreciate them.

Volume 1 (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster / RHB) covers the years 1525 to 1552. Several of the thirty-three texts included are here in English for the first time. Each is simply and clearly set out, preceded by a brief introduction. If nothing else, it gives a rich and encouraging sense of one's inheritance as a Christian confessor. This volume carries us from Zwingli's Sixty-Seven Articles of 1523 through to the Consensus Genevensis of 1552.

Volume 2 (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster / RHB), covering the years 1552 to 1566, provides a further 35 confessions, each with a lucid and brief introduction. This volumes includes both the Forty-Two and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, the Heidelberg Catechism, and such lesser-known works as the Geneva Students' Confession (1559), Beza's Confession (1560), productions from Tarcal and Torda and Enyedi, and the delightfully named Synod of Gönc (1566). Particularly fascinating are those truths which our forefathers thought primary (and therefore worthy of confessing), and which today are often discounted as secondary (and vice versa). One of the values of such a study is to send us back to our Bibles to recalibrate our sensitivities, informed both by the necessities of the present and the instruction of the past.

Volume 3 (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster / RHB) surveys the years 1567 to 1599. Again, while the price of this volume cannot be denied, it is a worthwhile investment, especially for seminaries and scholars. Several features stand out here: one is catholicity, for here we are roaming through Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, Germany, Scotland, England and Holland, yet tracing patterns that are often familiar from the first volumes and which stretch across vast distances. At the same time, we see that unity and uniformity are not the same thing, for - while there is no doubting the common causes evident in this material - we can also see how they are adapted for and expressed in concrete situations. Here the introductions come into their own, showing the fires in which these documents were forged. Then we see the brilliant thoroughness of these various confessors. These are no lightweight constructs built of shoddy materials, but masterpieces of theological reflection and conviction. Such collections as this push us out of our own time and place and bring scriptural truth before us with a freshness and liveliness that belies the suggestion of dry and musty academia that might lurk around such volumes.

Volume 4 is just being published (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster / RHB) and completes the series. It brings us from 1600 to 1693. If I am able, once I set my eyes on it, I will add a few words here. I can suggest that, if it maintains the standard of scholarship as well as the quality of production of the previous volumes, it will be equally worthwhile. Dennison is doing those who love the Reformed heritage a rich service, and I hope it is being properly valued.

Say it with confessions

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BoT confessions.JPGFor those persuaded beyond all reasoned argument that Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year (and, indeed, for those who are not), might I draw your attention to a couple of new volumes from the Banner of Truth? Just published are two gift edition confessions of faith in the Pocket Puritan series.

The Westminster Confession is that approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647, with chapters 20, 23 and 31 as altered, amended and adopted as the Doctrinal Part of the Constitution of the PCA in 1788, with footnotes to identify other alterations by the OPC and PCA.

The gents at the Banner have gone with the popular title for The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, which saves the hassle of writing "The (Second London) Baptist Confession of Faith 1677/1689" every time you want to refer to it. It includes the all-too-often-overlooked epistle to the judicious and impartial reader (hooray!) but sadly omits the appendix on baptism (understandable, but boo!). The text has been lightly edited for the modern reader.

They are both in a soft cover edition (that durable leather-lite feel) at £10 or $14 each. Small enough to slide into a common or garden pocket, these are ideal editions for those who want to learn or to refresh their understanding of these gems from the past.

All in all, I sincerely hope that these small but rich volumes will get these time-honoured testimonies to Biblical truths into the hands and hearts of more people. Buy one for the Baptist/Presbyterian in your life, whack it in the Crimbo knitted footgear, and get ready for the whoops of joy untrammelled on that morning that hordes of you will be celebrating with all manner of vim and excitement.

Confessionalism and Male Oppression!

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In preparing for the time of Bible-empowered sharing at my usual Sunday gig at St Olaf the Sublime, I came upon this outrageous piece of androcentric oppression from one of those dead white males who's gruesome shadow lies so long and dark across the bloody centuries of brutal male oppression of women in the church.  He's talking about the Westminster Confession -- or the WestMANster Confession as my good friend, Hysteria Snaptwig, DPhil wittily calls it!:

The Churches that sincerely hold to the Confession of Faith do not credit it with inerrancy; but they do regard it as a formulation of doctrine that is thoroughly in agreement with the teaching of Holy Scripture, and they are entitled to continue doing so until and unless the contrary be proved. But it is a significant fact that critics of the Confession have never seriously challenged its teaching at any specific point as being inconsistent with the doctrine of Holy Scripture.  Their quarrel with the Confession really is that, in times of doctrinal laxity, it binds them too closely to Biblical teaching and denies them the right to propagate doctrine that is at variance with Holy Scripture.

G.N.M. Collins [Professor of Church History, Free Church of Scotland]


Well, MISTER Collins (and I don't mean that as a compliment!), I don't know who you are; but if you think that saying what you mean and meaning what you say is a Christian way to behave, then all I can say is you've never grappled with the kind of thealogy which I have so graciously and narrativally articulated over the years in a jouissance-inducing, non-elitist, non-objectifying, thoroughly empowering of `the Other' kind of way.  Take your oppressive, logocentric, demonic view of words, confessions and integrity and put them where they belong -- in the uncreative dustbin of andrarchical dustbin of male-dominated but now thankfully in the past history.  All men are evil; but confessional men are more evil than others.  Thank goodness I have arrrived and the age of enlightenment (in a post-foundationalist, post-enlightenment, post-Friends sense) can truly begin.  After all, if you had listened to me then you would hardly have.... (continues for another 98 pages)