The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed is arguably the most famous and important creed in all of Christendom. The 4th century was a tumultuous one, both politically and religiously. At the center of the religious upheaval was a man named Arius, a Presbyter from Alexandria, who taught that Jesus was something less than divine, something different than the Father who alone was God. There was also another religious man who needs mention: Athanasius. Also from Alexandria, Athanasius would later become Bishop of Alexandria and chief defender of the Holy Trinity.

Politically the man that stood at the center was Constantine. After his dramatic victory at the Melvian bridge (312 AD) and his subsequent conversion to Christianity, Constantine became the chief promoter and defender of all things Christian, demonstrated in acts like the Edict of Milan (313 AD) and, perhaps most importantly, the convening of … Read More »

God’s Gracious Call

The five points of Calvinism often go under different names.  Sometimes they are called “The Five Points,” others refer to them as “Biblical Christianity” (Spurgeon), and, of course, sometimes they are described as a TULIP.  Equally common, “Doctrines of Grace” is used to refer to them.  Grace. Grace is an appropriate way to think of these doctrines for at every point they force us back to the gracious plan of God to effect our redemption.  It is by grace we have been saved (Eph. 2:8) and the grace extends back to election and is present today in perseverance.  The whole of the Christian life is by grace.

Even among these doctrines of grace there is one, the I in Tulip, known as Irresistible Grace. When we speak of Irresistible Grace we are thinking specifically of conversion in real time.  The Bible … Read More »

Easter Hope

People say the darnedest things at funerals. Orthodoxy often gives way to sentimentality. The religion of Scripture often takes a back seat to the folk religion of the day – a toxic blend of new-age wackiness, a smattering of Bible verses and a healthy dose of sappy sentimentalism. When this is all mixed together we hear about people floating on clouds and singing with the angels. And, almost always, we hear of the blessings of being delivered from the body.

Much of this stems from trying to make sense about things the Bible really doesn’t talk about. Frankly, apart from a couple of New Testament verses, nothing is said about the intermediate state (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8) – the time between death and the resurrection of the body. The note the Bible strikes is one emphasizing the final state, the … Read More »

Passion Sunday

Robert Farrar Capon is most certainly correct when he suggests that Jesus’ actions at the beginning of the week of his passion are a “sustained series” or a “chain” of “acted parables.” So, when we read of the Triumphal Entry and of his weeping over Jerusalem and of his turning over tables in the temple and of his cursing the fig tree we are reading actual historical events, but they are actual historical events choreographed for very specific purposes and freighted with theological meaning. And this includes the climatic events of ministry: the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Coming. All of these historical events happened—or will happen—but there is more to them than just a happening. Confronted with all of these we are forced to ask: Why? Why did they happen? What is God up to in them? What is … Read More »

The Glory of Regeneration and Adoption

On one occasion Jesus described his religious antagonists as slaves to sin and sons of the devil! Yowzers! That’s one way to get people’s attention. But don’t forget – these aren’t just any people. These are people who never tire telling the world that they are free from sin and that they have Abraham (and by extension God) as their father. Like the tables in the temple, Jesus turns their claims upside down and exposes them for what they really are. Their slavery and sonship will fully manifest itself when they crucify the Lord of glory.

It’s important that we don’t stop there, though. What Jesus says about them is also true of us, apart from our union with Christ. Apart from Christ, we too, are slaves to sin and can only claim the devil as father. Apart from Christ, God will … Read More »

The Baptism of Our Lord

This Sunday millions of Christians around the world will feast again. Last week it was for Epiphany—the celebration of the gospel going to the nations symbolized in the coming of the wise men from Asia and the Middle East. This week it’s the celebration of the baptism of our Lord. It’s analogous to Epiphany, just much bigger. In Epiphany Jesus is revealed to a handful of people from outside Israel—traditionally three. At this baptism Jesus is revealed to the entire world. A voice from heaven announces to the entire world Jesus’ messianic vocation.

Additionally, Jesus’ baptism is testimony of what God is up to in his Son. Jesus’ baptism calls us back to the beginnings of the Bible – to the waters where the three persons of the Trinity were at work in the creation of the world. Likewise, at Jesus’ … Read More »

Sola Fide: Faith Alone

Most religions and religious movements have formal and material principles from which authority is derived and by which doctrines are summarized, respectively. Usually the formal principle is a text(s) while material principles tend to be the summary or central teaching(s) of the religion or the movement. The material principle of the Reformation is sola fide. This, no doubt, was what Luther was getting at when he called justification by faith articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae – the point of belief which determines whether the Church stands or falls. Likewise, G.C. Berkhouwer,

The confession of divine justification touches man’s life at its heart, at the point of its relationship to God. It defines the preaching of the Church, the existence and progress of the life of faith, the root of human security, and man’s perspective for the future.

Sola fide is the … Read More »

The Wrath of God, Part 2

To be sure, Romans 1:18-32 is about God’s wrath. Paul leads out with that in 1:18, connecting it to what has already been highlighted about God’s righteousness being extended in the gospel of Christ. The reason we desperately need God’s righteousness is because we are sorely lacking in the righteousness department and “because (for) wrath is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). That stipulated, an equally important theme in Romans 1:18-32 is worship. Summed up in 1:24-25: Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their heart…because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever!” Amen. And again in 1:21: “They did not honor him.” And 1:23: “and exchanged the glory … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Sola Fide

As noted when thinking about sola scriptura, most religions and religious movements have formal and material principles from which authority is derived and by which doctrines are summarized, respectively. Usually the formal principle is a text(s)—hence sola scriptura is the formal principle of the Reformation—while material principles tend to be the summary or central teaching(s) of the religion or the movement. The material principle of the Reformation is the next sola under consideration: sola fide. This no doubt was what Luther was getting at when he called justification by faith articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae-the point of belief which determines whether the Church stands or falls. Likewise, G.C. Berkhouwer:

The confession of divine justification touches man’s life at its heart, at the point of its relationship to God. It defines the preaching of the Church, the existence and progress of the life of faith, the root of human … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Sola Scriptura

All religions have authoritative texts and persons to whom they look for direction and guidance. This is sometimes called the formal principle of religion. As we have noted recently in our Sunday school class, the formal principle of Orthodoxy is the Bible and sacred tradition. In Catholicism it’s the Bible and tradition and the pope and the magisterium. After the reformation, two traditions—Anglicans and Methodists—would come to emphasize a slightly nuanced position which became known as prima scriptura; the teaching that holy Scripture is first among other places of God’s revelation.

In contrast to all of these, the formal principle of the Protestant reformation was Sola Scriptura: by scripture alone. Alone set this off from Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and later Anglicans and Methodists, and their competing and complementing sources of authority.

Scripture alone is the sole repository of God’s authoritative revelation, the … Read More »