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Doctrinal Resources January 24, 2013

Posted by JP in Discussion.
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Basic overview of Christian Theology

Christianity is a monotheistic faith based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament Scriptures. Christianity regards the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) as the inspired word of God and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.

The Westminster Confession of Faith

The Westminster Confession of Faith is a Reformed confession of faith in the Calvinist theological tradition. Although drawn up by the 1646 Westminster Assembly, largely of the Church of England, it became the ‘subordinate standard’ of doctrine in the Church of Scotland and has been influential within Presbyterian churches worldwide (with appropriate changes it has also been adopted by some Congregationalists and even Baptists).

In 1643, the English Parliament called upon “learned, godly and judicious Divines”, to meet at Westminster Abbey in order to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government and discipline of the Church of England. Their meetings, over a period of five years, produced the Confession of Faith, as well as a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. For more than three centuries, various churches around the world have adopted the Confession and the Catechisms as their standards of doctrine, subordinate to the Bible.

The Second Helvetic Confession

After the great Reformer Ulrich Zwingli died in battle in 1531, Heinrich Bullinger succeeded him as minister of the church in Zurich. Bullinger was a model Reformed minister. A preacher, he expounded Scripture at least twice a week. A scholar, he wrote Latin commentaries on many books of the Old Testament and on every book of the New Testament except Revelation. An educator, he initiated a system of schools for Zurich and was rector of the Carolinum, a theological academy. A person with ecumenical and political concerns, he was in correspondence with leaders of the Reformation and with rulers throughout Europe. A pastor, he welcomed religious refugees into his own home. When the plague swept through Zurich in 1564, he insisted upon ministering to the afflicted, even though he knew he might become infected and die.

In 1561, Bullinger composed the document that later became known as the Second Helvetic Confession. He intended to attach it to his last will and testament to the Zurich church, but events in Germany soon brought it into the public arena.

The publication of the Heidelberg Catechism created trouble for the man who had ordered its preparation. Lutherans considered it too Reformed in spirit, and they demanded that Frederick the Elector, governor of the Palatinate, be brought to trial for heresy. Not a theologian himself, Frederick turned to Bullinger, who offered Frederick this confession as the basis for his defense. When the Imperial Diet, the ruling body of Germany, met for trial in 1566, Frederick was exonerated.

Meanwhile, the churches of Switzerland adopted Bullinger’s confession as their new confession of faith. Soon finding wide acceptance throughout Europe and beyond, it was translated into French, English, Dutch, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, Arabic, and Turkish.

Reflecting the theological maturity of the Reformed churches, the Second Helvetic Confession is moderate in tone and catholic in spirit. From the opening paragraphs it emphasizes the church and its life and affirms the authority of the Scriptures for the church’s government and reformation. By including an article on predestination, the confession asks the church to trust in God’s free and gracious election of its membership in Jesus Christ. At the same time, the confession addresses the practical life of the gathered community, detailing matters of worship, church order and conflict, ministry, the sacraments, and marriage.

Monergism
(Greek mono meaning “one” and erg meaning “work”) is a term for the belief that the Holy Spirit is the only agent who effects regeneration of Christians. This view, held by Reformed and Calvinistic groups, sees salvation as the work of God alone, from first to last. He has chosen in eternity past whom He will save out of lost humanity (often referred to as the elect), and in His timing He will bring the elect to faith through the work of the Spirit for the sake of the Son, and save them forever to the praise of His glorious grace (Romans 8:29f). This is opposed to the synergistic view as held by Arminianism and its theological predecessor Semi-Pelagianism where salvation is seen as a cooperative effort between God and man.

Quoting John Hendryx, “Monergism simply means that it is God who gives ears to hear and eyes to see. It is God alone who gives illumination and understanding of His word that we might believe; It is God who raises us from the dead, who circumcises the heart; unplugs our ears; It is God alone who can give us a new sense that we may, at last, have the moral capacity to behold His beauty and unsurpassed excellency.”

Reformation Theology

“…if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

A summary of Reformed theology, or what it means to be Reformed, may be seen in the following: [1]

  • It means to affirm the great “Sola’s” of the Reformation. (See the Five Solas)
  • It means to affirm and promote a profoundly high view of the sovereignty of God.
  • It means to affirm the doctrines of grace. . . to see God as the author of salvation from beginning to end. (See Calvinism)
  • It means to be creedal. . . to affirm the great creeds of the historic, orthodox church. (See e.g. the Nicene Creed)
  • It means to be confessional. . . to affirm one or more of the great confessions of the historic orthodox church. (see e.g. the Westminster Confession)
  • It means to be covenantal. . . to affirm the great covenants of Scripture and see those covenants as the means by which God interacts with and accomplishes His purposes in His creation, with mankind. (see Covenant Theology)
  • It means to take seriously the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. . . to affirm the primacy of mission and understand that mission.
  • It means to have a distinctly Christian worldview that permeates all of life.

See also: Reformed.org

Essentials of the Gospel

The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Rom. 1:16

The word gospel is derived from the Old English godspell (good spell, or morally excellent words having magical power). Gospel represents the translation of the Greek euangelion, a word that originally meant a reward given a messenger for delivering good news, but later became the Good News itself. It is used more than 75 times in the New Testament with the specific connotation of “good news.” This word is the root of our evangelical.

The gospel is often taken to mean the first four books of the New Testament, but this tradition did not develop until the time of the apostolic fathers. In the Biblical context it represents the Good News of the kingdom of God and salvation through Christ. Jesus preached the gospel of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15; cf. Matt. 4:17, 10:7, Lk. 4:43) This is similar to gospel preached by John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2) This gospel of the kingdom of heaven (also referred to as the gospel of God and the gospel of the kingdom of God) was to be preached to the world prior to the consummation of the age: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14) The primary importance of the gospel was emphasized by Jesus when He said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mk. 8:35)

Following His crucifixion, Jesus gave us our great commission: “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Lk. 24:46-47) Paul’s gospel included the basic facts of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:3-4) The gospel of Paul proclaims the redemptive activity of God through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is the gospel of salvation (Eph. 1:13), peace (Eph. 6:15), hope (Col. 1:23), life and immortality (2 Tim. 1:10). The gospel is the word of truth (Col. 1:5) that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Rom. 1:16) The gospel, as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, has the power to convict (1 Thess. 1:5) and to convert (Col. 1:5-6). Though the gospel must be taught with simplicity (1 Cor. 1:17), reducing the core if its message to two or three elements would be at the expense of other essentials.

The Gospel

  1. Christ is Lord (Rom. 10:9). Jesus Christ is truly God, and yet is a Person distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:1, 14, 5:18, 8:24; Mat. 28:19).
  2. All have sinned against God and fall short of His glory (Rom. 3:23). We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1-3).
  3. God loves us while we are yet sinners (Jn. 3:16, Rom. 5:8).
  4. Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3, 1 Jn. 4:14). He assumed a human nature (Jn. 1:14, Rom. 8:3, Phil. 2:6-11) and lived a sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:15, 5:9, 7:26, 1 Pet. 1:18-19, 1 Jn. 3:5). At the cross, He provided:a) Atonement (propitiation, reconciliation), a penal substitution, an offering of sacrifice, a price paid (Rom. 5:8-11). The atonement secured the application of:
    b) Redemption, the payment of a ransom (Mk. 10:45, Heb. 9:15), “buying back” from the bondage of sin (1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23, Gal. 1:4).
  5. Christ was raised on the third day (Rom. 6:4-7, 1 Cor. 15:4, 20-22), and ascended into heaven after forty days (Acts 1:2-3, 9-11, 2:33, 1 Tim. 3:16), and was enthroned at the right hand of God (Mk. 16:9, Eph. 1:20, Heb. 1:3) where He constantly makes intercession for His people (Rom. 8:34, Heb. 9:24, 1 Jn. 2:1) until He returns as Judge (Mat. 24:30-31, 25:31-32, Jn. 5:22, 27, Acts 10:42, 17:31).
  6. Regeneration, a new birth (Jn. 3:3, Tit. 3:5) that makes us new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) through the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3:5-8).
  7. Faith (Rom. 3:25, 4:5, 10:9). Saving faith consists not merely of knowledge and belief (Mat. 13:20-21, Ja. 2:19-20) but of trust (2 Cor. 1:9-10), self-surrender (Lk. 9:23, Gal. 2:20), and obedience (Rom. 6:17, 16:25-26). Faith is not a result of our own endeavor, but is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation (Jn. 14:6, Acts 4:12).a) We are saved by grace, not by works: Faith alone (Rom. 3:28, 4:5 Gal. 2:16).
    b) Confess with the tongue Christ as Lord (Rom. 10:9).
  8. Repentance (Mat. 4:17, 10:7; Lk. 4:43, 24:46-47, 13:3, 5).True repentance represents a turning to God, a turning from evil, and an intent to serve God (1 Thess. 1:9). It involves the intellectual recognition of sin (Rom. 3:20), an emotional change of feeling for sin committed against a holy and just God (2 Cor. 7:9-10), and a willful turning away from sin (Acts 26:18, 20, 1 Pet. 3:11).
  9. Justification, a forensic (i.e. legal) declaration of acquittal that excludes all possibility of condemnation (Rom. 5:1, 19, 8:33-34), providing salvation from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9). We are justified by grace through faith (Rom. 3:24-25). Justification is by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness: As our sins were reckoned to Christ, so Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to us (Phil. 3:9).
  10. Adoption into the family of God (Jn. 1:12, Gal 4:4-7, Eph. 1:13-14, Heb. 9:15), into a union with Christ (Rom. 6:5, 7:4) where we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and eternal life (Jn. 3:15).
  11. Sanctification [positional], to be set apart, to be made holy. A status conferred not by moral transformation but by the sacrifice of Christ (Heb. 10:10).
  12. Progressive sanctification, an ongoing process that conforms us to the image of Christ (Phil. 2:13, 2 Cor. 3:18, Heb. 12:14, 2 Pet. 3:18).
  13. Perseverance through divine preservation. God, through the Spirit, secures the final salvation of all true believers (Jn. 6:37-40, 10:28-29, Rom. 8:39-39, Phil. 1:6, 1 Pet. 1:5).
  14. Glorification, redemption of the physical body. (Rom. 8:23, 1 Cor. 15:53, 2 Cor. 3:18, Phil. 3:20-21). We will be like Christ (1 Jn. 3:2) and will dwell with Him (Rev. 21:3-4) for eternity (Mat. 25:46).
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