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An Introduction to authentic christianity

An address given at the American Vision Super Worldview Conference, 2010

by Joe Morecraft, III

A merican Vision has just published a five-volume commentary entitled

Authentic Christianity. It is an explana- tion and application of the Westminster Larger Catechism and of the Reformed Faith of which that catechism is its most mature representation. The reason for its title – Authentic Christianity – is to identify biblical and historical Christianity in its purest hu- man expression in contrast to all the counterfeit and synthetic expressions of the Christian Faith that swirl around us today, deceiving so many. The apostle Paul wrote that the church of the living God is the pillar and support of the truth making her not only the proclaimer and teacher of the truth, but also the guardian and cus- todian of the truth. Therefore he gives her this exhortation: …guard the trea- sure [of revealed truth] that has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing argu- ments of what is falsely called knowl- edge, which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. This commentary is an attempt to do just that and to show generations to come that people in the twenty-first century believed the faith of our fathers. Why the Westminster Larger Cat- echism? In the 1640’s England was in

the social, economic, political, and re- ligious turmoil of civil war. England’s king, Charles I, marched a mercenary army on his own people to impose his despotic will on them as the unques- tioned head of church and state. In response to his actions, Charles was arrested and found guilty in a court of law of tyranny, treason, and murder, as an implacable enemy of the common- wealth of England and sentenced to be beheaded, January 30, 1649. In the midst of all this, the English Parliament with a Puritan majority, and with the assistance of Reformed Scot- land, sought to end the tyranny of King Charles and advance the Reformation by uniting the nation in biblical truth. Parliament summoned about 120 theologians and ministers to meet in the Westminster Abbey in London, be- ginning in 1643, to perfect the theology of the Church of England. However, as the crisis intensified, the English Par- liament needed the military assistance of Scotland to defend itself from the king. This led to the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643 between the two nations. Scotland swore to give mili- tary aid to the English Parliament and both nations swore to strive for “the preservation of the Reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine,

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worship, discipline and government, against our common enemies” and “the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government ac- cording to the word of God and the ex- ample of the best Reformed churches” that “the churches of God in the three kingdoms” might be brought “to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, confession of faith, form of church government, directory for wor- ship and catechizing.” Out of this mutual commitment the Westminster Assembly produced:

THE FORM OF PRESBYTERIAL CHURCH GOVERNMENT (1644)

THE DIRECTORY FOR THE PUB- LIC WORSHIP OF GOD (1645)

THE CONFESSION OF FAITH

(1646)

THE LARGER CATECHISM

(1647-48)

THE SHORTER CATECHISM

(1647-48)

The Westminster fathers were expert catechists, trained and thoroughly practiced in the art of catechizing. But they had a difficult time carrying out the mandate of the Solemn League and Covenant for a catechism. They rec- ognized that it was an impossible task trying, in their words, “to dress up milk and meat both in one dish.” So they pre- pared two catechisms “one more exact and comprehensive, another more easy and short for beginners.” They finished the Larger Catechism in October 1647 and sent it to Parliament for approval on October 22. It was approved by the

House of Commons but not by the House of Lords. However it was ap- proved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1648 and by the Scottish Parliament in 1649. Catechetical instruction in fami- lies and churches is “a reality clearly assumed by the Scriptures” in such pas- sages as Exodus 12:26-27 and Deuter- onomy 6:7, 20-25. A catechism is a form of instruction by means of questions and answers. Noah Webster’s Ameri- can Dictionary says that to catechize is “to instruct by asking questions, requir- ing answers, and offering explanations and corrections.” Archbishop Usher, whose Irish Ar- ticles of 1615 were so influential on the foundation of the Westminster Confes- sion of Faith, wrote:

What is catechizing? A. A teaching by voice and repetition of the ground of Christian religion. When should it be used and by whom? A. Both at home by the master of the house and in the Church likewise by the minister. Why at home? A. Because houses are the nurseries of the Church.

What is the value of the Larger Catechism for today?

1. It contains some outstanding sum- maries of biblical doctrine. Here are four examples:

Q. 45. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?

A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws,

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and censures, by which he visibly gov- erns them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedi- ence, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and suffer- ings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.

Q. 67. What is effectual calling?

A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s

almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and con- veyed therein.

Q. 70. What is justification?

A. Justification is an act of God’s free

grace unto sinners, in which he par- doneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?

A. Although sanctification be insepa- rably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification im- puteth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

2. It is superior to the Confession of

Faith in some of its doctrinal founda- tions. Just to give two examples that you can look up sometime:

(1). The covenant of grace is better ex- plained in Larger Catechism Questions 30-32 that in the Westminster Confes- sion of Faith,7.3; and

(2). Question 22 connects the imputa- tion of Adam’s sin to his status in the covenant of works more clearly than the Confession 6.3.

3. It gives a rich and full exposition

of the ten commandments. No other such exposition gives us a more help- ful and detailed treatment of the eth- ical and social teachings of the Bible. Of the 196 questions in the Larger Catechism, 61 are concerned with the ten commandments and the moral law of God.

Avoiding a legalistic tone or excessive and trivial details, “the Larger Cat-

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echism’s exposition of the law is in fact

a useful basis for meditation and self-

examination as it opens up the meaning

of the commandments for the benefit of

the believer who seeks to lead a godly life,” wrote Robert Godfrey.

4. It gives a full-orbed doctrine of

the church, a subject almost entirely absent from the Shorter Catechism. “The Shorter Catechism deliberately focuses on individuals while the Larger Catechism focuses much more on the Christian community,” wrote Robert Godfrey.

5. It is a full, balanced, edifying sum- mary of the Christian Faith, a useful aid to the Christian growing in the knowledge of the word of God, not at all difficult to read and understand. The sentences are sometimes long, but studied one clause at a time, they are easy to understand.

As one has said, “The Westminster As- sembly was remarkable in many ways. The standards it produced are one of the great treasures in Christ’s church. The Larger Catechism is a crucial part of that treasure, and churches…” im- poverish themselves if they neglect it. The distinctive traits of the Larger Catechism recommend it to the church of the Twenty-first century.

1. It was prepared with great care.

The Westminster fathers were fully competent for the task. A body of men more competent for their task could not have been brought together. Such a body of superior men could not be put together today.

2. It contains all the basic truths of

the gospel. It is a complete manual of the great fundamental doctrines of divine revelation. In fact, I think it is the most complete in existence.

3. It provides us with what no other

catechism offers: a complete system of united truth, each doctrine in its right place and in its right relations to other doctrines. Its system of doctrine is comprehensive, unified, and logically self-consistent with an orderly struc- ture. It is the system of doctrines re- vealed in the Bible. Its focus is on God and His will. The revealed truths of the Bible are systematic because the God who gave them is sovereign, rational, unchangeable, omniscient, and know- able by revelation. Only such a God could reveal a self-consistent system of doctrine and only about such a God is a systematic word possible. Modern theology, based as it is on irrational- ism, cannot produce a systematic the- ology. Nor can synthetic Christianity produce a systematic theology because it does not take seriously the full Bib- lical revelation nor does it start with the premise hat God is unchangeable, totally self-consistent, self-contained, and absolutely sovereign. Only Re- formed Christianity can develop, and has developed, such a comprehensive, harmonious and self-consistent sys- tematic theology.

4. The Larger Catechism along with

the Confession of Faith and the Short- er Catechism not only present the truths of the Bible with precision, they also present them in such a way as to guard against the most serious errors by which those truths have been as- sailed. The doctrines of the Catechism

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are stated with such care and full- ness that at every point the learner is guarded against every serious error brought against that doctrine.

A clarification should be made here.

The Larger Catechism is inferior, sec- ondary, and subordinate to the Bible.

The Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice, and our catechism is a help in understanding and applying that one rule of faith and practice. Our divinely-produced creed is the Bible, and the church-produced creed

is the church’s interpretation of that

divine creed. Therefore the church’s creed, found in the confession and cat- echisms, is derived from, depends upon and is subordinate to the Bible, and her creed may never be placed above or on par with the Bible. The Larger Catechism, along with the Confession of Faith and the Shorter Catechism, has made a significant im- pact on western civilization. Although written in the seventeenth century it still has the spiritual power to trans- form individuals, families, churches and entire cultures in the Twenty-first Century. As no other book, outside the Bible, the Westminster Standards have been informing, inspiring, and trans- forming people for over 350 years. Why? Because the Standards take seriously all

the facts of the written word of God and

all the facts of reality and human life.

They teach us to look at all of life from

the perspective of God revealed in the Bible, “for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.” It is for that reason that the Larger Catechism begins with these famous words: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully

to enjoy Him forever.”

1. The Impact of the Larger Catechism on the Individual

A vital relation exists between faith and

life, belief and conduct, creed and char- acter, for as a man thinks in his heart so is he. It can be documented from history that wherever the system of truth of the Larger Catechism has been embraced

it has produced individuals of a noble

and distinct type of character. Consider the morally superior men and women of the Hugenots of France, the Protes- tant Dutch of Holland, the Puritans of England, and the Covenanters of Scot- land. The distinct, pure and noble type of character developed among these people has never been surpassed in his- tory. Fill your library with biographies

of these great men and women. This character has been marked by

a strictness of life and worship which

regulates both by the word of God. Ad- herents to the Larger Catechism have been distinguished by intelligence. One

has written that “it is a plain fact of his- tory that Calvinism and ignorance have never dwelt together in unity. Wherever they have met one or the other has had to quit the field.” Those molded by the Larger Catechism have been marked by courage. Faith in a sovereign and almighty God of grace makes a man or

a woman a hero. And those who truly

believe the Larger Catechism have had

a high regard for the needs and duties

of mankind. As one has written: “It is not too much to claim that the Calvin- istic peoples have been marked by a

love of truth and justice, a devotion to duty, an unswerving allegiance to right,

a personal uprightness and purity of

character, not surpassed by the adher- ents of any other creed or system. We

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may with confidence maintain that the world has never known a higher type of stalwart manhood, nor a gentler, purer or more lovable womanhood than have prevailed into whose hearts and life has entered this Calvinistic creed.”

2. The Impact of the Larger Catechism

on Marriage and the Family

As one historian has said, “Home as we conceive it was the creation of the Puritan.” The reality of a Christian family has been most nearly realized in those places where the influence of the Westminster Standards has been most dominant. “Westminster Chris- tians” perceived more clearly than others the Biblical truths that:

(a) The family, rather than the individu-

al, is the basic unit upon which church and society are built;

(b) The children of believers have a place

in the church covenant and kingdom of God. One has said, “No smaller gospel can adequately express the exceeding riches of redeeming grace; no smaller gospel can perfectly satisfy the need of the human soul. – That deep yearning of the soul this gospel answers with the assurance that as we confidently com- mit ourselves, so may we commit our children, into the arms of redeeming love.” And wherever the Reformed Faith as expressed in the Larger Catechism has prevailed, families have been char-

acterized by two features: family disci- pline and family worship.

3. The Impact of the Larger Catechism

on Society

(a) Along with the Reformed emphasis

on self-government, family government,

and church government it has empha- sized the necessity for representative, Christian republicanism as essential to liberty and justice for all.

(b) The faith of the Larger Catechism has

caused its adherents to stand against all forms of tyranny and totalitarianism in church and state. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these Reformed Christians stood almost alone in teach- ing that tyrants are usurpers and are to be resisted and deposed.

(c) It is not an exaggeration to say that

it was the principles of the Westmin-

ster Standards, applied, and defended by the adherents of those principles that gave birth to the Declaration of Independence, our War for Indepen- dence, the U.S. Constitution and this American republic. My prayer is that the Westminster Larger Catechism will have this kind of influence in the twenty-first century on individuals, families, churches and whole societies and cultures.

4. The Impact of the Larger Catechism on the Twenty-first Century.

We live in an age of anti-Christianity,

an age of intensifying hostility toward Reformed Christianity. The apostasy and moral bankruptcy of the Ameri- can culture deepens every day. To such

a culture and society the Westminster

Larger Catechism is symbolic of all that

is obscure, irrelevant, and unworthy of

modern man. What are we to do? Mod- ify the Catechism to suit the objections of this humanistic world? No! Are we to retreat inside the walls of our churches and isolate ourselves from the ques-

tions and issues of our day? No!

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We must confess our faith coura- geously and without hesitation or com- promise. We must confess it clearly and relevantly to this increasingly hostile society as its only hope or salvation. We cannot be nostalgic obscurantists who live in and long for the past. Our confession of faith must be bold, clear, and relevant to the specific needs of twenty-first century men and women. And nothing clarifies our confession of Christ more effectively and relevantly than the careful exposition and appli- cation of the word of God as expressed in the theology, ethics, and worldviews of the Westminster Larger Catechism. It, along with the Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechism, is sufficiently relevant in its contents and emphasis to all the vital issues of our modern world. As F.N. Lee has written:

Our confession of Christ in modern society must, without in any way compromising the unchangeable truths of Chris- tianity, also take account of these characteristics of our so- ciety. Our affluent society must be confronted with the greater affluence of [Reformed] Chris- tianity to make it realize its own relative poverty; our soci- ety’s over-specialization must be challenged by [Reformed] Christianty’s even greater ca- pacity for detail yet overrid- ing and unified life and world view; we must confront society’s increasing decay with the be- nevolent discipline yet perfect freedom of [Reformed] Chris- tianity; and by this rich and relevant manner of confessing Christ, we must show society

the irrelevant poverty of its own Godless smugness.

What is the best way to study the Larger Catechism?

First, ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth, to preserve you from false doctrine, and to enable you to apply the truth to all areas of your thought and life. Second, read through the West- minster Confession of Faith to get an overview of the system of revealed truth explained in the Standards. Then read the Shorter Catechism to understand the main ideas of the Standards con- cisely stated. Third, read the Larger Catechism through slowly trying to understand as much of it as possible. Fourth, read the Larger Catechism again, this time studying the Scriptural footnotes that support the phrases in the answers to the Catechism’s ques- tions. Bear in mind that the Westmin- ster fathers used these footnotes in a variety of ways: some footnotes define the words and phrases used; some give the source of the words and phrases used in the text; still others are illustra- tions of the truth set forth assuming its Biblical nature. Fifth, read, re-read and meditate on the Larger Catechism the rest of your life. After you have taught your children the Shorter Catechism, teach them the Larger Catechism. Encour- age your preacher to preach through the Larger Catechism on Sunday eve- nings. It took me over 400 hours of sermons, which are available through our church, and I have not even begun

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preaching on the catechism’s exposi- tion of the ten commandments.

What is the best way to read the commentary on the Larger Catechism which American Vision has just published? Let me suggest three ways.

First use it as part of the curriculum of your home school. Second, use it as a reference on theology and ethics, using the table of contents and the CD-ROM that comes with the commentary, which contains a completely digital version of the entire five volumes. Third, do what some have already begun, start with vol- ume one and discipline yourself not to stop until you have read all five volumes underlining and writing things in the margin as you go. It will be exhaustive and exhausting, but hopefully edifying. One final clarification: I have used words like the Reformed Faith and Cal- vinism to describe the theology and ethics of the Larger Catechism. Let me briefly explain what I mean by quoting one of the greatest Christian scholars of the twentieth century, Benjamin Warf- ield of old Princeton Seminary.

“The Calvinist is the man who has seen God, and who, having seen God in His glory, is filled on the one hand, with a sense of his own unworthiness to stand in God’s sight as a creature, and much more as a sinner, and on the other hand, with adoring wonder that neverthe- less this God is a God who re- ceives sinners. He who believes

in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him, in all his thinking, feeling, willing – in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual – throughout all his individual, social, religious relations --- is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very ne- cessity of the case, a Calvinist…

The Calvinist is the man who sees God behind all phenomena, and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God, working out His will; who makes the at- titude of the soul to God in prayer the permanent attitude in all its life activi- ties; and who casts himself on the grace of God alone, excluding every trace of dependence on self from the whole work of salvation… The Calvinist, in a word, is the man who sees God. He has caught sight of the ineffable Vision; and he will not let it fade for a moment from his eyes. – God in nature, God in history, God in grace. Everywhere he sees God in his mighty stepping; everywhere he feels the work- ing of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart.” As Charles Spurgeon said, “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nick- name to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” One of the reasons I wrote this com- mentary on the Larger Catechism was because of a secret meeting that took place in Texas several years ago. The

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media wanted in but were not allowed. It was reported on CBS by Bill Moyers. The meeting was between several leading Christian reconstructionists and representatives of nationally fa- mous charismatic leaders. The attack on Christian churches and ministries and on Christianity in general was heating up and these charismatic lead- ers were adopting a generally Reformed worldview and eschatology as well as a generally Reformed view of ethics and politics to answer their critics. They had many questions since all this was so foreign to their heritage. They wanted to know more. Hours were spent over a couple of days talking about the issues. The reconstructionists explained their worldview in greater detail, show- ing them that the worldview to which they were attracted grew out of a dis- tinctively Reformed theology represent- ed in the confessions and catechisms of the 16th and 17th centuries. The reconstructionists present re- alized that these men would have to change their theologies drastically to continue holding our worldview be- cause a correct worldview imposed on a false theology is a house built on sand. Without Reformed theology a Reformed worldview will either radicalize and be- come revolutionary, or be superficial and unconvincing, or be compromised and synthesized as those who reject it turn to the worldviews of their enemies. The men at that meeting had a choice to make. After counting the cost, would they pay the price? They made the wrong choice and returned to their old, irrelevant, escapist, irrational, man-centered theologies and the po- tential influence on America they could have had vanished.

The desire of my heart is that our comrades-in-arms will have a well- thought-out and thoroughly Biblical

theology, ethics, and worldview because a correct and comprehensive worldview

is impossible unless it is built on a thor-

oughly Reformed foundation. The only worldview and theology that is true enough and comprehensive enough to refute and overturn the comprehensive humanistic and Islamic worldviews of our day is a Reformed worldview, a Reformed ethic and a Re- formed theology because the Reformed Faith as represented in the Larger Cate-

chism, as Warfield said, is Biblical Chris- tianity in its purest human expression. The Larger Catechism has a vigor- ous victory-orientation with regard to Christ’s kingdom and church in his- tory before the return of Christ; it has

a workable and life-wide strategy for

victory in Biblical law that meets all the demands of justice and love; and it has the power to take the future, conquer the world for Christ and create a second and far better Christendom in its gospel

of sovereign grace.

Know well what you believe, and don’t rest until the world’s nations be- come Christ’s disciples. Don’t grow weary in well-doing, for in due time you shall reap if you do not faint!

for in due time you shall reap if you do not faint! Joe Morecraft, III An

Joe Morecraft, III

An Introduction to Authentic Christianity