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Written by: C. W. Booth

October 5, 2007

Westminster Shorter Catechism "Update"

To my delighted surprise, I was recently made aware of an update to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Published in 1646 the Catechism has become a standard of Christian training for many English speaking peoples around the world.

Donald Remillard, a member of the Presbyterian Churches of America, has updated the Catechism to modern English. His 2002 update might be characterized as more of a paraphrase than an update, and is not officially adopted by the PCA (as far as I can ascertain), however, it presents the material in contemporary English. Archaic words that have been subject to recent abusive reinterpretation (because the original definitions have become obsolete) have been restated and mapped against their original intended meanings.

Though I have not had an opportunity to obtain or review the full work yet, the first question of the Catechism caught my eye, and took my breath away.

Question 1:
What is the primary reason God created all of the people in the world?

Answer:
God created all of the people in the world so they may know, love and serve Him. This enables us to enjoy Him forever.

Compare this to the original wording of the Catechism from 1646.

Question 1:
What is the chief end of man?

Answer:
Manís chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

This clarity is very much welcome. Much confusion has centered on the precise meaning of the phrase "chief end of man." Did it refer to his end state in heaven, to his primary duty while on Earth, both, or to something else entirely?

Remillardís update informs us that the phrase had an original intent to convey one question with two answers. The question was intended to determine what manís obligations on Earth might be to the Creator since man is but a created being, and what his fate will be as a result of meeting those obligations. Remillard says that Man is to know, love, and serve God (which glorifies God). As a consequence of humankind having been created, and as a result of some men having come to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him, God enables those men to enjoy Him forever. That good consequence also glorifies God.

If one misunderstood the original meaning of the question/answer and was tempted to change the cause-and-effect ordering of the phrases, Remillardís clarification obviates the attempt. For example, if one wanted to appropriate the catechism for oneís own purposes, he might be tempted to change the wording (and thus alter its intent) to read, "Man glorifies God by enjoying Him." But Remillardís update demonstrates that enjoying God is the outcome of knowing, loving, and serving God (i.e. glorifying God), and is not the cause. It might be further noted that God is the one who enables the knowing, the loving, and the service which leads to Him bestowing the enjoyment of Himself forever.

My hope is that the remainder of Remillardís work is as clear and helpful as the language update he has made to the first question. Nonetheless, that single update alone is useful and laudable.

[Note: many kind words of appreciation were made by readers of the blog and deposited as comments on the original posting, all of which were directed at Remillard for his excellent work. To read those comments, please access the original blog essay at His Masterís Voice.]

 

October 12, 2007

Who Cursed the World?

"We live in a sin cursed world," said the preacher. I understood the expression. In fact, it is one I have used on numerous occasions, both in speaking and in writing. Many authors have used that expression in their books and articles. It means that this Earth is no longer the Garden of Eden, because, since the fall of man into sin, it has been cursed with death, illness, pain, and suffering.

Yet, when I heard another preacher (in whom I have deep respect and trust) on the same day say, "Calamity is permitted by God, but He is not its author," the pair of comments jolted me and made me re-evaluate my use of the phrase, "sin cursed world." Of course, the second preacher explained he had not meant to imply God does not cause calamity, for He does, but God did not originate the sin that necessitates the presence of calamity. Still, phrases such as "we live in a sin cursed world" seem to lack a certain appreciation for the sovereignty that is Godís, as it has slipped into our vocabulary virtually unchallenged over time.

Sin did not curse our little planet. God cursed it because man sinned. This is not a "sin cursed world," but a "God cursed world because of our sin."

When we say we live in a sin cursed world, we imply, however subtly, that God did not author the curse, or pain and calamity for that matter. Yet, He did in fact author the curse itself.

Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you." Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:13-19)

God wrote the curse and bestowed the curse. In the curse, God decreed, among other things, death for all living things ("to dust you shall return"), pain, relationship strife, hard work, and even environmental calamity ("cursed is the ground"). Adam did not write the text of the curse, Eve did not pen it, neither did Satan craft its words. God alone dictated the terms of the curse because man rebelled. Manís sinful acts created the need for the curse, but God, our Eternal Father and disciplinarian, was the creative mind who crafted it for our welfare.

As the sovereign author of the curse, God could not only plan and pronounce the curse, He is able to guarantee its implementation. God makes the day of adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14), God creates calamity (Isaiah 45:7), Godís mouth speaks forth ill (Lamentations 3:38), God smote the firstborn of men and of beasts in Egypt (Psalm 135), and God is the One who causes men to be deaf, mute, and blind (Exodus 4:11). It is inescapable that God is the author, architect, and implementer of calamity as He unfolds the working of the curse He placed on mankind and the Earth.

Yet, lest we be angry at God, we all earn this curse for ourselves and personally own the responsibility for what we have inherited. Every person ever to kick up the Earthís dust beneath his feet as he hurried to commit his first sin earns anew the curse. Adam and Eve may have been first, but they were not the last sinners. God does not, and cannot sin, but man can and does.

Further, let us never forget the reason for the curse: to cause us to remember to repent and turn back to God (Psalm 119:67, 71). Every father disciplines his sons, and God disciplines us with the curse for the good purpose to bring us into conformity with His Son (Romans 8:28-29). Just like the Law, the curse is good (as it is the work of Godís hand), though exceedingly unpleasant. Happily, the curse will some day end (Revelation 22:3), but until that blessed day, we rest comfortably in the knowledge that God hates the death and the suffering that the curse imposed, but such is the means by which God warns and encourages sinners back to righteousness.

"Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live." (Ezekiel 18:31-32)

 

October 17, 2007

Thou Hast Taught Me to Say

When peace like a river attendeth my way, [or]

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot,

Thou hast taught me to say,

ĎIt is well, it is well, with my soul!í

This is not a popular hymn anymore. But it is one that has caused me to cry on numerous occasions, not because it is emotionally evocative, but because it always vividly reminds me of some deep truths of Scripture, "I am bought with a price, I am not my own, God will glorify Himself and though that may seem expensive to me here on Earth, it is all but rags when compared to what I will inherit in heaven, and He loves His own children so much, that He sent His only son, Jesus the Christ, to secure eternity for them, and nothing can strip that away from us, no matter how hard the sea billows, the waves roar, or institutional powers rage."

In all those difficulties, God has taught me to say, to remind myself from His Word, that it is eternally well with my soul even though the worst should come about and my body perishes, brothers connive, or my fondest earth-bound dreams go unrealized. It is well with my soul, He has seen to that personally. Not that I am lighthearted and giddy while the waves crash in, rather that though my emotions are in the house of mourning, my mind and heart are informed that the most important things are already resolved, established, decreed, and fixed by God. It is well with my soul. He has taught me to say, not "told me to feel." My hope is not a roll-of-the-dice hope, it is an assurance borne by faith and the Word, that this will all some day come to fruition.

And, Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound

And the Lord shall descend,

Even so it is well with my soul!

 

October 22, 2007

(Re-)Envisioning the Future

Recently I have reconsidered my vision of my future (ok, yes, again). Using such past visionaries as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the Apostle Paul as guides, I began to formulate a revision to my own vision. By vision, I do not mean supernatural revelation, but a personal God-focused desire to serve Him and His kingdom here on Earth.

Implementing a vision for service to Christ requires one thing above all other things, in fact, so much so that all other considerations become dwarfed. A man or woman for God must be willing to suffer, endure condemnation, and perhaps even die to see the vision become reality. A vision begins as a personal quest, so others will likely not understand it, nor necessarily approve of it.

Certainly giants of the faith, even those in our contemporary age like Dr. Jay Adams and Hank Hanegraaff, have endured (and still endure) ridicule and much worse for bringing about their biblical visions of service for the advancement of Christís kingdom. Those Christians who offer opposition to such ministers of the Word tend to object on the grounds that these men lack the appropriate credentials, possess too gruff a character, or are otherwise attempting to establish ministries that are simply "undesirable."

Yet, God tells us His kingdom will go forward using radically diverse persons, personalities, gifts, ministry approaches, and ultimately, hugely differing impacts (1 Corinthians 12). Yet, none of them is useless, though we humans do not readily see their worth, or would not "do it that way," God will accomplish His plans. Each member of the priesthood of believers will stand to make his contribution no matter the initial faltering missteps he may take, if the Lord has His way with that servant.

Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)

If you are harboring a secret desire, a vision, to begin a doctrinally sound ministry for the Lord, but are held back by what others may think, now is the time to move forward in faith. You may ultimately die an ignominious soul in the eyes of the present-age church, but if God has placed a desire on your heart to pursue a ministry for His benefit, then what I think, or what others think, is inconsequential when compared to our chief end here on Earth: to please our Lord and God, Jesus Christ.

so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10)

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--God is witness-- (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5)

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1)

 

October 30, 2007

Happy Reformation Day! -- October 31

On a communal door, which doubled as a public bulletin board, a monk posted his scholarly paper as an invitation to debate on church doctrine. The year was 1517, the day, October 31, and few alive at that pivotal moment noticed, but the Reformation was begun with that event.

Today, almost every Christian is aware that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. His theses demonstrated why the selling of indulgences was an unscriptural practice which did not accomplish the advancement of Godís kingdom or personal salvation.

As an outcome, the theses were widely published throughout Europe. By 1521 Luther was excommunicated by the Pope, ruling head of the Catholic Church, and consequently, head of most European ruling authorities. At a subsequent church/state meeting, called the Diet of Worms, Luther was declared a criminal and heretic, his writings banned, a death order placed against him, and the threat of criminal prosecution against any person giving safe harbor or support to Luther.

A prince of the region, Frederick III, gave Martin Luther sanctuary at his Wartburg Castle. As a hunted exile, and posing under the assumed name Junker Jorg, Luther was able to commit the further crime of translating the New Testament into common German, as other courageous men before him had done.

With time, the Reformation took hold contemporaneous with the peasant revolts, the violence of which Luther was instrumental in helping assuage. Church government became increasingly separate from secular rule, and Luther was able to pursue the completion of his extraordinarily accurate and popular Bible translation designed to be read by the masses. Among other works, He also penned the Smaller and Larger Catechisms for use in "Protestant" churches.

Forget Halloween. Happy Reformation Day!!!!!!

 


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