Deconstructing A Left-Overture — With Apologies To Kansas As A Wayward Son

Overture from Akron CRC


I. Background

In 2003 the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC), now called the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, indicated that the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa (URCSA) was asking churches in ecclesiastical fellowship with it to study the Belhar Confession to determine what place the confession might take among the faith statements of the respective denominations. The IRC informed synod that it had committed itself to review and study the Belhar with a view to making a recommendation to synod about its status sometime in the future. The IRC also informed synod of conversations it was having with the Reformed Church in America regarding this matter. In 2006 the IRC recommended that synod instruct the IRC “to initiate a formal process of discussion and consideration of the Belhar Confession with a view toward making a recommendation to a future synod concerning its applicability to, and
compatibility with, the confessional basis of the CRC.


1. In our ecumenical conversations with the Reformed Church in America, the CRC was asked to study the Belhar Confession simultaneously with the RCA. Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012 Page -6-

2. It fills in a gap in our confessions; we do not have a strong confession on race relations.

3. The several Reformed Churches in South Africa have asked the member churches of REC (Reformed Ecumenical Council) and WARC (World Alliance of Reformed Churches) to study this confession and respond to it” (Agenda
for Synod 2006, p. 273).

Synod 2006 adopted that recommendation and its grounds.

In appendix C to its report to Synod 2009 (Agenda for Synod 2009, pp. 269-282) the
IRC reviewed the history of the Belhar Confession’s development and reviewed related
matters in our denomination. The related matters were “the racial tensions and the
flagrant violation of the scriptural principle of equality occurring in society and the
church both in America and in the world” and our denomination’s adoption of God’s
Diverse and Unified Family, an articulation of biblical and theological principles for the
development of a racially and ethnically diverse family of God.
The committee also gave an overview of the Belhar and addressed questions as to
whether the Belhar was biblical and whether it would enrich our confessional basis. The
IRC considered three options concerning the Belhar: (1) propose it as a fourth
confession, (2) adopt it as an ecumenical confession, or (3) approve it as a statement of
faith. “After careful review of the options considered, the IRC decided unanimously to
recommend option one because it is the most consistent with our understanding of the
core of the gospel and previous synodical declarations on racial justice, unity, and
reconciliation” (Agenda for Synod 2009, p. 280). The committee recommended “that
synod propose to Synod 2012 the adoption of the Belhar Confession as part of the
standards of unity of the CRC (as a fourth confession). A three-year period was
proposed so the churches would have time “to adequately study and reflect on the
proposal and be better prepared for response” (p. 281). This recommendation was
The committee also asked synod to “authorize the IRC to promote the study of the
Belhar Confession in the churches during this three-year period, and designate the IRC
to represent Synod 2009’s proposal to adopt the Belhar Confession at the meeting of
Synod 2012” (p. 281). This recommendation was also adopted.
The Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee reported to both Synods 2010
and 2011 that classes, councils and congregations were studying the Belhar, that many
agencies and offices of the denomination were using the Belhar in their work and that
study materials and a devotional booklet were available through Faith Alive Christian
Resources. In its report to Synod 2012 the committee reviews much of the material
presented to previous synods, states that “the CRC has not spoken confessionally to the
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -7-issues of injustice and racism” (Agenda for Synod 2012, p. ??), and recommends that
synod adopt the Belhar as a fourth confession.

II. Observations

The above history adequately reveals that much discussion and study has taken place as
our denomination considered a response to the Belhar. What was evident early in this
discussion is that the Belhar was identified as addressing race relations. Already in 2006
the IRC encouraged synod to examine the Belhar because “we do not have a strong
confession on race relations.” In its 2009 report the IRC referred to “racial tensions” and
synod’s adoption of God’s Diverse and Unified Family. As mentioned above, the 2012
report states that “the CRC has not spoken confessionally to the issues of injustice and
racism.” To talk about the Belhar in terms of race is understandable because of the
context in which it was written, but a focus on race relations is narrower than the “unity,
reconciliation, justice” description typically used to describe the Belhar.
Talking about the Belhar in terms of race relations has had some unfortunate
consequences among us.

Some have made negative statements about Synod 2011’s decision to establish a goal of twenty-five percent racial minority leaders in our denomination’s positions of senior leadership and have encouraged our members to reject that strategy and also to reject the Belhar as a fourth confession. Some have regarded the coupling of these two matters as an indication of racism. Others have labeled any opposition to the Belhar as an indication of racism, not as
an indication of legitimate misgivings about adopting the Belhar as a fourth confession, saying publicly and repeatedly that opposing the adoption of the Belhar as a fourth confession is simply an unwillingness by Anglos to accept anything written by people in the southern hemisphere. In an article in the Calvin Theological Seminary Forum Dr. John Cooper observed, “Those who challenge adopting it risk suspicion of racism or indifference” (Fall 2010, p 10).

Bret responds,

1.) Some have made negative statements about 2011 Synods decision to establish a goal of 25% racial minority leaders in our denominations positions of senior leadership precisely because such an agenda promotes the very racism that the denomination says it wants to be rid of. When quotas are established we no longer are advancing people based on their ability but based on the color of their skin. To advance one person over another person because of race, despite the fact that the person who is set aside is more competent and able to preform a task can be easily seen as one of the manifestations of “racism.”

2.) When we advance people because of race we are communicating to minorities that their qualification lies not in their ability but in their status as “victim.” By doing so we reinforce the victim mentality in our culture that finds being a victim a status symbol. Would it not be better to employ someone because of the content of their character and ability and not by the color of their skin?

3.) If people in the Southern Hemisphere ink documents that are faulty we do not do them or ourselves any favor by accepting their faulty document simply because it is inked by somebody in the Southern Hemisphere.

4.) In terms of Cooper’s quote I would say that anyone who would say, “those who challenge adopting it (the Belhar) risk suspicion of racism or indifference” is someone who should be suspected of buying into the Marxist narrative that the Belhar represents. Rejection of the Belhar does not mean racism, anymore then rejection of Liberation Theology means “Theologyism” (a hatred of all Theology). A rejection of the Belhar merely means that we reject this particular Marxist inspired demand for social order, just as a rejection of Liberation Theology means that we reject that particular form of theology.

The Overture continues,

Thus, even while we consider a document that we hope will improve race relations among us, racism is evident both in the comments of Anglos and ethnic minorities.

Bret Responds,

I would need to see the above comment substantiated with concrete comments that prove that “racism” is evident in Anglos and ethnic minorities. All because people disagree with one another does not mean that racism is present.

Second, on this score, even if some comments could be brought forth, one would have to know the heart of the person speaking to know if the words said were “racist.” How could that possibly be known short of someone admitting that they were racist comments?

The Overture continues

It is possible that our denomination will adopt the Belhar as a fourth confession for
very good reasons. It is possible that our denomination will not adopt the Belhar as a
fourth confession for very good reasons. It is possible that our denomination will adopt
the Belhar as a fourth confession simply because it does not want to be perceived as
racist. It is possible that our denomination will adopt the Belhar Confession as a fourth
confession, believing that by doing so it has significantly addressed the matter of race
relations. The latter would be a mistake. As many synodical decisions well illustrate,
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012 Page -8-adopting words on paper, though necessary, does not necessarily result in tangible actions that reflect those words.

No matter what we do with the Belhar, our very discussion of it reveals how
insidious and pervasive the matter of racism among us is. Synod 2012 is called to make
a decision on the Belhar, but synod also needs to call all of us, Anglos and ethnic
minorities, to repent of the ways that we hold each other at arm’s length and call us to
strive to love each other as God, in Christ, has loved us.

Bret responds,

How does our very discussion of the Belhar reveal how pervasive the matter of racism among us is?

I am all for loving each other as God, in Christ, has loved us, but I do not at all concede that racism is pervasive among us. For Pete’s sake, in 2008 put a 1/2 black man 1/2 white man in the oval office. How pervasive can our racism be?

The overture continues,

Synod also needs to call the denomination to respond affirmatively to the specific
recommendations that previous synods have made to assist us in becoming a racially
and ethnically diverse family of God. For example, Synod 2005 encouraged each classis
to delegate at least one ethnic minority person to synod, beginning with Synod 2006.
Less than one-third of our 47 classes do that. It also instructed the Board of Trustees to
report in the annual Agenda for Synod and to make recommendations, if necessary, on
the denomination’s progress in attaining its goal of at least one ethnic minority
synodical delegate from each classis. No agenda since 2005 had included such reports or
recommendations. Synod also requested all classes to develop a strategy to intentionally
incorporate ethnic minorities into the life and government of the local church and
broader assemblies and to submit their plan to the denominational Board of Trustees by
March 15, 2007. That did not happen. Someone must hold us accountable to what we
have said in the past so we are continually creating a different present and future.

III. Overture

The Akron CRC council overtures Classis Lake Erie to overture Synod 2012:

A. To call the denomination to repent of the personal and institutional racism that
causes separation between fellow members, excludes some from full participation in
the life of our denomination and hinders the denomination in achieving the
diversity goals it has set for itself.

Bret Responds,

First, we are to “Repent of racism”, because it “causes separation between fellow members.”

I think we need to pause and think about that statement for a moment. Is all that causes separation between fellow members a reason to repent? I have a fence between the properties of my Christian neighbors. Do I have a need to repent because it causes separation between fellow members? Consistently applied this call to repent is a direct assault on the family-structure itself if only because my family being distinct from those who are not in my family is something that causes separation between fellow members.

Second, the fact that institutional racism exists is asserted but it is in no way proven. What is offered up is observations about the way the denomination operates but there is no probing as to why the denomination is operating the way it is. Why do we assume that racism is the reason for the observations made. How do we know that it is “racism” that is the reason for things not being done? It could simply be a matter like not being able to find enough warm minority bodies to fill the quotas that are required. It could simply be denominational lethargy that keeps the denomination from following through on certain commitments — a lethargy that one finds in almost all large Institutional structures. The fact that there is denominational lethargy does not prove pervasive racism. If one desires to hold the denomination accountable that is all well and good but to insist that a lack of following through proves racism is a lack of a charitable reading for a reality that could be attributed to any number of other reasons. I do not grant the assumption that we have this grand problem with racism.

B. To encourage the churches to use the Facing Racism video program in their
education/small group programs within the next two years. (A copy of this
program, created in a collaborative effort by the Office of Race Relations, Christian
Reformed Home Missions, and the CRCNA Foundation, was sent to all
congregations in September 2011. “The sessions offer ways to challenge both
personal and institutional racism, and they include, among other things, the stories
and personal experiences of a variety of people, dramatic readings of Scripture, the
perspective on diversity developed by the CRC in a 1996 synodical study, and
pertinent portions of our denominational history.”)
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012 Page -9-C.

To encourage individual members, congregations, assemblies, agencies, and other
ministries of the CRCNA to review the recommendations adopted by Synod 1996
regarding the Development of a Racially and Ethnically Diverse and Unified Family of God
and the recommendations adopted by Synod 2005 regarding the Practice Of
Appointing Ethnic Advisers To Synod (cf. Appendix) and to implement the
recommendations that are still relevant in our current context.

D. To instruct the denominational Board of Trustees to review all synodical
recommendations concerning diversity and to report to each synod, making
recommendations if necessary, on the denomination’s progress in attaining these


The following recommendations were adopted by Synod 1996 regarding the
Development of a Racially and Ethnically Diverse and Unified Family of God (Acts of
Synod 1996, pp.616-9):

A. That synod recommend the revised report to the churches for study.

B. That synod adopt the following biblical and theological principles regarding the
development of a racially and ethnically diverse and unified family of God:
Biblical and Theological Principles for the Development of a Racially and
Ethnically Diverse and Unified Family of God


1. The world as God created it is rich and God glorifying in its diversity.
2. The created world with all its diversity has its unity in the one God, who created it
through Jesus Christ.
3. The unity and diversity of the human race and of created reality reflect the unity and
diversity of the triune God (namely, his oneness and threeness).
4. A fundamental effect of sin is the breakdown of community.
New Creation
5. The uniting of all things in Jesus Christ is at the heart of God’s eternal plan for the
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -10-6. Reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another are inseparable in God’s
saving work.
7. Already in the old covenant, the scope of God’s mission is racially and ethnically

8. In Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church, God gives new
power to the church—power to break down walls of separation and create a com-
munity that transcends divisions of race, ethnicity, and culture.

Bret responds,

Pentecost was not the reversal of Babel but the sanctification of Babel. Were we to understand Pentecost as the reversal of Babel it would have been the case that all the diverse people would have heard the Gospel in the same tongue but what happened instead was that they heard the Gospel in their own distinct tongues. Suggesting that the community that God intended to build was a community of communities where one could still find diverse communities worshiping the same God, much as our Korean Classis’ worship the same God as non Korean Classis’ and yet as a distinctly Korean Church.

9. The church, in its unity and diversity, is God’s strategic vehicle for bringing into
being his new creation.

10. God calls Christians to find their deepest identity in union with and in the service of
Jesus Christ.

11. Obedience in matters of racial reconciliation calls us, individually and corporately, to
continually repent, to strive for justice, and to battle the powers of evil.

12. Christians live and work in the hope that one day the reconciliation of all things will
be fully realized.

C. That synod, on the basis of the above principles, declare that to be in Christ is in
principle to be reconciled as a community of racially and ethnically diverse
people and that to ignore his calling to turn this principle into experienced reality
is sinful according to God’s Word and the Reformed confessions.


1. The above report demonstrates that the Bible declares this reconciled
community to be God’s will.
2. The confessions declare that the catholicity of the church means that Christ
“gathers, protects, and preserves” the church “out of the whole human
race” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21).
D. That synod call the whole church—individual members, congregations,
assemblies, agencies, and other ministries of the CRCNA—to respond to the
biblical and theological principles regarding the development of a racially and
ethnically diverse and united family of God by committing themselves

1. To pray and work for the increased enfolding of ethnic-minority persons into
the CRCNA in order to reflect more fully the racial and ethnic diversity of
Canada and the United States.

Bret responds,

But ethnic minority persons who believe what? Who believe the Belhar Confession? I am opposed to people of any hue or background coming into the CRCNA who believe the theology exemplified in the Belhar.

And why should we focus on our makeup? Why not just preach Christ crucified and let the Spirit define and color-code his Church? Do we find anywhere in the Apostolic Missional methodology a concentration on quotas in the Church?

2. To ensure the equitable representation and meaningful participation of
ethnic-minority persons in leadership and other roles of influence at all levels
of denominational life.

Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -11-Note: The total estimated ethnic-minority membership of 5 percent in the CRCNA
compares to an ethnic-minority population of approximately 20 percent in Canada and
the United States.
E. That synod call the churches
1. To articulate the biblical vision for a racially and ethnically diverse and united
family of God by means of the preaching, teaching, and study of the above
biblical and theological principles.
2. To evaluate their life and ministry with regard to their racial and ethnic
composition, the social factors contributing to their composition, the selecting
and training of their leaders, their worship style, and their ministry to
congregational members and to their community in light of their sense of
God’s vision and call for them as congregations.
3. To develop racially and ethnically diverse congregations by all appropriate
models and strategies, such as
a. Established churches becoming more inclusive ethnically and culturally.
b. Planting and developing multiethnic congregations.
c. Sponsoring new congregations that are ethnically and culturally different
from the
parent congregation, in the same or separate facilities.
d. Developing relationships (e.g., joint worship, workshops, and work
projects) with
congregations from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
e. Supporting persons and programs at home or abroad that are committed
to racial
4. To witness publicly against racism, prejudice, and related unemployment,
poverty, and injustices and in defense of all people as image bearers of God.
5. To call individual members to promote and establish interracial and crosscultural relationships in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities.
F. That synod request the classes, with the assistance of the CRCNA offices and
1. To arrange during the next twelve months for the careful classis-wide study
of this report and its implications for the churches and their ministries.
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -12-2. To provide to the churches and ministries of classis guidance in support of
racial and ethnic diversity (and unity) by means of public forums and
learning events, multi-congregational worship celebrations, and joint cross-
cultural ministry ventures.
3. To assist the churches in developing and supporting new churches and other
outreach ministries that are committed to ethnic diversity and racial
4. To recruit and assist persons from ethnic-minority groups to participate in the
ministries of classis, including representation to synod, agency boards, and
other ministries of the CRCNA.
G. That synod mandate the Board of Trustees, under the leadership of its CRCNA
staff and with the assistance of the Race Relations division of Pastoral Ministries
and other CRCNA agencies,
1. To coordinate and monitor the role and response of the agencies in providing
guidance and assistance to the churches and classes in support of ethnic
diversity and racial reconciliation as outlined above.
2. To serve Synod 1998 with advice and recommendations for ensuring the
equitable representation and meaningful participation of ethnic-minority
persons in leadership and other roles of influence with the classes and synod,
the Board of Trustees, denominational agencies, and other ministries of the
CRCNA. The recommendations should include transitional and long-term
strategies, training and support needs, financial implications, and periodic
reporting to synod on efforts and progress.
3. To continue to explore ways whereby the biennial Multiethnic Conference can
assist the churches, classes, and synod to respond more completely to God’s
call for ethnic diversity and racial reconciliation in the CRCNA.
4. To review CRCNA policies and practices in relation to the training,
credentialing, and compensating of ethnic-minority pastors and to give
recommendations and advice as indicated.
H. That synod respectfully urge future synods
1. To include in their worship times the articulation and celebration of the
biblical vision for a racially and ethnically diverse and unified family of God.
2. To encourage the development of specific recommendations and specific
practical guidelines for supporting ethnic diversity in all aspects of
denominational life, including interchurch relations in general and ministries
of the Reformed Ecumenical Council in particular.
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -13-3. That denominational response to the above decisions be reviewed by Synod
1998 on the basis of an interim progress report by the Board of Trustees.
I. That denominational response to the above decisions be reviewed by Synod 2000
in the light of another progress report with advice and recommendations by the
Board of Trustees to Synod 2000.
J. That synod recommend that the Board of Trustees ask representatives of various
language groups in the denomination to translate the document into the
languages of their groups.
K. That synod ask Calvin Theological Seminary’s Morren Conference Committee to
consider organizing a conference on “racial and ethnic reconciliation with
repentance and justice” to explore the theological meaning of racial reconciliation
and the implications for ministry, pastoral care, ecclesiology, and social justice.
! ! Grounds:
1. Racial reconciliation with repentance is urgent in the light of the above report.
2. Reformed theologians are well positioned historically and theologically to
address this issue.
3. The Reformed churches of South Africa are presently experiencing such a
The following recommendations were adopted by Synod 2005 regarding the Practice Of
Appointing Ethnic Advisers To Synod (Acts of Synod 2005, pp. 748; 755-56):
1. That synod encourage each classis to include at least one ethnic minority person
in its synodical delegation beginning with Synod 2006.
a. Although synods have repeatedly encouraged classes to delegate ethnic
minorities to synod, the response of most classes has been minimal.
b. There are classes that can achieve this goal by 2006 because a number of
ethnic minority officebearers already serve in their member congregations.
2. That synod request all classes to develop a strategy to intentionally incorporate
ethnic minorities into the life and government of the local church and broader
assemblies and submit their plan to the BOT by March 15, 2007.
! ! Grounds:
a. Submitting strategy plans provides an intentional accountability to one
another by way of a denominational board that can report such plans to
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -14-b. Sharing classical plans has the benefit of classes’ learning from one another.
3. That synod encourage ethnic minority members of the denomination to
participate in the meetings and activities of their classes.
Ground: Such participation gives people familiarity with how the denomination
functions and helps members of classes become better acquainted with each
other’s gifts.
4. That synod encourage classes to specifically invite ethnic minorities to participate
in the meetings and activities of classis.
Ground: Such participation gives people familiarity with how other cultures
function and helps members of classes become better acquainted with each
other’s gifts.
5. That synod remind councils and classes that the CRC Office of Race Relations is
available to assist with leadership development and other services to incorporate
ethnic minorities into the ongoing work of the church.
Ground: The Office of Race Relations is the agency mandated to assist councils
and classes in this work.
6. That synod continue the position of ethnic adviser as long as the number of
ethnic minority delegates is fewer than twenty-five, after which time it shall be
discontinued. The Board of Trustees should appoint as many ethnic advisers as
are needed to reach twenty-five, except that no more than seven (and no fewer
than two) shall be appointed.
Ground: Continuing this position only to the point where the number of ethnic
minorities at synod is comparable to current levels reflects synod’s desire that
this position be a temporary catalyst to encourage classes to delegate ethnic
7. That synod instruct the Board of Trustees of the CRCNA to report in the annual
Agenda for Synod, and to make recommendations if necessary, on the
denomination’s progress in attaining its goal of at least one ethnic minority
synodical delegate from each classis and on the denomination’s progress in
incorporating ethnic minorities on denominational boards.
Ground: Because our Board of Trustees acts for synod between sessions and
because it supervises all denominational ministries, this Board is uniquely
qualified to measure denominational progress and to encourage us in it.

The Holocaust and The Holocaust Offering

Dear Pastor, I have read where you have said, “The only true holocaust is the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Any other use of the word is sacrilegious.” Now, Pastor according to my dictionary the word holocaust means, “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale” Granted, the Crucifixion was death and destruction at its most massive (as well as a part of victory on its grandest scale). But are you really proposing that it is sacrilege to acknowledge that there was ever any other instance of slaughter on a mass scale? Marcia Whittum Woodward

Dear Marcia, Thank you for a very good question. In Leviticus 4:7 we read,

7And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

What is being taught here and what is taught throughout the Old Testament is that there was to be no approach to God but by way of Atonement. The claim of the altar had to be met first before God could be approached. The offering required that was to be given had to be given totally to God. The ancient term for this offering, much used in earlier centuries is “holocaust.” Indeed, that word was used by the ancients because in earlier translations of the Bible it was referred to as the “Holocaust offering.” Today our Bibles typically translate it as “burnt offering.” It is a offering wholly given to God and setting forth full devotedness. The only true holocaust thus, is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul, in Ephesians 5:1-2 refers to Jesus Christ as a wholly given offering – a holocaust offering – on our behalf.

[verse] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. [/verse]

Paul’s phrase here in Ephesians 5 for the offering of Jesus Christ is the same as the Greek word used in the Septuagint for Leviticus 1:9 where we find the world “holocaust.” Since the word originally had to do with sacrifice and offering and was used in the context of worship and specifically is associated with the death of the Lord Christ on the Cross I would say that any other use of the word “holocaust” demeans that word’s original meaning and is a move to try to compare matters which can not be compared. The death of any people group in no way compares to the death of Christ on the cross and because that is true the use of the word “holocaust” to describe anything but the offering of Christ ends up diminishing the work of Jesus Christ by suggesting that others have experienced what He alone could and did experience. Let the word “genocide” be used instead of “holocaust.” “Holocaust” belongs to Christianity and the cross. One wonders if the translators changed the translation in order to be sensitive to the Jews, but I would contend that sensitivity to the Jews on this issue means that their sensitivities are being prioritized over the nature of reality. The reality is that Jesus Christ is the holocaust offering and no other holocaust can remotely compare to the holocaust offering of the Lord Christ. The Jews have for some time insisted that they themselves, as Israel, are the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53. By yielding the word “holocaust” to the Jews to describe their suffering they advance their idolatrous status seeking and make themselves their own Messiah. Jesus Christ alone was our holocaust offering.

Quotes That Will Trouble The “Escondido Theology” R2K Crowd — #4

Although the institutions and examples of the Old Testament, of the duty of magistrates in the things and about the worship of God, are not; in their whole latitude and extent, to be drawn into rules that should be obligatory to all magistrates now, under the administration of the gospel,-and that because the magistrate was “custos, vindex, et administrator legis judicialis, et politiae Mosaicae,” from which, as most think, we are freed-,- yet, doubtless, there is something moral in those institutions, which, being unclothed of their Judaical form, is still binding to all in the like kind, as to some analogy and proportion. Subduct from those administrations what was proper to, and lies upon the account of, the church and nation of the Jews, and what remains upon the general notion of a church and nation must be everlastingly binding

John Owen
Works (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), VIII, 394
The Latin phrase means, “guardian, vindicator, and manager of the judicial law, and of the constitution of Moses.”

Thesis 42: The judicial laws, some of them being hedges and fences to safeguard both moral and ceremonial precepts, their binding power was therefore mixed and various, for those which did safeguard any moral law, (which is perpetual,) whether by just punishments or otherwise, do still morally bind all nations; … and hence God would have all nations preserve their fences forever, as he would have that law preserved forever which these safeguard. . . . As, on the contrary, the morals abiding, why should not their judicials and fences remain? The learned generally doubt not to affirm that Moses’ judicials bind all nations, so far forth as they contain any moral equity in them, which moral equity doth appear not only in respect of the end of the law, when it is ordered for common and universal good, but chiefly in respect of the law which they safeguard and fence, which if it be moral, it is most just and equal, that either the same or like judicial fence (according to some fit proportion) should preserve it still, because it is but just and equal that a moral and universal law should be universally preserved…

Thomas Shepard, The Morality of the Sabbath, in Works (Boston: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1853), III, 53f.

Quotes That Will Trouble “The Escondido R2K ‘Theology'” Crowd — #3

Nor do I find a warrant for Magistrates to compel any to profession of truth, Psal. 110. His people a willing people. To Order what men shall believe, is to exercise Dominion over men’s Consciences: It is One thing to cause the people to attend the means, and another to make them believe the truth, the first they must do, but not the second: Faith is God’s gift. It is one thing to hinder Idolatry and blasphemy spreading, another thing to make people renounce an opinion, and embrace the truth. […]

They may Command and Order the people to come and attend upon the Ministry of the Word, as the means instituted by Christ for their instruction to salvation. It is one thing to order them what they shall believe, another thing to order them to wait upon the means. All grant the civil Magistrate may call public Assemblies, to hear their Proclamations, and Statutes, &c. read: if they may call a whole Town to hear a Law, then much more may they call them to hear God’s Laws.

Stephen Marshall, The power of the magistrate in matters of religion, vindicated. The extent of his power determined. In a sermon preached before parliament on a monthly fast day (London, 1657), pp 5, 7-8.

“For it is a thing more certain that whatsoever God required of the civil magistrate in Israel or Judah concerning the observation of true religion during the time of the Law, the same doth he require of lawful magistrates professing Christ Jesus in the time of the Gospel, as the Holy Ghost hath taught us by the mouth of David, saying (Psalm 2): ‘Be learned, you that judge the earth, kiss the Son, lest that the Lord wax angry and that ye perish from the way.’ This admonition did not extend to the judges under the Law only, but doth also include such as be promoted to honours in the time of the Gospel, when Christ Jesus doth reign and fight in His spiritual kingdom, whose enemies in that Psalm be most sharply taxed, their fury expressed and vanity mocked. And then are kings and judges, who think themselves free from all law and obedience, commanded to repent their former blind rage, and judges are charged to be learned. And last are all commanded to serve the Eternal in fear, to rejoice before Him in trembling, to kiss the Son, that is, to give unto Him most humble obedience. Whereof it is evident that the rulers, magistrates and judges now in Christ’s kingdom are no less bound to obedience unto God than were those under the Law.”

John Knox, The appellation of John Knox from the cruel and most injust sentence pronounced against him by the false bishops and clergy of Scotland, with his supplication and exhortation to the nobility, estates and commonality of the same realm (Geneva, 1558) in idem, On rebellion, ed. R. A. Mason (Cambridge, 1994), pp 91-2.

Heidelberg Catechism Sermon — Lord’s Day 32

LORD’S DAY 32 — 86. Q. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?

A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits,1 and He may be praised by us.2 Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits,3 and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.4

1 Rom 6:13; 12:1, 2; 1 Pet 2:5-10. 2 Mt 5:16; 1 Cor 6:19, 20. 3 Mt 7:17, 18; Gal 5:22-24; 2 Pet 1:10, 11. 4 Mt 5:14-16; Rom 14:17-19; 1 Pet 2:12; 3:1, 2.

87. Q. Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent walk of life?

A. By no means. Scripture says that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, greedy person, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like shall inherit the kingdom of God.1

1 1 Cor 6:9, 10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5, 6; 1 Jn 3:14.

Premises in the Question

Antinomianism is not an option

The Christian is dead to the law as a tool of condemnation for lack of the required moral perfection. But as the Scripture instructs us we have been Redeemed by Christ from that condemnation. Christ paid the penalty for our lawlessness. But Christ did not pay the penalty of sin for our lawlessness that we might be free to be a lawless people. The redeemed are dead to the death sentence of the law, Christ having taken upon Himself their death sentence, but they are now alive to the law as the righteous standard by which they can adjudicate what the performance of “good” is.

We are the people who have been redeemed in order to do “good,” and when the Christian or God’s people as a whole resolve to sin that grace may abound their lives tell a lie about what God has done. So LD question 32 does not allow us to be unconcerned with obedience.

The Scripture reinforces the point of LD 32

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

As the law was man’s indictment, and as the law’s fulfillment of fallen man’s penalty and unrighteousness in Christ’s death was the way in which Christ’s death glorified the Father so the law now is the means which the Spirit uses in order to grow us up in Christ by sanctification.

The Church in the 21st century is awash in antinomianism. There continues to be a lack of concern for good works and the standard that defines those good works (God’s Law).

The second unstated premise we have already grazed against and that is,

If we must still do “good” there must be a standard which determines what “good” is.

Whatever standard a man chooses my which to determine the good is the god of that person’s life.

If a person determines by his own decision making what “good” is then that man is a law and a god unto himself

If a person determines by some other authority that is not looking to God’s authority for determining what “good” is then whatever that other authority is, is god unto the person.

Modern man in the West largely looks to the God State in order to be the standard of what is “good.” Following Mao’s dictum that “Our God is none other than the masses of the Chinese people,” the West largely determines “good” by the masses of elected officials.

So, we must do good as LD 32 teaches and in order to discern what is good we must have a standard and as LD 33 will teach that standard is that which conforms to God’s law.

Leviticus 18:4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.

I Sam. 15:22 And Samuel said,
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.

Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

LD 32 then goes on from the premises in the question to answer why we do good

I.) We Do Good Because of Divine Renovation

Eph. 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

As the Spirit of God teaches here we were created for good works and we are being renovated constantly to that end.

The Scripture teaches not only has Christ delivered us from the penalty of sin by being redeemed by Christ’s blood, counted as righteous with Christ’s righteousness, but it also teaches that another aspect of that deliverance is that we are transformed from glory unto glory.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

After listing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians Paul can say … “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” We have been given the Spirit of the living God as a guarantee of that which is to come, and that Spirit of the living God works to renovate — renew — all of our life.

The Spirit of God working in us, renewing us, works to the end that we bear the fruit of belonging to Christ. That fruit is recognized because it is consistent with God’s Character and we know God’s character because in the law we find the Character of God revealed.

This divine renovation that is going on in us is a work in progress. We are never completely renovated on this side but as we are already accepted in Christ, we are not trusting in our renovation to be right with God but because we are right with God we eagerly anticipate our renovation.

So, in our deliverance, God delivers us both from the penalty of sin in our justification but in our sanctification by the Spirit in applying His Law, God delivers us increasingly and incrementally from the power of sin so that we increasingly become what we have been freely declared to be in Christ.

II.) We Do Good As Thankfulness So That God Will Be Glorified

This passionate pursuit of “good works” is the consequence of having been graciously given a firm grip on how great a salvation we have been saved with. Those who are the most earnest in this concursive work of renovation are those who have the firmest grip of what their peril was outside of Christ. Having been thoroughly convinced of their sin and misery due to being exposed to the threat of God’s wrath against them, all of their life is lived as an expression of gratitude for being freely redeemed.

So, in sanctification their justification is always before them.

In our lived out gratitude it is our hope that men will praise God for what He is working out within us. We want God to be seen and marveled at.

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[a] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

I Peter 2:12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

The Christian’s passion is for God’s glory. There is nothing more that we desire people to see then the greatness of the God we serve. And so a motivating factor for us in our doing “good” is that God might be praised among men because of us.

It is not that we desire people to see anything about ourselves in order to take note but being owned by God we desire that people praise God and see His greatness in the way he has renovated us. We remain unimpressed with ourselves. What we desire people to be impressed with is how God could take such rabble and do such wonders.

We always remain but jars of clay (II Cor. 4) but it is our earnest passion that God’s glory would be seen through these simple jars of clay that men may be amazed that such a simple vessel can manifest the majesty of God and so praise God for how He can use earthen jars of clay.

III.) We Do Good So That We Might Have Assurance

A means of assurance that we are taught here is that we see the power of the living God working in us conforming us to Christ. We understand that this is all of grace but the grace we see assures us that we really do belong to God.

The negative side of this is that if there is no fruit produced then assurance is going to be a dicey matter. In point of fact if we don’t have fruit we shouldn’t have assurance … (but oddly enough the angst about not having fruit is itself likely fruit. The person dead in their sins doesn’t care about fruit.)

Jesus said in Matthew 7.16-17, “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

Now, there are dangers here that we must touch upon.

A.) One danger is that we will begin to start looking at our performances instead of Christ’s performance for us.

B.)There is a danger that we will begin to get impressed with our fruit forgetting that even our good works must be imputed with the Righteousness of Christ to be accepted.

C.) There is a danger that we will enter into fruit comparison contests.

D.) And for those who are tender of conscience and have a real grip on their sinfulness there is a danger of despairing of having any genuine fruit because they see their sin all over the best of their works.

Still, understanding that our ultimate assurance is found in Christ alone as mediated by Word and Sacrament, we find penultimate assurance in the fact that the Spirit of the living God is renovating us. We are not what we would be — we still see in us sin that we despise — but we are no longer what we once were and that can, in a minor key, give us assurance.

So we do good works in order to thank and praise God, and so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits. Those are the first two compelling reasons to do good works.

IV.) We Do Good So That People May Be Won To Christ

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

You are the personal representative of Jesus Christ.

We must understand here that it is only the elect that will be drawn to Christ via our good works. The flip side of this is that the reprobate will be repulsed by our good works.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

As Christians we are a pucker up or duck kind of people, and as the antithesis becomes more and more worked out in our families, our neighborhoods, our culture, we will be loved and correspondingly hated by the elect and reprobate all the more consistently.

Still, we enter into good works because of our earnest desire that men might be won to Christ.

The HC ends with warning concerning a lack of the renovating work.

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

But dear congregation we have better hopes for you, hopes for works accompanying salvation.

So, for a few weeks we will be looking at God’s Law to talk to ourselves more about what these “good works” should look like and how they are defined. We will not be exhaustive here as it simply isn’t possible to be exhaustive on this kind of subject matter.

We end by noting that there seems to be a stream in the reformed church that wants to downplay sanctification and good works choosing to insist upon the “not yet” of sanctification as opposed to the nowness found in the reality that we are new Creatures in Christ. These folks would choose to look at the failures of Christians in their “good works” and suggest that sanctification can’t really be measured.

And it is true, as we said earlier we are not yet what we will one day be and we remain sinners saved by grace, BUT we are sinners saved by grace who, by the Spirit’s renovating work are putting to death the old man and bringing the life the new man and so we can rejoice in the progress that the Spirit of Christ is working in us.