I have created a study guide for the second question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It delves into why the Bible is the only reliable foundation for our lives and absolutely necessary for determining what is right/wrong.
Barak Obama makes a guest appearance, along with the Grand Sezwhoo. In this self study you'll deal with exploding bombs, gender confusion, and birthday cakes. Check it out now.
Westminster Shorter Catechism
What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
I have created a little study guide for the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It delves into the "meaning of life" and co stars great theologians like St. Augustine and Kurt Cobain.
If you are one who wants to understand what your purpose is, download it now.
(Note: Files are Microsoft Word docs)
Training up a child in the way he should go means proactively educating your child in the faith from the earliest moments of life. This is the model exemplified in Timothy who was taught the faith from his infanthood (literally, from the womb! [2Tim.3:15]).
Because God's desire is that we immerse our children in the Scriptures, it is necessary to have some tools to help us do that. I thought it would be a good idea to pass on some books that have my wife and I have found extremely beneficial for our kids (and for us!). The following have really impressed us:
The Mighty Acts of God by Starr Meade is the book that we are currently reading with our 8 year old daughter at bedtime. I put it first because it is foremost among the books we have worked through. Mighty Acts follows the Bible's narrative much like any other children's Bible storybook. However, it excels them for three reasons:
The first distinguishing mark is the way it is written. Each of the stories are told in such a way that not only captures the Biblical text in a faithful rendering, but also captures your child's attention. You and your child will be drawn into the story and made to feel the tension tighten and release in each chapter.
Secondly, it comes highly recommended because it does not focus on the individual Bible characters (i.e. Joseph was a good man). Instead it focuses on the character of God and the redemptive themes that come to light through each story. Your child will walk away not just knowing more about the love, grace, and omnipotence of God, they will actually feel like they know him personally.
Lastly, Mighty Acts trumps other storybooks because of its useful tools. Provided at the outset of each chapter is a Bible verse which captures the theme of the story and could be used for memorization. At the end of each chapter the book provides excellent discussion points so that parents can bring the application home even more. This last feature I have found to be worth the price of the book in itself.
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is another solid acquisition for your 4-7 year old. The subtitle to the book reveals the essence of its focus, "Every Story Whispers His Name." This book is phenomenal because it seeks to make clear how Christ is revealed in and through the whole of Scripture.
Through Jesus Storybook your child will come to see that God has one overarching plan. Moreover, they will see how each of the individual stories fits within that plan and comes to fruition in Christ.
What I personally liked about this book is that you come to build expectation for Christ as you work your way through the Old Testament, just like the saints of old would have experienced. Being as this is so, it would make for a good book to use in the Advent season leading up to Christmas.
For those of you who want something a little more substantial, check out Cathrine Vos' The Child's Story Bible. Unlike most story Bibles, Child's Story doesn't skip much. Vos takes you through virtually every narrative in the Bible. Along the way she sprinkles in some helpful commentary so you (and your kid!) come to understand some of the more challenging parts of the Scripture.
What I liked about this book is that my daughter got a much more comprehensive understanding of the Scripture. As a kid who get's Scripture read to her at the beginning of school in the morning, dinnertime, and bedtime (not to mention a couple of times a day each Sunday), she needed something more than the typical Creation, flood, and David and Goliath stories you normally get in a story Bible.
Some might be intimidated by the volume of Child's Story. It is a big book with lengthy chapters (It took us about a year to work through it). But this should not be a deterrent. The chapters can be broken up easily for nightly readings, and the pay-off in terms of content is superb.
After Vos, we wanted something a little lighter. So we jumped into Day by Day, which is, as you may surmise, a daily devotional for kids. We read this last year with my daughter (when she was 7) and I found it good, but probably directed more toward younger kids (say 5-6). We actually read a couple entries a day because it was so short.
If you are looking for a lot of a thorough analysis, you will be greatly disappointed with this choice. However, if you are looking for something bite sized, bed-time natured and emphasizing practical daily life kind of stuff, this is a good buy.
I will say that one downfall to this book is that, because it focuses so much on how kids should live before God, it sometimes has a "man-centered" feel to it. Parents can easily overcome this by pointing out the grace in each passage. Moreover, this book is, as I said, very kid oriented. It is helpful in getting your children to think about how God's law applies to their lives in particular (i.e. relationships with friends, obedience to parents, prayer, understanding how Christ is Lord, etc.).
Ok, let's jump into something a little more didactic. After years of going through the Bible and various storybooks, we thought it would be good to start giving my daughter some real training in Bible doctrine. So this year for her second grade Bible class we've been using Starr Meade's Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism was originally designed for the purpose of instilling the basic tenets of the faith in children. Meade's book is great because it integrates a weeks worth of lessons for each of the catechism's question and answers. This makes it perfectly conducive for memorizing each of the Q & A's. What's more is that you get to spend a week looking at what the Bible says about each particular topic.
This sort of training is absolutely necessary at some point in your kid's education. Years ago a survey was done and it found that most all of college freshmen who grew up in the church and in Christian homes knew virtually nothing about the most basic Christian doctrines. Meade's work provides a great place to start your child on a much more sound track.
A dip in some church history may also be a good change up from your typical Bible storybook reading, especially if you are a homeschooling family. While I have not delved much into these yet, the History Lives series looks like an excellent resource for introducing your children (ranging 8-12 years old) to our great heritage.
You might ask why I promote a series of books that I have not yet read. I do so because I want to help broaden the scope of our young people's Bible knowledge. While there is never a substitute for the Scriptures, we should not limit our reading to the Scriptures. If we are going to know His Story, we must look at what God was doing after the close of the book of Acts.
As well, learning about the history of the church is important for gaining a well rounded Christian worldview. As Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun." All the errors we face today were most likely already tackled by our forefathers in the faith in earlier centuries. Letting your child become familiar with some of these events will allow them to see how the Bible has been applied, challenged, and defended through the ages.
Finally, back in the world of family devotions, let me suggest our latest read as a family: Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God. I do have a little beef with the length of these studies. It is very short and maturity in the faith will take much more quality time in the study of Scripture. However, the book is very well written and the short is right to the point. Best of all, the point is always theologically sound. Long Story Short is more than a children's story Bible. It unfolds the redemptive and theological implications of each of the stories of the Bible. What happens is that you and your children come to understand the flow of Scripture. The Bible becomes God's Story of our redemption and less a book of moralisms.
The book includes a Bible passage for reading, a short explanation, and a few questions for children for review and discussion.
“Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” – The Athanasian Creed
Over the summer we have been doing a brief overview of several of the Historic Creeds of the faith. We are going to be wrapping up this series with a brief look at the Athanasian Creed. We’ll take a couple weeks to get a birds eye view of what is said here.
This Creed was originally said to be the work of Athanasius, who was one of the great defenders of the faith in the early church. Athanasius spoke out vehemently against Arianism, that heresy we’ve mentioned a couple of times through the summer: where Jesus was not God per se, but was God’s highest creation.
While a lot of what is said here would no doubt have been backed by Athanasius, most scholarship today does not see this as a product of Athanasius’ pen. We still call it the Athanasian Creed though, for tradition’s sake.
What I’d like us to focus on this morning is the first line of the creed. It starts off with a wallop when it says “Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” It also ends with a similar statement: "This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved."
These are sometimes called the “damnatory clauses” of the Athanasian Creed because these statements pronounce an anathema on anyone who does not hold to the tenets of this creed.
I’d like us to think about that for a second. It might sound a little forward to you to say that if you do not hold to everything that is spelled out in this creed, you are damned. As a matter of fact, you might very well be offended that anyone would have the audacity to say such a thing. To our postmodern ears this sounds rather stringent (or even strident). The idea of making any particular document the boundary marker for one’s salvation is something we’re not used to hearing.
But you have to understand what the creed is saying. We do not mean that you have to understand every single iota of what is said here to be saved. Salvation is not by knowledge. Salvation is by grace through faith. But there is a particular God who saves, and it is important that you believe in the right God. If you do not, then you are not saved.
So you might not know exactly what is said here, but if you believe in the one true God, this is the one you’ll believe in. This is the God of the Bible.
Or, maybe a Christian is not educated well enough to speak exactly right about the trinity. Perhaps you speak of God in modalistic terms. Modalism is the belief that God existed in three forms at three different times: he was the Father at one point, then later on he turned into the Son, and now he has transformed into the Holy Spirit. That is a heresy that is corrected by this Creed.
But if you are a young Christian (or one that is not trained well) you might speak of God that way. If you do, it doesn’t means you are damned. It just means you don’t know God well enough at this point in your life.
The creed isn't talking about that kind of ignorance. It is talking about those who outright reject the truth. It condemns those who ought to know better and intentionally follow after another god.
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness would be an example of who is anathematized by the Creed because they disavow any belief in the Triune God. They specifically reject Trinitarian doctrine and embrace a different god.
Another example would be TD Jakes. Jakes is a modern day preacher who has a huge following. Despite his radical popularity in the church today, TD Jakes confesses to be a modalist. I might clarify by saying he is wittingly a modalist. He does not believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit are eternally existent (as the Creed defines them to be). Rather, he believes that the Father existed for a little while as the Father, then he existed as the Son for a little while, and then he turned into the Spirit. That is a specific and forthright denial of the nature of God.
Such a person stands condemned by this creed, even as the Bible itself condemns the one who would create such an idol. Paul himself said,
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Gal 1:8-9 ESV
Last week we started looking at the Definition of Chalcedon and Mark talked about what it meant that Mary was the “Mother of God” or the “God bearer.”
This morning we are going to start focusing on the person of Christ and how his divinity and humanity relate. We believe that Jesus is both God and man. But one of the questions that has arisen in history is “How do these two natures relate to each other?” There have been a lot of questions (and a lot of wrong answers to this question) through history.
But the Definition of Chalcedon has been called “the watershed decision” when it comes to the relation of the two natures (sometimes referred to as the hypostatic union).
The creed states that we believe in “One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”
This morning we want to focus on the fact that these two natures are “without confusion.”
Some of you, when you wake up, drink cranberry juice. Some of you might drink apple juice. But there are still others who might drink cran-apple juice. Cran-apple juice is two fruits in one bottle. But it is a mixture of the two fruits. You cannot distinguish which part is cranberry and which part is apple. So, if you think about it, the two are so unidentifiably mixed it ends up being neither cranberry or apple juice. You’ve basically created a new fruit called. The two are so interfused (or confused) that you now have a hybrid fruitjuice.
This is a crude analogy to how some have understood the two natures of Christ. Some believed that they were mixed together and so interlocked that they became actually one nature. So Jesus becomes neither God or man, but he becomes a third kind of being.
There were two specific heresies in the early church that did this. The first is Eutychianism. Eutyches said that the human nature was fused into the divine nature. We might say it was swallowed up by the divine nature. Eutyches said that it was like a drop of honey in the sea. You know that a drop of honey is going to dissolve and become part of the sea. So basically it is indistinguishable.
That’s what he said happened to the human nature. It fused with the divine and got all mixed up in it to the point that it is basically lost.
The other heresy is called Apollinarianism. Apollinarius believed that Jesus had a human body but a divine soul. So the divine nature took over the soul (or the mind).
In both cases, what you have is something that is neither divine or human. Jesus becomes a third kind of being. He’s not man (who has a human body and soul), and he’s not God (because his divine nature has changed).
So, we confess that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. He has two distinct natures and they are not mixed or confused.
And the reason why we confess this is because we need Jesus to “become like us in every way.” If he does not possess a true human nature—if it is swallowed up or changed, then he cannot be the Savior of humanity. And if he is not human, we are still in our sins.
But thank God that he is human and that his two natures are not mixed.
Yesterday in my class at the prison we began discussing the eighth commandment (Thou shalt not steal). The men there were greatly intrigued by the thought that God's word lays down a perfect system of economics and provides the means for for wealth and prosperity.
The teaching and discussion that ensued was so good that they asked if we could continue to studying the subject next week. I thought that I would post my notes, which are based on the Westminster Larger Catechism, just in case others might benefit from them.
Unfortunately, these notes are not as complete as I'd like them to be. A good deal of my teaching and illustrating was "ad lib." (Here is a printable version)
Question 140: Which is the eighth commandment?
The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.
Question 141: What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits and suretyship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.
Question 141: What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
The duties required in the eighth commandment are...
truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man;
rendering to everyone his due;
restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof;
giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others;
moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods;
a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition;
a lawful calling, and diligence in it;
avoiding unnecessary lawsuits and suretyship, or other like engagements;
and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own. Lev. 25:35, Phil 2:4; Deut 22:1-4
Question 142: What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depopulations; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor: What belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.
Question 142: What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are...
theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen;
false weights and measures,
removing land marks,
injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits,
Unjust enclosures and depopulations;
engrossing commodities to enhance the price;
unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor: What belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them;
envying at the prosperity of others;
as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming;
3. Examples of "wasteful gaming": Slot machines, raffles, lotteries, games of chance, sporting pools, card games. (Discuss: What do you think is the difference between these and a pop machine?)
and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.
Salvation would not be effected without Christ’s having come down to earth and enduring all the indignities that he did. This abasement is typically expressed as his humiliation. The Apostle’s Creed summarizes it as his being conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, sufferings under Pontius Pilate; crucifixion, death, burial and descent into hell. Let us look at each of these briefly.
Holy Conception & Birth
Of course, the conception and birth of Christ seeks to emphasize that Christ really did have a human nature. From Mary he received actual DNA and the composition of humanity.
On the other side, the miraculous nature of his birth expresses the divinity and distinction of the Christ. In being conceived by the Spirit, without the means of a human father, he diverts the normal process of sinful generation. He becomes a second Adam, who has no corruption.
Yet, we must not miss the ignominy that is associated with this.
1. He was born in a low condition: This is to recognize that Christ’s taking flesh was a radical break with his former state of being. In heaven he had a “high” condition, in that he was comforted with its peace and prosperity, enjoyed the servitude of angels, was shrowded with infinite glory and had perfect rule and dominion of all. In his birth he shunned these, preferring instead to be in a helpless state (as all babies are) and without any nobility.
His lowly state was also expressed in his life-long state of poverty. It was one thing to take a state of humanity (to be born in the form of a worm), but the state of that humanity was the lowliest of its kind. His parents had to offer the offering of the poor (Christ’s escape to Egypt was likely funded by the gifts from the Maji). He himself during his ministry had no where to lay his head. He had no tomb of his own, and even the few clothes he had were taken from him.
2. He was made under the law: This was a humiliating act because he himself was not by nature under it. As the Soveriegn Lord and Lawgiver he was above the law and not subject to it. He could make and change the laws as he chose (so to speak). His coming to earth in human form meant that he must now submit to the earthly governors. In sum, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the subject of kings and lords.
3. He faced the indignities of the world: When you bring a girl home to meet your parents, you want your siblings to be on their best behavior, and you try your best to keep her from meeting crazy Uncle Bob, who is renown for his crude jokes, lack of manners, and disgusting bodily noises. What you are trying to do is save her from having to face the indignities of your family.
Christ faced the indignities of this world in that he was surrounded by profane people and all the disgrace that is entailed with that.
4. He was challenged by Satan & his temptations: In the book of Job we read that Satan had to get permission from the Lord to do anything. He was no threat to the Lord. In his humiliation he was made liable to Satan’s attacks and experienced the full enticement of those temptations. The NT does not describe how horrible it must have been for Christ to experience this. Yet we cannot underestimate how horrendous this experience must have been.
5. He suffered the associated pains of earthly life: Christ had new sensations that were not becoming of his divine nature: hunger, fatigue, thirst. Physical pain was more than simply a cruel sensation (He deserved to be treated well and nobly pampered. He also experienced emotional pains associated with slander, repudiation, looming execution, etc.
Suffered under Pilate
As with his holy conception and birth the creed’s statement of his suffering under Pontius Pilate is synecdoche. It represents all his earthly sufferings that lead up to his death and that for which we may call him the “Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief”. These include…
1. His being betrayed by Judas and forsaken of his disicples: Christ, in his humanity, had friends. Close friends at that. They were his confidants and the ones with whom he experienced camaraderie. We must not think that Christ had a stoic attitude towards his earthly associates. He loved them, laughed with them, and bonded with them as any mortal would. We likely have experienced a friend forsaking us or turning his back on us. Christ experienced this on a grand scale.
2. He was scorned & rejected by the world: He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. We often see Christ in conflict with the Religious leaders. We must not think that his rebukes were out of anger only. They were no doubt accompanied with tears. To be run out of towns and ridiculed by throngs would have no doubt multiplied his grief.
3. He was condemned by Pilate: To have a sentence passed against you is distressing. But it is different if you are innocent. Since Pilate knew that Christ was innocent (and even sought to persuade the audience and be something of an advocate for Christ’s release), it would have been even more troubling.
4. He was tormented by his persecutors: This should be obvious enough. Let us not forget though that Christ suffered numerous beatings, perhaps 4 altogether (one the hand of the Jews, one at the hand of Pilate, one at the hand of Herod, one at the hand of the crowds as he was led to Galgotha—it was their custom to “get their digs” as they were being led to the place of execution).
5. He conflicted with the terrors of death: Besides suffering the brutality of men, he experienced the mental anguish over his impending execution in the Garden of Gethsemene. This was of such an extreme degree that his pores began to seep blood (in other words, his capalaries were under such stress that they broke and released blood).
Was Crucified, dead, and buried.
It is not the intent now to detail the humiliating depths of crucifixion. It is enough for our purposes to say that it was a painful and shameful way to die. The Creed does not fail to mention that Christ actually died and, to prove such, was buried. In this we are reminded that Christ became “maximus peccar,” the supreme sinner, and bore the wages of sin.
His Descent into hell
This phrase has been the subject of much dispute. Some take it to mean that Christ, subsequent to his death, went to the locality of hell, where OT saints were said to be waiting and set them free so that they may, at long last, enter heaven. This interpretation, which is held by RCC and some Protestant churches, is based on an errant understanding of 1 Peter. 3:18f). Some take this statement to be a reiteration of Christ’s sufferings on the cross, this time pertaining to the mental agonies that he endured.
Perhaps the best way to understand this phrase is that Christ remained under the power of death for a time. The word hell is the word Gehenna, which indicates the grave (i.e. he remained in the realm and under the power of death). It’s positioning in the Creed, after buried, seems to indicate such. It then reminds us that the full penalty of death was paid by Christ.
This bit is drawn from the opening chapter of Steven Lawson's book, The Expository Genius of John Calvin. Tis a most appropriate word to accompany my earlier post on the minister and the reading of God's word.
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