Back Issues

Volume 15, Issue 5: Credos

On Law and Gospel

1. I believe that the Scriptures divide men into two great categories, those who believe and those who do not (Matt. 25:33). This in turn gives us two fundamental hermeneutics—one of faith and love and the other of unbelief and hatred.

2. I believe that to the unbelieving heart, the Word of God in its entirety comes as law, condemning the sinner. This is particularly evident with the moral imperatives of Scripture (Rom. 3:20; 5:20), but it is equally true of the words of consolation and hope. To those who are perishing, the words of Christ our Savior are the very aroma of death (2 Cor. 2:14-15). So the unbelieving heart sees law and condemnation everywhere, including in the gospel.

3. I believe that to the believing heart, the Word of God in its entirety comes as gospel, bringing the sinner to salvation. This is particularly evident with the declaration of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the heart of the gospel message. But it is also true of the Ten Commandments, which are words of joyful deliverance and salvation (Ex. 20:1). The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul (Ps. 19:7). Moses declared that the law was not too hard for Israel to keep. This is applied by Paul to Christ Himself (Dt. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:6-11).This is because Christ is the telos of the law for everyone that believes (Rom. 10:4). The word is near us—it is in our hearts and in our mouths. So the believing heart sees Christ everywhere, including in the law.

4. I believe that in the work of salvation, in the transition from unbelief to faith, God uses the moral demands of Scripture to make sinners aware of their need for salvation (Rom. 3:20; 5:20; 7:7; Gal. 3:19; Mk. 10:18-19), and that He uses the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to deliver them from the condemnation of this law (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

On Justification

1. I believe that Jesus Christ was justified by God in His resurrection from the dead, being declared with power to be the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). He was justified in the Spirit (1 Tim. 3:16), vindicated by God, and exalted to the right hand of God the Father. This justification, along with Christ’s active and passive obedience, and all His other perfections, is imputed to His people, and is the only basis for all that they have in Him. This justification of Christ, this resurrection from the dead, was for our justification (Rom. 4:25).

2. I believe that God in His sovereign and secret decree has elected by name a countless number to eternal salvation (Eph. 1:11). Each of these elect are justified individually, and irreversibly, at the point of their conversion, when God imputes to them all the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29-30). The ground of this justification is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, plus nothing, and is appropriated by the instrument of faith alone, plus nothing, and even this faith is to be understood as a gift of God, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-10).

3. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ, an organic covenant body, is also justified, sanctified, regenerated, and elect. Because her sanctification, like ours, is not yet complete (Eph. 5:24-32), I believe that non-justified, non-elect, non-sanctified, and non-regenerated individuals can be covenant-breaking members of this covenant body for a time. But in the passage of time all such fruitless branches are removed (John 15:1-7; Rom. 11:20; Matt. 13:24-40). Non-elect warts are removed from the elect Bride (Eph. 5:27).

4. I believe that God established two distinct covenants with mankind, one before the Fall, and one after. The first covenant was called a covenant of works in the Westminster Confession (7.2). I would prefer to call it a covenant of creational grace. The condition of covenant-keeping in this first covenant was to believe God’s grace, command, warnings, and promise. If Adam had avoided sin in this temptation, he would have had no grounds for boasting, but could only say that God had graciously preserved him. Perfect and personal obedience, even for an unfallen man, is not possible unless he trusts in God’s goodness and grace. Because God endued Adam with the power and ability to keep covenant with Him (WCF 19.1), Adam was a recipient of grace, and thus, the sin that plunged our race into death was a revolt against grace.

5. The second covenant is a covenant of redemptive grace. The thing that the two covenants have in common is grace, not works. The condition for keeping this covenant is the same as the first, although the circumstances are different. The condition always is to believe God.

6. These points are made, not to smuggle works from the covenant of works into the covenant of grace, but rather the opposite. I believe we must insist that autonomous works be banished from every human realm and endeavor, whether fallen or unfallen (1 Cor. 1:31).

On Faith and Fidelity

1. I believe that we are saved by the faith and faithfulness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us (Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9). The imputation of Christ’s righteousness, both active and passive, is incomplete unless it is understood as including the font of His righteous life, which is the perfect faith that Jesus Christ had in His Father (Heb. 3:2; 5:7-9). All that Christ has and is has been given to us (1 Cor. 3:22-23).

2. I believe that true saving faith (fides salvifica) is therefore inextricably linked to the necessary object of that faith, which is the Word of God, the person of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). This saving faith does not exist apart from a true covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

3. I believe that fides salvifica is entirely a gift from God, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

4. I believe that fides salvifica does not cause obedience in the way that a billiard ball striking another one causes it to move. Rather, it brings about obedience organically, the way life in a body causes that body to breathe. As a body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:26).

5. I believe that fides salvifica lives and acts. One of the principal acts performed by such saving faith is the act of trusting in Christ alone for sanctification. Saving faith is a mother which always bears twins—justification and sanctification, in that order—so that we can see easily that when justification is born, his mother does not die, but rather brings his younger brother obedience into the world. Saving faith is the lone instrument of justification, and, immediately following, is the lone instrument of sanctification.

6. I believe in the historic Protestant insistence that fides salvifica be understood as consisting of an inseparable unity of notitia (knowledge) assensus (assent), and fiducia (trust). It is the essential nature of fiducia to trust gladly in everything that God has spoken in His Word—whether law or gospel, Old or New Testaments, poems or prose, odd-numbered pages or even.

7. I believe that fides salvifica is related to ongoing fidelity or obedience in the same way that a body is related to breathing. Without a body, there is nothing to breathe with. Without breathing, there is something that needs to be buried.

8. I believe that fides salvifica receives all of Scripture as good news from a gracious God. In a general sense, all is gospel. But the Scripture does contain what might be called the Gospel proper, the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. I agree with the Protestant scholastics in saying that there is a fides evangelica that specifically trusts in the revelation that God gives to us in the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On Baptism

1. I believe that the phrase baptismal regeneration, when taken in a wooden ex opere operato sense, has been the source of much rank superstition and idolatry. Baptism in water is a sign and seal of the new covenant, and as with all covenants, the new covenant has attendant blessings and curses. The blessings are appropriated by faith, not by water, and the curses are brought down upon the head by unbelief, against which curses the water provides no protection whatever.

2. I believe that unless a man is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, baptized by Him, sealed with Him as an earnest payment, and truly converted to God, he will never see the kingdom of heaven. If a man is so regenerated, baptized, sealed, and converted, nothing can prevent him coming into his everlasting inheritance.

3. I believe that this doctrine of baptism in the Holy Spirit is far from contradicting a high view of water baptism, and deny that it makes water baptism dispensable. Rightly understood, this doctrine establishes the other. When two witnesses agree, the testimony of each supports the other. A second confirming witness never makes the first witness dispensable. Without the second witness, the first is forlorn and establishes nothing.

4. I believe that the phrase baptismal efficacy may be helpfully used to describe an ex opere operato connection to the new covenant, with its attendant and standing responsibility to repent and believe. Reprobate covenant members who refuse to do this are no less covenant members for all that.

5. I believe that doctrines of baptismal impotence, far from being a protection against superstition and idolatry, have simply provided the occasion for covenant members to cultivate other superstitions and idolatries which, unlike water baptism, have no scriptural warrant.

6. I believe that baptism is covenantally efficacious. It brings every person baptized into an objective and living covenant relationship with Christ, whether the baptized person is elect or reprobate. Baptism is always to be taken by the one baptized as a sign and seal of his ingrafting into Christ. If the person is reprobate, he will be cut out of the vine, and if he is elect, he cannot be cut out. An unbelieving covenant member incurs all the curses of the covenant, while the believer appropriates all its blessings by faith alone.

7. I believe that while baptism as a sacrament of the new covenant has attendant curses for unbelief, God in His grace requires us to speak of it in terms of faith, obedience, and love. Some Corinthians died because of their handling of the cup of blessing. Uzza died because he touched the ark of the covenant, getting too close to the mercy seat. Nevertheless, we do not rename the cup the cup of blessing and cursing. And we do not call the mercy seat the mercy and damnation seat.

8. I believe that the real culprit in baptismal controversy is a disparagement of the biblical doctrine of the Church. We rush to discuss the role of water baptism in the connection of individuals to Christ, failing to recognize that in Scripture we are connected to Christ and to the Church together. I believe that baptism in water establishes the one baptized as a member of the Church, and the Church is one with Jesus Christ, bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh.

9. I believe that there is a sacramental union between the sign (signum) and thing signified (res) in baptism, so that we are warranted (and required) to think and speak of them together. We may, for the sake of theological analysis, distinguish the sign and thing signified, but we must never under any circumstances separate them. This sacramental union means that the union between signum and res cannot be considered as merely linguistic or memorial.

10. I believe there are two unlawful ways to separate the signum and res. The first is the way of the hypocrite, who keeps the sign and rejects the thing signified. The second is the way of the over-scrupulous pietist, who keeps the thing signified and disparages or rejects the New Testament language of baptism. In both cases, what God has joined together man tries to separate.

11. I believe that water baptism is the laver of regeneration (Tit. 3:5). Baptism now saves us (1 Pet. 3:20-21). In baptism we call upon the Lord, washing our sins away (Acts 22:16). I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Only an evangelical faith can see this without superstition.

On Heresy

1. I believe that any minister who brings or circulates charges of heresy, particularly when the charges concern a right understanding of the covenant, should have a household that is in harmony with the Scriptures (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Tit. 1:6), with children who all love and honor the Lord Jesus Christ. Who is the false teacher, and who is the true minister of the covenant? By their fruit you will know them (Matt. 7:15-20).

2. I believe that such qualifications are relevant in the current dispute because covenants are understood incarnationally. This statement is a broadside directed at heresy hunters who are doctrine machines, zealous for covenant theology, but whose covenantal lives in their own homes is in disarray. This is a widespread problem, and is not a veiled reference to any particular person or family.

3. I believe that the ignorance of the Westminster Standards displayed by some of her zealous defenders is astounding and inexcusable. I believe some people who bring charges of heresy should read a book sometime.

4. I believe that those who bring heresy charges need to take special care that their confidence in creedal advance has not been practically vitiated by other factors. Such factors could include pessimistic eschatology, extreme law/gospel dichotomies, ecclesiastical turf war envy, unhelpful two kingdom distinctions, or personal familial tragedies.

5. I believe that when heresy charges are confused, blurry and distorted enough to include in their charges very different and contradictory heresies, this is evidence, not that the heretics are broadly wicked enough to encompass any error, but rather that any stick is good enough to beat them with.

6. I believe that when lies and slanders are circulated under the cover of heresy charges, those so charged should not lament but should rather obey the Lord Jesus, and rejoice and be exceedingly glad (Matt. 5:11-12). The truth is vindicated, not only when faithful ministers proclaim and defend the truth, but also by those who cannot argue against it without resorting to distortion and misrepresentation.

7. I believe that bringing heresy charges in grief or sadness or with heaviness of heart is not to be thought of as an all-purpose moral disinfectant, allowing one to therefore get the facts wrong, charge individuals falsely, and then claim that the cause of all the trouble was lack of clarity on the part of those misrepresented.

8. I believe that the task of rooting out heresy was not committed to jitney theologians and hedge preachers on the Internet, furiously typing, as busy as the devil in a high wind.

On Giving Offense

1. I believe that few subjects are as badly neglected in the modern Church as the applied field of biblical polemics.

2. I believe that when controversy breaks out in the modern Church, it is therefore likely that all parties to the controversy share certain assumptions about what is appropriate in conflict and what is not, and these hidden assumptions tend to govern their discourse instead of the example and pattern of Scripture.

3. I believe that this hidden compromise of method vitiates the attempts of those believers who attempt to be faithful to the content of Scripture, as well as to the content of their confessional heritage.

4. I believe that in a particular kind of religious controversy the central point is to accomplish reconciliation, and that to fail in this task is to fail in maintaining the spirit of unity in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2-6). We are to receive one another but not into disputes about debatable things.

5. I believe that in another kind of religious controversy the central point is to give offense, and that failure in such controversy is a failure to give offense in the way Scripture requires. And Scripture demands that we seek to offend willful obstinacy of opinion by ecclesiastical officials in the face of the grace of God.

6. I believe that failure to distinguish these two kinds of controversy, or a flat denial that there is ever a time when giving offense is a spiritual obligation, means in effect, that in the great basketball game between obedience and disobedience, the referees are always on the take.

7. I believe that our Lord Jesus, when confronted with ecclesiastical obstinacy, showed us this godly pattern for giving offense. Did you know the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?(Matt. 15:12). Yes, I did, He replied in effect. Mission accomplished (v. 13). The Lord attacked the scribes and Pharisees for their long robes, sanctimonious geegaws, prayer habits, tithing practices, their ways of greeting, their seating arrangements, their hypocrisies, and so on. After one such exchange (Luke 11:43-44), one of the lawyers said that Jesus was insulting them in His indictment too (v. 45). And in effect Jesus said, Oh, yes, thanks for that reminder. You lawyers . . .(v. 46). In short, Jesus was seeking to offend.

8. I believe that in a sinful world giving offense is one of the central tasks of preaching. When the offending word is brought to bear against those who have shown themselves to be unteachable, they are written off by that offending word. Employing a scriptural satiric bite is therefore not rejoicing in iniquity, but rather testifying against hardness of heart.

9. I believe therefore that in every controversy, godliness and wisdom (or the lack of them) are to be determined by careful appeal to the Scriptures, and not to the fact of someone having taken offense. Perhaps they ought to have taken offense, and perhaps someone ought to have endeavored to give it.

10. I believe that sometimes a fool is not to be answered according to his folly (Prov. 26:4), and those who contradict are to be answered in all gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25). In other situations a fool must be answered according to his folly lest he be wise in his own conceits (Prov. 26:5), and those who oppose the truth are to be rebuked sharply (Tit. 1:12-14; 2:15). Examples in Scripture and church history of men who can do both are not to be thought of as conflicted personalities, but rather as examples of obedience and balance.

11. I believe that true biblical balance in such things is the fruit of wisdom, and that such balance is not usually found in hot-headed young men, who do not know what spirit they are of (Luke 9:55). Consequently, prophetic rebukes should come from seasoned prophets, from men called to the ministry of guarding the Church of God. The work should be done by men of some age and wisdom, and not by novices, firebrands, and zealots.

12. I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is always to be our example in dealing with certain kinds of religious leaders, and that where He has set an example, we must strive to follow Him. Part of this means we must be careful not to be hasty in imitating Him, since His wisdom was perfect and ours is not. It is therefore good to take counsel with others.

13. I believe that sharp rebukes and the ridiculing of evil practices should seldom be the first approach one should make, but usually should follow only after the rejection of a soft word of reproach, or when dealing with hard-hearted obstinacy displayed over an extended period of time. If this is not remembered, the satirist will find himself killing ants with a baseball bat.

14. I believe we must be careful not to let strong language and supposedly-righteous anger be a substitute for good arguments, to be employed when we feel threatened. Strong language must be weighed and measured, and must always have a point. Special thanks to Jim Jordan for his comments on the above.

On Helping the Heresy Hunt Along

1. I believe that the sacraments are effectual means of salvation through the working of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of Christ.

2. I believe that we cannot receive His righteousness through faith without embracing at the same time sanctification.

3. I believe that a principal act of saving faith is to rest upon Christ alone for obedience in sanctification.

4. I believe that true faith inevitably, necessarily, and immediately begins to display the fruit of obedience.

5. I believe that all the items above are substantive quotations taken from the Westminster Larger Catechism, John Calvin’s 1537 Instruction in Faith, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and R.C. Sproul’s Faith Alone.

On Being Truly Reformed
A True/False Quiz
From the Westminster Confession of Faith

1. Water baptism is to each baptized individual a sign and seal of his ingrafting into Christ.

2. Water baptism is efficacious in the work of salvation.

3. The work of the Spirit and the word of institution accompanying the sacraments makes any discussion of the efficacy of sacraments irrelevant.

4. Worthy receivers really and indeed feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

5. Good works are the necessary fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.

6. A man may expect pardon without grieving for and hating his sins.

7. Resting upon Christ alone for obedience in sanctification is not a principal act of saving faith.

8. Saving faith does not have to believe the entire Bible to be true.

9. The power and ability that Adam had to keep the covenant of works was a gracious gift of God.

10. Communion with God was the grace that Adam fell from when he broke the covenant of works.

Answer Key:
1. T (xxviii.i), 2. T (, 3. F (xxvii.iii), 4. T (xxix.vii), 5. T (xvi.ii), 6. F (xv.ii-iii), 7. F (xiv.ii), 8. F (xiv.i), 9. T (xix.i), 10. T (vi.ii)

Back to top
Back to Back Issues

Copyright © 2012 Credenda/Agenda. All rights reserved.