Covenant and church (Bible study recap June 8 & 14)

The church today has various views on the relative importance of the church in the life of the Christian.

In Titus 1:1, Paul speaks about godly conduct that accords with the Word of God.  One question that naturally arises in this connection is: what kind of importance should be attached to the church in the Christian life?  More specifically, what kind of importance can we attach to corporate worship that takes place on the Lord’s Day (the NT Sabbath)?  Should corporate worship on a Sunday be given priority over other acts of Christian devotion during the rest of the week?

The simple answer to the last questions is “yes”.  The book of Titus – like the pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy) – helps instruct us in the importance that God has assigned to the church.  For example, in the book of Titus Paul writes about preaching and teaching, electing elders and baptism.  As for the central importance of corporate worship – where the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered – Titus is not explicit.  Nevertheless, the Reformed tradition has historically made a strong case from other parts of Scripture for placing corporate worship on Sunday front and center in the Christian life.  Below are a few of the arguments the tradition has made.  I provide you with references to some of the Reformed confessions, which in turn cite various parts of Scripture.  Please study them for yourself by clicking on the links that follow.

  • If the church is the institutional expression of the God’s kingdom on earth (no other institution on earth possesses the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt 16.18-19) and no other institution possesses a heavenly ethic (cf. Math 5; 18)) and the penultimate fulfillment of the covenant of grace, then corporate worship called by the church is that time when God serves his people from heaven with Christ and all his benefits (see WCF 25);
  • If the Sunday is the Lord’s Day, which is set apart as holy like no other day of the week, then is follows that corporate worship on the Lord’s Day is holy activity unlike any other day during the week (see HC Lord’s Day 38; WCF 21);
  • If the church, and specifically the minister of the gospel (the pastor), has been entrusted with the keys to the kingdom of heaven, then that time when he ministers the Word through preaching and the administration of the sacraments is when heaven is opened and closed (see HC Lord’s Day 31);
  • If preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacramental (they give us the grace of Christ and all his benefits by the power of the Spirit), then these activities that take place during corporate worship service are God’s ordinary means of convincing and converting sinners, and building up Christians in holiness and comfort (see HC Lord’s Days 25-30; WCF 27-29; WSC 89, 96).

Corporate worship on the Lord’s Day is an oasis for Christian pilgrims who wander in the wilderness of this world (1-2 Peter).  Here is where sinners who have been made into citizens of heaven taste of the powers of the age to come (cf. Heb 6.4-6; 1 Cor 11).

The following are links to the confessions and catechisms that are mentioned above as well as others, which include Scripture references (please note that I do not necessarily endorse everything on the websites that host the confessions/catechisms listed):

Heidelberg Catechism (HC)

Belgic Confession (BC)

Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)

Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC)

Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC)

One important foundational doctrine that helps in beginning to grasp some of the arguments from Scripture made above, is the doctrine of covenant.  The following is a nice summary of God’s covenant with man (from WCF 21):

I. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.[1]

II. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works,[2] wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity,[3] upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.[4]

III. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second,[5] commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved,[6] and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.[7]

IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.[8]

V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel:[9] under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come;[10] which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah,[11] by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.[12]

VI. Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance,[13] was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper:[14] which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy,[15] to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles;[16] and is called the New Testament.[17] There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.[18]

God’s sovereign election (May 24 study recap)

There are few teachings in the bible that generate such controversy as God’s sovereignty in the salvation of mankind.  Seeing that Paul brings up the doctrine of “election” in the first verse of Titus, I thought it important that we should consider it.  While a brief blog post cannot do justice to such lofty biblical truths or the hour we spent looking at them, I nevertheless thought it might be helpful to highlight some points that were made.

Simply put, God’s sovereignty is that truth about his nature that puts him in absolute control in creation and subsequently in determining all that comes to pass on the stage of human history.  God does all things according to his will and by his power.  (See passages like Gen 14.19; Ex 18.11; Deut 10.14.17; 1 Chron 29.11-12; Neh 9.6; Ps 22.28; Jer 27.5; Luke 1.53; Rev 19.6.)

If God is sovereign over all things, then this means he has determined from all eternity those whom (the “elect“) he will save in Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit (cf. Titus 1.1; Ephesians 1.11; Romans 9).  In other words, our salvation depends wholly on God’s grace and not our works or efforts or feelings… (cf. Romans 9.16; Galatians 3.11).

But how do I know if I am elect?  If you have  repented of your sins and believed upon Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, then you are elect (Romans 10.9).  We find our election in Jesus Christ, and hence inestimable comfort and assurance of God’s love for us.

God’s sovereignty should not be confined to saving sinners only – as if this were the overriding teaching found in the bible – but it should be appreciated as it informs other vitally important biblical doctrines, like suffering in the Christian life and corporate worship.  We will look at this more in the future.

God’s sovereignty should never become a cold and esoteric idea, but should always be understood in the context of God’s loving covenant relationship with mankind.  God the Father has entered into an unconditional covenant with mankind in order to save us from our sins and ensure that we get to heaven.  We will spend much time in the future considering how God has dealt with mankind through covenant.

In regard to the sovereignty and providence of God, here are some things that the Reformed tradition has historically confessed…

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 1
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death,1 am not my own,2 but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ,3 who with His precious blood4 has fully satisfied for all my sins,5 and redeemed me from all the power of the devil;6 and so preserves me7 that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head;8 indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation.9 Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life,10 and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.111 Rom 14:7-9; 2 1 Cor 6:19-20; 3 1 Cor 3:23; Tit 2:14; 4 1 Pt 1:18-19; 5 1 Jn 1:7; 2:2; 6 Jn 8:34-36; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Jn 3:8; 7 Jn 6:39-40, 10:27-30; 2 Thes 3:3; 1 Pt 1:5; 8 Mt 10:29-31; Lk 21:16-18; 9 Rom 8:28; 10 Rom 8:15-16; 2 Cor 1:21-22, 5:5; Eph 1:13-14; 11 Rom 8:14

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Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10
            What do you understand by the providence of God?

The almighty, everywhere-present power of God,1 whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures,2 and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought,3 fruitful and barren years, meat and drink,4 health and sickness,5 riches and poverty,6 indeed, all things come not by chance,7 but by His fatherly hand.8

1 Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-28; 2 Heb 1:3; 3 Jer 5:24; 4 Acts 14:15-17; 5 Jn 9:3; 6 Job 1:21; Ps 103:19; Prov 22:2; Rom 5:3-5; 7 Prov 16:33; 8 Mt 10:29; Eph 1:1