To be Church: Upholder of the Truth

It is the honor and privilege of the church to be the upholder of the truth in the world. The church preserves and promotes the truth. The truth depends upon the church as a great building rests upon its supporting pillars and stands solidly on its foundation. Take away the church, and the truth disappears from the world.

Upholder of the truth is what the church is. This belongs to her essence as she has been created by the Spirit of Christ. It is not merely a matter of a task that has been assigned her, so that she is still the church even though she fails to uphold the truth. What­ever religious organization fails to uphold the truth is not the church, regardless of its claim and regardless of its impressive appearance.

The apostle of Christ gives pointed expression to what is said about the church throughout the New Testa­ment in I Timothy 3:15: "... the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."

In view of the worth of the truth as the revelation of God in His glory and as the power of the salvation of the people of God, to be upholder of the truth is surpassing honor for the church. Calvin remarks on this in his commentary on I Timothy 3:15:

No ordinary enhancement is derived from this appellation. Could it have been described in loftier language? Is anything more venerable, or more holy, than that everlasting truth which embraces both the glory of God and the salvation of men? Were all the praises of heathen philosophy, with which it has been adorned by its followers, collected into one heap, what is this in comparison of the dignity of this wisdom, which alone deserves to be called light and truth, and the instruction of life, and the way, and the kingdom of God? Now it is preserved on earth by the minis­try of the Church alone.

Only the church has this honor and privilege. Para-ecclesiastical or­ganizations are not upholders of the truth. It was to no purpose that in the late 1970s and the 1980s evangelicals in the United States attempted to pre­serve the doctrine of the infallible inspiration of Holy Scripture by means of a "council," apart from the church. Man-made, quasi-ecclesiastical movements are not upholders of the truth. The efforts on behalf of the truth in the Netherlands by federations within apostate Reformed churches are vain. Individual, sound preachers and theologians remaining within departing churches can never be pillars of the truth.

It pleases Christ to maintain His truth in the world by means of the church, not otherwise.

The evidence is plain. The doc­trine of Scripture is in shambles in evangelicalism in North America to­day. Witness the open denial of the historicity of Genesis 1-11. Some of the worst offenders are the very men who were quite in prominence at the "International Council on Biblical In­errancy." The "bonders" in the Re­formed churches in the Netherlands get absolutely nowhere in checking the headlong falling away of their churches, much less in reforming the churches. If their magazines are any indication, their witness to the truth is hardly more than a feeble, pathetic bleating. Individual theologians are silenced. Over the years their own weakening is noticeable. They be­come tolerant of certain aspects of the lie, and even defend them. They are able to do much for themselves personally. They do little or nothing for the truth.

The church is the pillar and ground of the truth.

The reference is to the instituted church. The church that God has made upholder of His truth is the local congregation of believers and their children, organized in the of­fices of bishop (teaching and ruling elders) and of deacon. I Timothy 3 leaves no doubt about this whatever. The church of the living God is the local congregation, and she is the pil­lar and ground of the truth. She is the upholder of the truth, however, not in the splendid isolation and self-sufficiency of congregationalism but in the bond of church unity with other faithful congregations. Thus, indi­rectly but importantly, the denomi­nation of such churches is upholder of the truth.

That the church upholds the truth has nothing to do with Rome's proud claim that Scripture, gospel, and doc­trine depend upon the (Roman Catho­lic) Church in an ultimate and abso­lute sense. According to Rome, the church does not depend upon the truth, but the truth depends upon the (Roman Catholic) Church. Even if it were the case that the truth of the Word of God depends absolutely upon the church in the sense that the church originates, determines, and is sovereign over the truth, this would do nothing for the honor of Rome. For Rome does not uphold the truth. It is exactly the fundamen­tal description of the church as the upholder of the truth that clearly unmasks Rome as a false church. Rome has al­ways been, and is to­day, an enemy of the truth and of the Re­formed church that up­holds the truth.

But the church is not the upholder of the truth in the sense that the truth is subject to the sovereign church. The church does not produce the truth, but the truth produces the church. The church does not determine the truth, but the truth determines the church. The church does not have the last word about the truth, but the truth has the last word about the church. We Reformed must be clear about this. It is by no means only Rome that likes to exalt the church over the truth, that is, over the Word of God. A Reformed synod, or a Reformed consistory, does the same thing when it decides contrary to or apart from Holy Scripture and then demands compliance from the con­gregations, or from the congregation, simply because the assembly has so decided.

Ultimately, the church is founded upon the truth. Christ taught this in Matthew 16:18: "Upon this rock I will build my church." The apostle taught this in Ephesians 2:20: "... built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." The truth precedes the church. The truth forms the church. The truth is the founda­tion upon which the church stands. Again and again in history, the truth reforms the church despite the oppo­sition of an institute that has hard­ened itself in apostasy.

But the truth is the foundation of the church in such a way that the truth uses the church to preserve and pro­mote itself in the world. As a stan­dard bearer serves his kingdom by holding aloft the banner of the king­dom, so does the church hold up the truth. It pleases Christ to maintain His truth in the world by means of the church, not otherwise. Therefore, to destroy the church (which the father of the lie has worked at for some 6,000 years—unsuccessfully) would be to abolish the truth. The church upholds the truth by her confession. This explains how upholding the truth belongs to the very being of the church. The church is a confessing church. She confesses in her official creeds. The Protestant Reformed congrega­tions confess by means of the "Three Forms of Unity." Basic to this confes­sion is the binding of all officebearers to these creeds through the "Formula of Subscription" and the firm enforce­ment of this sacred vow.

The churches confess in the preaching and teaching of their pas­tors, particularly in the worship ser­vices, the catechism classes, and the seminary. Through the faithful teach­ing of Holy Scripture as interpreted in the Reformed confessions by their ministers, the Protestant Reformed congregations are pillar and ground of the truth.

The church con­fesses in her singing at public worship. The songbook of the Protes­tant Reformed Churches, basically the Psalms with their mag­nifying of the covenant God, their message of gracious salvation from sin, and their call to a thankful life of obedience to the law, is an impor­tant aspect of the support of the truth by these Churches.

The church also confesses by the official decisions of her consistory, as well as by the official decisions of the classis and synod, for which each church is responsible.

Being upholder of the truth in­volves definite, sharp condemnation of the lie. A church that cannot say "no" to the lie is a crumbling pillar of the truth. The creeds condemn error. The preaching necessarily does this. Consistorial and synodical decisions must do this.

This involves the church's judg­ing on confessional issues that be­come controversial because of the teaching of error. The church does not forever allow debate over the historical reality of Genesis 1-11, over the origin of the universe by creation in six days, or over the eternal, un­conditional predestina­tion of all humans to ev­erlasting bliss or to ev­erlasting woe. But she preserves and promotes the truth by condemn­ing the view of Genesis 1-11 as unhistorical, the theory of theistic evolu­tion, and the teaching of a universal, conditional love of God.

The condemnation of the lie that is part of the church's upholding of the truth includes also that the church disciplines the impenitent heretic and transgressor. Their mouths must be shut. They must go out. Otherwise, as far as that institute is concerned, they pull down the whole structure of the truth. That institute is respon­sible.

A calling is implied by the honor­able designation of the church as the upholder of the truth. The calling is, "Be what you are!" "Uphold the truth!"

The truth is not only all the doc­trines concerning Christian belief as made known in Scripture, centrally the doctrine of Jesus Christ as God in the flesh. It is also all the doctrines concerning the Christian life. For example, the church is called to up­hold the truth of marriage. The world certainly will not. It cannot even defend the truth that marriage is ex­clusively for a man and a woman. The church must be pillar and ground of marriage and, thus, of the family.

The individual member of the church is not excluded from this call­ing. As member of the church he or she is included in this calling. Let him or her know the Reformed confes­sions; see to it that the truth is soundly preached and taught; receive the preaching with a believing heart; do his or her part in discipline; speak out in defense of the truth personally; practice the truth; and support in ev­ery way the church that shows herself the upholder of the truth.

To be upholder of the truth is, as Calvin put it, "so magnificent a title."

It is also awesome responsibility.

It is to be the church of the living God.

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This article was published in the January 15, 1994 issue of the Standard Bearer and was written by the editor of the magazine at that time, Prof. David Engelsma.

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Gathering at the river

“Crossing the Tiber” is an old expression describing what a Protestant does when he leaves the Reformation faith for the Roman Catholic fold. The Tiber River ran alongside old Rome; to get to Rome, one crossed it. Thus, “crossing the Tiber” refers to entering the Roman Catholic enclave. Today, descendants of our Reformed fathers gather on the banks of the Tiber River, preparing to cross.
 
Such a strong movement toward Rome is astounding, but should not be surprising. The simple reason so many are able to anticipate “crossing the Tiber” is that the doctrine in many Protestant, even Reformed and Presbyterian, churches has so warped and deformed that it is more like Roman Catholic dogma than Reformation truth (deformation in liturgy and ethics is close behind). Combine this doctrinal deformation with the doctrinal illiteracy of the common member—sound catechism instruction of the youth has long disappeared in most denominations—and the heavy traffic on the roads to Rome is not at all surprising.
 
—Read more in the upcoming editorial by Prof. Gritters entitled Gathering at the river in the upcoming March 1, 2018 issue of the Standard Bearer.

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Gospel Truth of Justification - A Review (1): Timely

With the recent publication of Gospel Truth of Justification: Proclaimed, Defended, Developed by David J. Engelsma, the Reformed Free Publishing Association has sent a bold witness of the truth of justification by faith alone into the world. This witness comes particularly to the Reformed church world, both to true and apostatizing churches. God will always have witness to his truth, even to the very end of the world. As apostasy in the church world increases, the witness of the true church and God's servants must become bolder. This book serves the witness of the church regarding the heart of the gospel: justification by faith alone.

That we are justified by faith alone is of great comfort to the believer. Knowing this Satan and his minions, throughout the history of the church, have attempted to make this doctrine odious to God's people. The enemies of the church know very well that if they corrupt the heart of the gospel—the doctrine of justification by faith alone—by adding the works of the law, they have succeeded in corrupting all of Christian doctrine. Hence the importance of maintaining this truth.

After reading this book, there are six adjectives that I jotted down that express why I think this book is a must read for all those who love the Reformed faith. First, the contents of this book are timely. The year 2017 marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It certainly is appropriate that a book be published explaining the heart of the divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the true churches of the Reformation.

Making the contents of the book even more timely is the fact that many reputedly conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches, claiming for themselves to be the disciples of John Calvin and Martin Luther, have travelled far down the road back to Rome by embracing the Romish corruption of the doctrine of justification, that is, justification by faith and works. This contemporary corruption of justification is known as the federal vision. Anyone who has read Engelsma’s writings knows that he is probably this heresies fiercest opponent. He continues and develops his bold unmasking of this heresy in Gospel Truth of Justification.

Perhaps the Protestant Reformed readers of this blog would be tempted to dismiss the timeliness and worthiness of such a lengthy book (528 pages) on the subject of justification. While we may acknowledge threats to the doctrine of justification by faith alone "out there" and lament what we see happening in other denominations, certainly we are in no danger of losing the truth of justification by faith alone within the PRC, or so we may naively think. To adopt this complacent attitude would be to ignore recent history within the PRC. The doctrines of justification and sanctification (and their relationship), election, conditions, and the place of good works in the lives of God’s people were all discussed at the 2017 Synod of the PRC. And weighty decisions were taken. The Protestant Reformed believer has a solemn duty to understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone thoroughly. In the providence of God, this book, addressing all of the aforementioned subjects, has come to publication in the year 2017. Timely!

If you have not already picked up this book and worked your way through it, do so now. Your efforts will be greatly rewarded. Next time, I hope to address the comforting aspects of this publication.

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This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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No, A Christian Cannot Recognize Muhammad as a Prophet

Islam has an ally in the Roman Catholic Church. Allah, the god of Islam, is the same as Jehovah, the God of the Bible, according to Pope Francis. Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins appealed to Pope Francis when she donned a Hijab to show “support” for Muslims and asserted that the god of Islam and the God of Christianity are one and the same (my response). Now Craig Considine, a Roman Catholic Sociologist, argues that Christians can recognize Muhammad as a legitimate prophet of God—similar in status if not quite equal in status with Jesus in this article.

Considine attempts to justify his recognition of Muhammad as a true prophet by defining a prophet as “a messenger of a Higher Power who works on earth to bring justice and peace to humanity.” As a Roman Catholic Considine it is not surprising that he does not appeal to scripture to support this definition of a prophet, but it would have been helpful if he would have provided at least some explanation of how he arrived at this definition. Even if we do not appeal to scripture, Considine’s definition of a prophet proves to be untenable. The assumption seems to be that anyone who seeks “to bring justice and peace to humanity” is a messenger from a “Higher Power,” that is, a prophet. What if a member of the occult becomes a humanitarian leader? Would Considine be willing to recognize a devil worshipper as a prophet? Probably not. Clearly Considine’s definition of a prophet is too broad.[1]

But the basic problem with Considine’s argument is not his definition of what a prophet is. His basic problem is that he is not a Christian. Considine anticipates that his recognition of Muhammad as a prophet  might cause people “to question my credibility as a self-professed Christian.” He explains, “People might say, ‘Jesus is the only way. You’ve turned your back on God. You’re no longer Christian.’” It does seem that Considine is indeed contradicting John 14:6 by teaching that Muhammad offers a way to God in addition to Jesus. However, Considine more clearly demonstrates that his claim to be a Christian is false in statements that do not have to do with how he views Muhammad.

Considine denies the plenary inspiration of scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the sinlessness of Jesus Christ; all essential doctrines of the Christian faith. He writes, “Do I believe in everything that Prophet Muhammad said according to the Qur’an and hadiths? No, I don’t, but I also don’t believe in everything that Jesus or Moses said according to the Gospel or Talmud. Things kind of cancel out, even out. I accept aspects of both, but neither in their entirety.” And a little later he writes, “My mind tells me the Jesus and Muhammad have equally valuable messages. Both men shared some “truths,” but let’s be real: they were human beings. They were prone to error. They made mistakes. They missed some things.”

Christians do not reject parts of scripture, but heretics such as Marcionites and Deists do. Christians do not deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, but heretics such as Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses do. Christians do not deny the sinlessness of Jesus, but the heretical Modernists/Liberals do. Considine is not a Christian according to the judgment of the Creeds of the Church (including the ecumenical creeds that Rome claims to adhere to).

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[1] The Heidelberg Catechism explains the biblical teaching that Jesus Christ is the “chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed . . . the secret counsel and will of God concerning . . . redemption.” A prophet is primarily a spokesman of God, sent by God to speak the truth about salvation through Jesus Christ. Muhammad did not speak the truth of God about Jesus Christ as the only Savior; Muhammad was not a prophet of God.

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Our blog writer is Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, MI. If there is a topic you'd like Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us

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RCC: A False Church

The pope visited the US last week with much fanfare. Pope Francis is a hit with political leftists and with a certain segment of Protestants. This is an appropriate time to be reminded of the evils of the Roman Catholic Church that Pope Francis represents. So I share with you today an excerpt from an article by Jordan Stanbridge, Why Evangelicals and Catholics cannot be Together.

As the title of the article indicates, Stanbridge is opposed to the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together document that prominent evangelicals and Roman Catholics signed in a show of unity. Stanbridge views the Roman Catholic Church as an institution of the devil. Therefore, there can be no agreement between evangelicals and Rome. Click on the link above and you can read his six reasons why evangelicals and Roman Catholics cannot be together. In light of the pope’s recent visit I have decided to include Stanbridge’s condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church’s view of authority below.

Authority

It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the magisterum of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in their own way, under the action of the Holy Spirit, they all contribute affectively to the salvation of souls. – Catechism of the Catholic Church 95

Picture a company with three owners. They walk into a room they all have the same power. That’s what this is like in the RCC.

And although Scripture should trump any false interpretation in the RCC, the Pope and his cardinals, as well as tradition have undermined Scripture for centuries. God has not given man the right to alter His word, The Holy Spirit is in charge of illuminating the mind of His children and cause them to understand the truth. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us clearly that scripture is all we need to live a life that glorifies our Creator.

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Pope Apologizes for Persecution, Still Opposed to True Reformation

This article in Christianity Today reports that Pope Francis apologized for the Roman Catholic Church’s persecution of the Waldensians during the Middle Ages. Here is an excerpt from the report that includes the apology:

“On the part of the Catholic Church, I ask your forgiveness, I ask it for the non-Christian and even inhuman attitudes and behavior that we have showed you,” Francis said during the first-ever visit by a pope to a Waldensian church. “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us!”

The report explains that the persecution of the Waldensians (“massacre, rape, and pillaging”) took place under the orders of Pope Alexander III in the 12th century. According to a scholar quoted in the report Alexander III was unenlightened and therefore unable to recognize that the Waldensians were good Christians. This scholar contends that Pope Innocent III was more enlightened, appreciating the monastic lifestyle of Waldo and his followers. Innocent III’s response (in 1210) to the Waldensians’ success was to authorize the organization of a new religious order under St. Francis, the current pope’s name’s sake. Pope Francis, the scholar claims, could very well be Pope Waldo if only Alexander III had been more “enlightened” and appreciated the Waldensians. The current Pope, Francis, is “enlightened” and supposedly views the Waldensians as “very much Christians after his own heart.” Francis appreciates the way the Waldensians provide “service to humanity which suffers, to the poor, the sick, the migrants.”

Unfortunately the report doesn’t explain any of the doctrinal reforms the Waldensians implemented. The Waldensians believed in the supreme authority of Scripture and that the preaching of the gospel is more important than the sacraments. The Roman Catholic Church has grown to appreciate the “monastic lifestyle” and “service to humanity” of the Waldensians, but continues to despise their view of Scripture and the preaching. Pope Francis is trying to present the Roman Catholic Church as more friendly than it was in the past. But he and the Roman Catholic Church remain opposed to doctrinal reforms.

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