Category Archives: Shorter Catechism

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/

The First Noel and Question 23 of the Shorter Catechism

Q 23: What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer?
A. Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.

A friend of mine told me recently that one of the reasons he loves Christmas is that even the atheist sings about Christ. Think about it: Even the atheist will sing about the First Noel. Now that may be a positive thing. God may use this Advent season to bring many to Christ through the great Christmas hymns. But my fear is that the reason most atheists can sing about Christ is that they probably don’t know enough about Christ to fear Him. The words “Jesus” and “Christ” are used so often in our culture that I have a deep suspicion that if the world knew this Christ, they would fear uttering these words. But to us who know him, it is the name above all names.

John Whitecross once told a story about Gideon, a converted Indian, who one day was attacked by a savage, who, presenting his gun to his head, exclaimed, ‘Now, I will shoot you, for you speak of nothing but Jesus.’ Gideon answered, ‘If Jesus does not permit you, you cannot shoot me.’ The savage was so struck with this answer,that he dropped his gun, and went home in silence.

Listen to how Jesus is described: as the Great architect, the sovereign one who controls all things. Do you think this is what most people think of when they sing: Born is the King of Israel?

But in our catechism he is even more than that: He is a prophet, Priest, and King in His humiliation, that is His Incarnation, and in his exaltation, that is when he ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father.

Jesus is the Triple Cure of Lost Humanity. First, He is a Prophet. Jesus represents God to man, because He is the God-Man. From the Prophet Moses to the prophet Elijah to the prophet Isaiah to John the Baptist to Jesus the prophet. In His incarnation He spoke to us words of wisdom and truth. In his exaltation he continually speaks to us through the Spirit and His Inspired Word.

Secondly, He is a Priest. The author of Hebrews spends thousands of words explaining Christ’s Priestly role. He is the spotless priest who intercedes for us because He died for us. No priest could accomplish such a task, but Christ laid His life to be our priest forever. It is to this priest that we confessed our sins this morning.

Finally, He is our King. Christ does not need our approval to make Him King. He rules heaven and earth. He was king in the First century, He is King now, and He will be King forever and ever. His Kingship provides us the wealth of comfort and assurance. If the nations rage against one another, when there is sickness and disease, Christ is still King.

In the first Noel was born unto you a prophet, a priest, and the King of Israel.

Heidelberg Catechism

103.   Q.  What does God require in the fourth commandment?
 
A.  First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained1 and that, especially on the day of rest, I diligently attend the church of God2 to hear God’s Word,3 to use the sacraments,4 to call publicly upon the LORD,5 and to give Christian offerings for the poor.6 Second, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, let the LORD work in me through His Holy Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal sabbath.71 Deut 6:4-9; 20-25; 1 Cor 9:13, 14; 2 Tim 2:2; 3:13-17; Tit 1:5. 2 Deut 12:5-12; Ps 40:9, 10; 68:26; Acts 2:42-47; Heb 10:23-25. 3 Rom 10:14-17; 1 Cor 14:26-33; 1 Tim 4:13. 4 1 Cor 11:23, 24. 5 Col 3:16; 1 Tim 2:1. 6 Ps 50:14; 1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8 and 9. 7 Is 66:23; Heb 4:9-11.

On The Sabbath Day

This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their wordly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
CHAPTER XXI – Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath-day

The Arminian Catechism

Manila Drive has put out the Arminian Catechism. Apart from its humorous nature, this catechism reveals the nugatory essence of a theology that is at odds with Holy Scriptures. Well, if you’re up for an adventure read the Arminian Catechism and then peruse through the Westminster Shorter Catechism Here is a little sample of the Arminian Catechism.
1. Q: What is the chief end of each individual Christian?

A: Each individual Christian’s chief end is to get saved. This is the first and great commandment.

2. Q: And what is the second great commandment?
A: The second, which is like unto it, is to get as many others saved as he can… (more…)

Meditations on the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism

A few months ago I wrote a brief blog with a few meditations on the famous first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I thought it would be helpful to make a few more observations. As often as it is recited, it needs at least some further examination.

The purpose of this particular question was to build a theocentric framework on which the entirety of the catechism would be founded. What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to Glorify God and to enjoy Him Forever. To impart any proper meaning to this answer we need to conclude what it does not mean. There are least a few conspicuously erroneous ways to see this. The first would be to assume that to glorify God is a task reserved in the context of ecclesiastical worship. This idea entails that the Sabbath worship is the only time in the week where the body glorifies God. To limit the glorifying of God to the gathering of the saints is a gnostic danger. The second obvious error is to assume that the enjoyment of God is an ethereal and utopian activity reserved for the redeemed in heaven. Any conclusion that entitles the enjoyment of God only to the heavenly people reduces God’s benefits to non-corporeal beings and abuses the reasoning used by the framers of the Confession. The gift of enjoying God is given to earthly redeemed and even to those in the visible church who benefit and sample God’s gifts–but will soon be thrown away from God’s covenant due to disobedience and betrayal (see Hebrews 6; I John 2:19).

In philosophy, there are essentially three questions that are frequently explored. They are the questions of identity, existence, and meaning. They are phrased as follows: Who am I? Why am I here? and What is the meaning of life? This question in the catechism seeks to answer all three of these questions in twelve words. Note that when we respond: “Man’s chief end,” we are assuming that human existence has a purpose (telos). When we say: “is” we also assume that this purpose has already been established, so that the idea of man being the “captain of his fate and the master of his soul” is utterly flawed. It follows thus far that purpose has been determined and that humanity has already been created with an end in mind. There is no such thing as tabula rasa. The slate is not clean, in fact it is already very filthy and the purpose of “purpose” is to destroy any excuse for existential meaninglessness.

But what does it mean “to glorify God?It is worth to note that this is the chief end of man, not one among many chiefs, but the “chief.” This implies that sinful humanity finds pleasure in other ends. The central idea is that the glory of God is the purpose of existence. Gordon K. Reed notes that “to have one great purpose also gives added significance to all other purposes and goals. This means all we do –working, planning, education, recreation, family life, and even eating and sleeping, have meaning which flows from the one great purpose.” To glorify God is to find fulfillment in all of life. It is to honor Christ in obedience and faith. All this cannot begin to occur until one is drawn irresistibly by the Holy Spirit. The drawing ushers one into a new creation (II Cor. 5:17); a creation where there is purpose and where meaning is secured.

In the glorifying of God we see that humanity is created in His image (Imago Dei) and that humanity was created to reflect their creator. There is no greater form of expression in daily worship than the enjoyment of God. The catechism puts it: …” and enjoy Him forever.” If the glorification of God is the climax of human existence, then the enjoyment of God finds its climax in the means to achieving that purpose. Both to “glorify God” and to “enjoy Him” are inseparable concepts. They are as God’s sovereignty to human responsibility. No one can glorify one they do not enjoy and cherish. But to “enjoy” carries a further concept. It carries the idea of supreme delight. The delight that can never be satiated with simple glimpses or philosophical endeavors, but by embracing one’s life as an infant embraces his mother. This is the purity of pure enjoyment: to realize that there is no true pleasure without the One who gives true pleasure.

A final observation must be made here so that we do not lose a proper and balanced understanding of this stirring command. I am compelled to address the matter of anthropocentrism. It is a common tendency to address theocentrism as the only goal of the Christian life. Hence, because of such a celestial view of life, we have tended to conclude that life is only meaningful when we address our actions and motives to God alone. The problem occurs when we notice that Christ’ s command to enjoy and love human kind is inextricably linked to our enjoyment of God (Matthew 22:38-39). So to glorify God is to love mankind and to enjoy God is to enjoy the Church of God. This questions’ intention is not to divorce our love for one another from our love of God, but to enable us to love one another with even greater depth because of our love for God. This is our purpose and this is why we live.

Meditations on Catechism #1

How does our chief end end up being the glory of God? For centuries prior to the Reformation, layman and clergy alike sought to glorify God through the sacred duty of worship. Whether it was on a monastic fashion or gathering at church, worship was only worship if it were in reference to spiritual activity.

The Reformation completely tore apart this isolationist rationale by demonstrating that life itself whether in private or in public is worship. True believers do not need to find shelter to worship and glorify God, they now by God’s grace are enabled to glorify Him through word and deed in or outside the church.

So, what is our chief end? Our chief end is to be converted and live for God in all areas of life enjoying every moment of it and delighting in Him for all eternity.