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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
BELGIC CONFESSION OF FAITH VIII
(Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
God Is One – In Three!
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...
There is much misunderstanding amongst Christians about what the early New Testament Church was like.
You will sometimes read or hear that we need to return back to the early Church.
Or there may be the claim that a particular Christian author or group has rediscovered something which has been missing since the early Church!
The idea is popular that those were really marvellous days!
You know, there were all those miracles, great revival, and the most incredible unity amongst God’s people.
This thought is further advanced in the area of theology.
There are many who believe that all the doctrines we have now is what history has laid on us, especially through the Reformation.
So much like Roman Catholic traditions came hundreds of years later, they say that all those technical terms came much later.
In terms of preaching, they say, the early Church was all about the gospel.
There wasn’t anything like the trouble with error that we have today.
So, was Satan taking a holiday?
You know the answer to that one!
And anyone who knows their New Testament properly will tell you about this too.
It’s clear already in the letters the apostles wrote that there were attacks against the truth.
And not only from outside the early church either.
There were plenty of false teachers found inside her as well!
It is helpful to note that the Reformation, rather than adding doctrines onto the Church, actually went back to the doctrines of the early church.
The heresies that have arisen throughout church history, even those that have come up quite recently, all have their antecedents in the early Church.
They are nothing new!
Man hasn’t changed, and neither has the way the devil attacks the Church of Christ.
Oh, his style has adapted to different times.
But the substance of his attacks is the same.
Exactly because man hasn’t changed!
Let’s then follow the teaching of Article VIII as it confesses to the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Because we have to start, of course, with God.
Article VIII here picks up where Article I left off.
And it does so by first stating that THIS IS THE WAY TO SEE GOD.
Our first aspect this afternoon.
Congregation, we have declared that our faith is in the one, only, true God.
He is the overflowing fountain of all good.
We have confessed that this cannot be known by human reason or experience.
Only through what God has said Himself can we come to that saving knowledge of Him.
That’s why the Scriptures so vital for us.
It’s through these pages that we can know God for who He truly is.
And, indeed, here He does do that – for as much as we need.
What the Holy Bible tells us is that God is one single essence, in which are three persons.
We call this doctrine “the trinity”.
The Reformers are standing here in the orthodox tradition.
They are siding with those in the early Church who clearly spoke and taught about this.
They are taking their stand upon the Word.
We need to note this well.
Because the Church of Rome at the time of the Reformation, and right up to the present day, has lumped Protestants with all other heresies.
They called the reformers Arians and Anti-Trinitarian.
So it was important to hold on to this word “Trinity,” and also the other words like “essence,” “person,” and “incommunicable properties.”
Also because the Reformation period saw not only a revival of biblical preaching but also of the old heresies.
Socinus and Servetus, like Arius and Sabellius twelve hundred years before, denied the Trinity.
Servetus accused all those who confessed the Trinity as denying God.
He even called the Athanasian Creed, the stand of orthodoxy against heresy, a symbol of Satan.
And it’s no different today.
These words are important for explaining biblical teaching.
For again our age, like Athanasius’ time, is one where it doesn’t matter so much what you believe.
The Emergent Church movement even advocates that those in different religions than the Christian faith might be best off as disciples for Christ by staying within those religions.
Brian McLaren says, “I don’t hope all Jews or Hindus will become members of the Christian religion.
“But I do hope all who feel so called will become Jewish or Hindu followers of Jesus.”
And this is without going into all the instances of Anti-Trinitarian teaching being increasing accepted within evangelical churches.
As John MacArthur comments, “For at least a decade now, evangelical best-seller lists have included a steady stream of works by authors and musicians who deny the doctrine of the Trinity.” (The Truth War.)
He goes on to explain, “They hold to a distinctive version of modalism.
“This is the official position of “oneness Pentecostals” and the United Pentecostal Church International.”
I’m sure you heard the expression, “Those who don’t learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Well, the Reformers were definitely of a mind to learn from the past.
That’s a major reason why God blessed that revival as He did.
And we must be of the same mind.
This is “the mind of Christ,” as the apostle Paul describes it in 1st Corinthians 2 verse 16.
Congregation, THIS IS THE WAY TO SEE GOD.
And through it we will realise that THIS IS THE WAY THERE ARE THREE IN GOD.
In Article VIII we confess that within the one single essence which God is there “are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties… .”
The word “incommunicable” tells us that each of the three Persons within the Godhead possess an attribute or quality or property uniquely his own.
These properties are eternal.
You see, the one and indivisible God is so wonderful that He exists in three Persons.
Note, He’s not made up of three Persons.
Then His essence would be divided.
A verse from Scripture is helpful here.
For many of us would know the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 28.
In verse 19 there the Lord Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
The word “name” in this verse is a clear reference to the one essence of God.
It is a word in the singular and yet it draws into itself the three following names - “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.”
It’s the attributes in each of these three Persons which Article VIII next goes on to define.
It says, “The Father is the cause, origin, and beginning of all things visible and invisible.”
Now, the fatherhood of God appears a number of times in Scripture.
It is clearly biblical and also comforting to believers.
The name is used several different ways in the Bible.
The first of these is that God is the eternal Father of the Son.
This is the original and perfect fatherhood.
Our earthly parents can’t hold a candle to this!
This use of the word “father” is what is shown in Psalm 2 verse 7.
There the psalmist says, “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
The second different way is seen in the works of God.
We speak of God as being the father of all creatures.
Everything there is has its cause, origin and beginning in Him.
This is what the apostle describes in 1st Corinthians 8 verse 6.
For there Paul says, “there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live…”
The third use of this name pictures the special theocratic relationship of God to the people of Israel.
They were His children.
This is what Moses raised with them in Deuteronomy 32.
As he challenges the people there in verse 6, “Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?”
In the New Testament God is spoken of as the father of all believers in Christ.
Jesus brought this out in his sermon on the mount.
In Matthew 5 verses 44 and 45 He says to His followers, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
These aspects all bring out what the Confession declares about the Father – the first Person of the Trinity.
And what we also note as the Father’s unique personal attribute is that He is unbegotten.
As the unbegotten he generates the Son and together with the Son He sends out the Holy Spirit.
The second Person of the Trinity is the Son.
He also has a unique attribute.
This is what we see through how He’s described in Article VIII.
It says that the Son is “the word, wisdom, and image of the Father.”
Jesus is the “word” because of His intimate relationship to the Father whom He fully and savingly reveals.
This is clear a number of times in John’s gospel.
Indeed the Gospel begins with those very words.
Chapter 1 verse 1 declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Jesus is the “wisdom” of God because He shows God in what He does.
That was clear in those who noted in Matthew 7:29 that unlike the other teachers He taught with authority.
And certainly His miracles confirmed that too.
Jesus is the “image” of God because He is the exact likeness of the essence and glory of God.
Paul in Colossians 1 verse 15 describes this.
He says of Jesus there, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
And then there is the third Person in the Trinity.
He is the Holy Spirit of whom Article VIII says, “the Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.”
When we confess that the Holy Spirit is “the power and the might” we are saying that His special role is to bring to completion all the plans and purposes of the triune God.
He does this by working through everyone and everything.
It’s at this point that there was a major dispute within the early Church.
This concerned whether the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, or from the Father alone.
It’s a difference with us to this present day.
The Greek Orthodox churches still believe the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.
This teaching, however, does an injustice to the unity of the Trinity and actually puts the Son and the Spirit under the Father.
And it isn’t supported by Scripture.
In John 14 verses 14 and 15 Jesus says about the Holy Spirit, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.
“All that belongs to the Father is mine.
“That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
Having described the unique character of all three Persons the Confession goes back to the overarching fact that they “are but one only God.”
And so our third aspect tells us that THIS IS THE WAY THERE IS ONE IN THREE THROUGH GOD.
Congregation, Christianity’s most distinctive doctrine is the Trinity.
It is the basis to all that God has revealed to us.
No wonder that it is the framework to all our Creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
The Reformation continued in the same vein.
The Belgic and Westminster Confessions of Faith are also clearly Trinitarian.
You see, if the Trinity is any way distorted or dismissed the whole structure of what we believe and how we live is twisted!
For no one can know God as He truly is unless He see Him as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifer.
That’s why the Church couldn’t fluff around when men like Arius cut at the heart of this doctrine.
For then it is as Carlyle once said, “If Arianism had won, Christianity would have dwindled to a legend.”
The last paragraph of Article VIII draws together the fact that there is three-in-one through God.
It is a mystery.
God is God.
And a finite being which cannot even realise the wonder of how his own mind and body works shouldn’t be surprised that he cannot understand the infinite being of God.
All that’s known about God is what He Himself has told us.
In the words of 1 Timothy 3 verse 16, “Beyond all question the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the angels, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”
Now, this hasn’t stopped men trying to describe the Trinity in ways that would help us understand it.
You may have heard some of those illustrations used.
They already began with the early Church Fathers.
Augustine used one.
They show how there can be three things in one object with all three having the same significance but a different form.
The three forms of water is one – ice, steam and liquid.
There’s how matter exists – in gases, liquids and solids.
We experience time in three dimensions – the past, the present, and the future.
People speak about the three parts this world is broken up into – the mineral, the plant, and the animal.
The rainbow is dominated by three primary colours – red, yellow, and blue.
In one way these can help us.
Especially the believer may see the order of the triune God reflected in His creation.
But it always is our human reflection and reason.
Congregation, we have to simply acknowledge here the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
This is what we read in 1st Corinthians chapter 2.
Verse 11 is clear there.
The apostle asks, “For who among men know the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him?
“In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
The more you learn about God, dear believer, the more you realise how much you don’t know Him.
That humbles you.
But the less you study about Him and what He’s done in His Son, the greater will become your arrogance towards Him.
So let’s look forward to learning all the more about this God.
Like the sunflower follows the sun across the sky during the day, let’s be those who live His way.
Because then others will see all the three Persons in Him – through what you do.
O Loving Heavenly Father, once again we’ve been reminded of the pure good that You are.
You planned from all eternity to love us.
Through Your Son you fulfilled that plan.
And now by the Spirit that comes from You, and our Lord Jesus, we are being called and kept and built up in You.
O Triune God, we praise You and deeply thank You.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.rcnz.org.nz
(c) Copyright 2007, Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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