During 2017, and perhaps beyond that, I will write and publish a serial commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith* here on TheCovenantHerald.com. But if this website is dedicated to God’s law, reconstructing a Christian society, and postmillennial progress, how can I justify writing a long series of articles on a 400-year old confession? Because I have a singular, eschatologically-oriented passion driving this series: the purity of the Church that’s expanding into the corners of the earth.
The goal of the Great Commission isn’t merely to “get folks saved”, but to make disciples. This presupposes we have the content of the Gospel and our other theological particulars in order. After all, we’re not merely told the Church will grow; we’re told it will grow in purity, both in membership and in doctrine. We see the promise the Church will progress toward greater doctrinal fidelity to Scripture in Ephesians 4:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Additionally, we’re promised that the sanctifying Word will purify the membership of the Church, significantly reducing the number of false sons in her pale as we draw near judgement, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Through the ministry of the Word, the Lord promises the Church will grow up. She’ll become more beautiful, more holy, more pure. She was given a good scrub by the Spirit in the Protestant Reformation, and we dare not forget what we recovered in the Reformation in our eagerness to see the nations converted.
As much as I love C.S. Lewis, his endeavor to create unity around “mere Christianity” was misguided. Ecumenism has a way of diluting the strength of the Gospel, like adding water to a cup of coffee. Furthermore, when we take the Gospel to unreached peoples, we must also establish churches and a plurality of elders to lead those churches. What will they teach? Surely they must exposit the Bible, but this wades unto much deeper waters than the puddle of mere Christianity. If we’re Reformed, we must settle for nothing less than Calvinistic church plants among the nations.
This seems narrow-minded to most Western Protestants. Relativism is flowing through our veins, weakening our doctrinal resilience. The truth is sharp, but as painful as it is, we should allow that blade to knock off our “tolerant” edges. Love, not tolerance, is the fruit of the Spirit, and love requires us to speak the truth. As we take the Gospel to the nations, we must take the Gospel recovered in the Reformation, rediscovered in the Scriptures alone: the Gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. We’re much further along in the Great Commission than when we first began 2,000 years ago, but we’re not as far along as some folks like to think.
Large portions of the Church have fallen apostate (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, in particular), and other communions are drifting dangerously close to apostasy. Much of the worldwide Anglican communion has endorsed homosexuality, and unless the Spirit reverses the trajectory, it won’t be long before they reject other essential aspects of the Gospel. Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and liberals cannot be considered allies in the Great Commission or brothers in Christ. They need to repent as badly as the pagans to whom we’re taking the Gospel.
For this reason, it’s vital we brew our Reformed Orthodoxy especially stout. To ensure our message has enough caffeine to awaken the nations to the Gospel of the glory of Christ, we need to meditate on the essentials of Reformed Protestantism. To that end, let’s spend some time thinking through the Westminster Confession, percolating at length to keep our doctrine dark and rich.
*The WCF is identical to the 1689 London Baptist Confession with a few exceptions. For this reason, I hope my Baptist brethren will benefit from this series as well.