Christendom: Westminster’s Forgotten Legacy

westminsterA while ago, I came across a book that caught my attention: “Recovering the Reformed Confession” by R Scott Clark. At the time, I had no idea about who Scott Clark was or what he believed. But the title and the description of the book caught my attention:

Much of what passes as Reformed among our churches is not. As a class of churches that profess allegiance to Reformed theology, practice, and piety, we have drifted from our moorings. This book is written to facilitate change, specifically reformation according to God’s Word as summarized in the Reformed confessions.

Classic Reformed Confessions and Catechisms like the Westminster Standards, the Three Forms of Unity, the Geneva Catechism, and others, are indisputably among the greatest gifts God has given His Church. Although they are not infallible (only God’s Holy Writ is), they contain an extremely accurate and faithful exposition of God’s Word. One only needs to read the Westminster Larger Catechism’s exposition of the Ten Commandments to understand how shallow and mindless modern sermons on sanctification have become ever since Christians began to deviate from the rock-solid biblical wisdom of our spiritual forefathers.

The great preacher and theologian, Rev. Joe Morecraft III, hit the nail on the head:

 It can be documented from history that wherever the system of truth of the Westminster Standards has been embraced, it has produced individuals with a noble and distinct type of character.[1]

John F. Cannon also said it well:

Wherever Presbyterianism has been planted, and has been true to her doctrinal Standards, she has made a distinct impression upon the face of society. She has never failed to bless the state under whose shield she has dwelt.[2]

So I thought to myself: “If Scott Clark’s book is about recovering Reformed Confessions, that means it’s about reviving some of the best things Christianity has to offer. It’s about recovering solid, biblically sound theology”. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. Although Scott Clark presents himself as an opponent of those who falsely “profess allegiance to Reformed theology, practice, and piety” and as one who wishes to “to facilitate change, specifically reformation according to God’s Word as summarized in the Reformed confessions”, the truth is that Scott Clark himself deviates from one of the most fundamental tenets of the Reformed faith: the ideal of Christendom. According to Scott Clark “Christendom was a mistake” and society should not be organized according to God’s Word as revealed in Holy Scriptures, but according to (in his own words) “a divinely revealed moral standard or law in creation and known to all image bearers that can and must be applied by the magistrate within his proper sphere of authority”, i.e., extra-biblical, non-specific revelation, vague enough for the depraved brain of man to have enough room to make up whatever he wants.

To the contrary, not only was the ideal of Christendom not a mistake, it is actually inherent to the Reformed Theology to such an extent that to deny Christendom, one must deny even the most basic doctrines of the Reformed faith. As we shall see in this article, one cannot deny the ideal of Christendom, i.e., Christian civilization, and at the same time maintain even the most fundamental tenets of Reformed theology without falling into gross inconsistency. One cannot consistently fight to recover the Reformed Confessions without at the same fighting to establish Christ’s rule over every individual, family, culture, nation and institution on earth.

SOLA SCRIPTURA

In the very first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, we find the following:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (WCF, 1:6)

The Westminster Larger Catechism restates substantially the same on questions 3 and 5:

Question 3: What is the Word of God?

Answer: The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

Question 5: What do the Scriptures principally teach?

Answer: The Scriptures principally teach: What man is to believe concerning God, and: What duty God requires of man.

This is what the Reformed have historically called Sola Scriptura. It means that the proper definition of obedience to God is defined by Scripture alone. Man’s duties to God are not defined by the brain of man, by the traditions of man or even by bishops, pastors or elders getting together in a church council to make up what obedience means. It is defined by God’s Word alone. All that man can do in this regard is to listen to God’s Word and obey.  “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments [i.e., not only the New] are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience”. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (II Timothy 3:16-17)

Now, if one consistently believes this, if one consistently holds to Sola Scriptura, then one must necessarily uphold to the ideal of Christendom. If the Holy Scriptures contain “all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”, then one must necessarily uphold that every single individual, family, culture, nation and institution on earth must be ethically conformed to Scripture. If one holds to the truth that Scriptures are “the only rule of faith and obedience”, then one cannot consistently uphold to the idea that any area of life or of the entire world is free from the obligation of being morally conformed to “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments”. If one holds to Sola Scriptura, then it is in Holy Scriptures that he will look for answers to moral issues regarding church worship, business, the family, education, politics, economy and everything else in life. Christendom is simply the logical outcome of Sola Scriptura. The Bible reveals God’s moral demands for all of life. Therefore every individual, family, culture, nation and institution on earth has the moral obligation of submitting themselves to the demands of Scriptures. To deny Christendom, that is, the need for a comprehensive Biblical worldview that deals with all of life, one must deny one of the most important battle cries of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura. And for one to claim that there are areas of life in which one does not need to be ethically conformed to biblical revelation, one must establish a parallel source of moral truth that has the same authority as the Bible. That would be destroying, not recovering the Reformed Confessions. Virtually every Reformed Confession begins with a defense of Sola Scriptura and, therefore, cannot be consistently separated from the ideal of establishing a Christian civilization.

GOD’S SANCTIONS IN HISTORY

Not only does the Westminster Standards correctly identify the Bible is “the only rule of faith and obedience”, it also recognizes that God brings down His holy wrath against civilizations in history for not conforming themselves to His rule of faith of obedience:

Question 27: What misery did the fall bring upon mankind?

Answer: The fall brought upon mankind the loss of communion with God, his displeasure and curse; so as we are by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.

Question 28: What are the punishments of sin in this world?

Answer: The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself.

Q. 152. What doth every sin deserve at the hands of God?

A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous Law, deserveth His wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.

Here the Westminster Larger Catechism correctly states that God’s punishments are not restricted to eternal torment in hell. God’s punishments also occur on earth and in time. Regarding God’s punishments in history, it distinguishes between inward and outward punishments. Regarding “outward” punishments (Q. 28) and “His wrath and curse… in this life” (Q. 152) the Catechism refers the readers to Deuteronomy 28:15:

But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee. (Deuteronomy 28.15)

That means that to adequately understand what the Catechism is talking about when it mentions “punishments in this world”, we must understand Deuteronomy 28 since that is the biblical reference it points us to. Deuteronomy 28 teaches us that Israel would have to persevere in obedience to God’s Word in order to keep being blessed. Israel’s blessings were conditioned to how much they were obedient to God. God promised peace, prosperity and cultural development providing that they remained faithful to Him. On the other hand, God threatened them with the exact opposite in case they became unfaithful. These are God’s punishments the Westminster Confession of Faith refers to. The Catechism correctly identifies that these sanctions did not apply to Israel alone, but to “mankind” (Q. 27). Leviticus 20:22-23 make it clear that, although Deuteronomy 28 was primarily directed to Israel, the same standards apply to all nations. And Matthew 23.29-39 and I Corinthians 10.11 make it clear that these standards continue to apply in the New Testament age. What Deuteronomy 28 tells us is that obedience to God’s Word brings in cultural advancement to a civilization over time and disobedience to God’s Word brings in cultural destruction to a civilization over time. These are the “outward” “punishments in this world” that the Catechism refers to.

And not only does the Westminster Standards recognize that all of life and civilization must be ethically conformed to God’s Word in order to avoid God’s wrath, it also correctly identifies that it is actually a sin against the first commandment to ignore God’s sanctions in history. Question 105 in the Larger Catechism is: “What are the sins forbidden in the First Commandment?” Among several other sins, the Catechism identifies: “incorrigibleness, and insensibleness under judgments”. The biblical reference given by the Catechism is in Isaiah 42:

The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will magnify the Law, and make it honourable. But this is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore. Who among you will give ear to this? Who will hearken and hear for the time to come? Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? Did not the LORD, He against whom we have sinned? For they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his Law. Therefore he hath poured upon them the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set them on fire round about, yet they knew not; and it burned them, yet they laid it not to heart. (Isaiah 42:21-25)

Isaiah 42 talks about God’s unconditional commitment to His Law and about His plan to magnify it and make it honourable. It was precisely because of God’s commitment to His own Law that He had brought his covenantal wrath against His rebellious people. If it couldn’t get any worse, Isaiah then tells us that, even in the midst of all the plagues and curses, “they knew notthey laid it not to heart”. This is what the Catechism describes as “insensibleness under judgments”. It means ignoring, denying or pretending God is not punishing. When God brings down wrath against sin, He is revealing Himself as the one true Sovereign Lord and God to whom man owes all obedience. Man’s moral obligation in the face of judgment is to recognize the legitimacy of God’s moral demand and, on that basis, repent and change from law-breaking to law-abiding. When men ignore, deny or pretend it isn’t happening or that it doesn’t happen, it means denying God’s status Sovereign and, therefore, it is a transgression of the first commandment.

Contrary to neo-Reformed celebrities who falsely claim to be recovering the Reformed Confessions, the Westminster Standards correctly identifies that God still brings sanctions in history against mankind for not repenting and abiding by His Law. According to the Westminster Standards, it is not enough for us to understand that the Bible sets forth a comprehensive worldview that deals with God’s requirements for all of life, i.e., Sola Scriptura. We must also understand that God brings down His wrath on earth and in time against all mankind – individuals, churches, institutions, nations, cultures and civilizations – for sin, that is, for not conforming themselves to God’s moral requirements as revealed by His Word. That means that if a culture rejects Christendom, it brings down God’s curses. And if, in the midst of the curses, it pretends that nothing is happening, God’s wrath only grows. As Bojidar Marinov put it:

If we as Christians are silent, passive, compromising, God’s control will bring down judgment. His control will make pagans rule our land, ban preaching, take our children, destroy our property. Exactly what is happening now! I can’t find comfort in God’s judgment, and a pastor who preaches comfort in the face of God’s judgment is not doing God’s will. I refuse to be comforted. I want to be taught to turn the tide; I don’t want another doze of anesthetic.

PRAYING FOR CHRISTENDOM

The corollary to the Westminster Standards’ unconditional commitment to Sola Scriptura and to God’s Sovereignty over history – bringing down His covenantal sanctions against all sin and rebellion – is the Larger Catechism’s recognition that Christians must diligently pray for God to establish Christendom, that is, to establish a worldwide civilization that is ethically conformed to God’s Word – “the only rule of faith and obedience.”

Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?

A. In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

Here we learn from the Catechism that, although mankind is naturally dead in sins, enslaved to Satan and therefore “deserveth His wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come” (Q. 152), we are not to accept God’s wrath and Satan’s slavery as necessary and inevitable. To the contrary, we are to pray “thy kingdom come”, that is, “that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed” and that Christendom, Christ’s Kingdom, the city of God, may overcome wherever there evil now reigns. According to the Catechism, we are not to accept the visible victory of evil in either Church or society – not even in politics. We ought to pray that “the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted.”

Modern theologians such as Scott Clark shy away from such optimism regarding the victory of the Gospel in politics because they have forsaken Sola Scriptura and therefore no longer believe the Bible is “the only rule of faith and obedience” for all life. When it comes to politics modern Christians prefer to establish a parallel source of moral truth that has the same authority as the Bible. Presumably, when someone becomes a politician, he becomes morally immune to God’s authoritative Word and sanctions. As long as someone is not a politician, he has to obey the Bible in all his life. But, when he becomes a politician, all of a sudden, he ceases to be under Christ’s authority and now he can make political decisions without having to worry about conforming his decisions to the ethical demands of Scriptures. That is how schizophrenic modern biblical exegesis can get. One can openly deny Sola Scriptura to the point of removing God’s authoritative Word from their lives and then, at the same time, present themselves as one who wants to recover the Reformed Confessions.

No, this is not the Reformed Faith. The Reformed faith is about Soli Deo Gloria. The Reformed faith is about “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). The Reformed faith is about recognizing that “man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q.1) and, therefore, that every individual, family, culture, nation and institution on earth has the moral obligation of submitting to the demands of Scriptures. One cannot recover the Reformed Confessions and at the same time deny this basic truth. Christendom, simply put, is the Reformed faith practically applied.


[1] Joe Morecraft III, Authentic Christianity, “The Impact of the Westminster Standards on the Individual, Family and Society”, p. 4.

[2] Cannon, “The Influence Exerted by the Westminster Symbols upon the Individual, the Family and Society,” 267.

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About Frank Brito

Frank Brito is involved in missionary work in his homeland, Brazil - planting churches that are committed to a comprehensive Biblical Worldview and providing translations of sermons, books and videos from both historic and modern Reformers that will help build the spiritual and intellectual foundation for the future Christian civilization in Brazil. Currently, he is working to develop an online Institute that will provide for the theological education of those who wish to become church leaders.

3 Responses to Christendom: Westminster’s Forgotten Legacy

  1. Tommy Barnes January 30, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    Frank – You nailed it on this. Excellent article. I love this:
    “Christendom is simply the logical outcome of Sola Scriptura”

    Keep it up brother!

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