For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full (II Cor. 10:3-6).

Captive Thoughts” is dedicated to bringing every thought captive to Christ through the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, with primary focus on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This effort is a compilation of several years of catechetical study conducted at Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster, California, by its Christian Education Committee and the author of this site.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q93

Our catechism study continues with the topic of the sacraments. The word sacrament is derived from a Latin term that means an oath, a consecrated or sacred promise. We might think of it in terms of a pledge. Actually, we often perform ceremonies of a sacramental nature, as we make pledges in various human encounters. We pledge allegiance to the flag; we shake hands to seal an agreement; as kids, we “cross our heart and hope to die” to strengthen a promise. Why do we do such things? Why, if my buddy is not willing to “cross his heart and hope to die,” do I trust him less? Somehow, that “sacrament” assures me that I can truly trust him. It is, in fact, part and parcel of this thing we call faith. An oath or pledge is nothing more than wind uttering words; but those words speak the vibrations of the heart and say, “Trust me: I will do it!” With that word of assurance we are invited to invest a measure of ourselves in trust and mutual commitment. It is said that all of life is religious. We are constantly called upon to step out in faith, trusting others—an employer, a spouse, the guy driving next to us on the freeway—for our personal wellbeing. Without assurance that vows will be kept, many of life’s activities would come to a screeching halt.
In the sacraments of Christ we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear with the ear of faith, “Trust me: I will do it!” In these sensible signs and seals, God has pledged himself to continue to keep his promises throughout our life and into eternity. What a blessing the sacraments are to a weary soul! We’ve all experienced shattering effect of a broken vow in our human relationships. In contrast, in the sacraments of our Lord, we find wonderful reminders of his infinite and unchangeable love toward us. He moved a world of sin to keep his covenant pledge toward lost sinners, the sheep of his fold.
Vows are mysterious things. “A vow is, per se, a confession of inadequacy and an automatic calling upon the only adequacy there is [to keep it], which is the mercy and power of God… To keep a vow, therefore, means not to keep from breaking it, but rather to devote the rest of one’s life to discovering what the vow means, and to be willing to change and to grow accordingly. It might almost be said that the sign that a vow is being kept is the [humble] realization of how far one is from keeping it. In a very real way, it is the vow which keeps the individual, rather than the other way around” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage).
Every time we perform or observe a baptism, and at every communion service, we are reminded of this: “Faithful is he who has called you, redeemed you, and is separating you from sin unto himself; he has done it, is doing it, and will continue to do it!” (I Thess. 5:23-24) Let us pray as we go through this study that the reality of this great truth would sink in and bring forth active faith and deep joy in the worship of our God.
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WSC Q93. Which are the sacraments of the New Testament?
A.   The sacraments of the New Testament are, Baptism[a], and the Lord’s Supper[b].
[a] Matt. 28:19
[b] I Cor. 11:23-26
Question 93 asks which are the sacraments of the New Testament and answers that the sacraments of the New Testament are baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Comments and considerations:
Do you have a favorite Bible verse? Many of us can point to a verse or two that hold special significance from a certain point in our Christian walk. I still recall the verse that 44 years ago “slapped me upside the head,” setting me upon a course correction which would eventually lead to full repentance unto a purpose-filled life. I clearly remember the brief encounter in which the Spirit used an individual’s words to impress that verse upon my heart. Over time, if one perseveres into the deeper waters of God’s Word, other verses will find their place on a list of favorites—passages that teach, comfort, challenge, and encourage us in our pursuit of Christ. They become a collection of mile markers on our road to maturity in Christ. In time, we come to appreciate that there are many facets of the Christian life; many portions of God’s Word that make indelible impressions that shape our thinking and doing. We learn that the Christian life is not just one single point of departure from our past, but also an ongoing process of putting off the old while putting on the new (Eph. 4:20-24). We come to see that the Spirit uses a wide array of inspired scriptural tools and devices to affect that process (Heb. 4:12).
On my own list of mile marker verses, a favorite is Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I often turn to it when I find myself faltering in faith and assurance. It is a reminder that it is our covenant-keeping God who gives us what we need, when we need it. Faithful is he who alone can fan the flames of faith no matter how low the embers might be. Ps. 42:5 is another comforting mile marker: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” And another, Ps. 37:24: “Though [I] fall, [I] shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds [me] with His hand.”
Our Lord has ordained the means of grace by which he carries out our forward progress into his promises and purposed ends. Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption by outward and ordinary means. They are effectual for convincing and converting sinners, and for building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. And those means are his ordained and prescribed ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation (WSC Q88-89).
This catechism lesson teaches us the simple fact that there are only two holy ordinances, instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers (WSC Q92). Like the Word, read and preached, these sacraments are mile markers of the Christian faith!
The next several catechism lessons will expand upon the details of these two sacraments. For now, let us remember that the sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them (WSC Q91). As we observe the sacraments, these sensible signs are used by the Spirit to produce joy and quiet confidence in our Lord. The mechanics of the Spirit’s work cannot be fully understood. Unbelievers view such “religious activity” as a foolish waste of time. Indeed “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise...the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (I Cor. 1:18, 27).
Quite simply, the sacraments cause us to ask, “What is the meaning of [these] testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the LORD our God has commanded?” (Deut. 6:20) The sensible signs are teaching tools which point us to the deep and wondrous realities of our so great salvation (Heb. 2:3). They are means of grace that our Lord blesses as he shows us the many facets of this precious jewel we call the Christian faith. Every time we participate in the sacraments, they say to us:
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (Is. 1:18).
“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Ps. 34:8)
“Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Ps. 100:3).
When we have been diligent to show ourselves approved (I Tim. 2:15), the rituals will be realities that bring us the joy of the Lord that becomes true strength (Neh. 8:10).
Training Hearts and Teaching Minds Questions:
1.            When God makes a covenant with people, he promises to do certain things for them. He commits himself to them. He also requires certain things of the people with whom he makes the covenant. In the Old Testament, what are the two sacraments that God directed his people to perform? Read Gen.17:9-10 and Ex. 12:24 and the surrounding context.
2.            Jesus introduced the New Covenant, and the signs and seals of the old covenant where replaced. Which NT sacrament replaced circumcision? See Gal. 3:26-28.
3.            Col. 2:11-12 shows the connection between OT circumcision and NT baptism. Among others things, what do the two actions specifically signify? (1)
4.            What is a central event in the OT that resulted in an annual celebration and feast, and what is it called? See Ex. 12:14 (in context).
5.            The OT Passover pictures and points to a NT reality. What is the center of this NT teaching and how is it represented in the Lord’s Table? See I Cor. 5:7a and I Cor. 11:26.
1) A putting off of the old nature (flesh) and putting on of the new nature (in Christ)
Harmony of the Standards: WSC Q93, WLC Q164, Q163 and WCF XXVII.IV-V
WSC Q93. Which are the sacraments of the New Testament?
A.  The sacraments of the New Testament are, Baptism[a], and the Lord's Supper[b].
[a]  Matt. 28:19
[b]  ICor 11:23-26
WLC Q164. How many sacraments hath Christ instituted in his church under the New Testament?
A.  Under the New Testament Christ hath instituted in his church only two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper[a].
[a]  Mat. 28:19; 1Cor. 11:20, 23; Mat. 26:26-28 (See Q. 162 [a])
THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH
CHAPTER. XXVII.
Of the Sacraments.
IV. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained[k].
[k] Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 11:20, 23; I Cor. 4:1; Eph. 4:11- 12
V.  The sacraments of the Old Testament in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the new[l].
[l]  I Cor. 10:1-4; Rom. 4:11; Col. 2:11-12
Question(s) for further study:

How does the Larger Catechism question ask the same question as the Shorter, only differently?  What specifics does it add, as does the Confession? And what other administrative aspect does the Confession introduce?

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