Blessing and the Fear of the Lord

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and it is also the foundation for all the blessings of God. We see this in Psalm 128 which begins, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.” 

This blessing is then exemplified by the psalmist in three essential areas of life: work, family, and worship. For work, you will eat the fruit of your labor. You will be blessed by having something to do and be successful in the doing of it. For family, you will have a wife who is like a fruitful vine in all sorts of ways, including children like olive-shoots gathered around your table. And for worship, you will experience the blessing of the Lord out of Zion, living to see the prosperity of the church not only in your day, but in your grandchildren’s day.

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Elders, Deacons, and Broader Assemblies

Christ is the Head of the church and the source of all its authority (Mt. 23:10, Jn. 13:13, 1 Cor. 12:5, Eph. 1:20–23; 4:11–12, 5:23–24). Therefore, the appointed officers of the church derive their own authority from Christ and in turn must be humble in submission to Him and His Word in all things. 

In the New Testament we find two ordinary offices of church government: elder and deacon. The non-regular, or “extraordinary offices” would be that of apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Because the extraordinary offices are believed to have ceased and are not held by officers today, we will only explore the offices of elder and deacon. 

It is important to note that while the basics of church governance can be clearly deduced from Scripture, some of the exact details are not. The Westminster Confession of Faith acknowledges this when it states that there are some circumstances concerning the government of the church “which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word…” (WCF 1.6). Therefore, some of what follows, such as the types of distinctions among elders or the ordering of broader assemblies, will differ in details in various Reformed churches.

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Confessions

Much of what we have already considered regarding creeds can be said regarding confessions. In the Reformed faith, confessions refer to the comprehensive documents concerning doctrine composed by the Protestant Reformers and their successors. Like the creeds from the early church, confessions carry an authority that is subordinate to Scripture. They are not infallible and can err and be improved on. 

Some argue that confessions serve to create doctrinal division within the church. But this is not so. Doctrinal differences already exist because Scripture requires interpretation and harmonization. Rather than escalating division, confessions rather serve to create unity—they unite Christians to a common understanding of Scripture. They create doctrinal “fences” that keep ministers and churches together within what is believed to be biblical doctrine.

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Creeds

As we continue to consider the role of tradition in the church, one of the first places to start is with the ecumenical creeds. As we have seen, “No creed but the Bible” is itself a creed, and a poor one at that. Nobody is actually capable of living according to that… creed. You can pretend that Scripture is all you use for doctrine and right living, but if you take a step back, you’ll discover that you (and your church) absolutely have a creed. It may be unwritten, but it comes out in the sermons, in the liturgy, in the Sunday School lessons, and in the home. The alternative to this is to acknowledge that God has created us in such a way that we must interpret Scripture—and thus confess what we believe in creeds, embrace tradition, and joyfully study and proclaim what the church throughout the ages has established.

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Complex Intensifications of the Utterly Ordinary

Below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s foreword to The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams by Heath Lambert.

What problems impel or compel a person to seek counseling help? The answer is simple, though the problems are complex. Emotions play in darkly minor keys: anxious, embittered, guilty, despairing, ashamed. Actions run in self-destructive ruts of compulsion and addiction. Thoughts proliferate internal chaos, obsessing fruitlessly. Sufferings hammer a person down until the experience seems unspeakable.

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Tradition

As part of the one catholic church, we hold to the creeds formulated by the early church and confessed through the ages. And as a Reformed church, we subscribe to the confessions developed by our Reformed fathers in the faith. But why do we bother with these man-made documents? Isn’t this just adhering to vain tradition? Why not join the “no creed but the Bible” crowd?

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Marks of the Church

Traditionally the Reformed church has acknowledged there to be up to three marks or signs of the true church: the pure preaching of the Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of discipline. With a disruption in the ecclesiastical unity of the Western church, it was vital to establish a way to distinguish between true churches and false churches in a landscape that included the Church of Rome, various new Protestant churches, and other sects. Over against the Church of Rome, the Reformers had to support the argument that their churches bore the marks of being a true church. While the Papists put forward up to fifteen marks defending the Roman tradition and hierarchy, such as its name and antiquity, (see Bellarmine’s Controversiis, III, 10), the Reformers “presupposed that the church was not trustworthy in and of itself, that [it] could stray and depart from the truth, and there was a higher authority to which it too had to submit.”[1] That authority being the Word of God.

Now we had noted that there were up to three marks of the true church. Some Reformers, like Calvin, did not include discipline as a separate mark, believing it to fall under Word and sacrament (see Institutes 4.1.9). Others went one step further and did not see a need to have any marks in addition to the Word, since the Word is that which is “variously administered and confessed in preaching, instruction, confession, sacrament, life, and so forth.”[2] It seems fitting and useful to maintain the three marks, for we would not think highly of a church that did not practice the basics of rightly administering the sacraments or exercising church discipline. That said, it is certainly true that all the marks can be summed up in the Word. In his Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof wrote that, “The Word is truly the soul of the church. All ministry in the church is a ministry of the Word… In the one mark of the word the others are included as further applications.”[3]

But what do we mean by “pure preaching” and “right administration”? What if a preacher teaches error? What if the church uses grape juice instead of wine? Swiss Protestant theologian Johannes Wolleb explains that we do not need to become worked up over whether a certain church is a true church because some error is present, for “such purity is not required, whereby there is no error in a single article, or no abuse creeps into the administration of the sacraments.”[4]Perfection is not attainable in this life. So where is the line that delineates between a true church and a false church? Wolleb said that charity should be given to a church in error especially if the church does not retreat from “the pivot of salvation, namely the two tables of the law and faith in Christ.”[5] Berkhof wrote that there is a limit beyond which a church cannot go in its denial of the truth, such as publicly denying fundamental articles of faith, or when a church’s doctrine and life are no longer under the control of the Word.[6] Surely discerning whether a church is true or false takes wisdom. But if these marks are present, we ought to err on the side of charity, until being given a reason to believe otherwise.

Find other posts in this series here.


[1] Herman Bavinck. Reformed Dogmatics Vol. IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic), 311.
[2] Ibid. 312.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Heinrich Hoppe, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House), 671.
[5] Ibid., Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House), 671.
[6] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 577.

Attributes of the Church

Traditionally, there have been ascribed four attributes to the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These attributes are supported by Scripture and derived from the Nicene Creed (AD 381) which reads, “I believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” It is important to note that these attributes are different than the marks of the church, which we will look at next. The attributes of the church make up the essence of the church, what the church always is by definition and believed to be in faith, whereas the marks of the church (which we will look at shortly) can be used to identify and discern a true church from a false church. 

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His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

Psalm 118 is a joyful song of thanksgiving, in which the psalmist calls on all the people of God to give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever.

We see this psalm recited when Jesus enters Jerusalem and the crowd recognizes the coming King crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

We also have good reason to believe that this was the psalm that Jesus Himself sang with His disciples when they celebrated Passover, the Last Supper, instituting this sacrament we are about to observe. And during that meal, as Christ sang this psalm, He knew exactly what was to take place next: the betrayal, the arrest, the mocking, the flogging, and the crucifixion. And in the face of all that, He sang lines like:

“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
“The Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation…”
“I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

But, to put it somewhat crudely, this wasn’t simply a “pump up” song for Christ, one to make Him feel better or forget His coming troubles. For He also sang, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord… Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar.

The Messiah of Israel knew who and what this psalm was fully about. Indeed, He is the blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord. But He was also about to become the final and definitive sacrifice, bound and placed on the altar.

And yet—He still pressed on with joy, willingly, for you

This meal here is your salvation—it is the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed, for you

So as you partake of Christ, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever.

And come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.