“After this [the sealing of the 144,000] I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” Revelation 7:9-10.
It has become fashionable lately in the Reformed world to cite these verses to argue for ecclesial pursuit of multiculturalism, or as the terminus for the church’s mission in such a way as to define its strategies.
Here’s what these verses are doing…
I have recently been reading a good bit of 19th- century American Presbyterian history. Many Presbyterian ministers in both the Antebellum and Post-War South defended the institution of American slavery. Prominent Southern theologian Robert Dabney defended his church’s position by asserting that the Westminster Confession and Catechisms were silent on the issue, so it would be inappropriate for the church to take a definite stand on the rightness or wrongness of slavery. This is incorrect. While neither the WCF and WLC explicitly state, “Slavery is right/wrong,” they both contain several doctrinal points which should have led Antebellum Presbyterians to condemn the institution of chattel slavery as sinful.
First, WLC 142 states that the 8th Commandment forbids “man-stealing…
Heidelberg Catechism 20
Q. Are all people then saved through Christ
just as they were lost through Adam?
Only those are saved
who through true faith
are grafted into Christ
and receive all his benefits.
One of the interesting subtleties of the catechism is how it describes salvation. It is not actually faith that saves; faith is the mechanism by which salvation comes, but does not save in itself. Salvation comes from being grafted into Christ. Union with Christ is the essence of salvation and the fundamental distinguishing feature of the Christian.
To be lost in Adam is to be separated from God. To be saved in Jesus is greater than being found my him – it is to be joined to him…
The EPC prides itself on allowing differences in “non-essentials” among its churches, and this has included the thorny issue of the eternal fate of people who die in infancy.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states,
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
The Confession strikes an agnostic position that borders on a tautology: elect infants dying in infancy are the ones who are saved. This position allows for a great deal of flexibility, since the who and how of election for those incapable of being outwardly called is not identified.
In 1903 the PCUSA added a declaratory statement to the beginning of the WCF which functionally amended it. The declaration stated, in part, that,
…with reference to Chapter 10, Section 3, of the Confession of Faith, that it is not to be regarded as teaching that any who die in infancy are lost. We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how he pleases.
This declaration had the effect of eliminating flexibility from confessional subscription. Now only one position, namely that all who die in infancy are elect, was permitted. The EPC formed in 1981, and had to choose which amendments and alterations to the Westminster Standards it should adopt. The Declaratory Statement was one of the items considered…
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