devotional

24FEB
2019

LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 139

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

 

23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. This will be my personal reflections on this beloved written codification of the Christian Faith which is according to a Baptist flavor.

 

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Section 16, “Of Good Works.” 16.4: “They who in their obedience attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate, and to do more than God requires, as that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.”

 

Christ’s merit alone, his merit applied to you, can save you from any and/or all sin. Period. Anything else than grace alone is from the evil one. The Bible demands we abandon boasting at the foot of the Cross. No works save. Period. “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14. Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-9, etc.

Much of this late 17th century confession deals with setting forth numerous doctrines for its people in London in an era sufficiently divorced from, yet not entirely untouched by, either the devolved Roman Catholic Church of the day, or even many of the “high church” doctrines of the Anglican Church which was officially launched by the “Act of Supremacy” just 155 years earlier in 1534. The language is necessarily strong at times and is aimed at Rome in many places. Protestants today have a duty to deny Romanism and to make it clear to their people why we should. This confession, along with others, certainly did so for the Particular Baptist churches in England. The idea of “supererogation” addressed here is Roman Catholic ideology. Rome still teaches supererogation. By one Catholic enthusiast, the following definition is offered:

(Latin, supererogation, “going beyond what is asked”) is commonly understood is an act of virtue that exceeds the demands of moral duty (deontology). This aids development of moral character and holiness through the performance of good works, such as choosing a vocation that gives up marriage to live out a life of Christian perfection in the evangelical councils (poverty, chastity, and obedience). The theology of indulgences held that acts of supererogation likewise added to the spiritual treasury of the Church, which could then be applied as satisfaction for the temporal punishment due to one’s sins as well as those of other repentant sinners. Protestant theology traditionally rejected this view as being another example of works righteousness. (“Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms” by James T. Bretzke (reprinted in 2013 by Georgetown University Press)).

It’s not all that easy to find any “official” Catholic teaching on supererogation. I’m sure it’s there, but it’s not as accessible as many other ideas within the system are. The word itself is not used in their modern catechism (CCC) for example. The idea of supererogation in Romanism centers on something called a “treasury of merit” and also on the infamous and still practiced idea of “indulgences” (which are both ideas clearly dealt with in the CCC). As we saw above from Bretzke, Supererogatory works are works done which are sort of above and beyond what the Law demands. Works of Christian piety and holiness that go beyond “baseline” obedience to God. Don’t bother looking in the Bible for this idea. It’s not there unless first inserted forcefully. These works, in their ideology, work exactly like extra money that the righteous Catholic can then somehow share with others…among either the living or the dead. If a person in the Roman system is believed to have sort of “earned more merit than required” by their lives, then that excess merit goes into a treasury that the pope can share via indulgences. This money-making machine of an idea, since financial gifts often accompany them from a recipient, as you may remember, was a principle catalyst in the Protestant Reformation of Germany starting in 1517. Many Catholics today that I’ve spoken with on the subject agree that the idea of indulgences, which again Rome still practices today, was being grossly abused back in the sixteenth century. Many of Luther’s “95 Theses” deal with indulgences without outright denying them. He believed and practiced them as an Augustinian. He came over time to see their destructive effects. Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed, even United Methodists and many more still today officially speak of the Roman idea of supererogation as arrogant silliness.

The Council of Trent deals with indulgences in a few of its sessions (6, 21, and 25), but also does not mention the term by name. So, like many things in the nebulous cloud that is wavering Roman Tradition, one is left with words like those of American politicians…ones often very hard to nail down.

What the confession here states is that there is not now, nor has their even been someone with “excess merit” to their name. That’s just not how it works in the apostolic Faith. Let alone the fact that Scripture speaks clearly against the idea of merit treasuries or indulgences by centering all of grace on Calvary. As Christians, we are taught to believe that the righteousness of the saints is not their own. And by the way, Mary has none to give. Christ’s merit is not only “sufficient” for us all; it is the only righteousness available that prevails over sin. There are many texts brought to bear from Scripture that can refute such a sadly developed idea in Romanism.

The confession here wants its people to understand that no such practices should be professed in any church understanding and practicing Sola Scriptura, the bedrock of all sound Christian religion.

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