Native Americans have a practice of planning for their future with the seventh generation in mind. In other words, tribal leaders expect their actions to impact their people for the next 150 years. Not only do they keep future generations in mind, but they also reflect upon past generations with gratitude.
Considering the fact that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Eccl. 3:10), it is natural to desire to have an enduring impact. The reformed catechisms have passed on a robust articulation of our faith for more than twenty generations. We should look back with gratitude at the contribution these catechisms made upon our reformed faith.
Unfortunately, our catechisms are becoming increasingly foreign in the same denominations that produced and maintained their use for so long. Sales of the Westminster Shorter Catechism have been in sharp decline for more than a century. Needless to say, this has been accompanied by a sharp decline in doctrinal knowledge. Mainline Presbyterians no longer believe what their Standards teach.
In the midst of arguing that Jesus is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, the author of Hebrews pauses to warn his audience against apostasy. He charged his audience with lazy listening. Instead of being able to teach others, they were still in need of learning the basic principles of the Christian faith. They had not made any progress in their faith.
Instead of reteaching them the elementary doctrine of Christ, he reminds them of the categories that they should already be familiar with. He challenges them to leave these and go on to maturity (Heb 6:1a). The foundation of these basic principles have already been laid out for them in the past. It is time for them to mature beyond them.
The very nature of a foundation is that it remains in place. You do not have to keep laying the foundation over and over again. That doesn’t mean you ignore the foundation, or assume it’s already there in every case. However, it does mean that you must go beyond it and begin building upon the foundation some additional structural components (1 Cor 3:10). Or, as he said in the previous section, there is a time to shift from milk to solid food (Heb 5:12-13).
The author lists six “elementary” doctrines that essentially provide an outline of Christian beliefs. John Calvin speculated that these doctrines constituted an early church catechism. At the very least, this list represents elements found in the preaching and practice of the early church throughout the book of Acts. And the subjects were meant to spur someone toward perseverance.
The average believer is stuck at an elementary level of understanding with little motivation to advance.
Once the foundation of our faith is established, we must build upon that knowledge.
Read Hebrews 6:1-3.
Basic Soteriology (1)
Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation. Every true believer begins by receiving the gift of repentance and faith. This is the most crucial part of their pastjustification.
Repentance from dead works — His audience already knew that God had called them to turn away from their sins. “Dead works” refers to any sinful approach to God (Heb 9:14). Doing anything contrary to his will. Every sinner deserves death and unbelievers are dead in their sins, incapable of pleasing God (Eph 2:1). They needed to repent of all the ways in which they had fallen short, even where they relied upon their outward obedience for salvation.
Repentance involves a transformation. We experience a change of mine. We turn away from our sinful independence acknowledging our need for a Savior. This requires that we have a true sense of our sin, as well as an apprehension of the mercy of God that is held out to us in Christ (WSC 87).
Faith toward God — Faith is best defined as receiving and resting in the promise and power of God to save us through the gospel of his Son. We cannot rightly approach God the Father apart from God the Son. Faith goes hand-in-hand with repentance. In repentance we turn away from sin, and in faith we turn toward God who offers us salvation in Christ.
By calling repentance and faith foundational principles, the writer is highlighting their crucial importance. He is suggesting the essential quality of these doctrines. They aren’t debatable. We don’t discuss them and explore them as if we can choose between several different biblical options. If they’re foundational, then we can’t minimize them or view them as optional in discipleship.
I like the illustration Matt Marino uses when describing another foundational doctrine:
I don’t mean like a foundation to a house, necessary to be sure, but remaining flat and stationary; but instead think of something more like what DNA is to the whole of a living organism.
Thomas Watson states the importance of the doctrine of justification:
“Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable.”
Do you treat conversion — which contains the paired doctrine of repentance and faith — as foundational? What is the evidence for that? Are you interested in going beyond the subject of conversion?
These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves when we sense that we have grown complacent and indifferent about our doctrinal knowledge. When we understand justification and enjoy the peace with God that results, are we not motivated to pursue deeper knowledge?
› The first elementary doctrine the author mentions is soteriology. His second category is…
Basic Pneumatology (2a)
Pneumatology is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Although the next two elements do not mention the Holy Spirit they refer to aspects of our faith that reflect our dependency upon the Spirit’s work. They are to be perpetually practiced in our present sanctification until Christ returns.
There are two different approaches to these phrases:
1. These elements refer to OT rituals that these Jewish Christians are tempted to return to. This view would emphasize the encouragement to “leave” them and “go on to maturity”—essentially viewing maturity as settling into a more robust appreciation for the newness of the new covenant. These OT rituals had been fulfilled and replaced by NT elements of worship.
a. Baptisms refer to the OT ceremonial washings with which this audience would have been familiar (Heb 9:10).
b. “Laying on of hands” throughout OT in reference to ceremonial law, including the sacrificial system of the old covenant.
2. All of these elements are found in Acts. They are the basic beliefs of the Christian faith (“doctrine of Christ”). The danger is that the original audience would be content to remain at this elementary level of understanding. This would be consistent with the author’s concern that they had become sluggish (Heb 5:11).
a. Baptisms in the NT refer to various water baptisms (ceremonial washings/John/disciples), the Holy Spirit, and suffering. Christian baptism needed to be distinguished from every other baptism with which the audience was familiar.
b. Laying on hands is also associated with receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17), ordination (Acts 6:6), commissioning (Acts 13:3), and healing (Mk 6:5).
The author presents these six doctrines in pairs, and the one thing that links these two in particular is the work of the Holy Spirit. In Trinitarian baptism we identity with Christ, and the laying on of hands represents the guidance and power of the indwelling Spirit.
Jonathan Edwards writes about the importance of the Spirit’s work:
“The Spirit of God, in those who have sound and solid religion, is a Spirit of powerful holy affection; and therefore, God is said “to have given them the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” (2 Tim. i. 7.) And such, when they receive the Spirit of God in his sanctifying and saving influences, are said to be “baptized with the Holy Ghost, and with fire;’’ by reason of the power and fervor of those exercises which the Spirit of God excites in them, and whereby their hearts, when grace is in exercise, may be said to burn within them (Lk 24:32).”
We have to be careful that our understanding of the Holy Spirit does not fall into one of two extremes. Some want to see the Spirit’s activity proven by signs and wonders that have ceased since the apostolic age, while others have so little to say about the Spirit that He’s an afterthought.
Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit after his ascension in a unique way. His indwelling presence is the guarantee of our faith.
We are encouraged to improve our baptism. But what does that even mean? It means exactly what this passage is teaching us. It means that we would not only mature to a point where we can testify to our own personal faith, but that we would continue to grow in godliness by the empowerment and enablement of the Spirit.
We hear this language in the WLC 167. And the answer provides us with some practical applications. This lifelong duty should be practiced whenever we are tempted or witnessing the baptism of others. We should seriously consider it with gratitude and reflection. We should be humbled by our ongoing struggle with sin and encouraged by the reminder of all the blessings that have been sealed to us in the sacrament.
Maybe one word that could summarize how we improve our baptism is “Gratitude”. Do we seek to respond to the grace of God with gratitude for what he has done and dependence upon his Spirit to walk in obedience? That is the language I typically use when we conclude our service with the Ten Commandments.
› Soteriology > Pneumatology…
Basic Eschatology (2b)
Eschatology is the doctrine of last things. After addressing our past justification and present sanctification, the author rounds out a brief outline of basic doctrine with a reference to our future glorification.
The resurrection of the dead — This phrase includes both the resurrection of Jesus as the firstfruits of our final resurrection, as well as the resurrection that all humans will receive upon his return. Everyone who is raised will also face their…
Eternal judgment — This will be where the sheep are separated from the goats and sent to their respective destinations for eternity.
Both events apply to everyone. Upon Christ’s return we will all be resurrected and face the final judgment which determines our eternal destination. For many, this is a jolting thought that motivates us to pay closer attention to the previous doctrines.
A friend of mine illustrated the importance of teaching doctrine with a baseball analogy. Imagine taking your son to a baseball game for the first time. You anticipate leaning over to explain the rules to him throughout the game. And, even then, he won’t understand most of it. However, once he begins to grasp the basic rules he can follow along. As he continues to watch and listen to your explanations, he will gain a greater appreciation for the game.
The alternative would be to convince the umpires, coaches, and players to dumb down the rules of the game so that your son could follow along much easier from the beginning. Do we really need a rule book that is hundreds of pages long? Maybe we could shrink the size of the field, reduce the number of bases, and restrict pitching to fastballs. And wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we eliminated balks, bunts, and steals? While these changes would simplify the game for your son, it would limit the depth of enjoyment for everyone else. The game of baseball would become so unrecognizable that we would have to call it something else entirely.
The evangelical church has chosen to gradually and methodically change the rules over the last century, and we are suffering from the lack of doctrinal knowledge as a result. Rather than catechizing the church, and teaching fathers to catechize their children at home, we have eschewed the practice altogether. Instead of equipping the saints with theologically rich catechism answers, that enhance their participation in worship, we have tried to win their loyalty by lowering the bar. Shorter services, livelier music, and entertaining speakers will never compete with Hollywood.
By compromising our discipleship in the church and home, we have opened wide the door for a secular agenda to challenge the minds and capture the hearts of our children. It’s not that their arguments are more convincing, it’s that their system is consistently applied. Make no mistake, catechizing has continued, we’ve merely shifted its regulation from the sacred to the secular. The result is that the vast majority of professing believers have only been catechized by secular media and institutions. Eventually, we might need to call “church” something else entirely.
Even a basic understanding of eschatology is enough to motivate our desire to study the doctrines of our faith and to pass them on to our children. I would implore you to utilize the catechism in your homes during the week and continue to lay that foundation of faith for your household!
The author recognizes that God must sovereignly preserve us (Heb 6:3). If we desire to grow and go deeper in the faith—we can praise God for giving us that desire.
Invitation to the Lord’s Table
One of the means by which we improve our baptism is regularly availing ourselves to the ordinary means of grace. The Holy Spirit works through the Word, sacrament, and prayer to strengthen our faith and enrich our experience. A deeper understanding of that work is important to appreciate and participate in a worthy manner.
So let us celebrate the Father’s love for us through his Son, who is spiritually present at the Table. Let us enjoy the benefits of his work. We enjoy communion or fellowship in His body and blood (1 Cor 10:16), as we feed upon Him by faith, in our hearts. Here we partake of “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Cor 10:3-4).
Since Christ is spiritually present at His table, and since we enjoy spiritual “communion” with Him there, through the Lord’s Supper we receive His sustaining grace. Here our souls are fed. Here we find refreshment. Though we come with an awareness of weakness and failure, bruised and battered by the world, discouraged and compromised by sin, still Jesus extends His invitation and restores our honored place at His Table. Here we are renewed and strengthened. Here we “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood” (Jn 6:53). By this sacrament “Christ and all His benefits, are applied and sealed up unto us.” Here we find “medicine for poor sick souls.”
It is required of those who participate in this meal that they be sincere, instructed, and accountable members of the church of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul warns us in the strongest terms not to participate in an “unworthy manner.” It is necessary, he says, to “judge the body rightly.”
Therefore, if you are an unbeliever, if you are an unrepentant believer, living in defiance of Christ’s commands: if you do not understand the meaning of the bread and cup, or if you are not a baptized member of Christ’s church, do not participate in this meal. We invite you instead to remain among us and use this time to ask God to speak to your heart through His word and sacrament, and give you more light and understanding.
But if you are a sincere believer, walking in obedience to Christ, understanding the meaning of the Supper, and are accountable, being a communicant in good standing in an evangelical church, I invite you to come to partake of His body and blood.
Prayer of Blessing and Consecration
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the privilege of celebrating this sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together with your saints this morning. We thank you, once again, for this visible reminder of what Christ has done for us. He has graciously invited us to this table, and so we come in humble reliance upon Him. We ask that you would bless these common elements before us. Take this common load of bread and this common cup of wine and cause us to be edified by the work of the Spirit in and through this sacrament as we partake in faith.
Words of Institution
In a moment you will be invited to come forward by row. The purple cups on the outside are filled with wine and the clear cups on the inside are filled with juice. Take the elements back to your seats and when everyone has been served we will partake of the elements together.
• The Lord Jesus Christ on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
• In the same manner, he also took the cup, and having given thanks as has been done in his name, he gave it to the disciples, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink from it all of you.”
Hebrews 13:20–21 ESV
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.