Doctrinal Position Catechism
When I was in college the most impactful class I took was Systematic Theology II with Dr. Marcus Johnson. The most valuable assignment I ever completed was my personal doctrinal position on twenty-six questions. I have listed the questions in full and their answers here. If any of my writings ever cause you to scratch your head and wonder what I believe, this should suffice to put any wondering to rest.
One final note: There are some of these questions that I am more grounded in than others. Ultimately I affirm and confess the same creeds that have been confessed throughout the history of the Church. Finally, my final resting place is the Scripture. I know and believe that it is the inspired word of God. I also know that my human mind is flawed and prone to misinterpreting scripture. As Christian brothers and sisters please strive to know the areas that we are able to discuss and disagree on, and the areas that our core to our doctrine. Both items will be found below.
Q.1: What do we mean when we speak of Christ’s atonement for us?
A: It is the ever-present reality of Jesus Christ’s incarnational life, death, and resurrection by which we are made one with God the Father (John 1:14). It is the saving and reconstructing reunification between God and humanity. Atonement is not something that we are given apart from the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Q. 2: What is meant by Christ’s active and passive obedience, and how does his obedience benefit us?
A: Jesus’ passive and active obedience both refer to the whole work of Jesus Christ whereas His active obedience refers to His fulfillment of the requirements of the law, and His passive obedience refers to His payment for the punishment of sin. Because Jesus lived vicariously for us, we share in the atoned humanity that Jesus lived (1 Cor 1:30). The entirety of Jesus Christ’s existence is for our salvation, because He is our Salvation. His perfect life lived out in imperfect flesh gives us access to His righteousness (1 Peter 2:22; Phil.3:8ff.; Rom.5:19). By His constant suffering culminating in His final greatest suffering we are redeemed by Him. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q37; 1 Peter 2:24; Rom 8:3)
Q.3: Was Christ’s saving life and death penal and substitutionary? How so?
A: Yes, rather than all of humanity bearing the just punishment for our sins, Christ entered into our matter covered reality in order that He would be our substitute (Rom 3:23–25). He completely humiliated Himself taking on birth, being under the law, suffering the hardships of life, and facing the wrath of God on the cross, redeeming us from the curse of the law, and becoming a curse Himself (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q27; Gal 3:13; Phil 2:8). Jesus suffered death because nothing else could pay the penalty other than God Himself (Heidelberg Catechism Q40; Heb 2:9).
Q. 4: Was the resurrection of Christ a bodily event? If so, why is this important?
A: Yes, and it is vital that this reality is certain. Without resurrection there is no salvation and no atonement. In His resurrection God inaugurates the new creation, beginning with Jesus’ conception. Because our salvation is dependent on our unity with Christ, we are raised with Him and share in this new and perfect humanity (Eph 2:4–6; Col 3:1–4). Just as Jesus said that his atoning life was finished at His death, He proves it in His resurrection (John 19:30; Catechism of the Church of Geneva Q330)
Q.5: What saving benefits accrue to us because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
A: We share in all the benefits of Jesus Christ when we are united to Him. We take on His life, death, and resurrection as displayed in the sacrament of baptism. In taking on His life we share in the atoned humanity that He lived, never sinning, yet acquainted with every temptation (Heidelberg Catechism Q43; 1 Tim 3:16; Rom 4:25). In taking on His death our old natures, with their sinful yearnings and flawed un-human reality, are put to death as well. And in being raised with Him we hold claim to the new and truthful reality that we have in Christ, as it is no longer us who live, but Christ in us (Catechism of the Church of Geneva Q74; 1 Cor. 15:16–20).
Q.6: What is the state of humankind after the fall? Is humanity in a state of total depravity or no?
A: After the fall all of humanity is made a slave to sin, completely unable to live a holy life, and our every inclination is to sin. We are unable to love God or our fellow man (Heidelberg Catechism Q5; Rom 39–20, 23). There is no one who is righteous (Ecc 7:20) All of humanity is born into this total depravity (Heidelberg Catechism Q7; Psalm 51:5).
Q. 7: Is the election of God’s people in Jesus Christ a choosing that is unconditional or conditional?
A: The election of believers in Jesus Christ is not conditioned on any work or merit of the individual. Our ‘righteous’ deeds are worthless, and even offensive in God’s eyes (Isa 64:6). Rather our election by God is solely based on His foreknowing and predestining us (Eph 1:4–6; Rom 8:28–30).
Q.8: Is the saving efficacy of Christ’s death particular or general in nature?
A: God gave us His Son because He loves the whole world (John 3:16). God also has particular love for particular people (Rom 9:13). We confess that Christ’s work here on the earth was specific and intentional for His sheep, the Church (John 10:11). His death was also for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). We affirm the divine mystery that Christ’s death is both universal in atonement, and particular in salvation. While salvation is offered to all, only those who were predestined to be united to Christ share in His justification, adoption, and sanctification (Titus 2:11; Rom 8:33; Westminster Shorter Catechism Q32).
Q.9: Is God’s saving grace able to be finally resisted or conquered by those God designs to save?
A: No, God’s grace is completely and totally effective to bring the ones He has foreknown and predestined into unity with Christ (Rom 8:29–30). Everyone whom the Father has given to the Son will come to Him (John 6:37). Just as we cannot come to God by any effort of our own, His Holy Spirit draws us to His irresistible grace (Luther’s Small Catechism III.3).
Q.10: Does God preserve those included in Christ until the end (growing them to maturity in Christ), or are the redeemed able to fall away from salvation?
A: God gives us comfort that those who are in Christ can never be taken out of His hand (John 10:28). There is nothing that will ever separate us from the love of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:38–39). This is a joy and peace to us, to know that though we struggle with the un-reality of our sinful nature, we know that we will persevere until the end. God’s good work in us will be accomplished (Phil 1:6).
Q.11: What does saving faith consist of? And why do we say that faith is ‘saving’?
A: Saving faith is the means by which we are given the free grace of God. Faith is not a merit counted toward us, but rather the instrument through which God unites us to Jesus Christ (John 1:12; Eph 1:13). It consists of the knowledge of Jesus’ work and the opportunity to be saved, belief in the truthfulness of these things, and confession of them (John 20:31; Eph 2:8–9; Rom 10:9). Faith is saving because it is the means by which we come to knowledge and belief in Salvation — namely Jesus Christ (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q86).
Q. 12: What is the relationship between salvation and union with Christ? What benefits accrue to us from this union?
A. Salvation is not an abstract concept that is given to us as a reward for believing in Jesus. Jesus Himself is our Salvation; therefore there is no salvation apart from Him, and we only have life in Him (Isa 43:11; John 15:5). Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins, and apart from Him salvation cannot be found anywhere else (Matt 1:21; Acts 4:11–12; Heidelberg Catechism Q29). Through this union we are given all of the benefits of the person of Christ; again not in abstractions, but in His personhood (Eph 3:17). These are the benefits of Justification, Adoption, Sanctification, Resurrection, and Glorification (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q86; Phil 3:3–11).
Q.13: Describe the benefit of justification; in what does it consist? How does it come about?
A. Justification is one of the benefits that we share in Christ by being united to Him (Rom 3:24). We are given the righteousness of Christ and pardoned of our sins (2 Cor 5:19, 21). We are therefore no longer condemned for our sins if we are in Christ (Rom 8:1) It is received by the free grace of God alone through the medium of faith (Gal 2:16; Phil 3:9; Westminster Shorter Catechism Q33). We can therefore be united to, and in the presence of our Holy God.
Q.14: Describe the benefit of adoption; in what does it consist? How does it come about?
A. Adoption is the benefit of sharing in the sonship of Jesus Christ by being united to Him (John 1:12). We are brought into the fold of the Father and likewise share in the inheritance of the Son fully and completely. We are not lesser children. We share in the fullness of Christ’s sonship. It is received by the free grace of God alone through the medium of faith (1 John 3:1 Westminster Shorter Catechism Q34). We therefore enjoy all of the privileges and rights of being included in God’s family (Gal 5:25–27).
Q.15: Describe the benefit of sanctification; in what does it consist? How does it come about?
A. Sanctification is the benefit of our continued unity with Christ (Phil 2:13). Upon being put to death and given new life in Christ, it is no longer us, but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20). We are therefore continually delivered from our deprived natures by being transformed into the image of Christ, dying to sin and living for Christ (Eph 4:23–24; 2 Cor 7:1; 1 Thes 5:23). This benefit is received through the power of the Holy Spirit within us by the free grace of God through the medium of faith (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q35). It is both a finished work in Christ, and being worked out in us (Rom 6:2; Phil 2:12).
Q.16: When did the church begin? And what is the church’s relationship to Israel?
A. The idea and promise of the church began within the eternal plan of God; Jesus promised Peter, “on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18, Eph 1:4). The church was inaugurated at Pentecost when the promised Holy Spirit came down from heaven and united believers to Christ, who is the one who builds His church (Acts 2:1–13, Matt 16:18). The church is distinct from the people of Israel, but share in the blessings of the seed of Abraham — who is Christ, by being grafted into God’s chosen people (Gal 3:16, Rom 11:17, Catechism of the Church of Geneva Q138).
Q. 17: Why do we together confess that the church is ‘One’?
A. Although the church is made up of many different individuals, every one of them finds their unity by being united to the person of Christ, and therefore to the Father (John 17:20–23, 1 Cor 12:12). This is a real and true oneness, and not merely a metaphor. Just as a husband and wife are mystically one flesh, so too are Christ and His church one (Heidelberg Catechism Q54, Mark 10:8, Eph 4:1–6). As we are all one in Christ we get our being from Him and our existence in Him (Acts 17:28, 1 Cor 1:10).
Q.18: Why do we together confess that the church is ‘Holy’?
A. The church is holy because Christ is holy (1 Pet 1:16). The church does not derive her holiness from herself, but from Jesus who will present His bride as perfect and spotless (Eph 5:27). All that God has chosen to draw to Himself will be sanctified in Christ and will be conformed to His image (Geneva Catechism Q96, Rom 8:29–30, 2 Cor 3:18). This is all for the glory of God and for the building of the church.
Q.19: Why do we together confess that the church is ‘Catholic’?
A. Across all time, terrain, and peoples the universal church remains. Because we all have one head that we submit to, we are part of one body that we belong to (Geneva Catechism Q97, Eph 4:15). The body of the church extends to all places and all times, existing and engaging in the world without becoming a part of it, bought by the blood of Christ. (Rom 12:2, Rev 5:9).
Q.20: Why do we together confess that the church is ‘Apostolic’?
A. The church is founded on the authority of the apostles who were present with Christ, and witnesses to his life, death, and resurrection (Luke 24:48). We follow the teaching of the apostles that has been passed down through the generations of the church in order to rightly know and understand the history of Christ (Geneva Catechism Q15, Acts 5:32). Ultimately the church finds its identity and call in the teaching of the apostles.
Q.21: What is a proper view of baptism? Is it a sacrament? Why should we practice baptism?
A. Baptism is the visible gospel preached through water (Rom 6:3, Matt 3:11). When we are baptized we enter into the person of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Heidelberg Catechism Q69 Rom 6:3–10). In this resurrection we are brought into new life and born again so that it is no longer us who live but Christ in us (Gal 2:20). Baptism is sacramental as it is mysterious and affirmed by believers as the sign and seal of our engrafting in Christ (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q94, Acts 2:38). We must participate, as it is impossible to think of being engrafted into Christ any other way and He commanded it (Matt 28:19, Eph 5:26).
Q.22: What is a proper view of the Lord’s Supper? Is it a sacrament? Why should we participate?
A. The Lord’s Supper is the continued sign and seal of our union with Christ through the intermingling of flesh that shows us our oneness with Him through the gospel preached in bread and wine (Heidelberg Catechism Q75, 1 Cor 10:16, Luke 22:19). It is sacramental and not merely a sign, as it has a deeper reality behind it that is mysterious yet all the while affirmed by believers (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q96, 1 Cor 11:24). We must participate in the Lord’s Supper, as it is an encounter with the person of Christ that fills, nourishes, and sustains us (Geneva Catechism Q340, John 6:35). Finally Jesus Christ commanded it.
Q.23: What is the most appropriate form of church government? Why?
A. It is Christ alone that is head of the church and who we ultimately submit to, however He has placed leaders in authority that we are called to submit to (Eph 5:21). Leaders ought also to submit to one another while sacrificially serving their congregations (John 13:1–7). It is therefore important for the management and well being of the church to choose elders to guard against offenses and exclude from the congregation those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Geneva Catechism Q373, Matt 7:15, 1 Tim 5:17).
Q.24: What church offices ought a church to have? Are these open to women?
A. A Church ought to have the offices of messengers (apostles) who were specifically appointed by Christ, leaders (elders) who are put in position to lead the church according to the teaching of the apostles, and those who serve the church sacrificially and in a non-leadership role (deacons) (Luther’s Small Catechism VI.6, Phil 2:5, 1 Tim 3:8, James 5:14). These roles are meant for the building up of the church, and should be done out of submission to authority and sacrificially (John 13:1–17, Eph 5:21). In terms of church authority the office of leadership is not given to women, however in every other area of service, women can, and should serve (1Tim 2:11–14, 1Cor 14:33–36)
Q. 25. What is your view of the millennial state?
A. Christ promises to return and have all of the promises given to the seed of Abraham fulfilled in Him. Christ will return to bring judgment to the world and bring it to peace after the great tribulation (Geneva Catechism Q84, Matt 24:21, Gal 3:16). He will raise the bodies of believers who died and both they and present believers will receive their glorified bodies (Phil 3:21, Rev 20:5). They will reign together on the earth for a thousand years (Rev 20:6).
Q. 26: What is your understanding of the rapture?
A. Jesus promises to return like a thief in the night — suddenly and un-expectantly (2 Peter 3:10, 1 Thes 5:2). Jesus also gives us signs to know that His return is coming soon (Matt 24:32–35). Christ promised to change the church in an instant to rule with Him at the end of the tribulation in order to reign with Him in their glorified bodies (Phil 3:21, Matt 24:26). There is no clear teaching of a special rapture of believers before the tribulation. However, Christ promises to never leave or forsake His beloved bride whom he will love and cherish for eternity (Deut 31:6, John 10:29, Rom 8:31–39).