William Twisse, one of the leading pastors and theologians in the Westminster Assembly that gave us the Westminster Confession of Faith, wrote a catechism that came to final form in 1645. In the part of his catechism working through the Apostles’ Creed, Twisse asks why that creed, which teaches us to believe “in” the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaches us to believe “the” church but not “in the” church:
Q. Why do you say I believe “the” church, and not “in the” Church?
A. We do believe there is a Church, but we do not believe in the Church, but in God. The Church at best is just a company of men who are sinners.
Yes, even the pastors and leaders and the most esteemed members of the church are sinners. It can be good to remember that they need the imputation of Christ’s righteousness just as much as you or the thief on the cross. And it can be comforting to remember that the church, as essential and instrumental as it may be, is not the object of our faith. That place belongs to the triune God alone, and He will never fail us.
In my years as a pastor, I had more than one member express difficulty calling on God as “Father.” The memories of an abusive or absent father had seemingly spoiled the name. For others, the thought that the infinite God of heaven could have such particular, “fatherly” care for them was beyond comprehension. Perhaps you can relate.
Calvin shows us a better way to approach the fatherhood of God. Its primary reference point is not our experience of our earthly fathers, nor own feeble imaginations, but the reality of the Father’s relationship to His only begotten Son. Accordingly, in his catechism, used for almost two hundred and fifty years in Geneva, Calvin writes:
Q. 22: Why do you call him Father?
A. Primarily because He is the Father of Jesus Christ, who is the eternal Word, begotten of Him from eternity, then being manifested in the world, was demonstrated and declared to be the Son of God. And since God is the Father of Jesus Christ, it follows that He is also our Father.
Jesus says, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). Think long and deeply on the Father-Son relationship we see revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. See the glory and honor the Father lavishes on the Son (Matt. 3:17, John 8:54; 17:1, 5; Phil. 2:9–11). See the delight the Son takes in making the Father known and doing His will (John 4:34, 5:36; 17:4, 6). Hear the Son declare how He is both truly known by His Father and truly loved by Him (John 10:15; 15:10). And in all this, you might ask yourself, “Could I have a father like that too?”
Yes, through the Son you can. To know God as your Father is the whole reason that Jesus became “the way, and the truth, and the life,” which sets up Jesus’ main point: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, emphasis added). Or, as Calvin puts it: “And since God is the Father of Jesus Christ, it follows that He is also our Father.”
#2 – The New City Catechism, Q. 52
Many of us grew up hearing about heaven as a place where we receive our angel’s wings, strum harps on clouds, or join the heavenly choir for endless ages. The images of everlasting life included little to nothing of “earthly things” such as trees, rivers, and the glory and honor of the nations. Instead, the story of salvation we were taught ended with God’s people evacuated from the earth as God’s creation is abandoned for a more “spiritual” existence.