Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience | Ben Carlson

by | Nov 8, 2022 | Systematic Theology

At first glance, we may not see why Christian liberty deserves its own chapter in the Confession. But let me offer you two reasons why this chapter is worthy of our utmost respect and most diligent study.

1.) It is strategically placed in the Confession.

The structure of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith is not arbitrary. There are important reasons for the placement of each chapter.

First, this chapter comes immediately after chapter 20, which is on the gospel. I think the framers want us to see that the gospel and Christian liberty are closely tied together. As we will see, Christian liberty is the direct result of the gospel. What Christ purchased on the cross for us was the blessings bound up in Christian liberty. He saved us in order to set us free.

Sometimes discussions on Christian liberty revolve around what Christians should or should not do. But our main focus needs to be on what Christ has already done for us. We will see this more clearly in the first paragraph of this chapter.

Second, this chapter serves as the beginning of a new section in the Confession on how to please and glorify God in many areas of life. Jim Renihan says, “This is what our Puritan fathers did: [this chapter] was not just placed in this position because something needed to be said about Christian liberty. Rather, this chapter was positioned at the head of an entire section because it was of fundamental importance to understand. As a result, we have an entire unit, ‘God-Centered Living: Freedom and Boundaries,’ in which Christian liberty is worked out in many different ways.” ((Jim Renihan, A Toolkit for Confessions, 79.))

He explains what he means in these words: “. . . the first six chapters [of the Confession] set out foundational doctrines, followed by a lengthy section which teaches about covenant theology and its implications (chapters 7-20). The next section begins with the chapter Of Christian Liberty and continues through chapter 30. This assertion may surprise some—and perhaps deserves some explanation. The order of the chapters is not arbitrary or accidental. From chapter 21 to chapter 30, every doctrine is affected by the theology of Christian liberty—some more than others—some more overtly and directly—but nonetheless all are affected. . . . In each of these cases, the Confession sets out a framework by which Christians may understand what Christ commands, so that they may be wary of the inventions, intrusions and human legalisms. All these doctrines were, in the 17th century, subject to religious abuse. Their purity had to be expressed in confessional terms. So, this doctrine takes on great importance.” ((Jim Renihan, Reformation Today article entitled “Of Christian Liberty”.))

Christian liberty, then, specifically has to do with religious matters, matters of faith, and morals. It teaches us how we can honor and glorify God in our country, church, and home. So, Christian liberty is a direct result of the gospel and foundational to the way we live our lives before God.

2.) Great men of God have stressed how vital Christian liberty is to the Christian faith.

Listen to what John Calvin, John Owen, and Samuel Bolton have said about the importance of Christian liberty:

John Calvin, Institutes, 3:19:1: “We are now to treat of Christian Liberty, the explanation of which certainly ought not to be omitted by any one proposing to give a compendious summary of Gospel doctrine. For it is a matter of primary necessity, one without the knowledge of which the conscience can scarcely attempt any thing without hesitation, in many must demur and fluctuate, and in all proceed with fickleness and trepidation. In particular, it forms a proper appendix to Justification, and is of no little service in understanding its force. . . . But, as we have said, if the subject be not understood, neither Christ, nor the truth of the Gospel, nor the inward peace of the soul, is properly known.”

John Owen, Works, 15:402: “The second principle of the Reformation, whereon the reformers justified their separation from the church of Rome, was this: ‘That Christian people were not tied up unto blind obedience unto church-guides, but were not only at liberty, but also obliged to judge for themselves as unto all things that they were to believe and practice in religion and the worship of God.’ They knew that the whole fabric of the Papacy did stand on this basis or dunghill, that the mystery of iniquity was cemented by this device,–namely, that the people were ignorant, and to be kept in ignorance, being obliged in all things unto an implicit obedience unto their pretended guides.”

Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, pp. 20-21: “Two great things Christ has entrusted into the hands of His Church — Christian faith and Christian liberty. Just as we are to contend earnestly for the maintenance of the faith (Jude 3), so also for the maintenance of Christian liberty, and that against all who would oppose and undermine it: ‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free’ (Gal. 5.1). Very like this is the exhortation of the same apostle: ‘Ye are bought with a price: be not ye the servants of men’ (2 Cor. 7.23).”

If these towering theologians viewed Christian liberty as “a matter of primary necessity” (Calvin), “The second principle of the Reformation, whereon the reformers justified their separation from the church of Rome,” (Owen), and one of the “Two great things Christ has entrusted into the hands of His Church” (Bolton), I think we should pay close and careful attention to what this chapter teaches us! As Calvin said, “if the subject be not understood, neither Christ, nor the truth of the Gospel, nor the inward peace of the soul, is properly known.”

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A Charge to Contemporary Apologists | Dewey Dovel

A Charge to Contemporary Apologists | Dewey Dovel

“Christians have not been called to proclaim the probable existence of a bare, generic, philosophical conception of a god. Rather, followers of Jesus Christ have been called to make disciples of the one, true, living God throughout every corner of the earth.”

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