Core Theological Commitments
AT ST. THOMAS', WE SUMMARIZE THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS CHRIST WITH THESE CORE THEOLOGICAL COMMITMENTS
GOD ALWAYS GETS THE GLORY
The aim of creation is to be the theatre of God’s glory where He may be adored and enjoyed forever (Psalm 19.1). Fallen man gains an understanding of this first through his own salvation, which is a work entirely of God and one which only God may receive credit for (Eph 2.1-5). From here, the redeemed and restored person reenters the theatre of God’s glory with the aim of adoring and enjoying him in all areas of life. For a fuller understanding of this we point to Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures, where he writes:
And because God has fully ordained…all life, therefore…is to be consecrated to His service…God is present in all life, with the influence of His omnipresent and almighty power, and no sphere of human life is conceivable in which religion does not maintain its demands that God shall be praised, that God’s ordinances shall be observed, and that every labor shall be permeated with fervent and ceaseless prayer. Wherever man may stand, whatever he may do, to whatever he may apply his hand, in agriculture, in commerce and in industry, or his mind, in the world of art, and science, he is, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of his God, he is employed in the service of his God, he has strictly to obey his God, and above all, he has to aim at the glory of his God.
JESUS IS GOD'S ONLY RESCUE PLAN
It is through the fall that we are alienated from God (Gen 3.8), from one another (Gen 3.12), from creation itself (Gen 3.13, 17-19), and from ourselves (Genesis 3.7, 10). Shortly after these catastrophic events God promises that one of Adam and Eve’s descendants will come and undo this tragedy (Gen 3.15). This descendant of Adam and Eve is Jesus (Luke 3.23-38) and he is God’s one and only rescue plan to lift the curse of alienation from humans and creation.
GRACE IS ALWAYS UNDESERVED
God’s grace is not given as a birthright (Luke 3.8), nor to a privileged class (1 Cor. 1.26), nor can it be earned or purchased through good works or religiosity (Eph 2.8-9). Rather God’s grace is always undeserved yet given freely to those in need (Rom 5.6-11).
FAITH IS ALL THAT IS NEEDED
The undeserved grace of God is not received through joining a church, or performing good works, or even saying a prayer, though each of these things is a good thing. Rather the grace of God is received by faith alone (Gal 2.16). Two things must be noted about faith. First, faith is not initiated in the individual but it is a gift of God (Eph. 2.8). This is why Paul thanks God for the faith of his churches (Rom 1.8, 1 Cor. 1.4-7, Eph 1.15). Second, faith is not active but passive. Faith is not a taking hold but a receiving. As John Calvin writes:
We compare faith to a kind of vessel; for unless we come empty and with the mouth of our soul open to seek Christ’s grace, we are not capable of receiving Christ. From this it is to be inferred that, in teaching that before his righteousness is received Christ is received in faith, we do not take the power of justifying away from Christ.
SCRIPTURE IS ENOUGH
God is a God who speaks and reveals himself freely through creation, incarnation, the Holy Spirit, and scripture. The first three streams of revelation are knit together in Scripture, whereby God has inspired the words of Scripture to teach, reprove, correct and train for righteousness (2 Tim 3.16). We highly value church tradition and the writings of Christians throughout the ages, nevertheless all must be tested through the lens of Scripture. In the language of the 39 Articles of Religion:
"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church."
Everyone understands to some degree what Paul writes when he says “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want that is what I keep doing” (Rom 7.18-19). Humans have the desire to do good things, but something is holding them back. Thus we are broken. This broken streak runs through all thoughts, desires, and affections (Gen 6.5, Jer. 17.9). Furthermore, this broken streak prevents us from turning to God from our own natural strength. As Paul says, we do not have the ability to do so. This is not what God intended, but rather is the result of sin in the world.
Because in our unnatural brokenness we cannot turn to God, he has graciously turned to us. As Jesus says “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15.16) and also Paul writes “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1.4). Thus the great work of salvation and restoration is not due to a human decision or a human effort but on God who has mercy (Rom 9.16). God’s choice is not merely one that saves us from hell to heaven, but as Thomas Cranmer writes we are saved in order to “obey the calling of God… and walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.”
Jesus did not die to open up the possibility of salvation, but he died to ensure the salvation of his people. To put it bluntly, when Jesus dies on the cross he does so in such a way as to concretely accomplish his objective. Thus Jesus says he came to pay a ransom for many (Mark 10.45), to keep God’s people and not lose any (John 6.37-40, John 17.12). Furthermore scripture teaches that Jesus keeps us from stumbling and presents blameless before God (Jude 24), and that has blood was an effective purchase price for the saints (Rev 5.9).
GRACE IS IRRESISTIBLE
The work of God, even upon the most rebellious sinner is an irresistible work. For God’s will, even his will for one far from him, can never be thwarted. For Paul writes “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn of many brothers. And those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8.29).
GOD FINISHES WHAT HE STARTS
God does not begin a good work and then entrust it to the individual to finish. Rather, God will have glory both in salvation and in sanctification (perfecting). He continues the work of perfecting through the power of his Spirit (Rom 8.10-11). Furthermore, the good work he begins in us he will finish (Phil 1.6, 1 Thess 5.23-24, Jude 24-25).