Confessing the Church’s Role in Care for the Stranger
What do our Standards reveal about our role in caring for the stranger?
“The Standards” of our Reformed tradition, also known as creeds and confessions, are celebrated as “historic and faithful witnesses to the Word of God.” With the help and wisdom of our brothers and sisters throughout the ages, these statements describe what we understand about God, the church, ourselves, and the world.
The following excerpts of articles and statements from the Standards illustrate a biblical and historical understanding of the relationship between our faith in Christ and our behavior in the world.
Q. What does God’s law require of us?
A. Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22:37-40:
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’1 This is the greatest and first commandment.
“And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’2
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
1 Deut. 6:5
2 Lev. 19:18
Q. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why then should we do good works?
A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image, so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits,1 so that he may be praised through us,2 so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits,3 and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ.4
1 Rom. 6:13; 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:5-10
2 Matt. 5:16; 1 Cor. 6:19-20
3 Matt. 7:17-18; Gal. 5:22-24; 2 Pet. 1:10-11
4 Matt. 5:14-16; Rom. 14:17-19; 1 Pet. 2:12; 3:1-2
Q. What are good works?
A. Only those which are done out of true faith,1 conform to God’s law,2 and are done for God’s glory;3 and not those based on our own opinion or human tradition.4
1 John 15:5; Heb. 11:6
2 Lev. 18:4; 1 Sam. 15:22; Eph. 2:10
3 1 Cor. 10:31
4 Deut. 12:32; Isa. 29:13; Ezek. 20:18-19; Matt. 15:7-9
Q. Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way?
A. No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves,1 to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly toward them,2 to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.3
1 Matt. 7:12, 12:39; Rom. 12:10
2 Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:36; Rom. 12:10, 18; Gal. 6:1-2; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; 1 Pet. 3:8
3 Ex. 23: 4-5; Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 12:20-21 (Prov. 25:21-22)
Q. What does God require of you in this [eighth] commandment?
A. That I do whatever I can for my neighbor’s good, that I treat others as I would like them to treat me, and that I work faithfully so that I may share with those in need.1
1 Isa. 58:5-10; Matt. 7:12; Gal. 6:9-10; Eph. 4:28
Article 24: The Sanctification of Sinners
We believe that this true faith,
produced in us by the hearing of God’s Word
and by the work of the Holy Spirit,
regenerates us and makes us new creatures,1
causing us to live a new life2
and freeing us from the slavery of sin.
far from making people cold
toward living in a pious and holy way,
this justifying faith,
quite to the contrary,
so works within them that
apart from it
they will never do a thing out of love for God
but only out of love for themselves
and fear of being condemned.
So then, it is impossible
for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being,
seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith
but of what Scripture calls
“faith working through love,”3
which moves people to do by themselves
the works that God has commanded
in the Word. …
1 2 Cor. 5:17
2 Rom. 6:4
3 Gal. 5:6
Section 5, Article 12: This Assurance as an Incentive to Godliness
This assurance of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and carnally self-assured, is rather the true root of humility, of childlike respect, of genuine godliness, of endurance in every conflict, of fervent prayers, of steadfastness in crossbearing and in confessing the truth, and of well-founded joy in God. Reflecting on this benefit provides an incentive to a serious and continual practice of thanksgiving and good works, as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints.
3. We believe
- that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22). …
- that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity …
4. We believe
- that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
- that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;
- that God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
- that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
- that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
- that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering …
- that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
- that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.