Vos and The Church
I recently purchased the final volume of Geerhardus Vos' Reformed Dogmatics. Those that know Vos probably know him from his Biblical Theology. However, in the last couple years Lexham Press has produced the Reformed Dogmatics. The work is valuable for anyone interested in systematic theology in general and Vos' theology in particular. Vos' style is unique following a catechetical, question and answer, approach.
I was excited to get this latest volume because its first chapters are on a topic I am currently considering quite a bit, the church. My thoughts have been turned toward the church because of the Sunday school lesson taught by Brandon Goodin at Parish Presbyterian Church this last Sunday. He gave a clear and thought provoking presentation on the church. Getting Vos has allowed me to read a bit more. It was within just a few pages that I was reminded of the brilliance and succinctness of Vos' theology and prose. He is able to capture deep truths in few words.
In the opening of his first chapter on the church, Vos says this:
[H]e (the individual believer) was called; as such he was regenerated; as such he believed and was justified; as such he is an object of sanctification. But the individual believer cannot remain by himself. The work of application of the merits of the Mediator also has a communal side. A root of unity is latent among those individuals. This unity originates not only in retrospect but existed beforehand. Believers were all reckoned in Christ, regenerated by the Spirit of Christ; they were all implanted into Christ in order to form one body.
I love what Vos is getting at here. He is reminding us that our salvation is never just individual. There is an organic connection between the individual believer and the communion of saints (those that went before and come after). To use Bavinck's language, in the diversity of believers there is a unity in the body. That unity is not just seen as we look back on salvation history and understand that we have been united to each other, but it existed before all time when God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, covenanted with himself to save for himself a people. He did not just decide to save individuals, but he agreed to save a people who would be united to him and to each other.
All too often in our theology we think of salvation in solely individual terms. Vos helps to correct this thinking and tells us that our theology of salvation must flow into a theology of the church. The Lord has saved us to be one body. We are each individual stones, but we we are stones being built into one temple. We are each individual members of a united body. The Lord did not save us hoping that the temple or the body would be completed. Before time the Lord called out a people that would be the completed body, the finished temple. Understanding our individual salvation should cause us to immediately turn to how we are united to other Christians, it should cause us to consider a theology of the church. Soteriology always organically flows into ecclesiology.
Part of our understanding of the church is a realization that we are connected to people not just in the present but also the past. We learn from the saints that went before us. They teach us in their writings and the witness of their faithful lives. That is why I am excited to get deeper into this volume and see what treasures Vos has for me to discover. I am excited that I will be reminded of my connection to him. I am looking forward to sitting at his feet again and having him teach me through this newest volume.