Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
A banner was very important to soldiers involved in hand-to-hand combat. The banner was a flag placed upon a tall pole and held above the leader of the army. The soldiers had a vital interest in seeing the banner, for it served as their rallying point. They would look for the banner and then gather around it, and thus around their leader. A soldier who was separated from the banner would in effect be separated from the rest of the army and be in imminent danger of being captured or killed. The banner helped keep the army together. It ensured that the soldiers were safe, and that the army was united and strong and could fight the enemy effectively. Rallying around it, the soldiers could go into battle with confidence.
God has given His church today such a banner, to serve the same purpose. We read of that in Psalm 60:4—”Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth.”
This is a banner for us to carry in our battles against our spiritual enemies. It is a banner for us to hold up high for all to see. It is a banner for the people of God to rally around so that we and our children are united and safe and strong. It is a banner that enables us to go on in the spiritual warfare with confidence of victory.
The banner God has given us is the truth. The truth is the flag we hold up high. The truth unites us in the battle. The truth makes us strong. As we rally around it, we can be sure of victory in every spiritual battle.
The truth is given us in the Scriptures. This means that the Bible is our banner. For that reason, the Bible, more than anything else, must be studied and learned so that we and our children know well our God-given banner.
We should understand, however, that the Reformed confessions, as a faithful summary of God’s Word, are also our banner. God has also given the creeds as our rallying point. They serve to unite us and to give us spiritual confidence and strength.
It is true, of course, that the creeds are not equivalent to the Scriptures. They are man-made documents and are not infallible. Nevertheless, they are the work of God. The Holy Spirit has guided the church into an understanding of the truth. The Spirit has directed the church in setting forth that truth in the creeds. And the Reformed confessions we have and use have proven, over many centuries, to be faithful to the Scriptures. While the words they contain were written by men, they set forth the truth of the Word of God.
The creeds are very valuable as our God-given banner.
First of all, they serve to unite. It is not true, as is so often said today, that the doctrines of God’s Word as set forth in the creeds divide. The opposite is the case. The only true unity is unity in the truth. The creeds provide this. They are a means to unite believers, to unite churches within a denomination, and to unite denominations. They are also a means to unite the church of all ages. The creeds unite God’s people in the truth that honors God and that saves and comforts His people.
They are also a valuable banner because they show where the church stands. More and more today you cannot know what churches believe. More and more today individual believers do not even know where they themselves stand. They are scattered in the spiritual battle, for they have lost their rallying point. Though they may still have the Reformed confessions, they do not know them and do not use them. In the midst of such ignorance, the confessions help us to know what we believe, and to show others what we believe.
Let us be thankful to God for the creeds as our God-given banner!
God gives us the banner of His truth for a purpose. God’s purpose is that we display it.
The banner must not be hidden or kept secret. The truth may not be put on the shelf, there to collect dust and be forgotten. The banner does us and our children no good if it is not displayed. It is to be held up high so that it can be seen.
The main way in which the banner is displayed is by the preaching of the truth. Through the preaching, God’s people see and come to a better knowledge of the truth. Through the preaching, they are taught what to believe and what to confess.
We need clear, faithful preaching of the truth. We live in times of doctrinal indifference. Many say that doctrine is not needed. It is said, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as far as doctrines are concerned—just so that you believe in Jesus!” As a result, many are doctrinally ignorant. These are the times when many do not endure sound doctrine, for they turn away their ears from the truth, and are turned unto fables (II Tim. 4:3).
The trouble is that this is always a temptation for us, too. We are inclined to want to do away with doctrinal preaching altogether and to hear only “practical” sermons. That is exactly why our banner must be held up high through faithful preaching of the truth, including Heidelberg Catechism preaching. It must be clearly proclaimed so that we know it well, and so that we are constantly growing in our knowledge of it.
This kind of preaching is necessary also for the sake of our children. They need to know sound doctrine, for they live in days characterized by increasing apostasy. More and more pressure is put on them to think that doctrines are simply for theologians and scholars, and not for them. Sometimes our children are mocked because they have an interest in and knowledge of the truth. We must recognize the fact that the next generation of the church is strongly tempted to forsake doctrine.
Parents, and the church, must therefore take seriously the calling to instruct the covenant children in the truth. God has given us the banner of the truth so that we might display it clearly for the next generation of His church to see and to know. Our children must be taught to appreciate and love the doctrines of God’s Word. The banner must be passed on to them.
The banner must also be displayed for others to see.
We do this by how we live. Our lives must themselves be a witness to the truth. It should be obvious, from all our behavior, that the truth is important and precious to us. Our belief in and love for the truth make our lives distinct, so that we are as lights in the midst of a dark world. Our lives are to be consistent with the truths of God’s Word—lives of humble gratitude and faithful obedience to the commands of our God.
We also display the banner by our witnessing. We ought not be ashamed of the gospel. Sometimes we can be, especially when ridiculed by others for what we believe. Then we hesitate to defend the truth. We hesitate to bring others to the church where the truth is preached. We are even tempted to water down or alter the truth so that it is more palatable to others. We must not do this. We must not lower the banner. We must not let the banner fall. Even if opposed or ridiculed, we must be those who say: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. That gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and in it I glory. I love that gospel. Therefore I gladly display it for all to see, and valiantly defend it against those who oppose and attack it.”
If we fail to display this banner, God will take it away.
That will happen as a direct result and consequence of not displaying the truth. If it is not displayed, we will forget it. If the truth is not preached, we will become ignorant. Then the banner will be forgotten and lost.
This is a dangerous position for the church to be in. For then the church becomes wishy-washy and God’s people become vulnerable to false doctrine and to the lies of the devil. And then the words of Hosea 4:6 are fulfilled: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge!” The church is not destroyed because of a lack of zeal, or because of a lack of love, or because of a lack of good deeds. But it is destroyed because of a lack of knowledge. It is the ignorant church that goes down in defeat and that loses the right to call itself the church of Christ.
Such will be God’s judgment on the church that does not display the banner of the truth. God will say: “If you do not appreciate what I have given you, if you take for granted the precious truths of the gospel that you have received from Me, then you do not deserve them. I will therefore take your banner away!”
But when, by God’s grace, the banner is displayed, the church is kept spiritually strong and safe. When the truth is preached, God’s people hear the gospel of Christ that saves and that builds up and strengthens them in their faith. The church that displays the banner will be distinct and solid and well-grounded. The knowledge of the truth will enable God’s people to withstand the inroads of false doctrine. The knowledge of the truth will equip them to oppose those who attack the doctrines of sovereign grace. The knowledge of the truth will provide them with an answer to give to those who ask them concerning their hope. The knowledge of the truth will comfort them, and their love for it will compel them to live lives of thankful obedience and good works.
We need this banner, and we need to display it. It is our rallying point. It ensures that we and our children will be safely guarded in this evil world. Be thankful for it, therefore. And take seriously the calling to use and display it.