|"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints," Jude 3.
The Confession of Faith
The confession of faith of the Protestant Reformed churches dates from 1561. Also called the Belgic or Netherlandic Confession of Faith, it is a setting forth of authentic biblical Christianity as reformed upon the basis of God's Word in the Reformation.
Its purpose is to set forth the faith which the Christian church has always confessed, when faithful to the Scriptures, and to give confession of that faith over against the errors which had corrupted the Christian church under Rome and which were also assailing it from various cults and sects. It is a reformational statement of "the faith," belonging to the basics of a sound Christian confession.
What the Christian church has always confessed
The purpose of this page is to set forth what Christianity is and what the Christian church has always confessed. The Christian faith has a living history of doctrine and confession. It can be known from the Scriptures and studied from the Word of God. It can also be stated in confessions.
The Christian faith has at its center the truth of Jesus Christ, which it has always believed and confessed. Because of this fact the church holding Christ by faith has held all the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, as He himself testifies that He is "the way, the truth, and the life'" John 14:6. All of Christian doctrine, teaching and confession flows from this one fundamental fact. When Peter confessed of Jesus , "thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," Matthew 16:16, Jesus said of that confession "upon this rock will I build my church," Matthew 16:18.
This does not mean that the church has always understood all of the truth it possessed, nor fully comprehended it. It has grown in knowledge and understanding of the truth of God in Christ through much spiritual struggle and warfare over against error. Jesus said that there would come false Christ's and false prophets ( Matthew 24:24). The Apostles repeatedly warn of false teachers and false doctrines. The calling of the church is always to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints," Jude 3. This has always been the Christian calling and is in part the purpose of this material.
But through that battle the church has grown in the understanding of Christ and the truth as it is in Him. Its doctrine has grown like a tree made strong through weathering many storms. For Jesus promised that He would keep and preserve His church, that He would, by the Spirit, give His church the truth set down in the Scriptures and guide His church into all the truth (John 16:13).
Authentic historic Christianity can not only be known and determined from the Word of God, it can also be shown, secondarily, from the history of Christian doctrine and its confession. The New Testament church, after the death of the apostles, began very early to develop confessional statements of sound doctrine over against error. The fruit of this development, which continued through the early centuries of the church, are the ancient creeds of the Christian church. These are sometimes called the ecumenical creeds of the Christian church. The western branch of the Christian church especially became heir to this doctrinal development and this is also reflected in the form of the creeds in the West. These creeds are the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, the Creed of Chalcedon and the Athanasian Creed, the latter named for the church father Athanasius.
This development did not stop in Europe during the Middle Ages, though it was suppressed and hindered by the political upheavals in the world and by growing internal corruption and departure in the church itself. The destruction of the Roman empire in the East, the mass "conversion" of the heathen in Europe, and the rise of Islam in the Middle East, with the destruction of the Christian church in North Africa and wars that followed, all added to trials of the church and its spiritual development.
Further, the use of Latin as the language of the church rather than the common language of the people limited the knowledge of God's Word and doctrine. The problem was compounded because most people could not read nor was the Bible available in the language of the people. Until the printing press was invented, the ability to produce copies of the Bible was limited to copying God's Word by hand. Thus, the church in the Middle Ages became submerged in error and superstition.
Yet, in the midst of this darkness, God preserved the light of the gospel. There were constant efforts to extend the preaching of the Word and to teach the people the basics of the Christian faith. Towards the end of the Middle Ages there were increasing attempts to put the Bible in the hands of the people and in their own language. Men like Wycliffe in England and Huss in eastern Germany labored for such a renewal. Those seeking such renewal were also persecuted for the sake of the gospel by those who sought earthly power and position in the church, as an earthly kingdom.
By the Reformation of the church beginning in the 1500s, God restored the church in the west, causing it to be founded anew on the basis of His Word and doctrine, "the faith which was once delivered to the saints," Jude 3. The beginning of that reformation of the church is usually dated with Martin Luther's nailing of the ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenburg church, October 31, 1517.
October 31, 1517, may properly be called "Reformation Day." Luther, at the time, intended only to protest certain errors which he saw plaguing the church and subverting the faith and comfort of the people of God. Under God's providence he lit a spark of doctrinal reform and renewal which spread across the church in Europe. Luther in Germany was not the only one protesting the errors in the church. A parallel development had been taking place in many parts of the Christian church. Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland was also preaching against abuses and seeking reform. Similar struggles to reform the church were underway in many lands. Luther's protest was the spark which was needed and which God used to renew his church.
At issue in the Reformation was a return to historical Biblical Christianity, founded on the Word and as it had always been confessed, if imperfectly, by the church. The Reformation was a reforming and renewal of the church. It was a protest against error and a correction of it. It was not an attempt to ignore the faithful confession of the church of the past nor a denial of all that had been developed that was sound doctrine. Rather it was a return to the faith, a purifying of the heritage of the gospel from error and corruption.
It belonged to John Calvin, himself building on the work of others, to bring the threads of the Reformation together by his labors in Geneva. Calvin was the theologian and expositor of the reformation. It was particularly the doctrines of sin and grace which had been corrupted in the Middle Ages. The reformers turned again to the Scriptures and particularly to the works of Augustine. What is commonly called Calvinism concerning the doctrines of sin and grace, could also therefore be called Luther's Lutheranism or Augustinianism. It is simply historic Christianity in its development in doctrine.
This raises the point of this current article. To understand what the Christian church has always confessed one must go beyond the early creeds to the confessions of the Reformation. The Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedon and Athanasian Creed all treat the doctrines of the Trinity, the person and natures of Christ, the historical unfolding of the death and resurrection of Christ. There are a number of subjects which belong to the historic Christian confession which they do not mention or address. These subjects include the contents of the Bible and the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of sin and the fall, the truth of God's sovereign grace and the way of salvation by faith, the sacraments, and the form and order of the church and offices. It belongs to the creeds of the Reformation, particularly the Calvinistic creeds, to set forth sound doctrine in the light of the Scriptures and which was also the historic Christian faith in these areas.
In doing so the reformers were seeking to set forth what was the faithful confession of the historic Christian faith over against the multitude of errors and corruptions which had crept into the church. This involved both a turning again to the Scriptures to receive what was sound in the past and a renewed statement of the historic Christian faith and confession. To these confessions belongs the Confession of Faith of the Reformed churches, also called the Netherlandic or Belgic Confession of Faith, because of where it was written. It is, as to its design and intention, a statement and confession of historic Christianity over against the errors of Rome as well as the errors of cults and sects which also appeared at the time of the Reformation.
The basics of the Christian faith also include the historic creeds of the Christian faith and the western church. These creeds are the universal or catholic confession of the Christian faith. They do not belong to one church, sect or denomination, nor to one styling itself catholic. These creeds set forth the doctrine of Trinity, the person and natures of Christ, and the fundamentals of Jesus' birth, suffering, death resurrection, present glory and return.
What Jesus said
A Christian confesses that he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It belongs to the basics of the Christian faith to know Him. While belonging to Christian Basics, a separate section of pages has also been added which treats what Jesus said.
This material is written for one who is curious as to what the Christian faith really is and to hear it from Christ himself. It is also written for one who professes to be a Christian. For the very fact that there are false christs and false gospels means that knowing the true Christ of the Scriptures is no small matter. There will be those in the day of judgement who profess themselves to be Christians, who will say "Lord, Lord,..." and Jesus will say, " I never knew you," Matthew 7:21-23. Knowing Jesus means knowing His Word and walking in it.
To that end this series focuses especially on what Jesus Himself said as it is recorded in the gospels. This focus is not because what Jesus said is any different in doctrine than that which His servants, the prophets and apostles in the Old and New Testaments, taught, but rather because it confronts us with the real issue of the truth of Jesus Christ. It confronts us with the questions: Do we really believe in this Jesus? Do we know Him?
|Doctrine & Church History
Do you know the history of Christian doctrine and the history of the Christian church? Both the doctrine and the Christian church cannot be understood apart from its history, the battles fought for the truth, the struggle to understand and grow in the word. Errors and misdirections have also occurred which needed to be corrected and the church reformed on the basis of God's word. Old errors also reappear in a new suit of clothes. While this subject is a vast one, one way to approach it is by reading about those who were important in the history of the Christian church and its doctrine. The following link is to a book by Professor Herman Hanko which gives brief sketches or portraits of faithful saints, and some not so faithful but significant figures in Christian church history.