Outright hostility to a creed does not appear out of nowhere. Such hostility can be seen in a letter that was published in a Reformed magazine earlier this year. Writing in response to an article that encouraged commemoration of the Canons of Dordt, the letter writer stated that “The 400th anniversary would be an excellent time to ditch the rigid, exclusionary, and insular Canons of Dort.” A good place for the Canons would be “on the history book shelf.”1
How can it be that such a view arises out of a Reformed church? So often what precedes such hostility is apathy. A church says they have the creeds and they even subscribe to the creeds, but the people do not read the creeds. There they sit, gathering dust, out of sight and mind. Satan and his demons, “enemies of God and every good thing,” are “watching to ruin the church and every member thereof, and by their wicked strategems to destroy all” (Belgic Confession, Art. 12). What havoc can be wreaked by the devil when the church is ignorant of the very truths she is to love! In the Old Testament, God’s people were not only destroyed for lack of knowledge, they were destroyed because they rejected knowledge (Hos. 4:6).
Such is the danger for the church in any age, and with all of the shiny objects of the world as distractions, this is especially a danger for you, young person.
When a church or her members reject knowledge, either through hostility or apathy, it is a rejecting of God himself, who is the author of the truth being rejected. This is heinous enough. However, to reject the truth of God is also to reject the Truth of God, Jesus Christ. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
It is this truth, the truth of the person and work of Jesus Christ, that is the burden of this editorial. It was my original intention to write on another topic relating to the Belgic Confession, but after reading and re-reading the Belgic, I came to the conclusion that to write an editorial on any other topic than Jesus Christ would be to miss the central point of the confession itself.
The most important part of any structure is the foundation. Imagine you and your new spouse are looking for your first home. You find a place that you both agree would be perfect. It has the right amount of rooms, it’s in the right location for church and work, and it fits in your budget. But when you walk downstairs, you find the basement walls are crumbling. There are wooden posts throughout providing some support, and for now the foundation has enough strength to hold up the floor, but you know it is only a matter of time until the whole edifice comes crashing down. You would get out of that house as quickly as possible and without a backward glance move on to the next one.
The church has a foundation as well. These are the walls upon which all of the other truths of scripture stand, indeed the truth upon which the church itself as the church stands. The Belgic Confession in article 23 speaks of this when it says, “we always hold fast this foundation.” If the most important element of any structure is its foundation, we do well to pay special attention to the foundation of the church, and by extension, the entire Christian life.
The foundation spoken of by the Belgic Confession is the truth about our salvation, specifically the truth of justification by faith alone. Do you remember that sinful thought you had about your parents when they told you to clean your room or the basement, and you walked away muttering? That was a sin against the fifth commandment to honor your parents. For that sin you are worthy of death (Rom. 6:23). You can think of any number of other sins that you have committed. As sins against the righteousness and justice of God, the sentence for those sins is eternal death. Yet you don’t live in terror about the possibility of hell! Why not? What makes you righteous before God? Article 23 answers that question: “We believe that our salvation consists in the remission of sins for Jesus Christ’s sake” and “God imputes righteousness to him (man) without works.”
Martin Luther spoke about this in his preface to his commentary on Galatians. “The church is founded on, and consists in, this doctrine alone.”2 Luther was explaining the difference between Christian righteousness and the righteousness of the law or earthly righteousness. Earthly righteousness is one that works for its salvation, but about Christian righteousness Luther says, “We do nothing in this matter; we give nothing to God but simply receive and allow someone else to work in us—that is, God.” How is that possible? “I rest only on that righteousness that is the righteousness of Christ and the Holy Spirit.”3 For Luther, it was Jesus Christ who consumed him so that all of his “studies in divinity, by day and night, continually go back and forth from him, by him, and to him.” As you can see, young person, ultimately the foundation is Jesus Christ himself.
As with a house, cracks can appear in a church’s foundation. Many churches throughout the ages have chipped away at this foundation so that pieces of this truth fell to the ground, and the whole structure became weak so that finally that church collapsed and became false. There are many ways to undermine this foundation, and space does not allow me to go into all of those. However, the Belgic Confession addresses one of the errors that undermine this foundation with very strong language in article 22. That error is when the church says that Christ is not enough, that he is not “sufficient.” The Belgic Confession uses language that would make most of us quail when it says that to say that “something more is required besides Him, would be too gross a blasphemy.”
The reason this sentiment can even appear on the scene is that careful attention was not given to the foundation. “When people lose Christ, they slip back into reliance on their own works.”4 This is an erosion of the foundation because it takes something away from the work of Christ in salvation. It is always a temptation of man to turn away from Christ, even ever so slightly, and for salvation to “seek another according to our fancy” (Art 26). When a church does this, it forsakes the “fountain of living waters” and digs out for itself “broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). This has been a danger since the time of Adam and Eve and will be a danger until the time that Jesus Christ returns on the clouds of glory.
Luther provides the antidote to this temptation. “Therefore, whenever you are occupied in the matter of your salvation, set aside all curious speculations about God’s unsearchable majesty, all thought of works, traditions, philosophy, and even God’s law, and run straight to the manger.” “In this way you will be able to shake off all terrors and errors, just as the sun drives away the clouds.”5
Many times we put our attention on faith, and that is good. However, in the final analysis, it is not faith itself that is the main thing, because it “is only an instrument.” What is of the utmost importance is he whom we embrace by faith, namely “Christ our righteousness” (Art. 22). Similarly, with the Lord’s supper we do not make an idol of the bread or wine, or even the sacrament itself. Rather, we set our hearts on Jesus Christ, who “is the true object presented by them , without whom they would be of no moment” (Art. 33).
It is important to note that the truth of Jesus Christ and the salvation of his elect children is not itself weak, neither does it become weak when a church teaches something false about it. No, that truth will stand firm as it has throughout all of history, and not even the whole host of Satan can prevail against it. Jesus taught this in response to Peter’s confession of who Jesus was, saying about this truth, “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
As is so often the case, this truth as confessed by the Belgic Confession was forged on the anvil of suffering and trial. The author, Guido de Bres, paid for this truth with his life. But this is not something that should cause us to tremble or fear, fearful that we might share the same fate. What a glorious foundation! The church glories in this foundation because she glories in Jesus Christ! The people of God would gladly lay down their lives for this truth and suffer any injustice or persecution on the road to the hangman’s noose. With the Belgic Confession, we declare this truth to be the “happiness of man” (Art. 23)!
Our calling is to “hold fast this foundation, ascribing all the glory to God, humbling ourselves before Him, and acknowledging ourselves to be such as we really are, without presuming to trust in any thing in ourselves” (Art. 23).
So, young reader, fight apathy. Be unrelenting in your struggle against that sin. Put down your phone, pick up the Belgic Confession, and read it—read it and be filled with a sense of the awesomeness of God, and the glory of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Originally published in Vol. 78 No. 10