The oldest of our doctrinal standards is the Confession of Faith. Guido de Bres originally composed the Belgic Confession in 1561 for the churches in Flanders and the Netherlands. During the sixteenth century the churches in this country were persecuted by the Roman Catholic government. To protest this oppression and prove to the persecutors that Reformed Christians were not rebels, de Bres prepared this Confession. King Philip II, was sent a copy that declared in the preface that we would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather that deny the truth expressed in this Confession. Continue reading
The Athanasian Creed is noted for its strong focus on the doctrine of the Trinity. Schaff notes that “the Athanasian Creed, in strong contrast with the uncontroversial and peaceful tone of the Apostles’ Creed, begins and ends with the solemn declaration that the catholic faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation herein set forth is the indispensable condition of salvation, and that those who reject it will be lost forever.”4 The date of the creed is uncertain. Athanasius died circa 373 a.d. and the creed is found nowhere in his writings. Schaff reports an estimated date of origin between 450–600 a.d. Continue reading
Philip Schaff, in his Creeds of Christendom, writes of the Apostles’ Creed, “As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue is the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds. It contains all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary to salvation, in the form of facts, in simple Scripture language, and in the most natural order—the order of revelation—from God and the creation down to the resurrection and life everlasting.” The simple doctrinal statements within this creed are clear and concise, and their meaning cannot be misconstrued.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic* Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
* catholic means “universal” and is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church.
Understanding that Jesus is the subject of the whole Bible, our third URC Bible study will take place February 19 at 6:00pm. The meeting will be held at Sean Kelly’s, The Stone of Accord, located at 4951 N. Reserve St., a block south from I-90 Reserve Street Exit. The Stone offers great dinner and has the perfect size conference room (down the hall on the right). So, come hungry for God’s Word, great food, and fellowship. I hope to see you there and invite friends, all are welcome, whether Reformed, on the journey, or interested in hearing about a simple Gospel centered church.
The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This pious Christian prince commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederick’s court preacher, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Frederick obtained the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty in the preparation of the Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German with a preface by Frederick III, dated January 19, 1563. A second and third German edition, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation were published in Heidelberg in the same year.
The Catechism was soon divided into fifty-two sections, so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches each Sunday of the year. In The Netherlands this Heidelberg Catechism became generally and favorably known almost as soon as it came from the press, mainly through the efforts of Petrus Dathenus, who translated it into the Dutch language and added this translation to his Dutch rendering of the Genevan Psalter, which was published in 1566. In the same year, Peter Gabriel set the example of explaining this catechism to his congregation at Amsterdam in his Sunday afternoon sermons.
The National Synods of the sixteenth century adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, requiring office-bearers to subscribe to it and ministers to explain it to the churches. These requirements were strongly emphasized by the great Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The Heidelberg Catechism has been translated into many languages and is the most influential and the most generally accepted of the several catechisms of Reformation times.
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As Protestants, who would want to apply anything to the Bible? Who does the Bible belong? Well, the Reformed state that it as well as interpretation belongs to the whole church, as a community. Think about it, Jesus set up an ecclesiastical authority to be obeyed (Heb. 13.7) and Paul pointed to a continuing, special teaching ministry after his death (cf. 1 Tim 3.1-7; 2 Tim 4.2; Titus 1.5-9), why? The point is that Christians do not interpret individually; the body as a whole with gifted leaders guides the church and interprets Scripture jointly as the Body of Christ. The Jerusalem church is a great example. It set up a council to find the underlying cause of a problem within its ranks. After the decision on the matter, it related the conclusion to other churches to follow. The Bible proves that men come together and interpret Scripture in community, one cannot read the Bible alone, individually; it needs the community as a whole past, present, and future. The Bible even actually has many positive statements about tradition (Luke 1:1-4; Mark 7:5-13; 2 Thess 2.15).
Taking away creeds and councils from the church disrupts hermeneutics. Having been a Christian for some time, you have heard Christians arguing over contrary theological problems. Each side appeals to Scripture. Who is right, whose interpretation is correct? Appealing to Scripture to justify a position is an appeal to an interpretation of Scripture, and the question is begged, “Whose interpretation?” The position of “The whole Bible and nothing but the Bible,” adheres to individual reason and conscience as the supreme interpreter, which leads to solipsism. One’s mind stands alone as the absolute judge. Any claim to absolute authority results in circular reasoning. This is unavoidable, for any secondary premise for or against the first claim of authority results in a new absolute, which begs the question again. The Bible is the authority, but it does not interpret itself, it needs an interpreter. If the interpreter claims neutral individual reasoning in the interpretive process, he claims autonomous reasoning. His reasoning then stands as the absolute standard in interpretation. Therefore, autonomous reasoning becomes an equal or supreme authority over Scripture. In addition, no one comes to Scripture void of presuppositions. The idea of neutrality is the product of the Enlightenment with its doctrine of tabula rasa. This rationalistic approach to Scripture is neither biblical nor valid.
History displays the problems with this approach. The heretic Arius appealed only to Scripture to denounce the deity of Christ. The early wishes of the Council to use only biblical language to counter his claims changed. They realized they needed extra-biblical language based on proper, holistic interpretation of Scripture, which considered tradition to combat this heretic. Improper individualistic interpretation was the problem—Arius used Scripture alone. The Anabaptists called for interpreting Scripture using reason and conscience alone. However, this led many like Sabastian Frank into extreme individualism and the denial of key doctrines like the Trinity. The creeds and councils of the historic church with its interpretation keep individuals from heresy.
The Bible alone approach finds its roots in the Radical Reformers, rationalism of the Enlightenment, and the democratic populism of early America. The Radical Reformers, rationalism and democracy all have the same underlying position of autonomy. The assumption is that all one needs is individual conscience and reason to survive, whether in religion or secular disciplines. The Reformers did not cohere to autonomy; they sought to prove a historical link through tradition to the apostolic age to fix their pedigree. The Reformation was not a movement based on Scripture verses tradition but rather between Rome’s idea of tradition and the early Churches idea of tradition. The Reformers agreed to distinguish true tradition from corrupt tradition. They did this by testing tradition according to its faithfulness to Scripture. Thus, Scripture became the standard for identification of true tradition, rather than tradition the standard for interpretation of Scripture.
Lastly, the Bible alone tradition needs an anachronistic reading of modern conditions back into periods of history. Many in the ancient church did not have access to a Bible. They relied on the church and its interpretation. Even today, there are parts of the world where men do not have Scripture. These churches and those of antiquity relied on church leaders and tradition to guide them, there was no individuality.
Without creeds, there would be no certain doctrine because each individual would be responsible for fixing his own doctrinal boundaries. In the end, the catholic church is seized by a plethora of autonomous churches. The local church in reality would consist of a community of doctrinal mini-individual churches under one roof. If there is no authority to check one’s interpretation then any doctrine can be tossed to suit one’s interpretation. The examples above of Arius prove this premise. The least of the problems for Bible alone tradition is that individualism, which results in subjectivism leading to skepticism, is the result. The gravest problem is self-condemnation.
The Bible alone Tradition carries with it some practical problems. When the sole authority of interpretation lies only with individuals apart from the church, division is the result. During the Reformation, this was one of Rome’s critiques of Luther’s doctrine of private interpretation. They said if every person was able to read scripture alone there would be many interpretations dividing the Church. There is truth to this statement, obvious today with all the different splits within Protestantism. If there is no outside source to say who is right or wrong, the church may split with no solution. Luther’s doctrine of private interpretation did not mean individual interpretation apart from the church. If this was true, which the Bible alone tradition holds, there would be no church authority. If Christ’s disciplinary authority remains in the church and the churches authority is taken away, then Christ’s authority is demolished. Christ did not set up a democracy; he set up a church with different gifts and elders with responsibilities and authority or else Scriptures call to believers to submit to church authority would be vain (Heb 13.17; Acts 20.28). Scripture does call Christians to submit because God has gifted leaders with authority. These men only have authority in so far that they submit to church doctrine. Church doctrine has authority in so far that it represents Scripture.
The doctrine of sola scriptura does not mean “Bible Alone” or “Me Alone.” Nevertheless, this is where this tradition inevitably leads; the individual becomes the final authority. This theology pervades much of the church today because of the Enlightenment. This approach matured during the Enlightenment, which was an act to free itself from the restraints of tradition. Modern thought developed in a crisis of authority, wishing to flee from authority, founding itself on autonomy from all traditional influence. Today’s worldview sees autonomy as king and this has pervaded the church. When one believes he approaches the Bible without bias, which is what autonomy assumes, that person is the most bias.
Nowhere in Scripture is there a single hint that every individual believer is free from bias, and able to decide for himself and by himself what is and is not the right interpretation. American Evangelicals must do away with John Locke’s doctrine. No 21st century Christian is free from his heritage. Only with a historical confession in hand, might we find purer catholicity of the church.