How should the church maintain unity and deal with new heresies using old confessions? Is there a need for new confessions or revised confessions? This article looks at two scenarios to show that what is more important is the need for the confessions to remain living among the members of the church.

Source: Una Sancta, 2015. 4 pages.

Maintaining Church Unity in a Confessional Way

Keeping the Confessions alive?🔗

In the previous issue of Una Sancta attention was given to the importance of all the members of the churches holding onto God's Word as upheld in the adopted confessions. In His Word the Lord teaches us to accept and believe His Word. Today we all publicly express that faith with the written and adopted confessions when making public profession of faith. Furthermore, office-bearers after being ordained promise, by signing the Subscription Form, not to teach publicly or privately anything contrary to these confessions and to follow an agreed procedure if they change their mind on any point within the confessions. This also has impact on inter-church relations. One can and should expect that sister-churches which we recognise to be faithful will hold onto God's Word in the same way. The plan is to say more about that in a subsequent article, but now first some attention will be given to the maintenance of God's Word within the bond of churches.

During times of Church struggles and schisms the confessions were put into place and, by way of public profession of faith and office-bearers' subscription, they functioned as safe-guards in an effort to prevent falling into the same errors as those that arose in the past. Historically, one may say that the confessions almost fell into place. For example, during the debates and schism regarding the Trinity those who faithfully wanted to maintain what Scripture really teaches about this matter heard the truth of Scripture reflected in the arguments of Athanasius. His arguments were summed up, we're not sure precisely by who, into the Athanasian Creed.1This Creed appears to have been adopted in a spontaneous like way.

Centuries later, during the Great Reformation, the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism were originally spontaneously used and affirmed. Later they were officially adopted by various ecclesiastical assemblies. The adoption of the Canons of Dort occurred a bit differently in that they were composed by a Synod and formulated as its judgment on the heretical teachings of Arminius and the Remonstrants. However, right at the Synod of Dort 1618-19 it was adopted as a confession along with the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism. At the time of adoption these confessions were received with great enthusiasm and thankfulness. Today these Confessions are maintained among the churches as good and valid historical documents. This makes one wonder whether we ever need new confessions when confronted with new heresies or whether we need revisions to the confessions in view to new circumstances.

Do we need additions to the Confessions or New Confessions?🔗

First, by way of background, during the Great Reformation Martin Luther came to hear that some were confusing the expression of the Apostles' Creed "I believe a holy catholic church..." to refer to the Roman Catholic Church. Attention was given to this was especially because there were some who insisted that we may not leave the mother church because it is the flock of Christ. They insisted that Rome was the catholic church.2To avoid confusion, Martin Luther exchanged the word catholic in this creed for the word Christian. Thus the article became: "I believe a holy Christian Church." He chose the word Christian because he recognised that the true church is the communion of those who know Christ rather than the Pope to be the Head of the Church. This change that Martin Luther made to the Apostles' Creed initially took hold and was quite widely accepted. However, there were also some who realised that something important was lost in the Apostles' Creed when the word catholic was deleted. Consequently, in some places, including Germany and the Netherlands, the word Christian was left in the Apostles Creed and the word Catholic reinserted in front of it. Thus it became "I believe a holy Catholic Christian Church..." In England the word Christian was never inserted and till today it is not found in the British editions of the Apostles' Creed. Among the Canadian Reformed Churches this matter received some attention because there were some who sought to keep the word Christian out of the Apostles' Creed. The main reason was to conform to the English speaking world. When objections were raised to the exclusion of the word Christian the Canadian Churches decided to leave it in.3Apparently a speech by Prof. J. Kamphuis, later published as an article in a Dutch church paper, was convincing enough. In his speech he suggested that a confession or creed is a living thing; something that should live in the lives of the churches and among its members. He saw no harm in letting the evidence of the strife during the Great Reformation remain in the Apostles' Creed.4Thus the Canadian Reformed Churches, along with their sister-churches in the Netherlands, still have the word Christian in the Apostles' Creed. At the time it was further argued that the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism used an edition which included the word Christian. The Free Reformed Churches of Australia do not have it in this Creed.5

This shows that at times creeds and confessions are changed. Further mention could be made of Article 4 of the Belgic Confession, where the letter to the Hebrews is no longer listed as a letter of the Apostle Paul, and to the words Synod 1905 deleted from Article 36. The point right now is that these kinds of small changes have been made to the confessions. The question is: should such changes be made?

More recently more general changes and renewal of the confession have been either suggested or proposed. The editor of the Standard Bearer, Prof. H.C. Hoeksema, reports in the 1974 volume of this paper that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (synodical), in the context of the Reformed Ecumenical Council, were proposing a Unanimous Testimony of the Faith as an addition or alternative to the Confessions that the churches already have.6There is no evidence that this attempt came to fruition. In his dissertation Dr. R.C. Janssen likewise suggests that a new, renewed or updated confession could be helpful. He writes that "by pouring the substance of the church's confessions into a new mould (or new moulds), a vehicle will be created that will encourage the church to work continually on its confessing."7

More recently this question of additional confessions has also risen among the concerned members in the Christian Reformed Churches of America and Canada. It rose initially in the context of some worry about those trying to make the theory of evolution compat­ible with what the Lord teaches in Scripture. There was renewed talk about new or updated confessions in the context of some trying to interpret Scripture in such a way that women may serve in ecclesiastical offices. While there was this "talk" nothing was really done except that among some of these churches doctrinal statements concerning certain teachings were adopted. Those members who more recently left the Christian Reformed Churches in America and Canada and who established themselves as the bond of United Reformed Churches, as well as the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches, have made several ecclesiastically adopted doctrinal statements. Without going into details, such doctrinal statements were adopted to refute theonomy and the federal vision. Later there were some who questioned the content of some of these doctrinal statements as well as the authority they have among the churches.

Without right away answering the question of changes or additions to the confessions, let me inform you about a recent proposal among the Canadian Reformed Churches.

Do we need an addition to Belgic Confession Article 14?🔗

Right now, among the Canadian Reformed Churches, a Classis, wanting to resist any inclination to combine the theory of evolution with what Scripture teaches, has proposed an addition to BCF, Article 14, about the creation of man. The proposal is to include the words that God created "...the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen 2:7) and Eve from Adam's side (Gen. 2:21-22). They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans. There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid. God made and formed Adam after His own image..."

The reason for this proposed addition is to counter theistic evolution. This proposed addition appears to address concerns about any suggestion of man evolving from other animals whereby the entire Scriptural revelation of the human fall into sin and thus the need and coming of Christ as the second Adam would fall away. This suggestion, in short, has been happening among liberal theologians of the past. One wonders, however, whether this addition to the BCF might play into the hands of those who defend the framework theory of creation whereby the special place of Adam is still maintained but the creation of the universe and world by the spoken word God is denied. One might wonder whether it wouldn't be more appropriate simply to insist that God created everything out of nothing by the word of His mouth. When asking that question, it may immediately be noted that in Article 12 of the Belgic Confession we already maintain from God's Word that He "...created out of nothing heaven and earth and all creatures..." Does that not sufficiently refute any suggestion of evolution; for if we can no longer believe what Scripture clearly says "...and God said, let there be light, and there was light," how can we believe that at the end of the ages those who believe will "be changed in the twinkle of an eye" (1 Cor. 15:52) and that all the dead corpses of men throughout the ages that have left no trace and become dust of the earth will all be raised (1 Cor. 15:15; 1 Thess. 4:16)? Any hint of denial that God created everything from nothing by speaking the word of His mouth (Ps. 33:6) is to be flatly rejected as contrary to God's Word. This is a denial of the faith as immediately evident from Hebrews 11:3 where it is given as the first introductory example of the faith! In this regard Dr. J. Visscher has a point when in a recent Clarion he questioned the need for this addition to our confessions.8The problem seems much more a lack of courage to insist that God has created everything from nothing.

What all this does show is the need for the confessions to remain living among the members of the churches. These confessions only remain helpful if the members keep what is maintained there. It is already quite some years ago, but in a similar context, that some suggested a combination of evolution with what God teaches in His Word. When the question arose, "Do you maintain what we confess about the inspiration of God's Word as upheld in the confessions" the answer was: "Oh yes, I maintain the confessions and believe that Scripture is inspired mythology", implying that everything that we are taught about creation is myth and we must find the truth that lies behind these stories of old. However, the problem really is that there are so many ways in which seeds of doubt can be sown and the truth of Scripture undermined. No reformulation or additional confessions are helpful unless we are prepared to fully and doggedly uphold what we already have.

This does not mean that we should entirely close our hearts and minds to possible additional confessions. We may look back with thankfulness that during the Great Reformation church leaders and members alike were delighted to embrace the truth of God's Word by means of the creeds and confessions we have today. Somehow, though, one would like to see today the same kind of enthusiasm and undivided dedication to the confessions that was evident at that time — just as it was evident from the peoples' response to Joshua's confession: "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" when the people responded with: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD..."


  1. ^ Historians generally agree that Athanasius did not write the Athanasian Creed himself. It is possible that a number of men together summed up what he taught. No one is definitely sure just by whom this Creed was composed.
  2. ^ Catholic is to say, the church being gathered from the beginning of ages to its end and from all places of this world.
  3. ^ Canadian Reformed Synod 1986, Acts Article 101. 
  4. ^ J. Kamphuis, speech delivered on the Theological College Kampen. School Day 1980: "Is it permissible to change the Apostles' Creed?"
  5. ^ I do not know why the FRCA do not have the word Christian in the Apostles' Creed. Of course, I accept the fact that they don't but am convinced enough by Prof J. Kamphuis' argument to support the Canadian Reformed decision to leave it in. It has been no issue between the Australian and Canadian Churches. I am convinced that none of the Australian members or ministers travelling to Canada would have a problem with the inclusion of this word. Moreover the word Christian is found in the Creed, Lord's 7 and its explanation, Lord's Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism used among the Australian Churches.
  6. ^ The Standard Bearer, Vol 50, No.14, A Step Towards a New Confession in the GKN.
  7. ^ R.C. Janssen, By this our Subscription
    ( p. 435
  8. ^ Dr. J. Visscher, Amending the Confession? Clarion, Vol 64, No. 11, June 2015.

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