It is rather ironic, we think, that in the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands, where our Three Forms of Unity have been ruthlessly trampled and emasculated and where there has been no inclination whatsoever to respect and to maintain the old confessions, there has been discussion and action toward producing a newconfession. Yet such is the case.
In January of this year the Synod of the GKN took a decision with respect to a draft of a “Unanimous Testimony of Faith” prepared by Dr. G. C. Berkouwer and Dr. H. M. Ridderbos. The latter had been appointed by the previous synod to prepare such a “unanimous testimony of faith,” and they submitted the fruits of their labors to this year’s synod. The Synod of the GKN had given these men the mandate to prepare “a unanimous testimony of faith in clear language and in connection with the questions of these times as a possible way to a new confession in fellowship of faith with the confession of the fathers.”
With respect to this draft-testimony this year’s Synod took a lengthy decision. We will not quote this decision, but will give some highlights of it:
1. The Synod expressed its great esteem and thanks for the manner in which Berkouwer and Ridderbos carried out their mandate.
2. The Synod expressed that this is a clear testimony of faith which is faithful to the central content of God’s Word and enters into various questions of these times.
3. The Synod expressed that it is desirable that this testimony of faith, together with the section which reflects on the meaning of confessing our faith, should be spread abroad and that the churches should be encouraged to consider it extensively. This was apparently in view of the fact that Synod declared that it is not yet possible to determine whether this testimony is a way to a new confession in the church political sense of the word.
4. The Synod expressed the hope that this testimony may be of use for the confession of our Lord and Savior in our own times and in a manner which is understood by the man of today.
5. The Synod expressed its expectation that this document will serve to put the central content of the confessions of the time of the reformation in a clearer light.
6. The Synod decided to send this testimony, along with the decisions of Synod, to: 1) other churches which have the same confessions as the GKN. 2) its sister churches in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. 3) the Council of Churches in the Netherlands and its member churches. 4) the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. 5) the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. 6) the Contact-organ of the Gereformeerde Gezindte.
7. Synod also decided to appoint a committee to receive and evaluate the various responses from the GKN and others, and to reflect on the question whether this testimony of faith can be a way toward the formulation and acceptance of a new ecclesiastical confession, as well as to reflect on the question of the relationship between such a new confession and the Three Forms of Unity. This committee is instructed to bring their report to the following synod.
That this is an important decision and that the draft of a “Unanimous Testimony of Faith” is an important preliminary step toward a possible new confession — these facts are rather evident. Not only is this an important matter for the GKN, but it is also a matter of great importance for every denomination which stands related to the GKN, as well as for every Reformed denomination which holds to the Three Forms of Unity with which the GKN is tampering. There are many questions to be faced in connection with this entire procedure. And there is, of course, also the question of an evaluation of this testimony itself. To some of these matters we hope to address ourselves in future editorials.
However, in order that our readers may know what we are discussing and may also have an opportunity to judge for themselves, we are reproducing in the April 15 and May 1 issues this “Unanimous Testimony of Faith.” It consists of three main sections: 1. Our Christian Faith and Its Confession. 2. The Faith Which We Confess. 3. Conclusion. In this issue we furnish the first section, and in the May 1 issue we will furnish sections 2 and 3. We quote the translation prepared by the translation services of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
We will not give any evaluation at this time. We suggest that our readers evaluate this testimony for themselves as they read, keeping in mind the question whether this is actually an improvement upon our present confessions, as well as the fundamental question whether it is a Reformed testimony and in harmony with our Three Forms of Unity.
Section I of this draft of “A Unanimous Testimony of Faith” here follows.
A UNANIMOUS TESTIMONY OF FAITH (a draft)
I. Our Christian Faith and Its Confession
1. Our Christian faith is faith in God. Unless we believe in God, we cannot believe in Christ nor be His disciples. For not only has Christ been sent to us by the Father, but He is also the way for us to the Father. However much this faith in its nature relates us to the world around us, there is no relationship which can replace or fully coincide with our attitude toward God. By this faith we know that we have been accepted by God as His children, we call on Him as our Father, we may place an unlimited trust in His power and love, and we understand ourselves as placed with our whole life in His service. Therefore the confession of our faith surpasses all the knowledge that we could possibly know or express regarding man and the world, and our confession is before all else a speaking before the face of God, such as is done in reverence, in obedience, and in deep dependence upon Him.
2. The confession of our faith is a response to that which God has revealed concerning ourselves. We do not know God from ourselves but only from His revelation. Moreover, we are not able in our confession of faith to comprehend Him in the fullness of who He is; but we believe that He is willing to enter into fellowship with us men and that for that purpose He has made us to know in a way that is sufficient and reliable. And although man by His sin and apostasy has deprived himself of the true knowledge of God, God does not leave him to himself, but continues to witness to him in many diverse ways. For not only does the reality which we observe and continue to discover display so much the traces of His power and wisdom which transcend all human understanding, that the question about God has always arisen and continues to arise in the hearts of men, but He is also not far from any man to illumine the spirit of man and to write the knowledge of His will into his heart.
God has revealed Himself supremely in the magnitude of His grace and goodness in that He, by means of the atonement, has brought back man who was estranged from Him into a saving fellowship, and in that He has made Himself known to him as a loving Father. We believe that for this purpose God made Israel to be a light of the nations by revealing to this people his saving deeds, by giving them the service of reconciliation and the prophetic Spirit and to cause Jesus Christ, Who by His coming into the world lightens every man, to be born from them.
All that we as a Christian church confess concerning the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is therefore grounded entirely in the revelation of Jesus Christ, the One Sent by the Father and the Son of God. Therefore we speak of our universal and Christian faith and thereby signify that the things which we confess as the content of our faith are given to us in Him, and that we have received and desire to confess this in fellowship with all those who believe in Him.
3. We believe that God has revealed the will and the council of His redemption not only in various ways in the history of Israel, but that He has also given us, through the service of man, the witness of this revelation in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in an undeceivable and unshakable foundation for the church, so that it can build and establish its faith upon it. For God has from ancient times called and endowed man by His Spirit in order that by their word he might communicate, interpret His word in a clear, reliable, and authoritative way and commit it to writing for the church of all ages.
We do not deny that these Scriptures, because they were written by men who lived in widely differing ages and were also equipped with greatly differing aptitudes, education, and knowledge, bear traces of their humanness in various ways, and that we can understand the Scriptures only by due consideration of them. We refer hereby not only to the foreign languages in which the Scriptures were written and the various forms of literature (history, psalmody, wisdom, prophecy, apocalypse) in which they have obtained shape and which must be explained according to their own nature, but also to the fact that the contents of the Scripture is determined in various ways by the circumstances and the age in which the writers of the Bible lived. For the fact that the writers were driven and guided by the Spirit of God does not mean that they were relieved of all their own natural limitations. In this connection it is also of particular importance to discernthe purpose for which Scripture has been given to us and under which viewpoint we must search and understand it; namely, not in order to give infallible divine information concerning all kinds of arbitrary matters, but to make us understand how God wants us to know Him rightly and to fear Him. Therefore we welcome all research and study of the Scriptures which help us better understand their place and background in history and their nature and purpose.
But we reject every thought that the Scriptures, because they have thus been committed to writing by man, are no longer the Word of God for us. For the knowledge of the true God comes therein to us so clearly and powerfully in its enlightening and saving effect that the Scriptures need no other testimony than that they themselves contain to be the lamp which God has given for our feet and the light upon our path. We are the more convinced of this because Christ Himself has thus taught us to understand and to receive the Scriptures as the Word of God. For in His entire earthly ministry He has recognized and fulfilled the Scriptures of the Old Testament as the prophetic Word of God that relates to Himself, and has made the testimony of His apostles to be the foundation of His church, and promised to build His church upon it.
Therefore we believe that the Church has rightly recognized the Scripture as the Word which God has given to it, and has with good discernment received the books of the Old and New Testament as holy and canonical and has distinguished them from all other human books. Also at the present time the church has no other ground and guideline for her faith than this Holy Scripture. We cannot truly confess our faith in any other way than in reverent subjection to this Word, and to this Word alone.
We hereby recognize that the discernment and understanding of the Scripture as the Word of God does not lie in our own power or freedom, as if men had the Word of God at their command. Much rather, we confess that we are dependent for this discernment and understanding upon the guidance and illumination of the Spirit Whom Christ has promised to the church and upon His testimony in our hearts. However this does not mean that the Scripture itself is unclear in its intention or that the key to its understanding and the ground of its authority does not lie in itself. But that which is of God can only be known from God, and it is by His Spirit that God makes us understand His Word, and that Christ will lead His Church into all truth by the light of the Scripture.
4. We believe that God has revealed Himself to us in Christ so that we may attain to the purpose for which He has created us and placed us in the world, namely to live as true men before His face and in fellowship with one another. For even as we cannot live without the light of the sun, so we know that we are lost in the darkness without the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Only in that knowledge do we learn the meaning and the purpose of our own lives, do we view our neighbor and the world in which we live in the proper light; and do we understand, when not attaining to this goal the nature and the seriousness of our failing not only as a lack in ourselves or as a shortcoming toward other people but as alienation from and sin against God our Creator. Only in this light are we able to find again the way back and learn to understand that only by the forgiving and liberating grace of God can we live in the freedom of the children of God.
Therefore we in confession of our faith do not put ourselves outside the common life of everyday nor do we separate ourselves from the world in which we live, but we try in our confession to bear testimony of that which is necessary and even indispensable for every man, old or young, learned or unlettered, or whoever he may be. That which we have learned to understand in subjection to the Scriptures we also confess as the liberation and the joy of our life, as the light in our darkness, as the power in our weakness, as our only comfort in life and in death. Thus we in the confession of our faith give praise to God; we give an account of the hope that is in us; we put ourselves in the fellowship with the entire church on earth and we also seek to win others to the faith.