“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”
In our previous article on this subject we treated in general the idea or meaning of Confession of Faith. When the covenant child of God arrives at years of discretion he stands before God and His Church to express with his mouth that which he believes in his heart; namely, that he belongs by grace through faith in life and in death to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ. We stressed that this is our calling before God. God calls us to confess our faith. Not to confess our faith, then, is to be disobedient to the will of God as expressed in His Word. This is precisely what Jesus meant in the words quoted above this article: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father…but whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which s in heaven” Matt. 10:32, 33.
This means, we saw, that we not only formally confess our faith before the consistory and publicly before the congregation assembled for worship; but also, that we confess our faith in all of life. By our whole being; with heart and mind and soul and strength; in word, thought, and deed; in every sphere of life; always and everywhere we say before all the world: “I belong to Jesus!”
Finally we understood that this confession of our faith is a fruit of the grace of God. “No man can say (notice that, CAN say, this means no one is able to say or has the ability to say) that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” I Cor. 12:3b. That we are able to say and have, the right to say that Jesus is the Lord, our Lord, is of the Holy Spirit! Unless, therefore, the Holy Spirit of God and of His Christ works within our hearts we will never confess our faith. Having been chosen by grace in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, having been born into the church of covenant parents, baptized into the death of Jesus Christ and raised with Him unto newness of life, instructed in the doctrine of the Word of God in our covenant homes and schools, in the church through the means of grace (catechism and preaching); the Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16). Then and only then we say with the church of all the ages; “Jesus is my Lord!” And because that is the fruit of the grace of God we have an unfailing comfort and an unashamed hope. For by that same irresistible grace we are preserved in the faith to the very end, when we inherit perfectly life with God and share in the glory of Christ. Of this we may be absolutely sure, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6). Having begun the good work of salvation within us (regeneration), God, through the Spirit of adoption, continues to work powerfully in us to preserve us to everlasting life!
In our present article we wish to continue our study by considering the actual contents of our confession of faith. “What do we confess?” is the question we deal with now.
Take your Psalter and turn with me to page 59 in the Liturgical section. Here we find in the three questions for “Public Confession of Faith” the sum of what we are saying when we confess our faith. As we examine each of these it will become obvious that confession of faith is a most serious matter with radical implications for our daily living coram Deo, “before the face of God.”
The first question put to confessors of faith by Christ through the Church is: “Do you acknowledge the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian Church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?” There are several elements that demand our attention in this question. The first of these is that we acknowledge the DOCTRINE of the Holy Scriptures. The churches of the Reformation and particularly the churches of Calvinistic origin have always placed a high priority on the knowledge of the doctrine of the Bible. The Protestant Reformed Churches continue in that tradition today. Among the main characteristics of churches truly Reformed or Calvinistic are precise doctrinal formulations and keen doctrinal sensitivity. This is correct and our fervent prayer is that God will graciously preserve that emphasis among our churches and people. The point is simply this, that in order to confess our faith we have to KNOW that faith. Though that knowledge be more than a mere intellectual knowledge of facts it is a knowledge of objective, propositional truth (contrary to the pernicious notion of some would be “reformational” thinkers in the Reformed community)! It is not difficult. to demonstrate this Biblically. The Scriptures themselves declare in II Timothy 3:16, 17 that because all Scripture is “God-breathed” it is “profitable fordoctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Notice in this connection that doctrine (literally translated “teaching”—in other words that which we apprehend with our minds) is first! God inspired the Scriptures exactly so that we may know the teaching of Himself first of all. This is further emphasized by the text when it speaks of “instruction in righteousness.” Besides, the context of these verses underscore the same truth. In verses 14 and 15 the inspired Apostle Paul admonishes his spiritual son Timothy to: “Continue in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast knownthe holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” For this same reason Timothy and every minister of the gospel must: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” II Tim. 2:15. Thus, too, our consistories painstakingly examine candidates for confession of faith in their knowledge of the doctrines of the Scriptures, and prepare these candidates for this examination by providing detailed instruction in the doctrine of Scripture in the catechism classes.
But consider what we are confessing when we answer this first question affirmatively. The doctrine we acknowledge to be true and perfect is the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, i.e., the teaching of the infallibly inspired Bible. The entire doctrine of the Bible, you understand! The doctrine of Genesis chapters 1 through 3 as well as the teachings of Jesus recorded in the Gospel narratives! The two belong together! There is no such thing as non-redemptive teaching in distinction from redemptive teaching in the Scriptures! The whole teaching of the Bible from beginning to end and in every detail is redemptive teaching! The first Adam is a picture of the last Adam. The first paradise a picture of the heavenly paradise. Creation is by and for Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, the only begotten God, Who was made flesh and dwelt among us (cf. John 1 and Col. 1 and parallels). In this connection I suggest you read or re-read the recent articles on Genesis 1 & Genesis 2 by the Rev. J. A. Heys in this magazine. We must know the dogma of Scripture.
Still more we acknowledge the Scriptural teaching which is contained in the Articles of the Christian Faith. This means very emphatically that we acknowledge the truth of Scripture as summed, systematically set forth and preserved in the Three Forms of Unity; The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic or Netherlands Confession of Faith, and the Canons of the Synod of Dordrecht of 1618, 1619! There, under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth, the Church was led to express the teaching of the Word of God. Inasmuch as our confessions are faithful expositions of the Word of God they must be retained intact. The Truth of the Bible as expressed in the three forms is as relevant today in our 20th century world as it was in the Reformation days of the 16th and 17th centuries. This is what we say when we confess our faith . . . we acknowledge, that is, believe and confess that the doctrine of the Bible as interpreted by the Reformed Confessions is the true and perfect doctrine of salvation.
There is more, however, to this first question! We acknowledge in our confession the doctrine of the Bible, contained in the Confessions, and taught here in this Christian Church, to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation! This is crucial! This means when we confess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we vow before God Himself that we believe and walk in the doctrine of Scripture and the Confessions as that doctrine is taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. THAT is the true doctrine. The genuine teaching of the Bible. And THAT is the complete doctrine, the perfect doctrine of salvation; Nothing may be taken away from that doctrine, neither may anything be added to it. It is complete, and therefore all we need to know in order to be saved!
This is a bold claim, I know. It means we are saying that the Protestant Reformed Churches are the purest manifestation of the Body of Jesus Christ in the world. Furthermore we are claiming that these churches are faithful to the Word of God. And, we are saying that other churches as we know them do not teach the true and complete doctrine of the Word of God. This does not mean that the Protestant Reformed Churches are THE true Church while all other churches in our communities and in the world at large are THE false church! That is not Biblical, neither have the Protestant Reformed Churches ever taught this as some unjustly allege. To that we say with all the emphasis we can muster: GOD FORBID! At the same time we DO mean to assert with the same emphasis that the Protestant Reformed Churches are standing in the line of the Church of Jesus Christ, upon the foundation of the doctrine of the Apostles and Prophets, with Christ as the chief cornerstone. These churches reveal unmistakably (and I cordially urge you to make the comparison prayerfully, if you are not Protestant Reformed) the marks of the true church. They are still preaching the truth of the Word, administering the holy sacraments in obedience to the institution of Christ, and administering Christian discipline in the love of Christ according to the Word of God! We do not boast in ourselves. This is not of our doing or our faithfulness. It is ALL of God Who chooses the foolish things to confound the wise of this world that no flesh should glory in His presence (I Cor. 1). With Paul we say: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . .” (Gal. 6:14)
This certainly implies that to confess this before God and His church and then for the sake of a boy friend, or girl friend, or job, to leave the church and become member elsewhere is to sin grievously! And let no one say as some have said to this pastor; “I still believe the truth as taught in our church, and though I am leaving the church I will never leave the truth!” That is impossible. God is not mocked by us! Without the means of the pure preaching of the Word we simply cannot remain faithful to the truth either in doctrine or in life! My fervent prayer for the youth of our churches is that God will grant them grace to see this and be faithful to this. THIS and nothing less is what we say when we confess the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, of the Articles of the Christian faith, as taught here in this Christian church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation! Let us strive together for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1) and continue in the things we’ve learned (II Tim. 3:14) to the glory of God, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things! (Romans 11:36) . . .
(to be continued)