...

Rev. Koole is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.

For the sake of space we cannot quote here the Articles of Reformed creeds that most fully articulate the doctrine of the Scripture. Those two creeds are the Belgic and the Westminster Confessions. The reader will have to peruse them on his own. The Belgic Confession devotes five full articles to the doctrine (Arts. III – VII). The Westminster’s opening chapter sets forth the doctrine, and it does so in no fewer than ten articles. In both confessions the early placement and the length of treatment of this doctrine indicate how basic and vital for true faith and a true church their writers considered a proper confession of the Scriptures to be.

What is striking is how similar in content and expression the two creeds are. To be sure, the Westminster’s treatment of the doctrine is a bit longer than that of the Belgic and shows maturing of thought and expression. For instance, the Westminster addresses the importance of good translations for the people (I, 8), and it sets forth the regulative principle of biblical interpretation, namely, Scripture by Scripture, the more difficult, presently obscure passages explained in r the light of the more clear (I, 9). That there is this maturity should not surprise us. It was written 80 years after the Belgic Confession, and by a “multitude of counsellors.”

But it is obvious that the Westminster Confession is the child of the Belgic, and was written by men who had the Belgic open before them, along with the Scriptures, as they discussed and wrote. Anyone who has any respect for the work of the Spirit in the church of the past could do no less.

To anyone who is at all current, with what is taking place in apostate protestantism today it should be as clear as the sun in the heavens that the confessions are not archaic documents which deserve to be consigned to some museum of interest only to scholars of ancient history. They are as relevant and pertinent to the need and issues that confront the church of Christ as the day they were written. This is especially true in light of the growing assault upon the trustworthiness of the Scriptures themselves.

The issue of the day is the authority and sufficiency of the Bible as the Word of God. The issue has not changed since the day these two creeds were written, except now the Scriptures are being betrayed in the house of her friends. There is a cry in Protestantism to retire the confessional standards from active service. This is done in the name of returning to the direct, unfettered study of the pages of Scriptures. “No creed but Christ and His Word, because they are always so contemporary and up-to-date.” Churchmen will lead the church out of the deadness of confessionalism back to the Scriptures and their primitive, simple, pristine teachings.

My, such reborn zeal! Be not deceived. These men are about as interested in a return to the Scriptures as the infallible, authoritative Word of God as they are in becoming Nazarites and eating grasshoppers with John the Baptist in the desert. These men simply want to get rid of the creeds in order to get rid of their binding view of the Scriptures, and thus to be rid of believers looking over their shoulders with confessions in hand pointing out every departure from the historic, Reformed, and Apostolic faith. And especially they want to be rid of common believers judging their doctrine of the Scripture itself (not God-breathed and binding in every last part!) as defective and “an athema” (Gal. 1:8-12, B.C. VII).

In their treatment of the doctrine of Scripture the two confessions are condemned basically with three things: with the Canon of Scripture (which writings [books] were divinely inspired), with the authority of Scripture (especially whence it derives its authority – from the Church?), and with the sufficiency of Scripture (the only trustworthy and needed rule of faith in every age).

Both the B.C. and the W.C. speak of and set forth the “canon” of Scripture (Arts. 4, 5, 6 & I.2, 3). The word “canon” comes from the Greek and denotes “any straight rod or bar, especially to keep a thing straight.” It has reference then to an official, recognized standard by which all else is measured. The confessions list which writings, which prophetic books, Psalms, Gospels, and Epistles, belong to the sacred Canon of Scripture, or, in the language of the Belgic Confession, are to be received as “holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith…” – which are indeed truly “God-breathed.”

To this issue of which books (66 in all) belong in the Holy Scripture we give scarcely a thought. For us, adding to the approved books is unthinkable. At times however this was a burning issue. The early church had to distinguish between the pseudoapostolic writings and the genuine ones. And the Reformers had to rid the church of any reliance upon the writings of the Apocrypha. The Romish Church had elevated them to the status of sacred Scripture. Any number of unbiblical and superstitious teachings (such as purgatory) had slipped in via this addition to the received canon. The Reformers, through the confessions, returned the church to the decisions of the earliest church councils on this matter. The Westminster is especially sharp in its rejection of the claims of the apocryphal writings. We can be thankful the confessions dealt with this issue so decisively, thus settling the issue with us. We have been spared much confusion.

In the area of apologetics (or controversy) the central concern of the confessions is the relation between the authority of the church and that of the Scriptures – i.e., which is the supreme or final authority, which derives authority from which. The genius of the confessions is their articulating the doctrine of the self-attestation of the Scriptures.

The Belgic Confession declares that we believe all things contained in the Scriptures, “not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves” (Art. V).

The Westminster declares, “The authority of the Holy Scripture . . . dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and, therefore, it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (Sect. 4).

Note the decisive language of the Belgic Confession. “… not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such . . . .” This was the contention of Rome as she insisted that the authority of Scripture and what it taught depended on her approval.

In his book Captive To The Word, A.S. Wood writes that Rome claimed “that the Church is superior to Scripture because it was responsible for selecting the books included in the canon. The thesis of the ecclesiastical sophists ran like this, according to Luther: ‘The Church has approved only four Gospels, and therefore there are only four. For if it had approved more, there would have been more. Since the Church has the right to accept and approve as many Gospels as it wishes, it follows that the Church is superior to the Gospels'” (p. 124).

With one dazzling analogy Luther demolished the argument. “What a splendid argument! . . . I approve Scripture. Therefore I am superior to Scripture. John the Baptist acknowledges and confesses Christ. He points to Him with his finger. Therefore he is superior to Christ. The Church approves Christian faith and doctrine. Therefore the Church is superior to them” (p. 124).

The authority of the Scriptures is not derivative, depending on the witness of men or the verification of the church, but is primary and self-contained. They carry the proof and weight of this authority within themselves. Indeed, Rome’s contention in this matter is mere sophistry.

This does not mean that the testimony of the church has no value. As the Westminster points out, “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture; . . . yet, not withstanding our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and Divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (Sect. 5).

Note that the church is called to direct the believer (and all men) to submit to the supreme authority of the Bible. The one who will actually do the convincing and convicting is the Holy Spirit. It is not just the Word alone, and it is certainly not the church, which is able to persuade men to acknowledge Scripture as the Word of truth. It is the Holy Spirit. But what He convinces men of is not the unassailable authority of the church. Rather it is of the unassailable authority and pertinency of the Scriptures.

And finally, for the work of the Spirit to bring the elect to saving faith and to preserve the church from all error and evil, the Scriptures are wholly sufficient (Art. 7 & I.6). This is relevant to the spirit of our age. Not only does it dismiss the “traditions” of Rome, her papal “ex cathedra” pronouncements, and all writings of men, no matter what their antiquity, from competition with (and contradiction of) the Scriptures, but also the Spirit’s promise to bind Himself to the Apostolic Word exposes the new revelations and prophecies of the modem day charismatic movement, as false and not of the Spirit of God (I John 4:1). There ought to be no more confusion on this in Christ’s church than on the matter of the received canon of Scripture.

In the interests of true unity of faith, the teachings of the confessions on the doctrine of Scripture are as relevant and needed as ever. This was brought home by a statement made by the well-known author and Anglican theologian, J.I. Packer, in an article in the April 5, 1993 issue of Christianity Today. There Packer explains his reasons for finally parting ways with the World Council of Churches (WCC), which, in the judgment of this writer, has epitomized the worst of what has characterized the liberal ecumenical movement. He makes a telling statement. It became plain, he says, as far back as the 1960s that the WCC then already “… appeared as sponsoring a consensus theology that celebrated the Bible without encountering its authority.”

Now, read that sentence over. Consider: “consensus theology” – a creed of theology to which, in the name of Christianity, nearly every one could subscribe. How to be achieved? While you praise the Bible, you strip it of its authority. This has always been the heart and method of apostasy. Somehow, set aside Scripture’s supreme authority.

The venerable creeds of the Reformed and Apostolic faith encounter this ‘unclean spirit,’ expose it for what it is, ‘extra-celestial,’ and dismiss it as militating against the true unity of Christ’s church. Thank God for the confessions written by men who were bound by the Word of God.