By this time perhaps most have seen the little video about the PRC. If you haven’t, you can view it at your leisure on the PRC website (www.prca.org). And, we understand, it has made its appearance on YouTube as well. It is a well-designed 10-minute presentation produced by AIM (Active In Missions), done in a professional manner, introducing the PRC to the interested and the curious. Its central message is that we as Protestant Reformed believers are convinced there is such a thing as The Truth, and that this Truth, as set forth in God’s infallible Word, can be known and confessed. In fact, it is, as summarized in the great Reformed creeds known as the Three Forms of Unity.
AIM is to be commended for putting together this useful little production. It confronts the viewer with what may well be the issue of the day, namely, that there is such a thing as ‘The Truth,’ knowable as truth, and that there are still churches composed of believers making the claim, “This that we hold is The Gospel Truth according to God’s own Word.”
This is exactly what is being denied and is under assault today. Not simply that, theoretically speaking, there is such a thing as God’s truth out there, but that this truth is knowable and can be formulated in propositional form—doctrinal statements with which believers can stand in agreement and which they are able (in fact, are called) to confess with the church of all ages. This is being denied, and, in some circles, with mocking vigor.
The contemporary perspective is that the various versions of what various people think the truth is—this can be known. But not what The Truth is in and by itself. That is unknowable. As for what is the ‘Real Truth’—well, that can be known but to God.
If the purpose of the video was to engender some response from viewers outside our churches, be assured it is serving its purpose. A member of my own congregation informed me that he directed a friend and business acquaintance to the video both to introduce him to what we as Protestant Reformed believers hold and to get his reaction. The brother kindly sent me his associate’s reaction, asking me for my comment on it. Having been assured of the correspondent’s approval, we will comply, using theSB as my venue.
This was the respondent’s reaction to the video:
I have two questions for you:
Many times the video said that the Bible was the standard of Truth. It is God’s word given to us. (I agree with this.) However, then the video states that your doctrines are formed by three “documents”: The Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, and another [the Belgic Confession—KK]. Why would you need these other writings if the Bible is the absolute truth, straight from God?? I believe that Scriptures are enough, sufficient, authoritative, and God-breathed.
The video said that God saves people by the administration of the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). And that is why it is important to find a good church. If the Bible is the only standard of truth, what about where it says “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,”
Also the Philippian jailer said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they (Paul and Silas) said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved . . .”
I can’t find a passage of Scripture that states we must do anything other (or additional) than believe on Jesus Christ for our salvation.
OK . . . I know I said two, but here is one more. The Church is not a place or building, the Church is alive and made up of all those who believe in Jesus Christ. The Church is alive and made up of all those who believe in Jesus Christ. The Church is people (Christians) . . . .
Before responding to the brother’s questions, we would point out that point 3 above is most significant. I say this because, I have been informed, our questioner is one of those who has withdrawn his membership from the church institute and now simply gathers with other professing Christians at various homes on a weekly basis for ‘worship’ and fellowship. This is not surprising, of course. It is the logical outcome of disparaging the confessions. Once one begins minimizing and setting aside the confessions, by logical necessity one will also disparage the church institute (whose confessions these are, which confessions are binding upon its professing members). And next, one will dismiss needing church membership altogether.
Though grieved with our correspondent’s low assessment of the great Christian creeds as well as the importance of church membership, yet, for a number of reasons, I am glad for his “questions.” They give opportunity to address some vital issues of our day.
First, the response (as quoted above), while representing an age-old charge against the creeds (No creed but Christ!), is a mentality finding increasing popularity within the twenty-first century church world, namely, being anti-creedal by creed. It is, therefore, a question and charge that ought not take us by surprise when raised, and one to which we ought to be ready to give answer.
But second, and more importantly, whether the brother who wrote it realizes it or not, his response represents a deeper underlying spirit that pervades the emerging ecclesiastical scene of our day, namely, a deeply-rooted spirit of independentism, an independentism that smacks of individualism, which individualism, in the end, borders on an autonomy of self. To put it simply, it is a spirit that is unbiblical, however much one pays lip service to the one-only authority of the Bible as God’s Word.
This, we realize, must be substantiated, but before doing so we want to make clear what is at stake.
We are dealing here with a spirit that is showing itself in a legion of ways today. To name just two: it is this spirit that is feeding the contemporary “Emergent” church movement. And it is this spirit that explains the anti-subscription movement (infection!) that has taken hold of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations today. Officebearers are no longer required to subscribe to (promise to uphold) what is found in the creeds that form the confessional basis of one’s church.
And though at present it is a sensitive subject in our own circles, the simple fact is that much of what belongs to the home-school movement today is infected with this same spirit. I do not say this is the spirit governing every home schooling family (circumstances may dictate its present necessity for various Christian homes), but the spirit of individualism is the driving force behind the movement itself.
It is this individualism run amuck that is becoming the popular ‘Christian’ spirit of the day—no one’s spirit will be bound or governed by the spirit of anyone else—as if this is what the Spirit of Christ and the Christian faith is all about.
My short answer to such a sentiment is, “Stuff and nonsense!”
But such terseness I reserve for those who should know better. Our respondent deserves a longer and more patient answer.
Still, admittedly, we have spoken with some sharpness to this point.
Because, we are convinced, something very serious is at stake.
As a lawfully-ordained minister in one of Christ’s true churches, I am mindful of my calling to inform our respondent that what the above questions make plain (which “questions” are not really questions at all, but assertions and positions of conviction) is that the brother in question has cut himself loose from the church. Mind you, not simply from the church in her institutional form, but from the church—Christ’s church—entirely. Yes, from the body of Christ itself. And such is true not just of this one brother, but of all who share his sentiments and behave as he does, namely, claiming to be part of Christ’s body and church while choosing to live separately from that church in her institutional, confessional form.
It is that serious.
This is what I am convinced the apostles would say, and therefore so must I.
How does the Belgic Confession put it? “We believe…that out of it [the holy congregation] there is no salvation, that no person, of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself to live in a separate state from it…. Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God” (Article 28).
And the “congregation” to which the Confession refers is the church in her institutional form. This is clear. Immediately following comes the call to submit to its doctrine and discipline.
Yes, we are aware that we have just quoted from a creed, which is the very issue under dispute. But we do so for a couple of reasons.
First, we do so because we are convinced that this creed states what is a biblical truth, a truth that should be clear to all, namely, it is the believer’s solemn calling to seek membership in a congregation where Christ functions through godly and biblically faithful officebearers. And yet, for all the brother’s claim that “The Bible is enough; who needs its teachings laid out in creeds?” evidently this particular biblical truth (membership in Christ’s instituted church) is not so evident to the questioning brother. This in itself should lend some credibility to the need for creeds, namely, biblical teachings (doctrines) spelled out in clear, unmistakable language so that various men, all claiming to be Bible-believing Christians, may know: #1—whether they are really in agreement with each other; and #2—whether they are really reading and interpreting the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit intended, especially on so vital a point as church membership.
The question that must be asked is, who determines the correct meaning and application of God’s Word in vital matters of life and faith? Each individual by his or her own lonesome? If you think this is so, you are reading a different Bible than I.
To this question we will return in a second installment.
But second, we quote the Belgic Confession on this matter because its declaration that those who willfully live separately from the church in her institutional form “…act contrary to the ordinance of God” is so plainly biblical.
You ask for biblical proof and apostolic pattern? Acts 14:23 comes most immediately to mind. “And when they [the apostle Paul and Barnabas] had ordained them elders in every church [gathering of believers], and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
Are we to suppose that the inspired and Christ-ordained apostles went about ordaining elders as overseers of Christ’s flock in every city where the Holy Spirit had prospered their preaching, only to have those claiming to be Christians (anointed with Christ’s own Spirit) ignore these very Christ-ordained officebearers in said-cities and set up camp in someone’s living room on their own? And what would such actions have said about such men’s view of the apostle’s wisdom and authority?
The respondent believes the Scriptures to be absolute Truth, straight from God? Then, good brother, the question we put to you is, how is it that you can ignore the above pattern and, as well, passages such as Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24? (These are but three verses we could quote that lay down the vital importance of officebearers for the life of Christ’s people and church.)
No doubt the brother has some answer. But it is that very answer attempted that troubles us and ought to give the brother second thoughts about needing no creeds. Whatever the attempted answer, it must somehow get around passages that any Bible-loyal man would think are self-evident and can be interpreted in but one way.
And this is exactly one of the great purposes of the creeds, namely, to prevent men from ignoring plain, basic, essential teachings of God’s Word, and to bind each professing believer, and the officebearers in particular, to these biblical truths.
The question is, why would one who professes the Christian religion ignore a plain biblical teaching? Could it be because it just happens to be one of those truths one does not happen to like. At the moment it chafes against one too much?
This, we are convinced, is what ultimately is behind the anti-creedal spirit of our age. Creeds have this troubling way of binding one where one does not want to be bound (though any honest reading of the Scriptures makes plain it is the Lord’s truth and will).
Serious charges? Admittedly so, and exactly why these things need to be addressed. If what we claim is true, then every serious, Bible-believing Christian will want to consider very carefully our claims. After all, it is every true believer’s calling to strive to be in step with the Holy Spirit.
Further analysis of the issues raised by our correspondent will have to wait until our next issue.