Previous article in this series: February 15, 2023, p. 228.

In our preceding articles we observed that the missionary character and flavor of the Belgic Confession is evident from its content. We now conclude our consideration of this creed, noticing again that the creed has valuable things to say concerning the church’s mission work.

Article 27: The Catholic Christian Church

Both the title of this article as well as its definition of the church point to and make provision for mission work.

The church of Christ (the body of the elect) is “catholic or universal.” It is a church that exists “from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof.” It is also a church that is “not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or to certain persons, but is spread and dispersed over the whole world.”

For this reason, the gospel must be preached in all the world with a view to the salvation of that catholic church. A proper understanding of the church’s catholicity is fundamental to being a mission-minded church. If the church fails to have this understanding of her catholicity, she will fail to have a proper interest in missions.

The church of Christ is also “one.” There is but “one catholic or universal church.” Christ, the Head of the church, has only one body. It is by His Spirit that He unites believers, for the church is “joined and united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same Spirit.”

This, too, implies the need for worldwide preaching of the gospel, for preaching is the means the Spirit uses to make the oneness and unity of the body of Christ a reality. Faithful preaching of the truth on the mission field results, under the Lord’s blessing, in the establishment of churches, denominations, and sister-church relationships. The truth, applied by the Spirit, unites believers and churches to each other.

Article 28: Every one is bound to join himself to the true church

The church that is spoken of here is the instituted church. God’s people must join themselves to a faithful, instituted congregation of God’s people “wheresover God hath established it.” God establishes such congregations all over the world. Sometimes He does this through the formation of daughter congregations. But God also establishes new churches through mission work. An inference, therefore, is the church’s work in missions. God is pleased, through mission work, to give the positive fruit of new churches being formed in different places and among different nations in the world. He provides such churches so that His people are able, by His direction, to join themselves to a true church of Christ.

Another significant implication of this article, in close connection with Articles 30 and 31 (which concern the special offices in the church), is that it is the instituted church which carries out mission work. The church contains the special offices, along with the office of believer through which those in the special offices are chosen. The latter applies to missionaries, as well. The church not only chooses its local officebearers, but also those in the special office of missionary, which is an extension of the office of the minister of the Word. Missionaries are not and may not be self-appointed (Heb. 5:4). They are to be chosen by the church, sent by the church, supported by the church, and supervised by the church.

Another related matter is suggested by this article, namely, that the missionary does his work with a view to the establishment of new churches. This is his main desire and goal. And whenever that goal is attained, then the process continues, for the newly established church now takes up the task of missions and of the spread of the gospel to those around it. That is to say, the new church is self-propagating.

The Belgic Confession not only reminds us of our calling to be busy in missions, but also guides us in how to do it. It especially makes clear here that mission work is the work of the church.

Article 29: The marks of the true church, and wherein she differs from the false church

The Belgic Confession speaks candidly concerning the sharp distinction between the true and the false church. This has a direct bearing on missions, for this distinction sets before the true church the fact that those who belong to false churches are the proper objects of her mission work.

But there is more. The antithesis between the true and false church indicates that the true church must be antithetical in the proclamation of the gospel. Not only must the truth be set forth, but the lie (along with those who hold to it) must also be exposed and condemned.

What makes this clear is the example of the confession itself. The Belgic Confession does not hesitate to point out the characteristics of those who hold to and teach false doctrine (Art. 29). Nor does it hesitate to mention some of the heretics and false teachers by name: Jews, Mohammedans, Arius, Athanasius, and other false Christians and heretics (Art. 9), Epicurians (Art. 13), Pelagians (Art. 15), and Anabaptists (Arts. 18, 34, and 36). In addition to all this, the creed also condemns throughout the Roman Catholic Church, specifically pointing out (among other things) Rome’s errors as regards the apocryphal books, justification, sanctification, the sacraments, and church government.

By means of all this the church today is reminded of her calling to be antithetical in missions, specifically when she proclaims the gospel to all the world. Errors must be pointed out, heretics must be named, God’s people must be warned, and those who err in doctrine or life must be called to repent.

Article 36: The magistrates

This article concerns the relation between church and state. It speaks of the duties of citizens toward their earthly rulers, as well as of the duties that rulers have in relation to the church. A significant statement in this article is that it mentions the “preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere.”

This language reflects the language of the great commission (Matt. 28:18). Thus, here too the Belgic Confession reminds the church, albeit indirectly, of its calling to proclaim the Word of God to all nations upon earth.

Conclusion

All of the above-mentioned articles of the Belgic Confession of Faith (including those we considered in our previous Standard Bearer articles) demonstrate in varying ways and to varying degrees the missionary character of this creed. It is not true, as some claim, that this creed (along with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordt) is silent about and thus irrelevant for missions. Nor is it true that the creed is detrimental for missions because it supposedly saps Reformed churches of their zeal for mission work.

This observation has been made by others, too.

Our Reformed confessions summarize and reinforce the sound biblical doctrine that missions…[is] an essential part of God’s work in this world. If our local churches are not actively engaged in missions at home and abroad, we cannot lay the blame for this at the feet of our confessions. Rather, if that is the case, our own confessions testify against us.1

The creeds are an important part of our heritage, also as regards missions. While it is true that they are not a comprehensive guide for mission work, this does not mean they say nothing. We have seen this with the Belgic Confession. This creed not only reminds us of our calling to be busy in the spread of the gospel in all the world, but also instructs us regarding the content of gospel preaching, and indicates as well some other aspects of how mission work should be done.

May we take seriously what the Belgic Confession states concerning the church’s calling and labors in missions, and may this spur us on to be diligent and zealous in this important work with a view to the gathering of all the elect and the subsequent return of Christ.


1 Wes Bredenhof. “The Reformed Confessions and Mission” in Planting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 37.