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Rev. Miersma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

By the Confession of Faith is meant what is more commonly called in our churches the Belgic or Netherlandic Confession of Faith. The very language we normally use to refer to the Confession of Faith itself says something about the place this creed tends to hold in our churches and how we are inclined to regard it. That it is the Belgic or Netherlandic Confession of Faith, sets before us its historical origin from the hand of Guido de Bres and its adoption by the Reformed churches of Holland beginning in 1561, as our oldest creedal statement. That it is the Belgic or Netherlands Confession of Faith also distinguishes it from such other confessions of faith as the Westminster Confession of Faith. Our Psalterhowever happily includes it under its more proper title and in its proper form as the Confession of Faith, for such it is and such it ought to be.

That it is called the Confession of Faith emphasizes that it was the “Here I Stand” of the Reformed churches in the past. That we tend to speak of it in terms of its historical origin as Belgic or Netherlandic may well be an indication that we regard this document as belonging to the past, as something remote and distant, a part of our heritage, a standard of doctrine rather than as the living Confession of our Faith. We may well ask: does this confession function for us as the “Here I Stand,” the living confession of our churches? The Heidelberg Catechism we know well because it is regularly preached. The Canons of Dordt, because of their doctrinal importance over against Arminianism, are also very familiar to us. The fact is that we might be well able to quote from memory various Lord’s Days, or even portions of the Canons, and we could speedily find our way around them. Is this true of our Confession of Faith? Periodically we may read this confession in the worship services to familiarize our congregations with it, and we might use it in the catechism classes. But does it serve as our living and contemporary testimony of faith? Studying it as we sometimes do in our societies certainly reveals that it is not dated, that we do not, like so many today, need another so-called more contemporary testimony., We have one which is both sound and very contemporary. One need but look at the articles which speak of the Word of God and its authority and trustworthiness to see this.

Therein lies the concern of this article and the origin also of the practice in our Edmonton congregation over the past several years of regularly reading after the Apostles’ Creed an article or two of the Confession of Faith. In the first place, the Confession of Faith is ideally suited for this purpose liturgically. It breathes with the spirit of a personal and corporate confession of our faith and confidence. The opening confession sets this reality before us: “We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth. . . .” That spirit pervades the whole of our Confession of Faith. Virtually every article begins with the statement, “We believe . . . .” Introduced after the Apostles’ Creed with the words, “We further confess our Reformed faith as it is found in article . . . . of the Confession of Faith,” this sets before the congregation the reality first of all that the Apostles’ Creed itself, while a catholic confession of the Christian church, is also a Reformed confession. At the same time, some point of the doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed is more fully confessed and expounded. To be sure, there are some articles which may need a brief introduction to show the connection or to explain their place and purpose, such as the article which sets forth the proof of the doctrine of the Trinity (Article 9). But this can usually be done in a few brief words, and the necessity for it declines as the congregation grows in familiarity with the Confession of Faith. There are also certain articles, such as those which list the canonical books of the Scriptures, which may well be condensed and abridged, which is not difficult. There are a few articles which are rather short and which can be combined with others, and also a few which are a little longer. But, on the whole, including an article or two of the Confession of Faith in the worship service after the Apostles’ Creed only requires a minute or two in the service.

In the second place, the value and benefits of adding a reading from the Confession of Faith as a fixed and regular part of the worship service are many. First, it lifts our Confession of Faith up and makes it not merely part of our heritage but truly part of the living confession of the congregation. It regularly sets before the congregation in a systematic way the sound doctrine of our Confession of Faith as a matter of the personal confession of the church. While this is regularly done in Catechism preaching as well, our Confession of Faith has the added feature that it gives, in a clear and simple way, confession to a number of doctrines which are only indirectly addressed in the Catechism. Perhaps most notable among those doctrines are the ones concerning Scripture and the article on election, found in the Confession of Faith. It does so as a matter of the personal confession of the church, that these truths we believe.

Secondly a regular reading of the Confession of Faith inculcates in the congregation sound Reformed language and doctrinal terminology which serve both the preaching of the Word, the Catechism preaching, and also Catechism instruction. The repeated reading of the Confession of Faith makes its language and contents familiar, a part of the life and thought of the congregation. The beauty of our Confession of Faith grows upon one as it is read from week to week. Such articles as that concerning Christ’s intercession (Article 26) or that on Providence (Article 13) not only set forth the doctrine, but do so in a way which is for the comfort of the congregation as well as its edification. The articles on the church—the marks of the true church and the offices in the church and the Christian discipline in the church—not only set before the congregation important matters of doctrine but also lead the congregation rightly to regard the matter of their own membership in the church, to esteem the offices and order and discipline in the church.

Thirdly, it further serves to bind the church together in the unity of faith and doctrine. The regular reading of the Confession of our Faith bears this fruit, that this confession becomes a part of us. Most of us who have year after year heard the reading of the forms for Baptism and the Lords Supper could probably with a little prompting recite long sections of them from memory. They’ have become a part of us, their doctrine and language are familiar, and they shape our thought and expression. The preaching of the Catechism has the same fruit, and so also does the regular reading of the Confession of Faith. It becomes more and more the living Confession of our Faith, a ready answer of the hope that is within us. In this age of doctrinal indifference, ignorance, and apostasy, it is of great value, that we be not tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine.

Fourthly, there are also great benefits to be gained for the minister of the Word in his work and preaching. While it is not every Lords Day that the doctrine confessed in the Confession of Faith for that day touches on the subject of the sermon, it is nevertheless not infrequently the case that one of the key concepts or indeed the central concept of the sermon is set forth in the article of Confession of Faith which is read. The result is that the language of the confession can be brought into the sermon; it serves the sermon and grounds it. That the children and young people are readily familiar with the Confession of Faith and its language serves as a tool in catechism instruction and can often make learning the doctrine in the catechism classroom easier and something which is more readily retained. That instruction is moreover again reinforced by its regular confession in the worship service.

Our Confession of Faith ought to live among us as that which we know and confess, as that which “We all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth . . .” (Article 1).