Also, if you have been doing any reading in church literature, you will have noticed that the United Presbyterian Church has put her old, time-tested creeds on the shelf, and has written and adopted a new creed, the Creed of 1967; a document so toothless and bland that the widest assortment of ministers can sign it without reservations. Finally, you will recall discussions in various church circles concerning the Formula of Subscription. The question that always comes up it seems is: should officebearers be required to sign the Formula or not? From all this, we can see that the signs are unmistakable: we live in an age that hates and ignores the creeds! And the deepest reason for this is always hatred for the Word of God itself. So my assigned topic is vital and timely, indeed.
To young and old alike, it is undoubtedly clear that we speak here of our Three Forms of Unity. There is, first of all, the Belgic Confession of 1561, written by Guido de Bres during the fierce persecution of the faithful in the low countries by Philip II and his instrument of cruelty, the Spanish Inquisition. Secondly, the Heidelberg Catechism, written by Ursirius and Olevianus in 1563 at the request of Frederick III, who saw the need among his subjects for a book of instruction in the Reformed faith. And thirdly, the Canons of Dordt, 1618-19, the product of the Great Synod that struggled against the Arminianism then rampant in the Netherlands. With these three you are all well acquainted, I am sure.
But what we would have you notice now is that they are our creeds. They are not just some old documents that have been handed down to us through several centuries of history. Oh, no! Ever since the Synod of Dordt, these three were the confessions of the Reformed Churches, the churches from which we descended. These creeds belong to our heritage, and they are part of our heritage exactly because they grew out of the life of the church, out of her struggles and battles. Further, to understand that these are our creeds, we must remember that we stand in close, organic relationship to that early church. We are members together of the same Body; we share together the same Spirit of Truth, that Spirit which led our fathers into the truth, and which preserved that truth even until now.
These confessions have also become known as standards! They are a flag under which and about which those who are truly Reformed may gather. If this idea of standard makes the church appear to be an army, it certainly is not a coincidence. The Church of Christ is indeed a battling host! She must do battle against the world and against that part of the church world which has apostatized and which masquerades as Church. That triple standard has functioned admirably for 350 years! It has called into fellowship others of the same faith, and it has been a warning sign, a repulsive warning sign, to those who are enemies of the truth. Moreover, if there were those in the fellowship of the church who did not belong there, the creeds, taught and preached, made it impossible for them to remain.
As was suggested in the introduction, the present day, the day in which the church finds herself in possession of her creeds, may be and must be briefly characterized. First, it must be remembered that we stand very near the end. It will not be so very long anymore, and the Antichrist, the son of perdition, shall be revealed. Very important it is for our consideration of the present day to remember that this Antichrist shall not arise out of Russia or Red China or some such nation, but undoubtedly it shall arise out of the sphere of the nominal church. With that in mind, we can understand how that increasingly the basic truths of Scripture are called into question and denied. The first doctrine to go, of course, is the infallibility of the Word. Once this truth is questioned, disparaged, denied, the authority of the Word is destroyed. When that is accomplished (or thought to have been accomplished) there is no end to the destructive process. Everything goes! For creation as Genesis presents it to us there is substituted the period theory and evolution. That miracle of miracles, the virgin birth, is explained away naturally. The necessity of the atonement and its actual atoning power are denied. Man gags when he hears of a sovereign, unconditional election and reprobation. It was even reported in Time a few weeks ago that many U.S. seminaries were denying the reality of hell, and some, the future state altogether.
In close connection with the coming of Antichrist and the few examples of doctrinal apostasy that we have noted, there is also an obsession in the church world today with unity, with ecumenism. And as has been faithfully pointed out to us by our leaders, this unity that is being demanded is not a unity of doctrine, of faith, of the knowledge of the Son of God (), but is a pseudo-unity that ignores the obvious truths of Scripture and uses for a basis the flimsiest, vaguest expressions imaginable; expressions which anyone can embrace, and which let down all the bars, so that the enemies and errors which the church has in the past expelled are now most welcome to come in. Of course, to those who want this kind of unity, the creeds are anathema! Creeds, they say, are divisive and a hindrance to unity—the hidden assumption being that the confessions caused the divisions instead of giving expression to already existing division. Besides, it is argued, the creeds are so old! We must not look back to all that sordid Reformation history, but we must look ahead to what the Spirit will accomplish in the future. This is the twentieth century! Don’t try to bind us with old dusty creeds. The result is that the work of the Spirit in the history of the church is despised and ignored; and these would-be unifiers cut themselves off from the fathers, many of whom gave their lives in the defense of the very truths which these now would so willingly abandon. So in conclusion, we may certainly say that this age is characterized by an ignorance of the creeds and their history, by a despising of them, and by a denial of their present day relevancy.
Now to demonstrate the pertinence and applicability of our creeds three points should be made. In the first place, creeds are necessary. In fact, creeds are more necessary today and in the future than ever before! In these days of apostasy and aberration, we need confessions to preserve the truth of the Scriptures for our children, for the seed of the covenant. In this age of spiritual ignorance, we need the confessions as a means of instruction. Taken together, the Three Forms are a wonderful and systematic body of doctrinal and practical instruction. And as the “super-church” emerges and Christ’s Church becomes smaller and more persecuted, we will need the confessions as a rallying point for the saints, and as a means of witnessing and testifying of God’s grace, come what may. Make no mistake, our creeds will always fill a vital place in the life of the church.
Secondly, our confessions are relevant because the battle of the church is always the same. The battle is always truth versus error, the Word of God over against the word of man. In this incessant struggle, strange as it may seem, both sides claim to possess and stand firmly upon the Word of God. Therefore, it ought to be clear that the Word of God in that form is not enough. Oh, the Word of God is sufficient! The sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God is our only defense. We must always and only come with the Word. But the enemy also claims to come with God’s Word. And that enemy is so adept at twisting that Word. They can make it say what they want it to say, or so they think. But the confessions cannot be twisted. They were purposely written so that they systematize the truths of Scripture in such a way that no one can distort them! So the truth of the matter is that the confessions are relevant because they are Scriptural! Oh, that does not mean they are infallible. But at the same time it must be pointed out that in almost 400 years no one has proved that they are not firmly based on the Word of God. Hence, to deny that the confessions are pertinent is tantamount to saying that Scripture is not pertinent!
Finally, the Three Forms are relevant because they were written by the church in her heated battle against Pelagianism and Arminianism. Those heresies still fill the world today; our battle is against the same foe that our fathers met ages ago. When we notice God-dishonoring and man-elevating tendencies seeking to make inroads into our churches and schools, what are we going to do? Sit down and write a new creed? Forge a new weapon a minute? We must not try that. Rather, let us use the weapons which the Spirit gave to the church shortly after the Reformation: the creeds which have proved so effective in stemming the tide of the enemy; the creeds which have endured the onslaught of scoffers for 400 years; the creeds which by God’s grace we still have today!
Let us continue to hold them fast, and to study them. And let us by all means continue to require our officebearers to subscribe to them, so that they not only reject all errors which militate against the creeds, but also refute and contradict them, and exert themselves in keeping the church free from such errors. For our safety is not in numbers, nor in some kind of outward unity, but our safety is in the pure truth of God’s Word, as expressed in our confessions!