“We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith. For, since it is forbidden, to add unto or take away anything from the word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear, that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects. Neither do we consider of equal value any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house.”
Article VII, The Belgic Confession
This article completes the Confession’s treatment of the doctrine of the Word of God. This statement is in effect a summation of the points of doctrine presented in Articles II through VI. Thus, too, it expresses beautifully that which we as Reformed believers confess with-our mouths and believe in our hearts concerning the Holy Scriptures. In general, this article teaches: 1) That the Holy Scriptures are complete and perfect in themselves and, therefore, are sufficient unto salvation; 2) That no human writings are or may be considered of equal value with the Bible; and, 3) That whatever disagrees with the Scriptures is to be rejected, and all other writings are to be judged according to the criterion of Scripture. We consider each of these truths somewhat in detail.
The Perfection and Completeness of Scripture
Our Confession of Faith in this statement of Article VII underscores a major and fundamental difference between the Churches of the Reformation and Rome. The Roman Catholic Church does not believe that “those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God.” Rather, Rome accords “tradition” a place of equal authority with God’s Word: That this is true is obvious from this statement from “The Canons and Decrees Of The Council Of Trent”: “[the Synod] following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament—seeing that one God is the author of both—as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession;” (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. II, p; 80) Over against this error our Creed maintains the “sola Scriptura” principle of the Reformation without compromise. The Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God and “whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein.”
This means that Scripture fully contains the will of God, i.e. the counsel of God with respect to all things. That God created all things, that He created ail things by and for Jesus Christ (John 1:1ff., Col. 1:15, 16), that God’s ultimate purpose is the manifestation of His glory in the elect in Christ as that shall be realized in the new creation (Eph. 1:3ff.; Eph. 3:17-21, Col. 1:17-20), and that, therefore, all things must serve the salvation of the elect in Christ (Romans 8:28ff.), all this the Scripture fully contains. Still more, all that man must believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught in the Scriptures. Scripture contains, this means, the whole will of God concerning the faith and life of believers in the midst of this world. This is further emphasized when the creed speaks of “the whole manner of worship which God requires of us” being written in the Bible. This “whole manner of worship” refers to the actual, formal worship of the church. How the church is to worship her Lord; by singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” by preaching and teaching, by the giving of our offerings, and by prayer, all these are taught by Scripture. But not only this, also our whole life of thankful service as the redeemed of the Lord is written in Scripture. Scripture plainly teaches exactly how God wills to be served by us.
Hence, the doctrine contained in the Word of God is perfect and complete. The Reformed believer confesses that that doctrine, because it is perfect, cannot be improved upon or corrected. It is perfect, without error. And it is complete. Nothing can be taken from that doctrine and nothing can be added to it. Neither is this merely something which the creed says about the Word of God. This is the express testimony of the Bible itself. The inspired Apostle writes to the saints at Galatia: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8, 9) This is also the word of Christ Himself: “For I testify to every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from. the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18, 19)
The Unique Value of Holy Scripture
This, too, we confess! Because the Scriptures fully contain the will of God and whatever man ought to believe unto salvation, those Scriptures are of incomparable value. Nothing can be considered of equal value with the teaching of the Bible. This is true of the writing of men, “however holy these men may have been.” The reference here is to holy, that is, outstanding men in the history of God’s Church. Men such as; Luther, Calvin, and others are meant. This is not to deny the importance of these giants of the faith. God certainly used these and others in mighty and wonderful ways. But their writings may never be considered of equal value with the Bible. In fact their strength lay precisely in the fact that they adhered so carefully and faithfully to the truth of the Scriptures.
The same may be said for “custom” or tradition in the Church. No matter how old or well established that “custom” may be, it may never be considered to be equal with the Word of God. Likewise we may never regard the “great multitude or antiquity” of equal value with the truth. The majority can never decide what shall be the truth. “Succession of times or persons” (such as the pope) may not be judged equal with the truth. The same is true of “councils, decrees, statutes” of the church. This includes even our Three Forms of Unity. This is not to deny the significance of the doctrinal pronouncements of the Church or the value of our creeds. It is, however, to say that these can never approach the value of the Scriptures themselves. In fact, the value of the decisions of the church and of her doctrinal statements and, creeds lies exactly in the fact that these are expositions and faithful presentations of Scripture. The value of these is always derived from the Word of God.
The reason for this is stated in no uncertain terms: “. . . for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself.” Men of themselves, men by nature, are incapable of finding and unwilling to speak the truth. The truth is always the truth of the Word of God.
The Scriptures, the Sole Criterion
The conclusion is inevitable. With the fathers we maintain that everything must be judged by the criterion of the Bible. Without hesitation our confession is: “Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come, any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house.” In this sense the Scriptures are to be received by us as completely sufficient unto salvation. Obviously this cannot be taken to mean that the Word of God needs no interpretation or that the church may not preach or elicit a system of doctrine from Scripture. But most emphatically this does mean that whatever doctrine is developed, whatever creed is adopted, whatever may be written concerning the teaching of Holy Writ must agree with the Holy Scriptures. Whatever is produced by the church through its theologians and councils must be subject to the test of the Word of God. And, whatever is found to be in disagreement with the Scriptures must be unconditionally rejected.
In our times of doctrinal apostasy, compromise, and tolerance it is well that we be reminded of this confession. According to this “voice of our fathers” the church is called to a holy intolerance of all which cannot meet the test of Scripture. We do well to hear the voice today. In our times the plea is for unity at any price. Theologians plead for the freedom to discuss and theologize. Meanwhile the truth is assailed on all points and all manner of error is tolerated in the church. The tragedy of all this is that the sheep of God are impoverished and even led astray. May God give us grace to maintain the truth so beautifully set forth out of Scripture in this article of the Confession of Faith. This, too, is Scripture. The Apostle John warns: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (II John 9-11) May we be given the courage to “Try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the, world.” (I John 4:1)
It follows from this truth that we may never approach the Scriptures with an open mind to determine for ourselves what is inspired and what is not. When one, for example, begins to tamper with the simple account of creation given in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 by calling this not a literal rendering of what actually happened but only a “teaching model,” this is exactly what he does. He sets himself above the Scriptures and becomes the judge of what is God’s Word and what is not. This must never be our approach. WE are under sacred obligation to bow unconditionally before the Scriptures, to believe them without question or doubt. Our calling is to search them as the “light which shines in the dark place” of this world. They are our meat and drink for “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.” (Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:4) In childlike faith we are to feed on God’s Word. In this way, and only in this way, will we experience the power of the Word in our daily living.