A Contemporary Confession

Vantage Point
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The Three Forms of Unity are historical documents that reflect the precise spirit of their time.

Discussions about our denomination’s confessions, also known as the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—are ongoing.

Some believe that we should preserve these confessions as they were written. Others argue that we should adapt them to contemporary times but continue to affirm their authority. Still others argue that we should do away with these confessions altogether and start anew. And some have proposed that we add a fourth document to the Three Forms of Unity, such as the Belhar Confession, to make our testimony more complete.

I propose that we refer to the Three Forms of Unity as the “historical confessions” of the CRC. This implies, of course, that the exact language of each confession be minutely preserved. After all, they are historical documents that reflect the precise spirit of their time. These documents should never be altered, and for that reason should always be referred to as “the historical confessions of the Christian Reformed Church.” Further, these historical confessions should never be considered normative for our times because their normativity for today would violate their historicity of yesterday.

What would be normative, however, is a Contemporary Confession. Such a new document would be similar to the CRC’s Contemporary Testimony Our World Belongs to God, but not necessarily identical to it. This Contemporary Confession would be drawn up by the CRC synod. From then on, a synodically appointed standing committee would, upon the instruction of the annual synod, recommend certain modifications, alterations, or additions to the Contemporary Confession as needed.

This process would be repeated at the commencement of each subsequent synod, at which time all the synodical delegates would also subscribe to the Contemporary Confession. The document would then be normative throughout the entire year. Newly elected or appointed officebearers would also be expected to subscribe to it.
Something to think about!

About the Author


Simon Wolfert is a retired missionary pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who served in Brazil, Toronto, and Vancouver. He lives in Surrey, British Columbia.

See comments (3)


Far from being a novel idea, Rev. Wolfert is no doubt well aware that this has been the practice of the Reformed Church in America for some time. Additionally, this issue was debated in depth at Synod in 2012 when the new Covenant of Officebearers was adopted.

It does not flow logically to me, why something cannot be both historical *and* normative. The CO allows officers to write overtures to review any part of the Confessions questioned on sincere biblical/theological grounds. It is my concern that once our confessional standards are weakened, it will only precipitate a decline in accountability amongst our officers, particularly our clergy.

Following Wolfert's logic nothing, be it civil documents such as the US Constitution & the Emancipation Proclamation or ecclesiastical documents such as the Church Order and especially Scripture, could be normative since we all read them in a different context from which they were written.  Nothing could be universally true because truth is relative to the reader.  Unfortunately for Wolfert, his own proposal falls victim to this logic as well: The always open to change Contemporary Confession would only be normative to those who wrote it, not to those reading it in their own contexts. 

Perhaps the Contemporary Confession would open with "My only comfort, in life and in death (unless subsequent Synodical committees alter, add or delete comfort(s) as required to accommodate the ever changing contexts of our diverse membership), is that I am not my own..."

Seriously though, here's another article in a long line of articles advocating that our Confessions are outdated and irrelevant.  Yet none of these writers ever mention any specific issues or problems with them.  My hunch is that those who want to jettison the confessional nature of the CRC want to do so not because the 3 Forms supposedly have erroneous constraints, but because they don't want any constraints at all.

Wow.  Forget that gravamen thing (the Church Order defined procedure by which one can express concern about or propose changes as to a part of a Confession) and just wholesale eject our "three forms of unity" by relegating them to the quaint things from the attic bin.  Speaking of Church Order, would we eliminate that by recharacterizing that as "historic" also?  (Actually, I'd argue we've already effectively done that as to CO Article 28 by ignoring it).

I'm a lawyer.  In my life the concept of the "rule of law" is important, dear even, even if for some lawyers not so much.  I think we degrade civil society just a bit each time we abandon the rule of law in some way.  Sadly, there's quite a bit of that going on right now.

Projecting my occupational perspective, I see the CRCNA Church Order, which refers to and intimately intertwines with those "historical confessions" as if they are normative and not just historical, as representing the counterpart of "rule of law" in the institutional church.  No, that doesn't mean I push legalism, but rather doing things in good order.

How could we possibly jump from regarding the confessions as normative to regarding them as merely historic, and how could we refute their normative quality (proposed in this article: "... these historical confessions should never be considered normative for our times because their normativity for today would violate their historicity of yesterday"), without revealing that our regard for the entirety of the confessions and church order have left the building a very long time ago and we've been living a lie since?

I'm genuinely perplexed that this proposal would make it to the pages of the Banner.  Or have we been living a lie for a very long time?  Or am I totally misreading (and mis-re-reading) this article?