The Belgic Confession: A Good Teacher

A good teacher must do at least two things: show the student what is not known and make what is known more clear and applicable to life. The Belgic Confession

does both.

What is the Belgic Confession? The Belgic is a statement and explanation of the Christian faith from the Reformed perspective written by Guido de Brès in 1561. Guido wrote the confession in the Belgium/Netherlands region during the turmoil of the Reformation when Roman Catholic kings were trying to stamp out the new movement with torture and executions. He wrote the confession to teach reforming believers, to unify the growing number of Reformers, and to show Roman Catholic leaders that the newly developing Reformed faith was biblical and consistent with the central teachings of the church through the ages.

The confession successfully taught and unified the Reformation believers, but the Roman Catholic leaders were not convinced and continued to persecute and kill Reformers. Guido stated that he and those supporting the confession would put their “backs to the stripes, tongues to knives, mouths to gags and bodies to the flames rather than deny the truth of this confession.”

His testimony was self-fulfilling. He was executed for writing the Belgic Confession.

The Belgic is an excellent teacher because it explains the key teachings of the Bible. Assuming I include background information, I can give the confession to a new believer who wants to know the central teachings of Scripture.  Everything you always wanted to know about the basics of the Reformed faith are at your fingertips. And the confession is a good teacher for experienced believers.  Why? Because it organizes the key doctrines of the church into a “logical” order to help us see how they fit together.

The confession consists of 37 sections or “articles.” After a statement regarding God (Article 1), the confession moves into a study of Scripture. The Christian understanding of Scripture is the opening doctrine of the Belgic because Scripture is the foundation for all the doctrines that follow. After Scripture the confession studies the doctrine of God. “God” is the next doctrine because the focus of Reformed thinking is the “sovereignty of God.” The next “logical” step after the study of God is the study of “man” (humanity), the crown of God’s creation.

But humanity is separated from God (by sin), so the next doctrine to study is that of Jesus Christ, the “bridge” between God and humanity. The study of Christ is immediately followed by the study of salvation—how Jesus saves and reconnects us to God.

Then the confession seems to ask, “Who are these saved people, and how do they interact?” So it moves into a study of the church, including the nature of the sacraments and the believer’s relation to civil government.

The confession ends with the “last things”: the second coming of Jesus, Judgment Day, and eternity. All is clear and organized. It is, indeed, a good teacher.

A Controversial Synod

Guido de Brès wrote the Belgic Confession in 1561.  Several years later, in 1566, a controversial synod of Reformed leaders was called, seemingly with the sole goal of changing Article 36 on civil government. Guido wanted the church separated from the “sword” of the state. Others wanted the church to accept the state as the legal power enforcing the doctrines and demands of the church.

The legitimacy of this hastily called (or “occult”) synod has been seriously questioned. The debate over Article 36 has existed since 1566; the dispute came up again at the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619. Our newest Psalter Hymnal uses de Brès’ original Article 36 and includes the altered version from 1566 in a footnote.

—Information gathered from a series of Banner articles
on the Belgic Confession written by Rev. Leonard Verduin,
Jan. 4 through May 2, 1980, “The Career of a Creed.”)


FOR DISCUSSION:
  1. How did Reformed teaching differ from Roman Catholic teaching at the time Guido de Brès wrote the Belgic? Were those differences worth martyrdom?
  2. Why is it good to place the teachings of the church in a logical order? But what dangers might doing so present?
  3. Belgic Confession Article 36 calls for the separation of church and state. In what ways should they interact nevertheless?
  4. Article 2 of the Belgic states that we come to know God not only by Scripture but also by “the creation, preservation, and government of the universe.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
  5. Do you agree with Lew Vander Meer that the Belgic is a good teacher?

About the Author

Lew Vander Meer teaches religion and sociology at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Christian High School and communication at Calvin College. He is senior pastor of New Community Church in Grand Rapids.
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