Protestant Creeds and Confessions – Dr. Ryan Reeves

The April 2017 issue of Tabletalk covers the 17th century of church history, as noted at the beginning of this month. The second featured article, which I read yesterday, focuses on the many Protestant creeds and confessions that were composed during this period. Dr. Ryan Reeves (cf. information below) writes about the various creeds written within Lutheranism, the Reformed camp (including Dordt), and Presbyterianism (especially the Westminster Confessions).

There is plenty of edifying material here for you to read, if you wish to “brush up” on your confessional church history. I give you a portion of the section treating the Reformed creeds. Find the complete article at the link below.

REFORMED CONFESSIONS PROLIFERATE

The Reformed tradition was equally committed to the cause of confessionalization. Depending on how wide a net we cast, there were roughly forty to fifty Reformed (or Reformed-influenced) confessions written between 1520 and 1650—by far the most of any Protestant tradition. In 1523, almost immediately as the Reformed tradition began, Huldrych Zwingli drew up the Sixty-Seven Articles in order to provide an articulation of the points at stake in Zurich. This was followed by the Ten Theses of Berne (1528), the First Confession of Basel (1534), and several others as cities began to adopt the Reformed perspective. Others would follow in other countries, with the French Confession of Faith (1559) and the Scots Confession (1560).

The reason for so many Reformed confessions comes as a result of their context. The Reformed faith was always led by a band of brothers (despite the modern impression that John Calvin alone created Reformed orthodoxy). But the Reformed tradition was born in several cities and countries almost at once. From 1520 onward, city after city embraced the Reformation, often piecemeal, and quite a few even before reform came to Geneva. Therefore, there was no singular voice like Luther’s to shape the foundational documents of Reformed confessions.

As a result, church after church, community after community spent a sizable portion of their energy codifying a confession for their local churches. This is why most Reformed confessions identify with the city of their origin: this was the confession for this city, this church, not for all Reformed churches to embrace as one.

Still, as historians and theologians point out, there is a harmonization of these Reformed confessions that unites their diverse voices into a singular Reformed voice. Their differences are not so great that we cannot see their unity on issues of salvation, worship, and practice. Today, many churches recognize a basic harmony of what is called the Three Forms of Unity—the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism—a unity not of authorship but of witness to Reformed principles.

This is not to say that all Reformed confessions are identical. As the Reformed faith spread from the Swiss cantons to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and then to England and Scotland, there were noticeable differences of emphasis or application. These confessional identities formed the initial steps that would give rise to the diversity of Reformed denominations and communities as we know it today.

Dr. Ryan Reeves is assistant professor of historical theology and assistant dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Fla.

Source: Protestant Creeds and Confessions by Ryan Reeves

April Tabletalk: The Church in the Seventeenth Century

With the start of a new month, we take time to introduce you to the April 2017 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine.

The April issue continues Tabletalk’s series on church history, focusing this time on the seventeenth century. Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to this theme with his editorial “Every Thought Captive.” In part, these are his comments on this significant period of church history:

We rightly celebrate the lives and ministries of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Reformers whom the Lord used to help bring the church back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Yet the Reformation did not end with the passing of the sixteenth century. The gospel seed planted by the fifteenth-century forerunners of the Reformation was watered and tended by the Reformers in the sixteenth century. However, it is in the seventeenth century that we begin to see the full flowering of Reformed doctrine, piety, and practice. During the seventeenth century, so much of what it means to be Protestant and Reformed was codified in the creeds and confessions that we affirm and confess today.

Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the confessional, Reformed, Protestant church. The faithful men and women of the seventeenth century continued the work of the sixteenth-century Reformers by bringing every doctrine, every practice, and every thought captive to the Word of God. May they serve as a model to us as we stand on their shoulders, holding firmly to the divinely revealed truths they faithfully proclaimed for the sake of Christ’s church, kingdom, and glory.

Dr. Nick Needham has the opening article, which is an overview of the entire period and an important one to read to get the “big picture” of what God was doing in His church during this age.

We link the complete article below but give you a section of it here – that on the confessionalism of this century. Here is what Needham has to say about this aspect of the history of the 17th century:

CONFESSIONALISM

For the English-speaking world, the seventeenth century bequeathed another legacy: the documents of the Westminster Assembly, which met intermittently from 1643 to 1653. Among its products are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These were the finest fruits of British Reformed theology at that time, and they have molded the thinking and piety of Reformed English speakers ever since.

Nor has their influence been confined to Presbyterians. When English Congregationalists adopted their own confession of faith (the Savoy Declaration) in 1658, it was a slightly modified version of the Westminster Confession. Again, when English Reformed Baptists in 1689 set forth their confession it was likewise Westminster slightly modified. The Baptists even went so far as to attach a preface stating they had deliberately embraced Westminster as an act of Reformed ecumenism. To this day, these confessions live on.

What he does not mention but which others do in this issue is the work of the Synod of Dordt against the Arminians and the adopting of the Canons of Dordt, another significant confession of this period.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the daily devotions continue with the Reformation doctrines theme, this month on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone – sola gratia!

Source: Overview of the Seventeenth Century by Nicholas Needham

Luther on Desiring the Lord’s Supper

Luther'sSmallCatechism

1943 Concordia Ed.

In his “Preface” to his Small Catechism Martin Luther admonished those new to the Protestant faith about neglecting to come to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. His words are precise and powerful, and needed by us as much as by the members of the church in his time.

As you read the following quote, keep in mind Luther is exhorting the pastors and preachers about preparing the people to come to Lord’s Supper by faithfully teaching them (especially the children) the basics of the gospel as contained in his catechism (and others like it that would follow during the Reformation, such as the Heidelberg Catechism).

Finally, now that the pope’s tyranny is over, people no longer want to go to the Sacrament but despise it. Here again urging is necessary, however, with the understanding that we are not to force anyone into the faith or to the Sacrament, nor set any law, time, or place for it. Our preaching should instead be such that of their own accord and without our command, people feel constrained themselves and press us pastors to serve the Sacrament. The way to go about this is to tell them that if anyone does not seek or desire the Lord’s Supper at the very least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not Christian, just as no one is a Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel. For Christ did not say, “Omit this” or “despise this,” but “This do, as often as you drink it,” etc. He most certainly wants it done and does not want it left undone and despised. “This do,” He says.

For a person not to prize highly the Sacrament is tantamount to saying that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. That is to say, he believes in none of these although he is overwhelmed by them and is the devil’s possession twice over. On the other hand, he needs no grace, life, paradise, kingdom of heaven, Christ, God, or any good thing. Surely, if he recognized how much evil is in him and how much he needs all the good things he lacks, he would not neglect the Sacrament, which gives help against such evil and bestows so much goodness. He will not need to be forced by law to the Sacrament but will himself come running in a hurry to the Lord’s Table, constrained within himself and pressing you to give him the Sacrament.

Therefore do not set up any law concerning it, as the pope does. Only emphasize clearly the benefit, need, usefulness, and blessing connected with the Sacrament, and also the harm and danger of neglecting it. The people will then come of themselves without your using compulsion. But if they still do not come, then let them go their way and tell them that all who are insensitive or unaware of their great need and God’s gracious help belong to the devil.

To read more of Luther’s Preface, visit this link, where you will also find his Small Catechism. For another post on this catechism of Luther, visit this page.

Luther and the Reformation (2) – The Small Catechism, 1529

ref-500-1

This year being the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (1517-2017) – its origin notably marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – we have begun a series of posts to run throughout the year on some of the major works of Luther.

Today we take a preliminary look at Luther’s Small Catechism, sometimes called “Enchiridion,” a Latin word meaning small handbook or manual.

One of the earliest fruits of the Reformation was the development of a catechism curricula of Protestant (and later Reformed) truth and practice for the instruction of the youth and the adults of the church. Just as Rome recognized the importance of teaching the children of the church in her doctrines, so did the Reformers. Only they were intent on teaching the youth the truth and godliness of the Word of God, not the false teaching and ungodliness of the apostate Roman Catholic Church.

luther-small-catechism-1529And so, early on Luther wrote his small catechism (1529), to instruct and guide the members of the recently formed Protestant churches in the newly rediscovered doctrines of the Bible. The content was simple and clear, as this paragraph from a Lutheran website states:

The Small Catechism explores the Six Chief Parts of Christian Doctrine: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It also includes daily prayers, a table of duties for Christians, and a guide for Christians to use as they prepare to receive Holy Communion.

For this post, we refer you to the preface of this catechism of Luther, where he deplored the spiritual condition of the church and implored the pastors and preachers to get about instructing their members in the basic truths and practices of the Christian faith.

Here are his opening lines of that Preface:

Martin Luther, to all faithful and godly pastors and preachers: grace, mercy, and peace be yours in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.

Oh, you bishops! How will you ever answer to Christ for letting the people carry on so disgracefully and not attending to the duties of your office even for a moment? One can only hope judgment does not strike you! You command the Sacrament in one kind only, insist on the observance of your human ways, and yet are unconcerned whether the people know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, or indeed any of God’s Word. Woe, woe to you forever!

Therefore dear brothers, for God’s sake I beg all of you who are pastors and preachers to devote yourselves sincerely to the duties of your office, that you feel compassion for the people entrusted to your care, and that you help us accordingly to inculcate this catechism in the people, especially the young. If you cannot do more, at least take the tables and charts for catechism instruction and drill the people in them word for word….

To read the rest of this powerful introduction to Luther’s catechism, go here. And when you are tempted to criticize or complain about the catechism lessons your children have to learn and you as parents have to help them learn, go back and read this preface.

New and Noteworthy Publication: The Reformed Baptism Form by B. Wielenga

A new and noteworthy publication from the Reformed Free Publishing Association has been released and may be noted here for your profit. The book is titled The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, authored by Bastiaan Wielenga, translated by Annemie Godbehere, and edited by David J. Engelsma.

In a special blog post yesterday (Sept.12), the RFPA addressed the importance of this newly translated work:

The Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism is one of the most important of all the secondary confessions of many Reformed churches worldwide. It is certainly the most read in the churches. In its original form dating from the late 1500s, soon after the Protestant Reformation, it received its present form and official standing from the Synod of Dordt in 1618/1619.

In various languages, including the Dutch, the Form functions at the baptism of adult converts and of the infant children of believers in many Reformed churches everywhere in the world. By virtue of its use to administer, solemnize, and explain the sacrament of baptism, this form is read in the worship services of Reformed churches more often than any other creed or form, with the exception of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Lacking has been a thorough, faithful, sound commentary on the Baptism Form in the English language.

This lack is now met by a translation into English for the first time of the authoritative, if not definitive, commentary on the form by the highly qualified and esteemed Dutch pastor and theologian, Dr. B. Wielenga, Ons Doopsformulier (in the English translation of the commentary, The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary. Kok of Kampen published Wielenga’s commentary in 1906.

The 448 page commentary includes chapters on “The Doctrine of Baptism in General”; “The Doctrine of Infant Baptism in Particular”; “The Prayer before Baptism”; “Admonition to the Parents”; and the “Prayer of Thanksgiving after Baptism.”

The commentary sets forth the Reformed doctrine of baptism as sign and seal, the doctrine of the covenant of God with the children of believers, and other vitally important truths related to the sacrament, including the relation of the covenant and election. 

It is also intensely practical, considering such matters as whether the officiating minister should sprinkle once or three times; whether it is proper to make of the administration of the sacrament an occasion for the gathering of relatives and friends; and, more significantly, whether parents and church are to regard and rear the baptized children of believers as regenerated, saved children of God, or as unsaved “little vipers”—in which (latter) case, of course, no rearing is possible.

The author was determined to explain the language itself of the form, avoiding the temptation to introduce convictions of his own. Written clearly and simply so as to be of benefit to all Reformed believers, the commentary also gives the Reformed pastor deep insight into the sacrament of baptism and its administration. This is a book that will help all Reformed Christians, pastors, and churches to be Reformed in thinking and practice with regard to the sacrament of baptism, especially with regard to the baptism of the infant children of believing parents.

To order the book, visit the RFPA website, www.rfpa.org, or email them at mail@rfpa.org.

Source: Reformed Free Publishing Association — The Reformed Baptism Form

“It is what we believe about Scripture more than anything else that sets us apart.” – August 2015 “Standard Bearer” – Prof.R. Cammenga

SB-Aug-2015-coverThe latest issue of The Standard Bearer has been published and is now available. The August 2015 issue (the “SB” is published monthly in the months of June, July, and August; otherwise bi-monthly) contains a fine variety of articles once again – from a meditation on 1 Cor.12:3 to material on Reformed doctrine, world and life view, missions, and family matters (cf. cover image to the left; click on it to enlarge).

One of the featured articles is the latest installment on the Second Helvetic Confession from the pen of Prof.R. Cammenga (PRC Seminary). In this article he expounds Chapter I,B of this Reformed confession, “Of the Holy Scripture Being the True Word of God.”

Here are his opening lines as he introduces his conclusion to Chap.1:

Fundamental to everything that the Reformed Christian believes and confesses is the truth of sacred Scripture: “…in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God….” (SHC, 1.1). What we believe and confess is derived from Scripture, is taught in Scripture, and can be defended on the basis of Scripture. It is what we believe about Scripture more than anything else that sets us apart. It distinguishes us from those who are not Christians and who have no regard for the authority of Scripture. It sets us apart from those who have apostatized from the faith, who invariably regard Scripture as less than the divinely inspired book that it is and therefore undervalue its authority. For good reason, then, the very first article of the Second Helvetic Confession of Faith concerns the doctrine of Holy Scripture. In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1, the SHC affirms the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, as well as the sufficiency of Scripture. In addition, the creed relates Scripture and preaching, expressing the Reformed conviction that “the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”

Part of Cammenga’s exposition is pointing out the errors of those who deny the Bible’s sole authority and sufficiency:

Either error, whether taking away from or adding to the canon of Scripture, is a fundamental denial of sola Scriptura—Scripture alone. Both fall under the condemnation of the apostle in Revelation 22:18, 19: “For I testify unto 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.”

What arrogance, that puny man should presume to excise certain books of sacred Scripture—the Word of God! What arrogance, that puny man should presume to exalt his writings to the level of the Word of God! That same arrogance is on exhibition in our own day. It is evident in the cults and sects, who add to Holy Scripture either the writings of the founder of the cult, or additional sacred writings like the Book of Mormon or the Quran.

And so he concludes with this positive point:

The distinctive mark of the believer and of the true church of Jesus Christ in the world is the confession that Scripture alone is the authority for faith and for life. Nothing may be taken away from Scripture and nothing may be added to Scripture. Because Scripture is the Word of God nothing need be added to Scripture and nothing may be placed alongside Scripture. Scripture is sufficient for the individual believer and for the church as a whole. In the words of the opening paragraph of this first article of the SHC: “And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God….”

To receive this Reformed magazine, contact the Reformed Free Publishing Association at the “SB” link above.

Forgiveness and Life in the Church of Christ – H.Hoeksema

Our pastor will be preaching on the truth of the believer’s confession of the forgiveness of sins as found in the Apostles’ Creed (Art.10) and explained by the Heidelberg Catechism in Q&A 56. In his commentary on the HC, Herman Hoeksema has this to say about the connection between our confession of forgiveness and our confession of the holy catholic church, the communion of saints (Art.9 in the AC):

In the fellowship of the Church, and, therefore, in the communion of saints, the believer lays hold upon this blessing, and makes this confession. This is the connection between the article concerning the Church and that concerning the forgiveness of sins.

Outside of the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, there are no spiritual benefits, the forgiveness of sins cannot be appropriated. If, for some reason, the believer severs himself as far as his conscious life is concerned, from that communion, the first effect of this error is always that he lacks the joy of forgiveness. Perhaps, for a time, he lives in hatred over against some of the brethren; or he envinces an unforgiving spirit; or he seeks the friendship of the world; or he lives in whatever other sin may sever his fellowship with the saints, and disturb the exercise of the communion of saints: in that state of separation from the body of believers, he forfeits the forgiveness of sins (p.88).

And then, after demonstrating this from several passages of Scripture, Hoeksema explains this relation further at the end of this treatment:

Nor is it difficult to understand why this relation between our living in the communion of saints and in the joy of forgiveness exists, and is so inseparable that the one cannot be enjoyed without the other.

It is never in our own power to lay hold on the forgiveness of sins. That we are sorry for sin, repent, seek forgiveness, and obtain it, is the work of Christ Himself. By His Spirit and grace He works the true sorrow after God in our hearts. By that Spirit, He brings us to repentance, leads us to the cross, and assures us of redemption, even the forgiveness of sins in His blood. But that Spirit, on Whose constant indwelling and operation our appropriation of the forgiveness of sins continuously depends, is the Spirit of Christ, and, therefore, the Spirit of the body, that is, the Church. For there is one Lord, and one Spirit, and that one Spirit dwells in the one body. He does not dwell in you or in me, individually, apart from the body, but in the body as a whole, and, in the individual believers, only in fellowship with the body. Hence, outside of that body the Spirit does not operate to bestow the blessings of salvation upon men. If, therefore, through some sin, the believer separates himself from the body, and does not live in the communion of saints, he immediately forfeits the forgiveness of sins.

And as he loses the forgiveness of sins, he necessarily forfeits all the blessings and joy of salvation; for the remission of sins… is basic for all other benefits in Christ.

The article concerning the forgiveness of sins, therefore, occupies a most proper place in the Apostolicum.

By its very position, we are exhorted to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! (pp.89-90).

Triple-Knowledge-HHoeksemaTaken from volume V, Abundant Mercy of Hoeksema’s The Triple Knowledge (Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1949) and now reprinted by the RFPA in the same ten volume format (2015).

May 1, 2015 Standard Bearer: Second Helvetic Confession on Holy Scripture – Prof.R.Cammenga

SB-May-1-2015The May 1, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer, the semi-monthly Reformed magazine published by the RFPA (rfpa.org), is now published and being distributed. This issue too contains a variety of edifying articles – from a meditation on Ps.55:22, to another editorial on “What It Means to Be Reformed”, to matters “all around us” of interest to Christians, to an article on raising children in a covenant home – and an important book review (By Faith Alone).

One of the new series of articles is on the historic Reformed confession, the Second Helvetic (Swiss) Confession. In this issue Prof.R.Cammenga begins to treat the specific articles of this creed, starting with Art.1 on the doctrine of holy Scripture. Today, I take a brief quote from this article to show you how significant a confession this is and why you and I ought to become better acquainted with it.

First, Prof.Cammenga quotes from the first article itself, which reads this way:

We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men.  For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.

And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.

Then he adds this opening commentary:

The Second Helvetic Confession begins its exposition of the Reformed faith with the doctrine of Scripture.  This is altogether proper.  This is necessary.  Everything depends on one’s view of Scripture.  More than anything else, this is what distinguishes the Reformed faith.  What distinguished the Reformed faith at the time of the Reformation was its view of Scripture. This is what set the Reformed apart from the Roman Catholics, on the one hand, and the Anabaptists and enthusiasts, on the other hand.   Both Rome and the Anabaptists erred in their view of Scripture. That aberrant view of Scripture affected everything.  And as different as they were from each other, both Rome and the Anabaptists were alike in that they denied the sufficiency of Scripture, that in Scripture “the Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God.”  Rome denied the sufficiency of Scripture by adding to Scripture, as an equal authority alongside of Scripture, tradition. That tradition consisted of the writings of the church fathers, the decisions of the church councils, and the Apocrypha.  The Anabaptists denied the sufficiency of Scripture by adding direct revelations and immediate promptings of the Spirit.  The Reformers said, “A plague on both your houses.”  And they affirmed the sole authority and complete sufficiency of Holy Scripture, with appeal to Revelation 22:18 and 19, where “it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from” the Word of God.

And finally, he makes this application to us today:

Still today, this is the issue and still today this is what distinguishes the Reformed faith, at least the Reformed faith properly understood.  Scripture alone is the arbiter of truth.  Scripture alone is the authority for faith and life.  Scripture alone is determinative in the life of the church, both the local congregation and the broader assemblies.  And Scripture is determinative for the walk of the individual believer in the midst of the world. The method employed by Bullinger in the Second Helvetic Confession of beginning with the doctrine of Scripture is the distinctively Reformed method.  All the truth that we confess and that is summarized in the confession is revealed in Holy Scripture.  The Reformed view of Scripture is that it is “the true Word of God.”  Fundamental to the Reformed faith is its view of Scripture.

To receive a sample of this Reformed magazine, or to subscribe, visit this SB page on the RFPA website.

“And so He (Christ, the Son of God) died.” – Rev. H.Hoeksema

After describing all that death is and what it signifies, Rev. Herman Hoeksema applies it to Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died on the cross at Calvary:

And so He died.

O, yes, it was necessary that He, too, should die the physical death. He might not simply suffer the agonies of death on the cross, in order then to be revived or glorified in the sight of the enemies. He must bear the wrath of God to the end. The sentence of God in physical death is that the sinner has absolutely forfeited every right to his existence in the world. This sentence must be executed upon Christ also. God takes away His whole earthly house. His very name perishes. His body, too, collapses, and He gives up the ghost. Also upon Him the sentence is pronounced that He is unworthy to exist on the earth.

Only, as the Head of His people, He agrees with the sentence of God with all His heart. He makes of death an act. His life He lays down even as God takes it. His spirit He commends to God, His body He delivers over into the place of corruption. His name and position He freely offers up to the righteousness of God. And in delivering up His soul unto death He confesses: ‘Thou, Father, art just and righteous, when Thou judgest that the sinner has no right to be, should be utterly destroyed from the earth, and should sink into everlasting desolation. Take my life, my name, my all. Freely I offer it in love to Thee. For even now it is my meat to do Thy will!’

…Only His death, the death of the Son of God Himself in human nature, could be so deep, so precious in the sight of God, that by His obedience many could be made righteous. Only when the death of the cross is the death of the Son of God can we have the assurance that our sins are blotted out for ever, and that in Christ we have the righteousness of God by faith.

Triple Knowledge-10vols-2015Taken from Rev.Herman Hoeksema’s explanation of Lord’s Day XVI (16), Q&As 40-44, of the Heidelberg Catechism, as found in The Death of the Son of God (Vol.3 of “The Triple Knowledge”; originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1946 and now being reprinted by the RFPA), p.247-250.

Where Does Scripture’s Authority Come From? – Keith Mathison

What We’ve Received by Keith Mathison | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - March 2015The above-linked article in this month’s Tabletalk is the third one centered on the theme of the March issue – “Inerrancy and the Doctrine of Scripture.”

Dr.Keith A. Mathison is the author of this article, and in it he treats the authority of Scripture in connection with how we know in the first place what books belong to the Bible (its “canon”). As he shows us the Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura, he refutes Rome’s claim that the church is the body that determines the canon of the Bible and therefore she is the one who gives Scripture its authority. Mathison shows plainly that the Bible carries its own authority because it is the Word of God.

What I appreciated about this article is its solid historical and confessional foundation rooted in the great Reformation. Repeatedly Mathison takes us to the historic Reformed creeds of the Reformation (Westminster Confession, Scots Confession, Belgic Confession, Second Helvetic Confession, etc.).

This is a lengthy article, but well-worth your reading. I give you a portion of it here, where Mathison gets at the heart of the controversy between the Reformed and Rome. Find the full article at this link (or the one above).

The question at the heart of the debate between Rome and the Protestants regarding the canon and the authority of Scripture may be stated as follows (using Michael Kruger’s terminology): Is the canon of Scripture community determined or is it self-authenticating? According to Rome, the authority of Scripture depends upon the authority of the church. The most fundamental problem with this view, however carefully it may be nuanced and qualified, is that it unavoidably and inevitably places the authority of God beneath the authority of the church. It completely reverses the true state of affairs. If we are to believe in the authority of Scripture, according to Rome, we must assume the authority of the church. But why should we accept the authority of the church? Is it self-authenticating? No, Rome says, and she appeals to Scripture to establish the authority of the church just as she appeals to the church to establish the authority of Scripture. The circular nature of this appeal has been pointed out since the Reformation.

To say that the canon and authority of Scripture is self-authenticating is to say what the Reformed confessions say. It is, to use the words of William Whitaker, to say that “the Scripture is autopistos.” It has “all its authority and credit from itself.” Why? Because it is the Word of the living God, and God does not have to appeal to the church in order to establish His own inherent sovereign authority. God is God. The church is not God.

So, how is it that the church has come to recognize the right books and only the right books? Jesus Himself gives us the answer when He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). As Roger Nicole has pointed out, the best way to describe the way in which we know the canon is “the witness of the Holy Spirit given corporately to God’s people.” Recognition of the canonical books is due to the action of the Holy Spirit’s enabling God’s people to hear His voice.