Tag Archives: Guido de Bres

De Brès vs. Richardot: A Reformation Debate

If there’s one Reformation figure who deserves more attention, I would argue that it’s Guido de Brès.  Since I wrote my dissertation on the Belgic Confession (later published as For the Cause of the Son of God) in 2010, I’ve invested more effort in researching and writing about its author and his work for the gospel.  A few years ago, one of my projects was to translate and annotate one of the debates that de Brès had while he was in prison awaiting execution.  This was published in the 2010 issue of The Confessional Presbyterian.  Today, in commemoration of the 500th birthday of the Reformation, I’m pleased to offer you the full text of the debate, along with my introduction and notes: “De Brès versus Richardot: A Sixteenth-Century Debate Regarding the Lord’s Supper.”

 


Laying On of Hands Revisited

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the Belgic Confession article 31 and what it used to say about the laying on of hands.  You can find it here.  I noted that the Confession, in its earliest editions, said that not only ministers, but also elders and deacons should be ordained with the laying on of hands.  However, this was dropped at some point, and today’s Belgic Confession editions don’t include that.  At the time, I posited that perhaps the change was made with the revision of the Confession at the Synod of Antwerp in 1566.

I had opportunity to revisit this question today.  I was reading Calvin’s Institutes and in 4.3.16 he also says that all office bearers should be ordained with the laying on of hands.  That got me to thinking about the Belgic Confession again.

I went over to the Post-Reformation Digital Library to see if they might now have a link to a 1566 edition of the BC and — jackpot!  They’ve got it.  You can find it here.  Here’s what I found when I looked at article 31:

For those who don’t understand French, there’s no mention here of the laying on of hands.  This means that, yes, the mention of this was dropped early on — at the Synod of Antwerp in 1566.  It’s also another reminder that the Belgic Confession we have today is not entirely the Belgic Confession written by Guido de Brès in 1561.


Women in Office = False Church?

It could happen later this year that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands decide at their synod to officially allow women in office.  I pray that it doesn’t, but the possibility is definitely there.  That raises questions relating to article 29 of the Belgic Confession.  Specifically, if a church federation were to adopt women in office does that automatically mean that they have become a false church?  That question needs to be answered carefully.

This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the idea of women in office in Reformed churches.  Back in the 1990s, the Christian Reformed Church in North America first discussed it, and then gradually adopted it.  That adoption was one of the biggest catalysts leading to the mass exodus from the CRC between 1992 and 1994 — over 17,000 members left just in those years.  A good number of those ended up forming what would later become known as the United Reformed Churches.

I remember some of the early talks between the CanRC and URCs in the Bulkley Valley in north-central British Columbia.  This would have been in the early 2000s.  Questions were asked of our URC brothers such as:  do you now view the CRC as a false church?  No URC person would say that.  It was as if some of the CanRC people felt that the ex-CRC people could only have been justified in leaving if they viewed the CRC as a false church.  At least some in the URC would say that the CRC was no longer a true church, but they would not say that having women in office (and the other theological aberrations) resulted in the CRC being a false church.

I think I can see why they said that.  Certainly I don’t believe that a Reformed federation which adopts women in office can be said, by virtue of only that, to have become a false church.  Let me explain.

Let’s agree that article 29 of the Belgic Confession gives a faithful summary of the teaching of Scripture about the marks of the true and false church.  Let’s use that as our starting point.  What are the marks of a false church according to the Confession?

  • It assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God.
  • It does not want to submit itself to the yoke of Christ.
  • It does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word, but adds to them and subtracts from them as it pleases.
  • It bases itself more on men than on Jesus Christ.
  • It persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke the false church for its sins, greed, and idolatries.

So, while the true church has three marks, the false church has five.  Just as all three marks need to be in order for a church to be true, so it follows that all five marks need to be seen for a church to be false.  In the original context of the 1561 Belgic Confession, there was only one church that fit the bill:  the Roman Catholic Church.  Does a church that adopts women in office become a false church?  Certainly those first two marks are being exhibited, and perhaps the fourth too.  However, not necessarily the third (notice the focus on adding and subtracting in the BC) or the fifth (the persecution envisioned leads to martyrdom).  A church adopting women in office would have to go off the rails in all these other areas for it to be a false church.

But if it is not a false church that doesn’t mean we’re saying that it is true.  Let’s review the marks of a true church:

  • It practices the pure preaching of the gospel.
  • It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them.
  • It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins.

Does adopting women in office compromise any of these marks?

“The pure preaching of the gospel” could be understood to refer narrowly to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.  However, sometimes the word “gospel” is used more broadly to refer to the Word of God in general.  I believe the latter, broader way is found here in BC 29.  I say that because the French (or Gallican) Confession, upon which the Belgic is largely modelled, does not say “gospel” in its articles 27 and 28, but “the Word of God.”  Therefore, if a church is not proclaiming the Word of God purely about who can serve in the offices of the church, this mark has been compromised.

What about “the pure administration of the sacraments”?  Did Christ institute the Lord’s Supper and Baptism with the intent that women would administer them?  Does administering the sacraments to those who follow false teachings like women in office constitute a pure administration?  We have to conclude that this mark too is imperiled by women in office.

Church discipline is also essential for a church to be true.  When members hold to false teachings like women in office, they need to be admonished and warned that they are departing from the Scriptures.  When local congregations hold to women in office and begin implementing it, then there needs to be brotherly admonition on the ecclesiastical level — and action too, if no change takes place.  But if a Synod decides that black is white and women can be ordained, then all possibility for discipline on this point disappears.  So, yes, here as well we have to conclude that the church which adopts women in office has ceased being a true church.

All three marks of a true church are affected by women in office.  The church which adopts this position ceases to be a true church of Jesus Christ.  This is why the Canadian (CanRC) and Australian (FRCA) churches will no longer be able to have ecclesiastical fellowship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands if they go in this direction.

That still leaves the question hanging:  if not a false church, and if not a true church, then what?  It’s often forgotten that there is a third category in article 29 of the Belgic Confession:  the sect.  The sect is a religious organization which is not entirely a true church, but not entirely a false church either.  In the days the Confession was written, this was the label applied to the Anabaptist groups in the Netherlands.  Guido de Brès wrote a volume of over 900 pages on the Anabaptists.  He never calls their groups “false churches.”  Instead, consistently, he calls them sects.  If you want a category for the church which adopts women in office, “sect” is what you’re looking for.

As mentioned above, I pray that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands rejects women in office once and for all.  I pray that the faithful members will gain the upper hand and steer the RCN back to God’s Word.  I pray that the churches which are already practicing this false teaching will either repent or be removed from the RCN.  I don’t want to see them become a sect.  I earnestly desire that we can continue to recognize them as a true church of Jesus Christ, our sister churches.  We must keep praying!


Book Review: A Well-Ordered Church

A WELL ORDERED CHURCH

A Well-Ordered Church: Laying a Solid Foundation for a Vibrant Church, William Boekestein and Daniel R. Hyde, Holywell, England: Evangelical Press, 2015.

There is always a need for books dealing with the doctrine of the church. Not only do those who’ve grown up in a Reformed church need new and timely treatments of this subject, but also those who are just coming on board to the Reformed faith. Both the newly-planted and the long-rooted need to have a solid biblical guide to what it means to be a church of Jesus Christ. This book fills that niche.

The authors are experienced pastors and writers. Rev. Daniel Hyde has been the pastor of Oceanside URC in California for several years. Rev. William Boekestein has been the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Carbondale, PA for some years, but has recently accepted a call to Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI. Both authors have extensive background in working with people new to the Reformed faith. Both have written several well-received books.

The book looks at the church under four main headings. In Part 1, “Identity,” the authors explain who and what the church is, especially in relation to Jesus Christ. In Part 2, “Authority,” the notion of office is explained and applied. Do the office bearers in Christ’s church bear any authority at all and, if so, are there any limits to their authority? Part 3 discusses “Ecumenicity” and the connections between churches. The final part deals with “Activity.” Here Boekestein and Hyde deal with the various callings of the church: teaching, worshipping, witnessing, and discipline. Generally speaking, readers will find faithful Reformed thoughts throughout this volume. The authors respect and work with our Reformed confessional tradition, give due attention to church history and, most importantly of all, they want to tie everything to Scripture.

I can certainly recommend this book, but with two caveats or concerns. Chapter 5 has a discussion about the perennial issue of true and false church. The authors seem to argue that the Belgic Confession only knows those two categories. However, there is a third category in the Confession that’s often neglected: the sect. When Guido de Brès wrote his massive book on the Anabaptists, he consistently called them sects. He fully recognized the great diversity among the Anabaptists (he identified over a dozen groups), but he does not ever refer to any of them as being church, either true or false. Were he alive today, de Brès would likely refer to many of the groups around us with the same terminology: sects. Perhaps this language is offensive to modern sensibilities, but it is the language of our Confession.

In Chapter 9, the authors use the expression “God is the missionary” a couple of times. There’s a kernel of truth in that insofar as God is the one who seeks out that which is lost. However, it is an expression that has been liable to misunderstanding and abuse. All of God’s purposes in this world for anything and everything can become “mission.” When everything is mission, then nothing is mission. Therefore, I would suggest that it is better and more accurate to say that God is the author of mission. Mission originates with God and it is his plan and design for the church to go into the world with the gospel of salvation.

Notwithstanding those concerns, A Well-Ordered Church drives home two essential points: First, the church is not optional. Christians united to Christ must be united to Christ’s body. Those who love Christ must love his bride too. Second, because she is the body of Christ, Christ must be honoured as her head and Lord. He must be the one who, through his Word, directs and governs her in all his ways. These two points must never be forgotten and this book serves as a helpful reminder for this generation.


Outward Looking Church: Current Craze or Christ’s Commission? (2)

Revised from a presentation for the Spring Office Bearers Conference held March 22, 2014 in Burlington, ON.  See here for part 1.

How Do Our Confessions Answer?

Since I phrased my thesis in terms of the confessions, it makes sense to start there.  There is a lot that could be said.  Appeal could be made to Lord’s Day 12 of the Catechism and how it speaks of the three-fold office of Christians.  As prophets we are to confess the name of Christ.  Who are we to confess the name of Christ to?  This obviously has an outward looking orientation.  We could go on and think of Lord’s Day 32 and how winning our neighbours for Christ by our godly walk of life is part of the reason we must do good works.  There again at least part of the perspective is looking outward.  Or we could spend some time on Lord’s Day 48, dealing with the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come.”  We confess that this includes asking our heavenly Father to “preserve and increase” his church.  The word “increase” there refers to numerical increase and that implies a certain orientation among those who pray along the lines of this petition.

We could move on from the Catechism to the Canons of Dort and the same perspective is in evidence there.  It comes in connection with the doctrine of election.  There are those who say that election knocks the motivation out of outreach.  Maybe you’ve heard Reformed churches mockingly referred to as “the frozen chosen.”  But that can only be true if we don’t take our own confession seriously.  We believe and confess that God uses his church and her witness to draw in the elect.  Election becomes evident (or comes to expression in history) through evangelism.  Article 5 of chapter 2 of the Canons of Dort is clear enough on this point:

The promise of the gospel is that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life.  This promise ought to be announced and proclaimed universally and without discrimination to all peoples and to all men, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel, together with the command to repent and believe.

Our confession says that we have a gospel promise which we are obligated to announce universally, to all peoples, all men.  The language is undeniably clear.  So also if we take the Canons of Dort seriously, they should produce an outward looking orientation in the church.

Indeed, we could spend a lot of time on what the Canons and Catechism have to say about this.  But I want to focus our attention on the Belgic Confession this morning.  Let me first explain the rationale for doing that.  The period of about 1950 to 1990 was one of widespread deconfessionalization in the Christian Reformed Church.  For many CRC members (but by no means all), the confessions became museum artifacts, pieces of CRC history and heritage, rather than a living expression of the biblical faith of the church.  In that 40 year period, many claimed that the CRC had basically become a Dutch ghetto.  The perception was that the church was turned in on itself, too often only inward looking.  Discussions took place at various levels and in various venues about why this was.  Blame was often assigned to the Three Forms of Unity and especially the Belgic Confession.  One CRC seminary professor (Robert Recker) wrote that with the Belgic Confession we’re faced with a church “talking with itself rather than a church before the world.”  Influential figures in the CRC agreed with Recker.  So, in other words, if you want to know why the CRC became a Dutch ghetto turned in on itself, look no further than the Belgic Confession.  Then the solution also begins to suggest itself: we can hold on to the Confession as a museum artifact, something that shows something of our history and where we came from, but for today we need a new confession which will really help us be an outward looking church.  That partly accounts for the development of the “Contemporary Testimony: Our World Belongs to God.”  This new confession in the CRC was adopted in 1986 and its history is rooted in dissatisfaction with the Three Forms of Unity on certain points.  That included a perception that the Belgic Confession is an exercise in ecclesiastical navel-gazing.  That historical episode puts the question squarely before us this morning:  what orientation does the Confession provide for the church?

When we think of the Belgic Confession today, we typically think of a section at the back of our Book of Praise.  This is true of all our confessions.  For us, they’re embedded in a rather large book.  However, around the world, in different places, these confessions are being printed separately in convenient, cost-effective formats.  For example, there is the Heidelberg Catechism in Spanish produced by CLIR in Costa Rica.  There is also the Belgic Confession in Russian, produced by the Evangelical Reformed Church in Ukraine.  Both are in a convenient and cost-effective format so that believers can share them with others.  There’s an outward looking, evangelistic intention here.  They didn’t make these booklets for church members, but so that church members could share their faith with outsiders.  That fits precisely with the history and original intentions of these documents, especially the Belgic Confession.

When the Belgic Confession was first published in 1561, it didn’t appear as part of a Book of Praise.  It was published as a booklet in a convenient, cost-effective format.  It was designed for mass distribution, not just amongst Reformed believers, but also with their friends, family, and neighbours.  We know of two printings of the Confession in 1561, from two different Huguenot cities in France, Rouen and Lyons.  Only one copy remains of each of those printings.  We might ask why.  We don’t know how many copies were involved in those first printings – it’s impossible to tell.  We do know that the printing from Rouen included at least 200 copies.  We know that because there is a report from the Spanish authorities saying that they found some 200 copies in the library of Guido de Bres.  The Spanish authorities burned those.  But other copies were circulating; we just have no idea of how many.  We do know they were printed cheaply and quickly.  There are a couple of possibilities to explain why we only have one copy from each of the two printings in 1561.  One would be that the Spanish destroyed most of them.  Another might be that they were so widely used and distributed that they fell apart and didn’t fare well over the following decades and centuries.  It could be a combination of both and maybe there are other factors besides.  What is clear is that, from the beginning, it was designed as a document with an outward orientation.  The format speaks to that.

Early printings of the Belgic Confession included this page of Scripture passage encouraging believers to profess their faith before men.

Early printings of the Belgic Confession included these two pages of Scripture passages encouraging believers to profess their faith before men.

This is confirmed when we look closer at the Confession as it first came off the press.  On two of the first pages of the booklet, we find a collection of Scripture passages.  Over these passages were these words, “Some passages of the New Testament in which the faithful are exhorted to render confession of their faith before men.”  Then followed Scripture passages:  Matthew 10:32-33, Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26, 1 Peter 3:15, Romans 10:10, and 2 Timothy 2:12b.  Each of these passages has an outward perspective.  The point being made is that confession of faith is inherently an outward action.  We confess our faith “before men,” to the world.

Oftentimes when we think of the Belgic Confession, we think of it merely as an effort to gain tolerance for the Reformed faith.  The Reformed Churches in the Low Countries were persecuted by the Spanish led by Philip II, and they wanted to reassure the authorities that they were not rebellious.  Instead, they were simply God-fearing people who believed what the Bible teaches.  In this understanding, the Confession is simply a defense.  But this understanding doesn’t do full justice to the original intent of the Confession.  It was not simply to gain tolerance that the Confession was written, it was also to win converts.  There was an acute self-awareness that the Reformed churches existed in the midst of unbelief and their confession was addressed to that lost world in darkness.  Throughout the Confession, you find the words “we believe,” and those very words signify that there is a body of believers confessing together, confessing together to a pagan world in need of the gospel.  Whenever you see a believing “we” in the Confession, you should also think of the lost “them.”

Based on these general considerations, P. Y. DeJong was exactly right when he wrote a commentary on the Belgic Confession and entitled it The Church’s Witness to the World.  Earlier I mentioned the deconfessionalizing of the CRC, but you may remember that I was careful not to paint everyone in the CRC black.  In that forty year period, there were men like P. Y. DeJong who stoutly resisted the deconfessionalization of the church.  They argued that the Confessions were misunderstood and undervalued.  Later, men like P. Y. DeJong would become founding fathers of the United Reformed Churches.  Having been through a struggle in the CRC, they maintained that the Confessions, when they’re rightly understood, do not produce ecclesiastical scoliosis, a dysfunction where the church is curved in on itself.

But that’s about the broad nature and historical intent of the Confession, what about the actual content of the Belgic Confession?  Does that say anything to the question before us this morning?  Since we’re speaking about the church, let’s just focus on the ecclesiological articles of the Confession, articles 27-32.

Click here to continue reading part 3…

Bibliographical note:  the quote from Robert Recker comes from his article, “An Analysis of the Belgic Confession As To Its Mission Focus,” Calvin Theological Journal 7.2 (November 1972): 179.