In 1973 two Dutch Reformed pillars, Herman Ridderbos and G.C. Berkouwer wrote a new confession of faith called “Proef van een Nieuw Belijden” (“A Taste of a New Confession”). The confession (published below in its entirety) is a little bit awesome, a little bit whack, and a lot disturbing. I post it here looking to you folks smarter and more nuanced than me (that’s essentially all you readers), please do review the text (while considering the historical context from which this document was birthed) and and share your thoughts below. But, as far as I can see, it appears that our guys Herman Ridderbos and G.C. Berkouwer caved to the liberal agenda. Abraham was a liar, David an adulterer and murder, Jonathan Edwards a slave owner – Kuyper was a jerk and lone-ranger Christian, Barth had a mistress, Tozer was a crappy husband – and it appears that, maybe, Ridderbos and Berkouwer thought the Bible was less than utterly divine (not inerrant).
I’ve often thought if I ever become a millionaire that I would gather sound Christians and commission them to pen an updated confession of faith (R. Scott Clark, who is a staunch lover of the Three Forms of Unity, has mentioned the value of an updated confession as well. In fact, Dr. Clark, would really love any thoughts you have here). Not to replace the previous confessions, but to add onto them, further nuance them and the implications of what they contain).
Indeed, the Belgic, the 1689, the Augsburg, the Westminster (etc.) addressed both timeless issues as well as their own local issues – they were forged in their own context. I think 2021 is in dire need of a contextualized update “Reformed always reforming” they say so I think the Reformed old guard would even allow it (I’m aware of the New City Catechism, but that’s not scratching the itches I’m talking about. We don’t just need updates for the purpose of modern language, but we need it because we are simply asking different, or should I say, additional, questions than those asked hundreds of years ago). I have especially wanted a confession that would speak to not just raw and concentrated doctrine as such, but, questions and answers that speak to things that most of us in the West care about and are the fodder of our daily lives, things like: sex, “non-Christian” music, social media, BBQs, cold beer, relationships, leisure, education, ministry, personal Bible reading, piety, how to please God, vocation, etc (and, yes, the Confessions do hit some of these topics, directly or derived, but not in a targeted way and especially not in a contextualized way). All that to say, I was looking for a confession that would inform the laity, the normal folk, the “kleine luyden” – a confession that could spring from everyone’s favorite Abraham Kuyper line “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
And so, you could imagine my delight and curiosity when, from the bowels of the internet, there were echoes telling me that maybe, in Dutch or maybe in English, a modern confession – an updated confession – existed!
I had first was made aware of the document from the 2017 Morris N. Greidanus article called “The Making and Shaping of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony” when he said:
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, to which the CRC was closely linked at the time, asked professors G.C. Berkouwer and H. Ridderbos to draft a new confession. It was called a “Proef van een Nieuw Belijden” (“A Taste of a New Confession”). Two major Reformed synods of 1974 and 1975 received it warmly.
Yes please! Ok, and it gets better… Not only as there possibly a Kuyperian confession, but it was from the 70’s (so, kind of modern), and, wait for it: it was penned by a couple of Theological heroes G. C. Berkouwer and Herman Ridderbos! “O snap!” I thought, “these guys are neo-Calvinists, they will bring every square inch fire!”
So, I started to dig around and sent emails to all the smart people I know so I could locate this thing. Most didn’t know of the confession, but 3 folks new of it, but none had it, but I did get some clues from them. The first person told me (who I will leave unnamed, just so it won’t ruffle feathers. Suffice it to say, this guy is one of the last hold outs of Reformed neo-Calvinism who is still sound):
“This document received very serious and heavy criticism from the left and from the right in ecclesiastical circles in the Netherlands. Given my study of both Berkouwer and Ridderbos, in later life both proved to be unreliable theologians on several matters that I won’t go into. Suffice to say, you need to be careful in any defense/promotion of Berkouwer and Ridderbos. Not all is at it seems.”
“O, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about” I thought. There’s no way these pillars caved! Well, more on that in a moment.
Next was a friend in the Netherlands (aloha Jet!), who hadn’t heard of it, but is friends with a decedent of Herman Ridderbos, and so she (the kind lady she is) reached out to Herman’s decedent. She was given some info and she has located, and is sending me, a Dutch copy along with a commentary on it (I will add that to this post once I have it)!
Then, the librarian at Western Theological Seminary (aloha Steve!) located the confession as it was printed in 2 consecutive issues of “The Standard Bearer” (Vol 50 Issue 14 4/15/1974 and Vol 50 Issue 15 5/1/1974). And it was in English!!!!!
So, last night I finally found the English version and I was let down. Even as a layman, and not even a few paragraphs in, a red flag started flapping in my heart. There was, what seemed to be, a sort of tip-toeing around the Bible and its inerrancy/infallibility. Such a bummer. Realizing this was in the 1970’s, I think that’s the same time so many (former) “conservatives” started doing metal gymnastics about the authority of the Bible – and, it turns out that my guys Ridderbos and Berkouwer might have been pommel horsing the Word of God. So, for me to be certain, I reached out to a brilliant scholar who has been so kind to engage with me from time to time, and sharing with him the text, he confirmed the doubts that this document was whack:
This document, of course, was produced by a couple of leading “moderates” in the GKN, caught between the liberals (with whom they sympathized on such things as Assen) and the Gereformeerde Bond (with whom they didn’t sympathize).
The wording, therefore, does not straightforwardly say “We don’t have to believe the Bible if it says something that doesn’t fit with modern scientific theories.” It keeps emphasizing the authority of Scripture, the role of Scripture in knowing God, and so forth.
But at the same time, it leaves room for someone in the more liberal camp to hold to this “confession” of the authority of Scripture while rejecting certain things that Scripture teaches, as if the kernel is important but not the husk, the ideas but not the historical details.
In the end, neither the liberals nor the Gereformeerde Bond liked this new proposed confession and it was not adopted. But, as Berkouwer indicated, the synod was “Goodbye, Assen.”
But I would add that this declaration, though it came a few years after he began teaching at the VU, was also “Welcome, Kuitert.”
It turns out my smart friend was right when he warned me, about Berkouwer and Ridderbos, that, “Not all is at it seems.”
All that to say, I was bummed. I was bummed because not only was the confession not that compelling, but it was a bit on the lib side and that sucks. I don’t understand why all my Kuyperian heroes end up being heretics and kooks. Seriously, even my man Herman Ridderbos?! O come on, not you too Herman!
Ok, enough of my comma splices and run-ons, here is the Confession. But first 3 notes:
- I’m still not sure what its called. Its either called “Proef van een Nieuw Belijden”/”A Taste of a New Confession” or “A Unanimous Testimony of Faith”
- Apparently, this is a “draft”, I’m not sure if it’s the final
- The confession is, about 10 pages long, broken in 4 short parts: Part 1 “Our Christian Faith and Its Confession”, Part 2 “The Faith Which We Confess”, and Part 3 “Conclusion”
NOTE: After the confession, I will paste the comments made by H.C. Hoeksma’s (Herman Hoeksma’s son?) thoughts of the confession (teaser: he thinks its whack)
A Confession of Faith by G.C. Berkouwer and H. Ridderbos
“A Unanimous Testimony of Faith” (a draft)
“Proef van een Nieuw Belijden”/“A Taste of a New Confession”
I. Our Christian Faith and Its Confession
1. Our Christian faith is faith in God. Unless we believe in God, we cannot believe in Christ nor be His disciples. For not only has Christ been sent to us by the Father, but He is also the way for us to the Father. However much this faith in its nature relates us to the world around us, there is no relationship which can replace or fully coincide with our attitude toward God. By this faith we know that we have been accepted by God as His children, we call on Him as our Father, we may place an unlimited trust in His power and love, and we understand ourselves as placed with our whole life in His service. Therefore the confession of our faith surpasses all the knowledge that we could possibly know or express regarding man and the world, and our confession is before all else a speaking before the face of God, such as is done in reverence, in obedience, and in deep dependence upon Him.
2. The confession of our faith is a response to that which God has revealed concerning ourselves. We do not know God from ourselves but only from His revelation. Moreover, we are not able in our confession of faith to comprehend Him in the fullness of who He is; but we believe that He is willing to enter into fellowship with us men and that for that purpose He has made us to know in a way that is sufficient and reliable. And although man by His sin and apostasy has deprived himself of the true knowledge of God, God does not leave him to himself, but continues to witness to him in many diverse ways. For not only does the reality which we observe and continue to discover display so much the traces of His power and wisdom which transcend all human understanding, that the question about God has always arisen and continues to arise in the hearts of men, but He is also not far from any man to illumine the spirit of man and to write the knowledge of His will into his heart.
God has revealed Himself supremely in the magnitude of His grace and goodness in that He, by means of the atonement, has brought back man who was estranged from Him into a saving fellowship, and in that He has made Himself known to him as a loving Father. We believe that for this purpose God made Israel to be a light of the nations by revealing to this people his saving deeds, by giving them the service of reconciliation and the prophetic Spirit and to cause Jesus Christ, Who by His coming into the world lightens every man, to be born from them.
All that we as a Christian church confess concerning the Triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is therefore grounded entirely in the revelation of Jesus Christ, the One Sent by the Father and the Son of God. Therefore we speak of our universal and Christian faith and thereby signify that the things which we confess as the content of our faith are given to us in Him, and that we have received and desire to confess this in fellowship with all those who believe in Him.
3. We believe that God has revealed the will and the council of His redemption not only in various ways in the history of Israel, but that He has also given us, through the service of man, the witness of this revelation in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in an undeceivable and unshakable foundation for the church, so that it can build and establish its faith upon it. For God has from ancient times called and endowed man by His Spirit in order that by their word he might communicate, interpret His word in a clear, reliable, and authoritative way and commit it to writing for the church of all ages.
We do not deny that these Scriptures, because they were written by men who lived in widely differing ages and were also equipped with greatly differing aptitudes, education, and knowledge, bear traces of their humanness in various ways, and that we can understand the Scriptures only by due consideration of them. We refer hereby not only to the foreign languages in which the Scriptures were written and the various forms of literature (history, psalmody, wisdom, prophecy, apocalypse) in which they have obtained shape and which must be explained according to their own nature, but also to the fact that the contents of the Scripture is determined in various ways by the circumstances and the age in which the writers of the Bible lived. For the fact that the writers were driven and guided by the Spirit of God does not mean that they were relieved of all their own natural limitations. In this connection it is also of particular importance to discern the purpose for which Scripture has been given to us and under which viewpoint we must search and understand it; namely, not in order to give infallible divine information concerning all kinds of arbitrary matters, but to make us understand how God wants us to know Him rightly and to fear Him. Therefore we welcome all research and study of the Scriptures which help us better understand their place and background in history and their nature and purpose.
But we reject every thought that the Scriptures, because they have thus been committed to writing by man, are no longer the Word of God for us. For the knowledge of the true God comes therein to us so clearly and powerfully in its enlightening and saving effect that the Scriptures need no other testimony than that they themselves contain to be the lamp which God has given for our feet and the light upon our path. We are the more convinced of this because Christ Himself has thus taught us to understand and to receive the Scriptures as the Word of God. For in His entire earthly ministry He has recognized and fulfilled the Scriptures of the Old Testament as the prophetic Word of God that relates to Himself, and has made the testimony of His apostles to be the foundation of His church, and promised to build His church upon it.
Therefore we believe that the Church has rightly recognized the Scripture as the Word which God has given to it, and has with good discernment received the books of the Old and New Testament as holy and canonical and has distinguished them from all other human books. Also at the present time the church has no other ground and guideline for her faith than this Holy Scripture. We cannot truly confess our faith in any other way than in reverent subjection to this Word, and to this Word alone.
We hereby recognize that the discernment and understanding of the Scripture as the Word of God does not lie in our own power or freedom, as if men had the Word of God at their command. Much rather, we confess that we are dependent for this discernment and understanding upon the guidance and illumination of the Spirit Whom Christ has promised to the church and upon His testimony in our hearts. However this does not mean that the Scripture itself is unclear in its intention or that the key to its understanding and the ground of its authority does not lie in itself. But that which is of God can only be known from God, and it is by His Spirit that God makes us understand His Word, and that Christ will lead His Church into all truth by the light of the Scripture.
4. We believe that God has revealed Himself to us in Christ so that we may attain to the purpose for which He has created us and placed us in the world, namely to live as true men before His face and in fellowship with one another. For even as we cannot live without the light of the sun, so we know that we are lost in the darkness without the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Only in that knowledge do we learn the meaning and the purpose of our own lives, do we view our neighbor and the world in which we live in the proper light; and do we understand, when not attaining to this goal the nature and the seriousness of our failing not only as a lack in ourselves or as a shortcoming toward other people but as alienation from and sin against God our Creator. Only in this light are we able to find again the way back and learn to understand that only by the forgiving and liberating grace of God can we live in the freedom of the children of God.
Therefore we in confession of our faith do not put ourselves outside the common life of everyday nor do we separate ourselves from the world in which we live, but we try in our confession to bear testimony of that which is necessary and even indispensable for every man, old or young, learned or unlettered, or whoever he may be. That which we have learned to understand in subjection to the Scriptures we also confess as the liberation and the joy of our life, as the light in our darkness, as the power in our weakness, as our only comfort in life and in death. Thus we in the confession of our faith give praise to God; we give an account of the hope that is in us; we put ourselves in the fellowship with the entire church on earth and we also seek to win others to the faith.
II. The Faith Which We Confess
Keeping in mind that which we have already said regarding our faith in general and our confession of it, that which we further confess as the content of our universal Christian faith can be summarized in the following 10 points:
1. God Our Father
We believe and confess that God is our Father in Jesus Christ our Lord. When we speak of Him in this way we are saying:
that He Who has revealed Himself in Christ is the Origin and Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, and that He continues to direct all things to the goal that He has set in creating the world;
that He is also the one Who has reconciled the world to Himself in Christ and continues to call it to Himself by His Word and Spirit in order to live in his fellowship;
that He for this purpose has established His kingship in Christ among men and that He will bring this kingdom to victory in the way of salvation and judgment.
We thus confess God, the Father, as Creator, Redeemer and Finisher of all things. And we believe that one cannot in truth speak of Him in his incomprehensible greatness, wisdom and love in any other way than by Jesus Christ our Lord and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. For no man knows the Father, except the Son and he to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. And we know that the Son has come and has given us an understanding, to know the Truthful One. And God has revealed it to us by the Spirit so that we should know that which has been given to us by God in grace (Matthew 11:27, I John 5:20, I Cor. 2:10-12).
2. God and Man
We believe that God has created man good and after His image, that He has equipped him as man and woman in order to live in fellowship with God, to know His will and to obey it in freedom;
that he also has created man in order to inhabit and rule the earth as God’s covenant partner and representative and thus to attain to the temporal and eternal destiny which God had reserved for him.
Man, however, as far as his history extends, has yielded to the foreign temptation to take the gift of his freedom into his own hand and not to exercise it in obedience to God; he has separated his glorious and powerful responsibility for his own life and for the entire history of the world from the fellowship with His Creator and has turned away from God. Thereby, from the moment that man came under the temptation of evil and fell into sin the history of the human race has taken a turn which is in conflict with its divine destiny. For man has indeed remained man and has not been deprived of his human gifts and responsibility, but instead of the privilege of possessing and exercising these in the undisturbed fellowship with God, this evil choice, as the mother of all evil has obtained mastery in his life. In the place of an undivided heart, division has come; in the place of freedom, temptation and slavery. Yes, sin has obtained control to such an extent in the heart of man and in the entire human race that the good at no time or any place exists without the evil; and that sin has become a power which penetrates and determines the entirety of human life, individually and corporately; even when man begins to struggle against evil and its effects he encounters an enemy whom he can no longer overcome. Therefore we believe that men, each one individually, and all of them together, stand guilty before God; are not able to save themselves and to attain to their destiny; that also no human ideal, however exalted it may be, nor even the law of God Himself can provide for this, but that only in the power of the blood and of the Spirit of Christ does the reconciliation and the renewal of human life lie.
3. Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Lord
We believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the one sent from the Father, the Messiah promised to Israel, the Savior of the world. For thus He has made Himself known during his life on earth, as the Son of God who came to call men back to God and to bring them by the power of his words and deeds under God’s saving lordship.
Moreover He has also for our salvation assumed our guilty existence that was subject to death and has given Himself for us when He, in the deep humiliation of His suffering and death on the cross put Himself in our place in the judgment of God as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.
God Himself has confirmed in the most glorious way that which His Son had thus finished, in accordance with His will when He raised Him from the dead, exalted Him as Lord and Christ, and gave Him a Name that is above every name in heaven and on earth. For not only does that which he has done retain eternal power, but He Himself also rules us as the living Lord by His Word and His Holy Spirit. Yes, we believe according to His Word that to Him all power has been given in heaven and on earth against every power of sin and darkness, and that He will lead the world to the righteousness and liberation of God’s holy and eternal kingdom.
Therefore our words fail when we value and confess Him according to His true worth. He is our Brother and He is our Lord. He has become like us in everything, born of a woman, generated from the seed of David and yet not by the power of natural life but He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary. He became poor while He was rich and became man by emptying Himself. For it was God Himself Who came to us in Him and reconciled the world to Himself. And so we confess and adore Him with the exalted names which the Scriptures themselves give Him, such as the Image of the Invisible God, the Word that was in the beginning with God and was God and became flesh; the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
4. Justification and Reconciliation
We believe that the reconciliation accomplished by Christ concerns first of all the relation of man to God. For even as the root of all evil lies in the departure and alienation of man from God, so the entire salvation of life is included in the reconciliation of man with God.
This reconciliation depends so completely upon God’s grace in Christ that the Scripture says that God justifies the ungodly. For this does not only mean that when we turn to God He will accept us but rather that God in Christ’s atoning sacrifice has taken away the judgment upon our sins before we came to Him or called to Him, and has opened for us the way to Himself. Therefore it can be said that man is justified by faith alone, without the works of the law, in order to express that the reconciliation with God does not rest in our good works or in repentance but only in the completed work of Christ, and that we may be a partaker thereof freely, by faith alone.
The power of this reconciliation is so great that it embraces the entirety of our life. For by reconciling us to God Christ saved us from the power of sin and brought us under His lordship. Therefore, with an appeal to this great mercy of God, we are admonished to present our entire life as a sacrifice to God, to forgive others as people whose guilt is forgiven and to show to one another the love with which God has loved the world; and furthermore to live no longer under the lordship of the powers and people who are estranged from God but to stand in the freedom with which Christ has made us free; that is, in submission to God and in imitation of Christ.
This connection which the Scriptures establish between the reconciliation and the renewal of our life is so close that they warn us that without sanctification no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14) and that the tree is known by its fruits (Matthew 7:16-20). Therefore the church has rightly confessed the relation between faith and works and has connected the certainty of faith to its fruits (Lord’s Day 32). Hereby the ground for our faith is not again transposed to our good works but the holy purpose that God has established in the reconciliation of our human life is impressed upon our hearts with such power that this connection must continue to fill us with fear and trembling and must force us that much more to seek the only source and power for all our life not in ourselves but in the love with which God has loved us.
5. The Kingdom of Christ
We believe that the Kingdom of Christ has gone out into the world as a saving spiritual lordship to join battle with the powers of darkness, sin and death which hold the life of man in servitude. Christ exercises this lordship by His Word and the Holy Spirit as the ministry of reconciliation, and we believe that God saves all who heed it from the power of darkness and transports them into the kingdom of the Son of His love.
This lordship of the crucified and risen Lord is proclaimed to us as the triumphal disarmament of all principalities and powers (Col. 2:15). In the light of these words which far surpass all our thoughts concerning the world that is visible to us and discloses the depth of the power of the cross against all shame and human pride, we believe that this lordship of Christ is not limited to a specific life relation, also not to that of the church, but that where it is accepted it reveals itself as a liberating and renewing power in the entirety of the life of men. It establishes peace and righteousness; it joins battle with injustice and suppression; it kindles hope in the hearts of man; and it keeps faith in the future alive. And although there are many forces in the world which want to liberate life from misery and injustice, in which we recognize that God continues to write His law on the hearts of man, nevertheless the Lordship of Christ is to be discerned and known herein that it does not teach us to search for the salvation of life in the power and will of man himself but in the power of His blood and His Spirit and in the return of man to God. Therefore the Kingdom of Christ and the service of reconciliation that proceeds from it in the world is for man, but not according to man. It both saves and it judges; it both establishes peace and it divides. Only then will it fill the entire earth and make all things new when every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess Him as Lord and the last enemy, which is death, will have been destroyed.
6. The Church
We believe that Christ whose Kingdom comprehends all times and places, has Himself gathered a church and still continues to gather it by the preaching of the Gospel from all the nations of the world.
It may also be said of this church that it has been chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). For the only and unshakable ground of its existence lies in God’s council and good pleasure to form a new mankind in Christ from the world which has fallen and is estranged from God, and to call it as His people to Himself.
Therefore we recognize this church where men from ancient times have understood the voice of God and have followed it and have lived in the expectation of the coming salvation. God’s gracious election however has become apparent in particular in the calling of Israel, the people of God’s Covenant, whom He endued with the special knowledge of His will, with the ministry of reconciliation and prophetic revelation, and whom He, in spite of all its errors, preserved and destined as His people to be a blessing for all nations on earth. For in the Messiah of Israel the mercy of God and His love for mankind has appeared so clearly and powerfully that in His church no distinction of sex, or race, or class, or nation is valid any longer but Christ is all and in all.
Therefore we believe that there is one, holy, catholic, Christian church, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and which knows no other boundaries than those of the Lordship of the Word and the Spirit of Christ and whose oneness and holiness lie exclusively in its submission to this lordship. Moreover this dependence of the church upon its Lord is so complete that the church may also be called the body of Christ, in order to express that it derives its existence, its oneness and its diversity solely from its fellowship with Him.
We believe that this congregation which is built in its holy faith by the ministry of Word and sacrament has been put in the world to confess God’s Name, to proclaim the gospel to all nations, and in its activities in the world to stand in the service of the coming of the Kingdom of Christ. When we thus speak about the church we realize that the church as we have learned to know it from history and as it exists to this day displays only very partially the image of the one, holy, and universal church and that it has often been difficult, and still is, to recognize it as such.
When we nevertheless persist in this confession concerning the church it is not as if we wanted to retain an unreal and unattainable ideal, but rather because we believe that God who knows His own has preserved his church in the midst of much apostasy and deformation and every time anew will bring it to clearer manifestation; and further because in the midst of the dividedness of the church in which often something entirely different than the richness of diversity comes to light it remains an urgent task for the entire church to do everything possible to manifest the visible unity which the Lord Himself has oriented toward the faith of the world (John 17:23) and which is a sign of true discipleship (John 13:35). This unity in the midst of all human estrangement and brokenness belongs essentially to the church which herein also is the light of the world and the city on the hill, visible to all. In the expectation of the one flock under the one shepherd, the church is ever and again called to the testing of its confession and life according to the Gospel that is revealed in order to unite all under the one Name.
7. Baptism and the Holy Supper
We believe that by the Holy Baptism in the name of the Triune God we are taken up into the fellowship of Christ and of the church as His body.
By means of joining this sign of the washing away of sin to incorporation into the church, Christ has grounded our membership in the church entirely in the atonement as it has proceeded from God has been accomplished by Christ, and is communicated by the work of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Therefore baptism can be called the sign and seal of God’s covenant, the baptism into the death of Christ, and the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
From this meaning of baptism and all its descriptions, it clearly appears that the church is not a mere institution of man to which we are able to join ourselves and from which we can separate ourselves according to our wishes, but that our membership therein depends only on God’s electing grace by which He has called us to Himself and to His holy church. Therefore baptism and our incorporation into the church remain valid our whole life long and we cannot divest or separate ourselves from them without separating ourselves from Christ.
The church from early times onward has rightly baptized also the children of believers. For God calls us to His gracious fellowship with all that we have and all that we are also with our children. Therefore the little children who themselves are yet incapable of a deliberate choice of faith are by baptism, as children of believers, to be incorporated into the church and brought under the lordship of the Word and the Spirit of Christ.
Christ has also, in the night in which He was betrayed, instituted the Holy Supper and has given to His disciples the bread and the wine to eat and drink as signs of His body and blood unto a lasting remembrance.
Therewith He has directed the eyes of His church for all times to the atoning sacrifice which He brought once for all, whose saving power may be proclaimed and celebrated at the Supper of the New Covenant and therein shall in this sacrifice that is bestowed and confirmed to his own in a most personal way.
Therefore we in the Holy Supper direct our hearts upward where Christ is. For it is from His own hand that we eat and drink and it is His own presence that makes the holy bread and the holy drink to be a food and drink of eternal life.
By thus continuing to celebrate the Holy Supper, the church proclaims the death of its Lord as a holy tradition until He comes. It eats of the bread and thus, going from strength to strength, faces the future. It hands the cup from person to person, those who are going to those who are coming; and it does this in the expectation of the great future of which the Scriptures often speak as the great wedding banquet in which Christ will unite His people in His fellowship in the Kingdom of His Father.
8. The Holy Spirit
We believe that the church can exist in the world only by the power and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. For the Spirit maintains fellowship between the church and its Lord in heaven and leads it through history toward the future of Christ and of His Kingdom in glory.
We believe that the Spirit is the gift of Christ and that no one can belong to Christ and His church without the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit turns us away from ourselves and converts us to God. He teaches us to put our trust completely in the sacrifice of Christ offered once for all on the cross, to call upon God as our Father and to dedicate our whole life to Him. He is not the Spirit of slavish fear, but the Spirit of freedom and childlike confidence, the Spirit of grace and of prayer.
We believe that we share in the gift of the Spirit of Christ as members of His Body. For we participate personally in the salvation of Christ solely in fellowship with all who belong to Him by a true faith. Therefore we confess the communion of the saints. For as there are many members, each with its own gift in the rich diversity of the fullness of Christ, so it is one and the same Spirit who performs this all, namely the Spirit of the body. Moreover, for the advancement of the unity of the faith and love, Christ has established offices and ministries in the church to build it in the faith and to equip it for service, both in its mutual relations and in its dealings in the world. We therefore recognize the Body of Christ, the working of the Spirit, and the maturity of the believers, of which the Scripture speaks most clearly, where the church has not lost its way by various errors but, held together by the bond of love in the multiplicity of gifts in the one Spirit and in the distinctiveness of the members displays the one body and knows how to make this serviceable for the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ.
9. Church and World
We believe that God has called His church out of the world and thus has made a distinction between church and world. We understand the world to be the life that has been estranged from God and His service and the way of thinking and doing that derives from this estrangement. Therefore we also believe that the marks of the church are not a given implied in its separation itself but consist in the dedication of life to God, in the understanding and the doing of His will, in the struggle against sin, and in thus not being conformed to the world.
Although God is angry against and hates sin, He has nevertheless loved the world in His mercy and has reconciled it to Himself. Therefore we believe that the church in its dealing with the world must be controlled no less by God’s love for the world than by His aversion toward sin. For God has not only commissioned the church to proclaim the Gospel to all men to the end of the age, but He has also overcome the power of evil in Christ so that the world is preserved for the future of the Lord and for the consummation of His Kingdom. Therefore the church may not withdraw itself from the world, as if this had been abandoned by God to the powers of sin and corruption; but it is called, in imitation of its Lord, to proclaim the Gospel and to turn with help and love to that which is lost, to the poor and the oppressed; also to join the battle for peace among the nations and for making and maintaining those laws which promote freedom and righteousness for all people; in order thus also to point a way to the Kingdom of peace and righteousness, in which God will dwell among men, no one will do unrighteousness or suffer unrighteousness, and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.
10. The Future of the Lord
We believe that we are on the way to the future of the Lord, in which He will make all things new and will glorify our presently imperfect existence that is subject to death. For even as Christ has made Himself one with us in all things, so we also will participate in His resurrection and victory over death. Therefore the Scripture calls Him the Second Man, the Beginning, the First Begotten from the dead in order to express that Christ by His resurrection is the beginning of a new world and a new humanity in which all who belong to Him will receive incorruptible life. But this is all from God Who completes what He has begun, Who makes the dead to live and calls that which is not into being, and has given us the life-giving Spirit as a first down payment and seal of eternal life.
Therefore we confess that we live in the hope of the coming Kingdom of God. A hope that is so great and glorious that we cannot imagine the reality thereof, and much less can we bring it about, although God has put us in this life to serve in the coming of His Kingdom. This hope is so closely joined with our faith that we recognize that without it we would have put our faith in Christ in vain and would be the most miserable of all men. But in living in hope, we know the present to be bound upon our soul, not as a burden but as a gift and a task from Him who goes before us into the future, and who will require an account from everyone concerning his deeds, whether they be good or evil. Therefore our expectation is also our perseverance and our prayer is for steadfastness to abound in the work of the Lord, knowing that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him and that which happens for the hallowing of His name and for the coming of His Kingdom is not in vain or for nought.
When we now finally once more look at what we have confessed above regarding the saving power of the blood and the Spirit of Christ and the image of the church as that is pictured for us in the Scriptures, we realize more deeply and we confess with shame how far short we have fallen in our life as new men and in the manifestation of the body of Christ. For while we confess that our entire salvation depends on faith, upon the imitation of and the future of Christ our Lord, our heart is often divided, is misled by love of self and is ensnared by fear of men and worldly intentions. And while the church confesses her unity and certainty in Christ, it is shamefully divided, is diffident in its confession, and often succumbs to the temptation to be led more by the wisdom and the favor of men than by obedience and love to the Lord.
All of this must surely not make us detract from the confession that Christ is the only and complete Saviour or to preserve it for better days. To the contrary, the awareness of our own weakness and sin should make us understand and recognize more deeply how great and incomprehensible the love is with which God has sought us in Christ, and continues to seek us; it must also prevent us that much more from wanting to found the certainty of our faith and confession, for ourselves or for others, on anything or anyone else than on Jesus alone.
Nevertheless it must be said of our confession as has been written of the Kingdom of God, namely that it does not consist in words but in power; for faith also is dead if it does not bring forth fruits; and it is not at all a true church if it is not prepared to reform itself again and again according to the Word of God.
Therefore we conclude by saying that we cannot confess the Name of God except in deep humility and with a continuing call for the help of His Spirit in order to preserve intact that which He has entrusted to us and to put it in service of that for which He has given it to us. And as for what further concerns the church in its activities in the world: although it lives from the forgiveness of sins and confesses that it has not yet laid hold and is not yet perfect, nevertheless it may never, in all its decisions and questions to which it is pit, and in all its speaking or remaining silent let go of the great question what it will answer its Lord when He will come and will ask it to give an account of its confession before Him, that is: of its response to that which He in His grace has said and given it. For those who will have confessed Him before men He will confess before His Father who is in heaven; but He will also deny when in the great judgment the Father will have entrusted all judgment to the Son.
H.C. Hoeksma’s thoughts of the confession:
“About That Step Toward A New Confession In The GKN”
(From Vol 50 Issue 16 5/1/1974 of “The Standard Bearer”)
We had intended to write a rather exhaustive critique of the Unanimous Testimony of Faith drafted by Dr. G. C. Berkouwer and Dr. Herman Ridderbos as a possible step toward a new confession for theGereformeerde Kerken. We may still do this at a later date if it should prove necessary and feasible. However, there have been some significant and rather surprising developments with respect to this document in the Netherlands. And in reporting these developments we can at the same time furnish our readers with a condensed critique of this Unanimous Testimony of Faith and point out some of the important flaws in it. Besides, as you will learn presently, these surprising developments serve to show that the criticisms which we have and which we share with some Dutch critics are correct and justified: for they have been confirmed by one of the authors of the document, although he, of course, does not agree with the criticisms, but considers the very points that are criticized to be the strong points of the document which he helped to prepare.
For our American readers who are not well acquainted with the church situation in the Netherlands a little background information is necessary in order that they may understand this tale.
You will recall that the Unanimous Testimony met with an enthusiastic reception at the Synod of the GKN. The vote on the lengthy decision of the Synod was unanimous. And while there is indeed criticism of the document from within the GKN, especially by the Concerned Ones (Verontrusten), apparently there was no criticism of it at the Synod. One can well imagine that the two authors were rather pleased about this, and that because they came away from their own synod so pleased, they were the more dismayed and irritated at the reception their Testimony received elsewhere, as reported below.
Berkouwer and Ridderbos were delegated by their Synod to present this same document to the Synod of the Hervormde Kerk and to request that Synod also to refer the Testimony to their churches for consideration. The Hervormde Kerk is the so-called State Church in the Netherlands, the denomination reformations of 1834 and 1886. And there is a movement toward eventual reunion of these two denominations afoot, a movement which is called Samen Op Weg (Together On The Way). In connection with this movement there has already been a joint meeting of the two synods, among other things. It was in the interest of this inter-denominational cooperation, of course, that the Testimony of Faith was also presented to the Synod of the Hervormde Kerk. In fact, it is fair to say that the document was composed at least partly with this budding ecclesiastical friendship in mind.
In the State Church there are three definite wings, or modalities. There are the Vrijzinnigen, or outright Modernists. There are the so-called Midden-Orthodoxen, probably best described as middle-of-the-roaders, or moderates. And there is a strong and well-organized orthodox wing, the men of theGereformeerde Bond. This is a group which is more orthodox even than many so-called conservatives in the GKN. They have their own official paper, De Waarheidsvriend (The Friend of the Truth), which we have lately been receiving on an exchange basis and which we have read with much appreciation. It is sometimes alleged that this is simply a stick-in-the-mud conservative group that is against any and all change as a matter of principle and that simply wants to keep that which is old for its own sake. And although we are always critical of the fact that this group continues under one ecclesiastical roof with out and out liberals, we do not agree with the above allegation. And the story we are about to relate shows plainly that there is a goodly amount of sound Reformed principle in the Gereformeerde Bond. In fact, they put the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken to shame by their stand; and those two leading lights of the GKN, Berkouwer and Ridderbos, ought to feel rather thoroughly chastised We emphasize these things concerning theGereformeerde Bonders because there are already reports circulated which belittle their criticism on the ground that this group always wants to stick to the old just because it is old. You see, there are some who want to neutralize criticism of this group because it is such telling criticism. But the facts of what happened will show that they indeed had some sound and very telling criticism of the very Testimony of Faith which was so enthusiastically received by the GKN. And the reaction of Berkouwer and Ridderbos to that criticism simply confirms its validity, that is, confirms it for any soundly Reformed man.
What happened when Berkouwer and Ridderbos appeared at the Hervormde Synod with their testimony?
They were met with a veritable storm of criticism, especially from the two opposite wings, the liberals and the orthodox. And the Synod rejected the proposal to refer this Testimony of Faith to their churches, with 32 votes against it.
We are not much interested in the criticism by the liberals. For them the proposed confession was not sufficiently liberal, especially because it was not “open” enough. The liberals want a confession which raises many questions but does not furnish many answers, a confession which embodies a questioning stance.
But the criticism by the orthodox element was very significant.
First of all, before the Synod met, a certain Rev. K. Exalto wrote a comparatively brief, but very pertinent article of criticism in De Waarheidsvriend of Feb. 21, 1974. This article voices many of the criticisms which were expressed on the floor of the Synod also. The Rev. Exalto makes several good points.
In the first place, he mentions some characteristics which a confession ought to have as far as its origin and nature are concerned. And while he grants the possibility that also today a new confession could be drawn up, he points out that a confession should meet these requirements, which we briefly summarize:
1) It should arise out of need. All Reformed confessions in the past were born out of the need for the church to react against error. The fathers were concerned to preserve their heritage, to maintain and defend what is sacred and precious to the church.
2) A confession serves to bind together what belongs together. The confessions draw boundaries; they exclude and they include.
3) A third characteristic of the classic Reformed confessions is their maintenance of continuity. They are lacking in all pride, as though the truth was only discovered recently. They reach back, first of all to the Word of God itself, the real source of the knowledge of the truth of God; and then they reach back to the ancient church. And Ds. Exalto illustrates how this is true of our Three Forms of Unity.
The writer pointedly asks whether the Draft of a new confession answers to these requirements.
Then he raises and answers the question whether this proposed new confession is Reformed? For he rightly claims that in a Reformed church none but Reformedconfessions have a right of existence.
The Rev. Exalto goes on to point out that Reformed confessions always have certain distinguishing marks, such as the doctrine of double predestination from eternity, the doctrine of total depravity, the doctrine that the Holy Spirit alone is able to bring the sinner to Christ and to salvation, the acknowledgement of the absolute, divine authority of Scripture, inspired by the Spirit. He mentions the doctrine of atonement through satisfaction: Christ has borne the wrath of God against sin, has atoned for the guilt of His own, a guilt which dates from paradise. No confession can call itself Reformed which does not set forth these truths clearly and unequivocally. If it fails to do so, then there is a different understanding of the Gospel at stake, even if it be only through silence about these matters.
And then Exalto makes a comparison of the Proposed New Confession with these criteria. At best, he says, there is here and there a vague reference in the direction just mentioned; for the most part there is a total silence.
Is there then an opposing of definite modern errors? No! The need of the church is completely absent in this document. The need of the world is on the foreground. Exalto can well conceive of it that the revolution-theologians are pleased with this confession because it creates room for them to continue on their chosen path within the church. Exalto calls the document a typical middle-orthodox piece of work — a passage-way to a more liberal confession. It does not as such represent the theology of Kuitert and Wiersinga, but it gives them room; and it creates the possibility that still more Kuiterts and Wiersingas will come into the church; it creates a breeding-ground for them.
Is there continuity in this confession, he asks. Yes, but not with the classic Reformed confessions (of which it was supposed to be only an up-to-date condensation! HCH); rather with the universalism of the Remonstrants. All that faintly smacks of the particularity of salvation is completely absent. Exalto can only call this confession completely un-Reformed!
The Rev. Exalto then goes on to detail his criticism of this Draft Confession with respect to the doctrine of Scripture: Scripture is nothing more than a word of men who therein interpret God’s Word. And besides, Scripture is time-bound, not only as to form but also as to content. Thereupon Exalto spells out his sharp criticism of Article 9, entitled “Church and World.” He claims that this article furnishes a basis and a stimulus for the horizontalism of modern theology. It gives salvation unmistakable humanistic traits. And Exalto claims that especially today a new confession might be expected to speak out clearly against the errors which threaten the church: horizontalism, the humanizing of Christendom and church, the secularization of faith and life. He concludes by stating that the acceptance of such a confession would be nothing less than a denial of what the church, on the basis of the Word of God entrusted to it, through His grace and Spirit, might confess in the past and should still confess today.
We are in complete agreement.
On the floor of the Synod many of the same criticisms were voiced, to the irritation of Ridderbos and the dismay of Berkouwer. What was the reaction of these two representatives of the GKN?
Ridderbos (De Waarheidsvriend, Feb. 28) is reported to have said that in reaction to Exalto’s article: “With such a man I am not together-on-the-way.” Enough said!
But Berkouwer’s remarks are more enlightening.
1. He freely admitted that there were three different ideas of confession in collision at the Hervormde Synod: the liberal idea, the idea of Ridderbos and Berkouwer — after all the tensions in the GKN, and the view of those who want to cling to the old confessions uncurtailed.
2. He pointed to the fact that the Genesis-question in the GKN has been caught up with, and that thereby the view of Scripture was also determined. At last the GKN had had the courage to revoke “Assen” (the reference is to the Synod of Assen, 1926, which insisted on the sense-perceptibility of the garden, the tree, the serpent, etc., in the Geelkerken case). This means that the historicity of paradise and the fall are no more accepted.
3. Berkouwer proposed that with respect to the last judgment (another issue touched on in the debate) there are all kinds of incisive problems. He suggested that the confession concerning the future could best be left open.
4. Finally, he pointed out that double predestination was consciously omitted from the New Confession. He said: “We say no over against double predestination, for God is merciful.”
Seldom has Berkouwer been more open about his stand and that of the GKN. But notice that this last remark of Berkouwer alone is sufficient to justify the criticism of Exalto and the Gereformeerde Bonders.
And what is more, it is sufficient to damn the proposed new confession for any Reformed man!
One last thread in the story of this new draft-confession.
According to a report by the Committee for Inter-church Relations of the Christian Reformed Church, their official representative in the Netherlands and others judge that this very same “Unanimous Testimony of Faith” is “a very pure document.” (De Wachter, April 23, p. 11)
And who is this representative who can judge that a document which consciously omits that characteristically Reformed doctrine of double predestination is “very pure?
None other than a seminary professor, Prof. John Stek!
The GKN are far down the trail of apostasy.
But how far (or: how close) behind them is the Christian Reformed Church?