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Belgic Confession of Faith: Overview

The Confession of Faith Revised in the National Synod, held at Dordrecht in the Years 1618 and 1619

The oldest doctrinal standards of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations is the Confession of Faith, most commonly known as the Belgic Confession, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation Confessio Belgica. “Belgica” referred to the Lowlands or the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. Variant names for the Belgic Confession include the Walloon Confession and the Netherlands Confession

The Confession’s chief author was Guido de Bres (1522-1567), a godly itinerant pastor of the Reformed persuations. During the sixteenth century the Reformed churches in the Netherlands were exposed to severe persecution through Philip II of Spain, and ally of the Roman Catholic Church. As an apology for the persecuted band of Reformed believers in the Lowlands who formed the so-called churches under the cross, de Bres prepared this confession French in 1561. De Bres was most likely assisted by his fellow pastors who, together with himself, desired to prove to their persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels as was charged, but law-abiding citizens who professed only biblical doctrines. The Confession was written as an independent composition, though it was modeled after the Gallic Confession, a 1559 French Reformed confession, which in turn was dependent on Calvin’s design. Basically, the Confession follows what has become known as the traditional doctrinal order of the six loci of Reformed systematic theology – the doctrines concerning God (theology proper, articles 1-11), man (anthropology, articles 12-15), Christ (Christology, articles 16-21), salvation (soteriology, articles 22-26) the church (ecclesiology, articles 27-35) and the last things (eschatology, article 37). Article 36 addresses the theocratic nature of civil government. Despite following an objective doctrinal order, the Confession breathes a warmly experiential and personal spirit, facilitated by its repeated use of the pronoun “we”.

The following year, 1562, a copy was sent to King Philip II togather with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to Knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies ot the fire, well knowing that those who follow Christ must take His cross and deny themselves” rather than deny the truth expressed in this Confession. Neither the Confession nor the petition, however, bore the desired fruit of toleration for Protestants wit the Spanish authorities. Five years later, de Bres himself became on martyr among thousands who sealed his faith with blood. Nevertheless his work has and will continue to endure through this precious doctrinal standard which still stands as a priceless symbolical statement of Reformed doctrine.

The Belgic Confession was readily received by Reformed churches in the Netherlands after its early translation into Duth in 1562. In 1566 it was revised by the Synod of Antwerp. Subsequently it was regularly adopted by national Dutch Synods held during the last three decades of the sixteenth century. After a further revision of the text, the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) adopted it as one of the doctrinal standards to which all office-bearers in the Reformed churches were required to subscribe.

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