We need to Remember.
As we look around the Protestant Church today, it has become more evident that we need to remember where we have been in order for us to move forward. If a person were to visit many church websites and look through their statements of faith, they would quickly realize how many of them are the same regarding the lack of Biblical references to back up those statements. Instead, statements tend to say things in a “new” or “catchy” way to appease the reader. Perhaps in the attempt to attract new members, the articles of faith were written to look fresh and vibrant, not old and archaic. Unfortunately, many churches are trying to recreate the wheel and come up with phrases to express what they believe as a community.
The reality is that if the Church is not Roman Catholic, it was birthed out of the Protestant Reformation. Therefore they have one obvious thing in common, or at least they should; that is the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone. Because so many have changed (wandered), what is not so obvious is that they share a history of the Confessions and Articles of Faith (even if they no longer recognize these articles). Men like Knox, Calvin, and Luther are embedded into the Protestant/Reformed family tree, and to some degree, the Reformation Fathers DNA is in all churches outside of Roman influence. This is important because, when essential matters came up attacking the Church historically or when the secular system attacked the faith of those of the past, there has been long standing history of long fought battles that spoke to such matters. Because of such diligence then, those lessons and articulations aid us currently on how to respond. Meaning, the Church was already equipped to tackle many issues over the past century; we just forgot or neglected how. For brevity’s sake, we need no other example than the erosion that has occurred for almost the last two years and the Church’s reaction and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since many churches have for years neglected the historical Confessions of the Protestant Christian faith, they have allowed erosion to the essential doctrines that make us Protestant, instead of standing, they have joined in the corporate kneeling to Nebuchadnezzar‘s golden statute of the current Babylonian system (Read Daniel 3 for reference).
What do we need to remember to avoid such a pitfall? The Creeds, the Confessions and the Catechisms. Not only do these articles assist us with understanding our Bibles, but they also train our minds to organize Doctrinal truth so that we can respond in times of peace or tribulation. Now, do not take what is being said out of context; the Bible alone is the final rule for faith and practice, and the confessional authors would agree. Nevertheless, these statements assist with the articulation of our faith. Here are some examples of why we need to remember these texts by using a very relevant situation. COVID-19 vaccinations in the workplace that are coming against individuals conscience, and churches refusing believers to participate in the ordinances unless they meet specific guidelines is against Scripture.
A church member needs a request for a religious exemption. A letter is written, and the Church includes their statement of faith and some personal views on medical conscience. In most Canadian contexts, the letter is rejected because the request is not a shared position but rather an individual one. Is it possible, the belief is, in fact, a long-held belief? What if there was a historical text that an individual could rely upon to assist with articulating such truth in a request for religious exemption? Well, there is.
Chapter 21: Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience
2.God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also. ( James 4:12; Romans 14:4; Acts 4:19, 29; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 15:9; Colossians 2:20, 22, 23; 1 Corinthians
3:5; 2 Corinthians 1:24 )
Chapter 20 Christian Freedom and Freedom of Conscience
2. God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any way contrary to or different from his word in matters of faith or worship.10 And so, believing any such teachings or obeying any such commandments of men for conscience’s sake actually betrays true freedom of conscience.11 Requiring implicit or absolute, blind obedience also destroys freedom of conscience as well as the free use of reason. (Jas4.12; Rom 14.4,10; Acts 4.19, 5.29; 1 Cor 7.23; Mt 23.8-10; 2 Cor 1.24; Mt 15.9. Col 2.20-23; Gal 1.10, 5.1, 2.3-5; Ps 5.1, Gal 4.9-10; Rom 10.17, 14.23; Is 8.20, Acts 17.11; Jn 4.22; Hos 5.11; Rv 13.12,16-17; Jer 8.9; 1 Pt 3.15)
Both of these Confessions stipulate that going against conscience is not a practice of a believer. Going against God’s word to obey the command of man is dangerous and sinful. The one document dates back to the year 1689, and the Westminster goes back to 1649. So by honouring these confessions, the conviction to request a religious exemption is not based on current trends, weak statements of local faith or independent creed – but is a long-standing position of the Protestant Church. Such convictions belong to churches so that they can keep the historical definitions of doctrine these confessions teach.
A church is mandating that the congregation receives a vaccination to attend service. The Church wants to remain compliant with local health officers’ mandates. Therefore the elders or the pastor are preaching and pushing the need to be vaccinated. This caused many to feel discomfort and pressured by the officers of the Church. How could one respond?
Though not all churches are Dutch Reformed, or other branches of Reformed such as the URC or CRC, Presbyterian, there is a great resource that should be considered. Either considered as an article or at the very least a tool for discipleship, and that would be the Belgic Confession of faith. In this confession, there are 37 articles to assist with the articulation of belief. Why should we remember this confession? It provides aid to a person to combat pressure from churches or church officers attempting to compel the conscience of an individual.
Article 32 The Order and Discipline of the Church
We believe that, although it is useful and good for those who govern the Church to establish a certain order to maintain the body of the Church, they must at all times watch that they do not deviate from what Christ, our only Master, has commanded.1 Therefore we reject all human inventions and laws introduced into the worship of God which bind and compel the consciences in any way.2 We accept only what is proper to preserve and promote harmony and unity and to keep all in obedience to God.3 To that end, discipline and excommunication ought to be exercised in agreement with the Word of God. (1 Tim 3:15; Is 29:13; Mt 15:9; Gal 5:1; 1 Cor 14:33; Mt 16:19; 18:15-18; Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 5; 1 Tim 1:20)
This article provides the rejection of all human inventions and laws being introduced into the worship of God, which would bind or compel the conscience (Masks, restrictions, vaccines). When a church officer insists on any mandate or rule that would limit a worshipper or deny any ordinance of the faith, they are first defying Scripture under James 2:1-7. Further, they are also operating outside their sphere of authority within the Christian Church, which this confession stipulates. So we can see how this article assists many with the need to articulate such a conviction. Yet, sadly, this confession is forgotten by a larger group of churches.
The government introduces laws that directly or attempt to usurp the authority of Christ and those church officers he ordains regarding worship and attendance. Current laws that have been passed are the perfect example of this. Laws that restrict attendance, fellowship, singing, public prayer and communion (to some extent). Believers are left using shallow statements of faith, government laws such as the bill of rights and the Charter to speak out against this attack, but to no avail. Sadly many church leaders either closed the church door voluntarily or by the state. The Westminster speaks to the issue, where it clearly states in chapter 23,
Chapter 23, Civil Authorities section 3
Civil authorities may not take on themselves the ministering of God’s word and the sacraments, the administration of spiritual power, or any interference with matters of faith.5 Nevertheless, it is the duty of civil authorities to protect the Church of our Lord, without giving preference to any denomination of Christians, so that every person with church affiliations or duties will be able to function with complete and unquestioned freedom. Since Jesus Christ has directed the establishment of regular government and discipline in his Church, no law of any civil government should interfere with, abridge, or hinder the proper exercise of church government among the voluntary members of Christian denominations, acting in accordance with their own professed beliefs. It is the duty of civil authorities to protect the person and good name of everyone so that none are abused, injured, or insulted on account of religious faith or lack of it.6 It is also their duty to see to it that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies are held without disturbance.(2 Chr 26.18; Mt 18.17, 16.19; 1 Cor 12.28-29; Eph 4.11-12; 1 Cor 4.1-2; Rom 10.15; Heb 5.4; Jn 18.36, Acts 5.29; Is 49.23; Ps 122.9; Ezr 7.23-28; Lv 24.16; Dt 13.5-6,12; 2 Kgs 18.4; 1 Chr 13.1-9; 2 Kgs 23.1-26; 2 Chr 34.33, 15.12-13, Rom 13.1-6, Ps 105.15, Acts 18.14-16; 2 Chr 19.8-11, 29 and 30; Mt 2.4-5; 2 Sm 23.3; Rom 13.4)
This section ties directly into the Romans 13 issue. To unpack it entirely, please visit the sermon called The Great Debate (found here). However, what this section shows, it has been the historic position of the Protestant Church that the civil magistrate cannot interfere with the Church. They are to protect it, regardless of the denomination. Though the Church is not the head of state, the Christian still holds as a matter of conscience that the civil magistrate must never interfere or attempt to usurp authority – which they have. What is essential is the Scripture reference this article holds so that the Christian Church can properly articulate defence against such things.
These are a small fraction of examples. Unfortunately, the Church has been slipping further and further down the muddy slope of relativism and secular humanism over the past hundred years. In her attempt to be relevant, seeker-sensitive and modern, she diluted the statements of faith into fancy articulations that do not hold their weight. The Church needs to return to the creeds and confessions and remember these sacred texts. Not to trump the Scripture, not at all. Sola Scriptura is our cry, but these documents need to return because they were forged through and after great battles. They assist us believers in our need to remember and shed light on matters in this present darkness we must walk.
In His Grace,