Thursday, February 10, 2011

Belgic and the French - Defining the Church with Christ

One of the stark differences between the French Confession and the Belgic is the focus the Belgic Confession puts on the Jesus Christ with regard to the Church. We looked at the difference in the view of Rome in the last post, but note the references to Christ in those same paragraphs.

The French Confession Article 28:

"In this belief we protest that when the Word of God is not received and when there is no professed subjection to it, and where there is no use of the sacrament, if we will speak properly, we cannot judge that there is any church. Wherefore we condemn those assemblies in the papacy, because the pure Word of God is banished out of them, and because in them the sacraments are corrupted, counterfeited, falsified or utterly abolished, and because among them, separate and cut themselves off from the body of Christ Jesus. Yet nevertheless, because there is yet some small track of a church in the papacy, and that baptism as it is in the substance, has been still continued, and because the efficacy of baptism does not depend upon him who administers it, we confess that they which are thus baptized do not need a second baptism. In the meanwhile, because of those corruptions which are mingled with the administration of that sacrament, no man can present his children to be baptized in that church without polluting his conscience."

Notice the focus is primarily on the Word of God. They don't receive the Word of God, they banished the Word of God. The body of Christ is mentioned as the church, but that is it. Take a look now at the definition of Church in Article 27.

However, we do believe that we ought to distinguish carefully and prudently between the true and false church, because the word church is very much abused. We say then, according to the Word of God, that the church is an assembly of believers who agree among themselves to follow God's Word, and the pure religion which depends upon it, and who profit by it during their whole life, increasing and confirming themselves in the fear of God, as being persons who daily need a farther progress and advancement in holiness. Yet notwithstanding all their endeavors, they must have recourse to the grace of God for the forgiveness of sins. Nor do we deny but that among the faithful there are some hypocrites or despisers of God or ill-livers; whose wickedness cannot blot out the name of the church.

Again we see here a high focus on the Word of God. Here the church is a band of people following the Word of God upon which true religion depends. Now see the same topics in the Belgic and note the different focus.

The Belgic Article 29.

"We believe that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of god which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church. but we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church, though externally in it; but we say that they body and communion of the true Church must be distinguished from all sects that call themselves the Church.
The marks by which the true church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it is maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.
With respect to those who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians; namely, by faith, and when having received Jesus Christ the only savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or the left, crucify the flesh with the works thereof. But this is not to be understood as if there did not remain in them great infirmities; but they fight against them through the Spirit all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in Him.
As for the false Church, it ascribes more power and authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit itself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does it administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word, but adds to and takes from them, as it thinks proper; it relies more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God and rebuke it for its errors, covetousness, and idolatry.
These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.

Here we see that the Belgic makes the mark of the Church include a submission to Jesus Christ as Head. The mark of a Christian as receiving Jesus as the only savior and take refuge in Him. The false Church does indeed lower the Word of God, but also refuses the yoke of Christ seen by not administering the sacraments according to Christ. It relies upon men more than Christ. The focus is much less on the Word and much more on Jesus as Savior. The same can be seen when the Belgic defines the word Church.

Belgic Article 27 (only first paragraph)

We believe and profess one catholic and universal Church, which is a holy congregation of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by His blood, sanctified, and sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Here the Belgic puts the focus on Christ. A church is a congregation of believers expecting salvation from Jesus and are washed by Him, sealed by the Spirit. The French Confession defined it as believers agreeing to follow God's Word. The Belgic defines the Church by the Savior and the French much more by the Word of God. An interesting difference. One can only guess at the reason. Perhaps it was because the French were still trying to win the Royal family over through argumentation. Thus, they may have wished to stress the Roman church's departure from the Word of God. They may also have had a concern not to alienate to many in the Roman faith by stating or implying that they were not believers in Christ, rather they were simply not following the Word of God. This might explain the inclusion of no need of rebaptism in the French Confession. The Belgic barely address rebaptism in a small phrase at the end of the section on Baptism, but it is addressed to the Anabaptists not to Rome. The Belgic Confession was written during a time of massive persecution by the Spanish, and the Dutch were not trying to win over the royal family. They were not trying to win disputations and colloquies. They may have felt more free to link the persecution of the Reformed Church to a hatred of Jesus Christ himself.

One more place that this can be seen, I believe, is in Article 37 On the Last Judgment. I won't reproduce the whole article, but it is about the return of Jesus Christ. A bodily return. But the main focus of the article is that God will bring punishment on those who "cruelly persecuted, oppressed, and tormented them [elect] in this world." And then the comfort that the judgment brings to elect as the "Son of God will confess their names before God His father and His elect angels". It ends with a call an "ardent desire" to "fully enjoy the promises of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." This relates to the church theme because it is Christ's triumphant return to deliver his elect from the persecution of the wicked. Which ought to include the False Church which Article 29 stated "persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God". The French Confession does not have a section on the return of Christ.

Now, I don't want anyone to think that I am trying to say that the French Confession does not promote Jesus Christ. It surely does in beautiful articles 12-19 especially. I am speaking here of a difference in emphasis especially as it relates to the Church. The French Confession has a clear exalted view of Jesus, but it does not have the same focus on Jesus when discussing the Church that the Belgic contains.

Hopefully in the next post we will take one last contrast between the French and the Belgic.