“First, do you wholeheartedly believe the doctrine of the Word of God … taught here in this Christian church? Do you promise by the grace of God steadfastly to continue in this doctrine in life and death, rejecting all heresies and errors conflicting with God’s Word?”
God’s Word and the church
We discussed that God’s Word, as we have it in the Bible, is the ultimate authority. When you make profession of faith, you agree with that. But the first question also asks about the “doctrine … taught here in this Christian church”.
When I was preparing to make profession of faith, I asked my minister: “Does that mean I must agree with everything the church teaches, no matter what? What if a minister starts preaching things that are simply wrong? What if the church start making rules for members that do not come from God?
What do you think about this question?
Note that the question says: the “doctrine taught here in this Christian church”. The church is only the Christian church, only the true church of Jesus, if she teaches what he teaches and nothing else. The Belgic Confession (Art. 29) says it this way:
The true church … governs itself according to the pure Word of God,
rejecting all things contrary to it
and regarding Jesus Christ as the only Head.
So, when you say “I do” to this question, you do not say that you will obey the church no matter what it teaches. You pledge allegiance to the Christian church, as she is faithful to her Lord Jesus.
Why, then, mention the church at all? Because the church does have an important role in teaching Christian doctrine.
Read 1 Tim. 3:15. What does this verse say about the church? What does that mean?
It would be a mistake to think that you can follow the teachings of Jesus on your own, without being part of his church. The Lord has appointed and gifted people to study, explain, preach, and teach his word. It would be wrong to ignore that and try to be a believer on your own. You can see this clearly in the Bible.
We disagree with the Roman church, because it makes the church the ultimate authority. But it would also be wrong to ignore the combined wisdom of the church, and make yourself the “pope” in your own life.
Orthodoxy and heresy
The second part of the first question asked if you will be “continue steadfastly”, that is, be careful and consistent to follow the right teaching of Christianity; and if you will reject everything that does not mesh with it.
Is it really that important to make sure that you believe precisely the right doctrine? Why, or why not?
In the course of time, the Christian church has dealt with questions and disagreements about doctrine. When that was necessary, the church made a clear statement of the right doctrine. This official doctrine of the church, which fits with the Bible, is called orthodoxy. Whatever disagrees with the orthodox teaching, is an error; and serious errors are called heresy.
(The word “heresy” literally means “separation”. When people insist on teaching heresy, they effectively separate themselves from the church.)
Read 1 John 2:18-22. How does John describe heresy? How does he describe orthodoxy? What heresy was taught? What happened to the people who taught this heresy?
Note: The word “heresy” refers to a serious error; so serious that we must remove those who teach it from the church. It is unhelpful to call everything we disagree with, “heresy”. People, even serious Christians, are sinners and can therefore be mistaken. Thankfully, not every mistake means that you should be kicked out of the church!
Examples of error
In the first few centuries, the church had to develop its orthodoxy: it had to learn precisely what the Biblical truth is, and what kind of errors should be rejected. This was especially true for two profound topics: (1) the Trinity; and (2) the hypostatic union of Christ, i.e. the fact that the Christ is at the same time fully God and fully human.
In the Athanasian Creed (Book of Praise p. 495) you can see clearly how the church defined its orthodoxy:
(1) Whoever desires to be saved must above all things hold to the catholic faith. (2) Unless a man keeps it in its entirety inviolate, he will assuredly perish eternally.
(3) Now this is the catholic faith, that we worship one God in trinity and trinity in unity.
(27) Thus in all things, as has been stated above, both trinity in unity and unity in trinity must be worshipped. (28) So he who desires to be saved should think thus of the Trinity.
(29) It is necessary, however, to eternal salvation that he should also believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. (30) Now the right faith is that we should believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is equally both God and man.
(42) This is the catholic faith. Unless a man believes it faithfully and steadfastly, he cannot be saved. Amen.
Some people have criticized the Athanasian Creed for being rather harsh, esp. in art. 2 and 42. Do you agree?
Even today, there are heretics who reject the Trinity and the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ:
- Unitarians believe that there are not three distinct Persons.
- Arians believe that Jesus is not truly God, but merely a special human being. Modern-day Arians include the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- If you move to a different town, and join a church there that does not belong to the same federation of churches, does that make you unfaithful to the promise you made at your profession of faith? What if you could have chosen a church of your own federation? What if you “switch” churches within the same town?
- In art. 42, the Athanasian Creed speaks of the “catholic faith”. What does that mean? How is being “catholic” connected to being “orthodox”?
- What are some practical ways in which you can “rejecting all heresies and errors conflicting with God’s Word”?
- Suppose you disagree with the elders of the church about what precisely the Bible teaches, for instance about things you may or may not do on Sunday. After talking often, you cannot come to an agreement. What would be your proper attitude?
- Pentecostals believe that the special gifts of the Spirit (e.g. miraculous healing, speaking in tongues) still continues today. Most Reformed people disagree. Does this make Pentecostals heretical?
- Baptists believe that only believers should be baptized; not their young children. Is that a heresy or an error? Would you call it a serious error?
Memorize: HC q&a 21 and 22.
Journal: Suppose that you are attracted to a boy or girl from a different religious/church background. Discuss (in about 250 words) on what specific points you would disagree, and if you think that this disagreement would stand in the way of your confession of faith. Choose from (a) Roman Catholic, (b) Eastern Orthodox, (c) Baptist, (d) Jehovah’s Witness, (e) Netherlands Reformed, (f) Christian Reformed. (You may have to do some research on the beliefs of these groups!)