Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Confessional Theonomy: Part 5: The Belgic Confession

The Belgic Confession was written originally in 1561, mainly by Guido de Brès, who had formerly studied under John Calvin in Geneva.  It is part of the Three Forms of Unity (along with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort), which are important doctrinal standards in the historic Continental Reformed tradition. 

On the confession's background, Cornelis Venema writes:
The Belgic Confession is one of the best known and most loved of the Reformed confessions. Philip Schaff, the venerable historian of the church and her confessions, observes that it is “upon the whole, the best symbolical statement of the Calvinistic system of doctrine, with the exception of the Westminster Confession.” This Confession is known most commonly as the “Belgic” confession because it emerged from the French-speaking Reformed churches in the southern “Lowlands” or “Nether-lands” (now Belgium). It has served historically as one of the three confessional symbols of the Dutch Reformed churches. Affection for this confession among these churches stems as much from the poignant circumstances suffered by its original author and subscribers as from its rich statement of the Reformed faith. … 

First written in 1561, copies of the Confession were sent to Geneva and other Reformed churches for approval. The present form of the Confession stems from the time of the great Synod of Dordt in 1618–19, when the text was revised and officially approved in four languages (the original French, Latin, Dutch, and German). Not long after it was first written, the Belgic Confession was presented to Philip II of Spain, who exercised sovereignty over the Netherlands at the time, in the vain hope that toleration would be extended to the Reformed faith. From the beginning, this confession enjoyed ready acceptance among the Reformed churches of the Netherlands. ...

Phillip II of Spain
The purpose for the preparation of the Belgic Confession and its presentation to Philip II is of particular importance. In the face of intense persecution by this Roman Catholic sovereign and his magistrates, Guido de Brès and the Reformed believers of the Netherlands were anxious to demonstrate that their faith was in accord with the teaching of Holy Scripture and the ancient consensus of the holy catholic church and her councils. Consequently, the Belgic Confession has an irenic tone throughout, especially in its careful demonstration of the Reformed faith’s commitment to the great biblical doctrines of the Trinity, as well as the person and work of Christ. Roman Catholic teaching is rejected at critical points, but the aim of the Confession is to persuade its readers that the Reformed faith is nothing other than the historic faith of the Christian church. 
Another purpose of the confession, which distinguishes it from the French or Gallican Confession of 1559, with which the Belgic Confession shares many striking similarities, was to demonstrate that the Reformed faith was distinct from that of the “Anabaptists.” Among the Anabaptists, who had considerable influence in the Netherlands in the early period of the Reformation, there were those who not only rejected the practice of infant baptism but also the legitimacy of the civil magistrate as a servant of God and instrument for exercising his rule. The Anabaptists sharply distinguished Christ’s spiritual kingdom, the church, from the civil order, and advocated a strict separation from the world, which required a refusal of military service, the taking of oaths, and the paying of taxes. Some of the most distinct features of the Belgic Confession indicate that it was written to defend the Reformed faith against the assumption that it shared these features of the radical fringe of the Reformation.[1] 

The Belgic Confession's section on civil government covers the following:

  • The Purpose of Civil Government: Due to the depravity of mankind, rulers are ordained in order to restrain sin and to foster order.
  • Civil Government and the Church: Rulers are not only to protect the civil state, but the church as well. This includes suppressing idolatry and false worship, and encouraging the preaching of the Gospel.
  • Submission to Rulers: Subjects must pray for rulers, and submit to them in all things not opposed to God's word. Anarchists, which would subvert God's social order, are opposed.

Article 36:
Of Civil Government

We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, has appointed kings, princes and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose he has invested the magistracy with the sword, for the punishment of evildoers, and for the protection of them that do well. 
And their office is, not only to have regard unto, and watch for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred ministry; and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must therefore countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honoured and worshipped by every one, as he commands in his Word. 
Moreover, it is the bounden duty of every one, of what state, quality, or condition soever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to pay tribute, to show due honour and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers, that God may rule and guide them in all their ways, and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 
Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order, which God has established among men. 


[1] Cornelis Venema, "The Belgic Confession," Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved September 30, 2013, from

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