In the previous instalment Rev K Bruning was critical of those who say: the Confession is merely human work but the Bible is God’s Word. This playing off the Bible against the Confession, says Rev Bruning, is one of Satan’s tricks. When we do this we’re like the sects, who despise the unity of Scripture and Confession. He adds that “the Bible itself teaches, that when things go wrong, the chief cause is a violation of the good confession”.
This instalment continues to highlight the importance of the Confession. What Rev Bruning says here is very relevant and instructive for us today.
The Church, Bulwark of the Truth 2
The fall into sin itself was a denial of the good confession. Today we find Satan’s words, “Has God indeed said …?” still echoed in many heresies and in false prophecy. To be sure, the devil does not outright reject God’s Word, the Bible, but he tries to weaken the truth and confession of that Word and turn it into a lie.
The Importance of the Confession
The first confessing members of the Church, Adam and Eve, abandoned and denied their good confession about God and about their calling and faith by heeding the lies of satan. If only these first church members had adhered to, and protected themselves with, what they knew was the truth they would have stood strong against the errors and given God the glory. But instead of keeping the good confession, which they ought to have done, they practised a self-willed interpretation of the Word. That was fatal and deadly, even at that time when man was still perfect. It was something one could not be permitted to do, not even in Paradise.
And when we consider history after the fall into sin we see how letting go of the good confession led to one disaster after another. Every time again, when things went wrong in the church of the Lord, the cause of the disaster was a failure to confess that which was in accordance with the revealed Word of God.
I think of the tragic events in the tent of Isaac and Rebecca with Jacob and Esau! In this house congregation every one of them experienced misery because they denied the confession of God’s covenant Word. They rejected what God had told them, and what they should have confirmed and practised in word and deed. Consequently misery entered their lives.
It is not possible here to examine or even to mention all these examples. But one thing is certain: the deformation of the church of the Lord in the Old Testament always began at the point and moment when the people ceased to confess what the Word of God teaches.
That was particularly the case in the days when Christ was on earth. It wasn’t that the church rulers rejected the Word of God, but they twisted it and explained it to suit themselves instead of confessing it in doctrine and life. They appealed to the tradition of the elders, but the highest Prophet and Teacher provided devastating proof that they had let go of the good confession which God Himself had displayed to them. And what this can lead to is shown by what, for the Jews, became the terrible tragedy of the cross of Golgotha.
In the New Testament times it was no different. Already at an early stage, the Church abandoned and perverted the good confession, notably in the matter of church government, and in its view on the sacrament—in particular, its teaching and confession concerning the Lord’s Supper. These two errors, to which others were added, had disastrous effects. The frightening situation in the Roman church, both during the middle ages and up to the present time, speaks volumes.
But let’s restrict ourselves to what is happening in our days.
It is not necessary to devote much attention to that which characterises modern churches all over the world. Unity at the cost of truth is the new catch-cry and practice. The true confession is compromised to establish a united spiritual front, with the leaders wanting to play first fiddle in almost every respect. And the World Council of Churches wants to lay down the rules and run the show in almost every area of life. Nor is it surprising that Rome, out of jealousy and concern for its own interests, worms its way into this world organisation in order not to be last in this power struggle.
Threats to our faithfulness
Yet we’re even more interested in focussing on our own well and woe. For we’re asking ourselves how we can remain bulwark of the truth, are we not?
Dangers threaten us. In this regard I have been asked, how things were, and are, in Holland, and whether something could be said about it at this meeting.
Well, we can be brief about the fact that society’s general growth in an obvious prosperity of dubious value has claimed thousands of victims. Whilst, generally speaking, people’s interests centre wholly on temporal things, and the resulting materialism enjoys a peak of popularity, it is self-evident that spiritual values have plunged greatly and there’s little chance left for the Confession of the Church to be a living confession.
On the other hand, we’ve also seen and heard that, in our Dutch sister-churches, the tensions are running high, and there’s one crisis after another. We are not able to judge everything, nor trace it all back to the one cause. However, one thing we know for sure is that the main conflict concerns the place of the Confession. In our view there is no possibility of doubt about that.
Attacks on the Confession
To be sure, also this struggle has various facets and manifests itself in various ways. We can mention, for example, the difficulties and contentions arising from office bearers publicly attacking the Confession. There are those who do that despite their vows to the contrary. We think of the popular opinion that the Confession would no longer—or not wholly—be of current relevance because it was written in a time which was totally different from ours. We are confronted with the lamentable claim that the Confession has no real bearing on areas of life outside the church. We hear about a renewed Biblicism, which talks ever so sweetly about the Bible, and ever so slighting about the Confession and many parts of its contents. We’re told that from now on we should believe that public profession of faith means no more than saying ‘yes’ to the Apostles’ Creed and does not at all include a subscription to the entire Confession. And so on.
Seeing that all these things are read in the press and heard from the pulpits—and they also blow across to Australia where they can cause damage—is it surprising that they threaten to bring about turmoil in the churches in Holland, and that many people, particularly the younger ones, no longer know whether they’re coming or going? I believe that this attack on the authority, significance and role of the Confession contains so much explosive material as to lead to the greatest possible crisis. Every action which aims to promote insubordination and doctrinal freedom in the churches is bound to lead to a fierce struggle. And that’s a good thing, otherwise the church would cease to be church.
If an independentist and spiritualistic attitude takes over—no offices in the church, opposition to church life as such, disrespect for the churches’ federation, etc.—well, then we have two choices: either we sail straight into sectarian waters, or we must fight against this threat.
That’s why we want to emphasise here and now: if we want to remain bulwark of the truth, we shall have to stand firm in our reformed Confession. Not a step back; and not a step in the direction of weakening the Confession or of our obligation to be bound to it.
And let us recognise above all that God Himself, through the Holy Spirit, has spurred the church on the way to the Confession. We had to, we were allowed to, we could not do anything else but establish a Confession. For it concerns the confession of the name of the Lord, and the discernment and refutation of all sorts of errors that continually threaten the Church.
A community without a Confession is a sect. A church which allows its Confession to falter, which abandons it, becomes an instrument of the devil, because it scatters the children of God, opens its doors to lies and heresy, and takes away the protection of the truth. And it does all that behind the pious façade: “We have the Bible, don’t we…?”
Study the Confession
And now it is up to our study societies to recognise their duty in this respect. It is not only our attendance that should be better and stronger and more frequent. But we should also guard against merely going through the motions in our society work. It can so easily become a slur whereby making and reading an introduction no longer has any real effect on anyone.
I believe that we should no longer study the Bible and the Confession apart from each other. A topic from Scripture must be able to be linked to the Confession. And a discussion on the Confession of the Church must be shown to be rooted much more in Scripture. It should not happen that the knowledge of what the Confession says goes together with a failure to show why and how it is based on God’s own Word.
And our young members, in particular, must study more the Confession of the church. Often it is a matter of attitude. The desire to criticise and the yearning to do things differently than in the past are passions which cloud and darken the minds. The denigrating talk about our forefathers is symptomatic of this attitude.
We must appeal to each other to truly remain a reformed church. A church with a Confession guided by the Spirit according to the Lord’s promise: He shall lead you in all the truth.
Do not lend your ear to false reports, ban from your table any material which may cause your children, if not yourself, to waver; let us be bulwark of the truth. Only in that way will we be able to resist the attacks of the enemy who uses every possible means to strike at the heart of Zion, the Church of the Lord.
(final instalment next issue)