The Great Commission or the Apostles Ordination?

The blogosphere,  within Evangelical and Baptist circles, has continued to go back and froth about the recent discussion on soteriology and the Ten Article Preamble written by a number within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The Preamble has been written with a major concern of New Calvinists gaining ground and number within the SBC denomination.

The Ten Article Preamble has a heavily bent towards Arminianism;  and at times has been argued as Semi-Pelagian. It has brought constant posts, disagreements and differences among a number of leaders within the SBC. From the beginning, Calvinists have taken the time, on a number of platforms, to respond by pointing out their differences with the Ten Articles, none of which excel Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol’s 13 part series titled “Response to A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.

I have seen a number disagreements with almost every point of the Ten Article Preamble, including Number 10 which concerns The Great Commission. As a matter of fact, The Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol,  from my reading and understanding, did not disagree with Article Ten: The Great Commission. Article ten states,

We affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth. We affirm that the proclamation of the Gospel is God’s means of bringing any person to salvation. We deny that salvation is possible outside of a faith response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As Scriptural proof text, the writers of this article use the following:

Psalm 51:13; Proverbs 11:30; Isaiah 52:7; Matthew 28:19-20; John 14:6; Acts 1:8; 4:12; 10:42-43; Romans 1:16, 10:13-15; 1 Corinthians 1:17-21; Ephesians 3:7-9; 6:19-20; Philippians 1:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:1-5.

It is what the “Traditional SBCers ” affirm that brings some concern and is in need of clarification for a proper understanding and doctrinal agreement for myself. Two things come to my mind after reading the 10th Article along side their Scriptural proof texts.

The first concerns the fact that the SBC has remained dominantly Dispensational in their hermeneutics. Seeing the writers use proof texts in the Old Testament,  such the Psalms and Isaiah, while applying them to the New Testament people of God seems to be a move towards a more covenantal hermeneutic.

The second applies to Article Ten which states “that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His church to preach the good news of salvation to all people to the ends of the earth.” This is proof texted by Matthew 28:19-20. I would like to see some clarification on what is meant by “commissioned His church.” What does “His church” mean in the Article? Is it every single individual member of the church? Is it the commission of the church? Does it mean that the commission was given to the offices of the church? Is this “great” commission given to both men and women of the church?

Maybe it is time that the “Traditional Baptists” of the SBC take a look at their elder brothers of the Protestant Faith such as the “Particular” Baptist. The 1689 London Baptist Confession (LBC) chapter 28 sections 1 & 2 state the following,

1. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world. 2. These holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ. Scriptural Proof Text: Matthew 28:19-20.

What American Evangelicals, such as the SBC have commonly titled The Great Commission and used as a Scriptural proof for the Church to evangelize has lost its theological intent and audience. Here in the LBC (as well in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 28 & The Belgic Confession Article 34 ) traditionally Protestants have seen Matthew 28:19-20 not as The Great Commission, but as the Apostles Commission, or better said The Apostles Ordination by Jesus Christ.

Here Jesus ordaining the disciples into the office of Apostleship, passing the keys and authority that had been given to Him from His father, telling the Apostles their commission, “to teach and baptize… to all the nations” meaning both to the Jew and Gentile takes place before His ascension. Later in the New Testament, it is this office of Apostles and commission of teaching and baptizing that had been given to them by Jesus Christ himself that is passed to the office of the teaching elder. (Cf. Acts 14:23, 20:28; Titus 1:5) As John Calvin gives light to the original intent and theological importance of the passage to the church today;

Now since this charge is expressly given to the apostles along with the preaching of the word, it follows that none can lawfully administer baptism but those who are also the ministers of doctrine. When private persons, and even women, are permitted to baptize, nothing can be more at variance with the ordinance of Christ, nor is it any thing else than a mere profanation.”


Confessing Theology Helps

To maintain the purity of doctrine. . .

In the course of time the church has been assaulted by damnable heresies. The church had to clearly express what she stood for. The heretics have often awakened the church and caused her to stand firm on the truth once delivered to her. Without Arius Athanasius would not have performed his life work. Without Donatus and Pelagius Augustine would not have developed to such an outstanding theologian. The church had profit even from the struggles against heretics.

The church against Arius clearly testified of Divine nature of Christ and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as portrayed by Athanasius was made into a confession. At the council of Carthage in 418 Pelagianism was completely banished and condemned. The heretics forced the church to conduct a deep exegesis. Actually the salvation of souls was at stake. Over against deceit they had to place the truth in clear formulations. These became confessions.

To be tolerant here would have shown a lack of character. When scripture has spoken and Christ has made this message clear to the church then the church may sign no pact of tolerance but must be sharp in portraying and exposing deceit and lying.

The church used thereby the Word of God and could plead and experience and trust the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit would lead into all truth. In clear words the church could state that she believes and confesses and condemns.

This was again the case during the reformation. Calvin wanted to maintain the purity in doctrine by also letting the children of Geneva study the truth in catechism. This catechism would lead the children to do confession of faith. The confession of the church was seen as a means to maintain the purity of doctrine.

Why Should the Church Confess Their Theology?

HT: Notes taken from a Creeds Class at PRTS

To openly testify of the unity in the doctrine of the church.

Already in the days of the reformation it became clear that one of the most effective means to show the unity of faith was to make use of confessions ands creeds. The churches would send each other their creedal statements. In this way the unity of the spirit can be experienced, as we read in Eph 4:3. To promote this unity we make use of confessions.

Forefathers from the very onset of the reformation felt these matters.

Already Calvin saw the need of this statement of unity in the faith. In his preface to the catechism of Geneva he states:

“In this confused and divided state of Christendom, I judge it useful That there should be public testimonies, whereby churches which, though widely separated by space, agree in the doctrine of Christ, may mutually recognize each other. For besides that, this tends not a little to mutual confirmation, what is more to be desired than that mutual congratulations should pass between them, and that they should devoutly commend each other to the Lord? With this view, bishops were wont in old time, when as yet consent in faith existed and flourished among all, to send Synodical Epistles beyond sea, by which, as a kind of badges, they might maintain sacred communion among the churches. How much more necessary is it now, in this fearful devastation of the Christian world, that the few churches, which duly worship God, and they too scattered and hedged round on all sides by the profane synagogues of Antichrist, should mutually give and receive this token of holy union that they may thereby be incited to that fraternal embrace of which I have spoken?”

At the Synod of Armentiers in The Southern Netherlands 1565? it was decided that all elders and deacons would sign the Belgic Confession. At the Synod of Pentecost of 1565 in Antwerp this article was decided upon that at every synod  all the delegates shall make a public confession of their faith to state the unity of faith and also to ascertain if something needs to be added to this confession or not.

At the Synod of 1571 in Embden it was decided that in order to promote the unity in the doctrine we decided that all the delegates shall sign the Confession of faith as well as the French confession.  The same in Alkmaar 1573 and in 1574 at Dort Provincial synod. Guido de Bres himself underscored the apologetic motive of the Confession, the churches saw in this confession a banner of unity.

The Necessity of Doing Theology

The necessity of self-defense.

The church dwells in the midst of the world and is not of the world. Her testimony causes all kinds of reactions. Often the church must confess that there is a lethargic spiritual life, that there are all kinds of divisions. There is conformity to the world. There are other sorrowful matters and these all cause the church too often to place her confession and faith underneath a bushel. The strength of her testimony was gone.

Too often the church has withdrawn herself into a self-satisfied retreat from the world and sought her strength in her isolation. Then the church herself was the cause that the world forgot the church and had no interest in her message.

But everywhere where the church confesses and stands in the midst of the world with her confession, then the world cannot live undecided towards the church. Her testimony is too intrusive, too divisive, and too radical according to the standards of the world. Then the church does not allow people to have a calm conscience if they live outside of the Lord. The result is that hate scorn and suffering are laid upon the church.

The church may then never defend herself with carnal weapons or with sword, but with the clear testimony of the truth. To glorify her king the church will testify of God’s Word, prove her innocence and publicly proclaim what doctrine she propagates.

The church has to defend also changes and reformations why certain matters are changed.

The Necessity of Confessions

The existence of the church itself calls for confessions to be written…

The faith that is within the believers has to be confessed. The heart is full of it and must be pronounced. That counts for the individual believer but also for the church as a whole. In the Scriptures the mysteries of godliness are reflected and they are embraced by faith in the heart. The result is that the believer confesses these matters with his lips. The church knows about God, and Divine matters, about the creation and fall and sin and reconciliation through the mediator and His blessed work and about the future judgment and the final condemnation of the wicked. These matters are perfectly well known and must be confessed. Because the church exists therefore confessions must exist. It is a given.  There have to be clear delineated concepts of the truth. This is not a matter that she can take or leave; it is an essential aspect of being a church. Otherwise she ceases to be a church.

Five Things that Must be Considered when Doing Systematic Theology

As one of my mentors taught me, and I teach my students this week…

1) Systematic theology must be biblical, Scripture must be its primary source. All must be subordinate to Scripture, the final court of appeal. It contains inherent authority for systematic theology.

2) Systematic theology is systematic; in systematic theology we draw upon the whole of the Bible, which studies the progression of doctrine and revelation and bring that to bear on systematic. It builds on exegesis, and attempts to relate portions to one another and coalesce into a whole.  It was considered to be the queen of the sciences in the Puritan era.

3) It should be largely church-oriented, as search for biblical understanding in the context of ministry and missions; it is properly task theology, hammered out in light of the challenges posed by the Great Commission.

4) Systematic theology must be contemporary.  Takes timeless issues that make sense today and restate those biblical materials that doesn’t distort them but is still contemporary.  Great balance is needed upon biblical principles, accurate hermeneutical principles on how to interpret the Scriptures.  When we do that, we have to take into account past formulations in the Scriptures.

5) Systematic theology must be practical, it is concerned about theology and stating truth, truth always has practical consequences.

Why Confessing Theology is Essential

A confession is also officially adopted by the Church. The Church accepts these creeds as expressions of her faith (doctrine of faith).  For this reason we do not ask “what does this writer say about this issue?” but, “what do the confessions say about this issue?” The writers, Guido de Bres or Ursinus, are not important. The fact that the Church has officially adopted these confessions, is what is important. The confessions have ecclesiastical authority. We are free to differ with a certain author. But we are not free to differ with the confessions for than the Church would be opened up to all kinds of false doctrine and confusion. The Church would than deteriorate into a cult or sect in which all kinds of individual views would be tolerated. The Synod of Dordt understood this properly. At this synod, they stipulated that every minister had to sign the confession of the Church, as in ALL things agreeing with God’s Word.

The existence of the Reformed Church is depended upon the Reformed creeds. If the creeds are denied, the Church will degenerate. For instance, at the synod of Dordt in 1618 submission to the confessions was demanded because they agreed with God’s Word. At the synod of 1816 in The Hague where liberalism and rationalism took its toll, it was stated that we submit to the confessions as far as they agree to God’s Word. The discernment as to what extent the confessions agreed with God’s Word, was left to the individual. According to that principle, the confessions have no validity. One can even reason against a precise meaning of the confessions. With this view, liberalism was formerly endorsed in the Church. The succession of the 19th Century was born from the desire to submit to the full confessions of the church. This constitutes that the dutch succession was not a separatistic movement, but agreed in everything to the doctrine of the Reformed Churches. It was a return to the original Reformed Church.

We are to hold on to the binding authority of the confession. No one in church has the right to teach a view that contradicts the confession because then one would contradict God’s Word.

There are some who disagree with this point of view. They consider this binding of the confessions to be an intrusions on one’s personal freedom of conscience. They consider confessions to be a hindrance for the subjective experience of faith. The freedom of speech in Church would be hindered. These objections flow forth from the desire to promote liberalism: anyone can teach what he likes. This point of view will destroy the Church of Christ. True liberty in the Church is found in being subject to the confessions for they promote the freedom of God’s Word; the true Christian deliverance. This is again something different than confessionalism. In confessionalism, one swears by the confession and desires to have nothing but the confession. Then the confessions are viewed independent of the Word of God.

Common Objections against confessions

Throughout the centuries there has been much criticisms against confessions. It has been said that they are the mere works of men and that we only need God’s Word. That Word alone is sufficient. Nowhere, they claim, does scripture, give the church the liberty to uphold human writings. Therefore they say “away with these confessions! Away with this paper pope!”. Against these objections we can state that the New Testament itself gives the beginnings of Confessions. Also we may state that in order to maintain the truth of God’s Word, the Church is called to summarize the truth. Thereby to uphold the truth. It sounds plausible that we only need God’s Word. And it is true that God’s Word alone is enough for salvation. We uphold Sola Scriptura. We do not need any other human writings or commentaries beside the Word of God. We fully confess the sufficiency of the scriptures. But this does not discharge the church from its calling to uphold the truth by clearly stating what the truth is. If we only say that we uphold God’s Word than we allow every person to misinterpret scripture and to propagate a heresy because this heretic claims that his views are based on scripture. By denying confessions, one undermines the truth of God’s Word while by upholding confessions we affirm the truth and form a foundation underneath the truth. The Church has to uphold the truth and she does this by means of confessions.

We are also to understand that confessions may never be above scripture but are to be subject to scripture. Only the Holy Scriptures are the source of all true knowledge of God. Only the scriptures provide us the rule of life and faith. Never may the confessions negate God’s Word. The Holy Scriptures form the well (the source) from which the church draws the statements concerning God’s truth.  The confession is really a humble and modest servant who speaks only after the scriptures have first spoken and who only speak so much as scripture allows her to speak and who is silent whenever the Word is silent.

For the church, the formula “I submit myself to the scriptures”, is not enough. Because of all the many heresies based on scripture, many people are not clear on what the scriptures states. These people lord over scripture and wrest these words. The call back to the scriptures and no confessions is actually a call to forsake the authority of scripture and to promote one’s own ideas. What often happens is that first in the name of scripture the confessions are condemned. But after that, one has all kinds of objections against scripture itself! These people only maintain that part of scripture that they appreciate and that is what they call God’s Word. In modern theology, you see this process prolonged and leading to a criticizing of the persons of Christ and eventually a criticism of the God of Scripture itself. The end result is that nothing is left of Christianity. In the 17rh Century it were the Arminians who criticized the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. Liberalism, in the 19th and 20th Century, heavily criticized the confessions. In our day a man like Harry Kuitert (professor at the Free University, Amsterdam) criticizes even the whole of Christianity.

Our Reformed Confessions were written in the struggle of the church to maintain God’s Word. The Church was forced to confess the truth. She had to take a stand in the theological controversies of the 1600’s.

The Development & Use of Symbolics

While in the early church symbols were used for centuries, there never was as far as we know, scientific study of the various symbols. Tyrannus Rufinus write around the year 400 a commentary, on the apostolic confession. This was for his day an important source of opinions concerning this confession but a real historical examination of the ecclesiastical confessions. First came up in the 16th Century because of reformation and humanism. Theologians were interested in the background of the ancient church creeds. In the 17th Century, it was especially Vossius and Ussher who wrote a scientific examination concerning the source and the development of symbols in ancient Church history.

A total new development in symbolics arose because of the conflict between Rome, Reformation, Arminianism, and Anabaptism. The various Reformers wrote various confessions. This led eventually in 1810 to a study written by Marheineke on the various confessions. He called his study “symbolics”. In the 19th Century various books were written displaying the difference between Rome and the Reformation in their symbolics. In the Netherlands it was especially Abraham Kuyper who emphasized the necessity of studying symbolics in theology.

Symbolics is the doctrine that studies the various creeds and confessions of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. These confessions give a reflection of the truth according to this church community. We can reflect upon the truth in theology in four different ways. In the first place we can speak about catechetics. Hereby we are concerned with passing the truth on to the younger generation. Secondly we can refer to the truth in a polemical manner. Then we are dealing with apologetics. Then we defend and uphold the truth against heresies. Thirdly, we can consider the truth by analysing and systematically studying it. Then we have systematic theology. In the fourth place we can also examine the truth and than summarize the truth into various statements. These statements are confessions. This is what we call the study of symbolics.

The church has its calling to uphold and maintain the truth. The church received this calling from the Lord. Article 27 of the Belgic Confession refers to the Church as a “holy gathering of true believers in Christ”. It is to these believers that the words of God are entrusted. They are like a precious jewel entrusted to her. The church has to take care of that jewel. In other words, we can say that the church has to uphold and propagate the church, the Word of God. The church is called to be a pillar, (a foundation) of the truth. She has to watch over the doctrine according to godliness. She has to maintain the truth and with the sword of the Spirit, she has to defend the truth against all the assaults of the devil and the world.  The church has to build up her members in the truth.

The church has the obligation and the duty to confess the truth. Every member has this calling to bear witness of the truth. The church and her members stand in the midst of a world full of error and evil. If the church would not stand firm on the truth, than these powers of evil would destroy her. This is something the church understood from her beginnings. Therefore the church felt the need to confess the truth and that is why the early church already stated the Apostolic Confession from which later on the other ecumenical creeds came forth.

It was very important for a church to have confessions. Especially, to express and confess what God’s Word states as the truth. We saw already that the early church had to resist different kinds of heresies that came up against the church. Arius is an example of one who denied Christ’s divinity. Nestorius was one who made the separation between the divine and human nature of Christ so that the salvific word of Christ was denied. Eutychius taught that the Mediator only had one human nature. Pelagius denied that Adam’s fall had consequences for the whole human race. The church had to maintain her position and uphold the truth against these heresies. Therefore the church was compelled to express and summarize the truth in confessions. Later we find the same impetus in the Reformation church over against Rome and the Anabaptists.

The confessions characterized the church. We can call these confessions the banner under which the members of Christ are gathered. It is in these confessions that the believers recognize one another. It wants to join these various people together and keep them together.

The Early Church & Symbolics

We are accustomed to refer to the doctrine of confessions with the word symbolics based on the word symbol. This is a very old expression and dates back to the early church. Cyprian already used this word around the year 250 B.C.  The synod of Arles in 314 B.C uses this expression symbol relating to people requesting to join the Christian church: if that person first belonged to a heretical community, one must ask him concerning his confession (symbolum) in order to ascertain if he can be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It is common knowledge that at the administration of baptism a certain confession was requested from the candidates. Irenaneus speaks about the regula fidele that one has received at his baptism. Tertullian refers to this confession as a characteristic whereby the members of the church distinguished themselves from others and whereby they could recognize each other as belonging to the same church.

A symbol originally was a document whereby people could give evidence to legitimize oneself, consisting of two halves that fitted together. Afterwards, this word symbol received the meaning of recognition mark. Cyrillus of Jerusalem and Augustine as well as others referred to the expression symbol as the confession adhered to at one’s baptism.

From the very first beginning of the Christian church there were confessions. Early Christianity displays three motives for the forming of confessions: The catechetical motive, the anti-heretical motive and the liturgical motive.

The catechetical motive is in the foreground. Often three questions would be asked with certain answers to be given by the candidates for baptism as a form of confession: As the candidate was in the water the minister would ask: Do you belive in God the father, the Almighty One. The answer: I believe. Then the presbyter would lay his hand upon the head and baptize once. Then the presbyter would ask: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born through the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, buried and raised on the third day from the dead and is ascended into heaven and is seated at the right Hand of God and shall come to judge the living and the dead? The answer: I believe. He would then be baptized for the second time. Again the question: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit and a holy church, the resurrection of the dead. Then again the candidate for baptism would answer: I believe. Then he would be baptized for the third time. (From the baptismal questions of Hippolyte of Rome, 215 A.D.)

Besides this we also have the anti heretical motive. To combat false doctrine. We find this element already in the Apostolicum, for instance against docetism and gnosticism. It is conccluded that already in the fourth century every church had a confessional statement explaining what her faith was. The issue in personal confession of faith was not so much his personal faith but that he confessed the faith of the church, that he agreed with the contents of the confession of the church. Eventually adherence to confessions became the touchstone for doctrinal orthodoxy. (Niceano-Constantinopolitanum 381) This emphaszies the homo-ousios, equality of Father and Son; confession of the Holy Ghost, against the Pneumatomachen, who believed that the Spirit issues from the Son but not from the Father. The Creed confessed this still without the filioque (later promoted by Augustine, adopted by Synods in Spain, Toledo 589, adopted by Rome in her mass liturgy in the 11th century.This led to the breach in 1054 between East and West).

The Bel. Conf. shows that we also accept the statements made at the Chalcedon 451 (against Eutyches) and Synod of Orange 529 against semi-pelagianism.

There is also the Liturgical motive, to be used in worship servcies. We find this in baptismal formulas but also in the apostolicum that has even a certain rythm and a succint kerugmatic content focused upon salvation in Christ. Calvin called the Niceaeno-Constantinopolitanum more a hymn to be sung than a confessional creed. It has something of a doxology. It became the credo used at the eucharist.

The Development of Confessional Statements

The Old Testament: Already in the Old Testament we read of Confessional statements. These are divinely inspired statements or summaries concerning the doctrine of God. Israel confessed the name of Jahweh. The Shemah from Deut.6:4 is very important. This has been called the fundamental confession of absolute monotheism. We can also refer to Joshua 24:17,18; 1 Kings 18:39 and to various words from the Psalms: Jahweh is King, Jahweh is great. The Jews, at the beginning of the New Testament, were probably already accustomed to proclaim twice a day this confession. In the Synagogue the Jews confessioned faith in God using the words from Deut 6:4. In the New Testament this confession is traced back in Mark 12:29, 30 and James 2:19.

The New Testament: The New Testament speaks much more about confessing than the Old Testament. The Word homologia actually means saying the same. Through the LXX this word received a religious connotation. In New Testament language, confession means agreeing with what God has revealed (Matt 16:16-17). The confession of Peter is an answer to the question of Jesus. The origin of this confession is not one’s own insight but is fruit of God’s revelation. Over against confessing we read about denial (Arneisthai), Matt 10:32-33. To believe and to confess are united, 1 John 4:15. Yet, they are not the same. Who believes does not always confess that (John 12:42). Faith ought to be confessed (Romans 10:9) so that the contents of one’s confession is congruent with what one believes. It is to reproduce what God’s Word tells us.

There is also a relationship between confession and doctrine (see 2 John 7). We are to abide in the doctrine and therefore are we to abide in the confession.

There is also another relationship. We are to confess and witness. We can refer to 1 Timothy 6:11,13. This relationship shows that the confession has repercussions and consequences for one’s daily attitude and witness. The New Testament emphasizes the act of confessing as well as the contents of the confession. It is important what we confess and also that we confess. The confession has a Christalogical content.

Especially in the letters to the Hebrews it is clear that the Church must be a confessing church. In Hebrews 3:1 we read about our confession. Hebrews 4:14, 10:23 admonishes to hold fast this confession. Whether there was an affixed confessional formula is immaterial to the issue.

In which manner did the early Christian Church confess her faith? Certainly the Church confessed her faith with the words “Kurios Jesus Christ” (see Romans 10:9, Phil 2:11, 1 Cor 12:3). In the assemblies of the congregations the Christians confess Jesus Christ as Kurios (Lord). Obviously this confession had a polemic connotation over against Kurios Ceasar. The Christians also confessed the Lordship of Christ over against polytheism of the Roman Empire (1 Cor 8:5,6). In the gospels it is clearly stated that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. This may be the original Christian confession (John 20:31). When 1 John 4:2-3 confess that Christ has come in the flesh than this is to be understood against the background of immersing heresy. This confession is also antithetical against the Jewish denial of Christ as the Son of God. We see here that the confession makes a distinction between deceit and truth, between faith and unbelief. So we actually find three short confessions concerning the Lord Jesus: Jesus is Lord; Jesus is the Christ; Jesus is the Son of God. Are there more explicit  confessions in the New Testament? Some have suggested that Phillipians 2:6-11 is one of the first composed confessions to be used in Christian worship services. Others have referred to passages such as 1 Cor 15:3b-5 or 1 Timothy 3:16b or Romans 1:3b,4a. We can find here the core of the Apostolic tradition and that the first Christian Church adhered to these statements.

Concluding we can say that the Church in the New Testament already confessed her faith. This confession had a clear, Christalogical content. Connected to this confession was strife and suffering. Revelation 2:3 refers to the faithful witness who is also a martyr. But confessing is done to the glory of God (Phil 2:11).

What is Symbolics?

Symbolics is the theological science that studies the various confessions of the Church. This study has as its aim to analyze, compare, and differentiate between the various confessions of individual denominations. The object of the study of symbolics is formed by the different writings and documents in which the church expresses what she believes and upholds. We must distinguish between symbols, confessions, and confessional documents. The study of symbolics is focused upon these ecclesiastical documents. Besides these documents there are also theological writings in which the church expresses what she believes but are not confessional statements. They give a further explanation of the contents of the actual confessions. For instance, there are certain dogmatic statements which are adopted by individual denominations. We can also refer to liturgical forms and church orders. In the study of symbolics, one will always have the starting point in one’s personal faith. The Reformed study of symbolics stands on the basis of faith. When we study other confessions we may not withdraw ourselves from our own confessional point of view. In the study of Reformed symbolics, we examine our own confessions in comparison to other confessions. For instance, the genetic cohesion between our Reformed confessions and the confessions of the early Church. We also consider the development of confessions in various denominations. We can distinguish four confessional developments:

1)            Within Roman Catholicism

2)            The Eastern Orthodox Churches

3)            The Lutheran Churches

4)            The Reformed Confessions


The aim of symbolics is four-fold:

1)            A literary aim: We ascertain the exact text which forms the basis of our examination. We are to investigate newer versions of older confessions to determine whether they are reliable renderings of these older symbols.

2)            A historical aim: We are to consider the development and the historical background of various confessions. The differences between various Reformed confessions can be explained from their historical setting.

3)            A systematic aim: An exposition of the doctrine contained in the various confessions. We can compare the various loci in the various confessions.

4)            A critical aim: To determine whether the confession is indeed in agreement to the holy scriptures. We are to consider whether the confessions are based on God’s Word, but this can also be a task for systematic theology.

What is Systematic Theology

Listen here as Dr. R. Scott Clark interviews Dr. Michael Horton on his coming volume on systematic theology.

Dogma & Doctrine

Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization: it is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from.

Doctrine is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system. The Greek analogy is the etymology of catechism.

We are thinking beings; God has gifted us with all kinds of thinking; cognitive, analytical, intuitive, symbolical thought, etc;

Question: What is our Relation as humans to theology?
Answer: Theology is one way of thinking, a methodological world of thought; these are the building block to doing doctrine. Church’s doctrine flows out of their theology. Aquinas for Roman Catholicism and John Calvin for the Reformed faith both helped the church establish her doctrines. Helpful to maintain a distinction between theology and doctrine.

Theology has been interpreted to be ultimately concerned with the church by some, while others say the goal of theology is God and not the church. Doctrine takes both these streams, although Scripture alone is the final authority. Doctrine combines the interpretation of the creeds and the interpretation of Scripture. This is an important statement. Doctrine is institutionalized theology.

Example: It has more of a ring of authority than theology.
Do you agree with Calvin’s Institutes? Yes.  Do you agree with every sentence of the Institutes? Probably not. Calvin is thinking truth out loud for the church to reflect on; when we do doctrine we take what other theologians say about Scripture and see how we can put them down in brief compass, e.g. the Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Standards; the church felt the need for some short creeds and as time went by the church felt something more substantial was needed, esp. Reformation era; things became more nuanced; doctrine became identified with institutionalized theology.

The Glory of God in Systematic Theology

1. Glory and Bibliology: 2 Cor 3:7-10. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.

2. Glory and Theology: 1 Tim 1:17. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

3. Glory and Anthropology: Rom 1:18-25. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

4. Glory and Christology: 2 Cor 4:6. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

5. Glory and Soteriology: Eph 1:6. to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

6. Glory and Ecclesiology: Eph 3:21. to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

7. Glory and Eschatology: Col 1:27. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

8. Glory and Doxology: Rom 11:36. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Extra Theology

These were some links on my old blog that I would like to carry over, in case one might want to use this as a data base. They are listed below.

Systematic Theology