Three Forms of Unity

I’ve known about the Westminster Confession and Catechisms (both Shorter and Larger)1

I also knew there were other confessions/catechisms, and I was kind of interested in the Baptist-flavored ones (like the 1689 London Baptist Confession, or John Piper’s adaptation of a Baptist catechism), because at this point I’m more inclined towards believer’s baptism than infant baptism. (Also, though I’m not sure what these creeds have to say about church polity, I’m more accustomed to congregational polity than presbyterian polity.)

However, I was recently intrigued by the “Three Forms of Unity” comprised of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort.

I haven’t read through all three yet, but I would like to. It appears that these are the earliest of the confessional compilations that endure with significant use today.

The Belgic Confession is the earliest of the three, initially written in 1561 by Guido de Bres. Although de Bres wrote his confession independently, it reflects and incorporates the theology expressed by John Calvin. The occasion for this confession was to defend against charges of rebellion against the Roman Catholic political system. Reformed Christians rallied around this confession to affirm in the face of persecution that they believed and abided by the Scriptures. It consists of consists of 37 articles dealing with the doctrines of God, Scripture, humanity, sin, Christ, salvation, the Church, and the end times.

The Heidelberg Catechism has similar content to the Belgic Confession, but a different structure and purpose. Commissioned by Frederick III, the Electoral Palatinate of the Rhine, the catechism is designed to instruct church members in the faith and provide a structure for preaching the scriptures. The catechism was written by theologian Zacharias Ursinus and pastor/theologian Caspar Olevianus, and approved by the Synod of Heidelberg of 1563, then subsequently approved by other synods of the reformed faith. The catechism consists of 129 questions and answers, which have been divided into 52 sections.

Finally, the Canons of Dort are a judicial decision put forth by the Synod of Dort in in 1618-1619. Followers of Jacobus Arminius objected to some content within the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, and in 1610 drafted five “Articles of Remonstrance” articulating their differences with other protestants. An international synod met in Dordrecht to respond to the controversy between the Remonstrants and the “Calvinists.” The Synod rejected the views of the Remonstrants, reaffirmed the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, and reiterated their views on the five issues at stake in the Articles of Remonstrance. The resulting decision is an exposition of five doctrinal points that have come to comprise the five points (or TULIP) of Calvinism.

These documents were developed during the working out of the Protestant Reformation, in the years following Martin Luther’s 95 Theses (1517), the reforms of Ulrich Zwingli (1520’s), and the publication of John Calvin’s Institutes (1536). While other confessions , catechisms, creeds, and doctrinal statements were written before and after, these three are significant in that they are among the earliest and most enduring.

For future study, it would be interesting to compare the differences between the Belgic Confession, the Westminster Confession, the Baptist Confession, and the Savoy Declaration .

  1. aren’t those inconsistent terms? shouldn’t it be “shorter and longer” or “smaller and larger”? anyway, I digress… 

Quote o’ the Day

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle fields besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

-Martin Luther

(found at Douglas Wilson’s Blog and Mablog)