************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 5-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 1, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 5 & 6
"The Authority of Scripture"
This is the time of the year when our bright young men and women go to college -- some for the first time. In secular or state colleges they learn under professors who openly mock or ignore the Word of God. But even in Christian colleges they may meet those who question God's Word and its authority. They are told:
-we don't have the originals of any of the books
-scribes deliberately changed the New Testament manuscripts so that we no longer know what the original authors wrote
-the Bible's authors are not who we think they are and at least nineteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament are forgeries
-the Bible is anti-intellectual and unscientific
-the Bible is full of contradictions and historical inaccuracies
-the Bible can't be authoritative because there is so much disagreement on how to interpret it
As we live in this sinful and fallen world we realize many question the authority of God's Word -- even in conservative circles.
The Belgic Confession addresses these concerns in the articles in front of us this evening. Our focus will be the authority and dignity of the Scriptures in three areas: First, as received by the church; Second, as confirmed by the Holy Spirit; Third, as distinguished from the word of man.
The Bible, as we said last time, is the many words of the Spirit, the one word of the Son, and the last word of the Father. It is our authoritative guide as we live between the time of Christ's two comings.
I Received by the Church
A Our first point is that the Scriptures are received by the church.
Last time, in Article 4, we looked at a list of the canonical books. This time, in Article 5, the Belgic states "We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical." Notice what it doesn't say. It doesn't say we declare these books as holy and canonical. It doesn't say we judge these books as holy and canonical. It says "We receive." The Confession cannot properly use "judge" or "declare" because that means we make the decision as to what is holy and canonical. It puts man in the judgment seat. It puts man in charge of holy Scripture.
We receive the Word. Implying that the Word is given by someone. Implying we wouldn't have the Word unless it is given. Implying empty hands and giving hands. The initiative for the Word does not lie with us. It is not our decision. It is not our idea. Rather, it comes from God. It is His idea. It is His gift because of His concern for us and our salvation.
We receive the Word. Meaning it is not the church that decides what should be included in the Word of God. On the contrary, the miracle of the Bible is that the Holy Spirit led the church into receiving this Word.
We receive the Word. Meaning that the authority of the Word does not come from the church. Rather, the Word has authority in and of itself.
B "We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical ..." Do you realize what this is? This is a statement of faith, a statement of our faith. Meaning we receive the Word through faith. We embrace it with joy. We surrender our heart, soul, mind, and strength to it. Faith causes us to give ourselves to it. Faith surrenders to the Word. Only believers can receive the Word this way. Unbelievers, on the other hand, twist and turn to avoid and escape the authority of the Word.
One of the evidences of true faith is that it receives the Word -- it cannot do without the Word. It does not lightly skip worship. It prays that preaching will make the meaning of the Word plain. Faith thanks God for the Word. Faith spends time with the Word in devotions and prayer.
C The Belgic says, "We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith."
What does this mean? Well, where does faith come from? Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). Faith comes by hearing the Word.
What else does it mean? It means our faith is to be regulated by the Word. It is not to be regulated by our likes and dislikes, by the latest trends in worship, by what is currently popular. Faith looks up to God and prays that all self-made ideas be cut away. Faith asks for the knife of truth to cut deeply and sharply so that only God's way survives. Faith looks to the Bible and says, "This is what regulates my spiritual life." The believer must confess, "Lord, by nature I am so blind and prone to wander. I would never find the way myself but in Your Word I have a compass, a map, a guide for my feet, a light for my path" (Ps 119:105).
What else does it mean? It is the Word that safeguards the believer from the attacks of Satan and the mockings of the world. It is in the Word that we find answers to the various doubts that arise in our hearts because of our sinful and weak flesh (cf Ps 119:141-144).
One further meaning: It is the Word that confirms our faith. No minister or elder can do this except he speak the Word of God.
It is a blessed church that receives the Word of God "for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith."
D I'm afraid not everyone within the church receives the Word this way. It is not a sign of healthy spiritual life when many attend worship but few attend Bible Study or have regular devotions. At best, it indicates a weak and lacking faith. Furthermore, it is the desire of God that everyone repent and believe in response to the Word. Yet, you know there are those within the church who do not bow before the gracious majesty of God by repenting and believing when presented with the Gospel. It is blind unbelief that causes people to sit under the preaching of the Word year after year without their hearts being softened and changed. It is blind unbelief that makes light of your sin and the holiness of God. It is blind unbelief that keeps you from going to the foot of the cross and crying out, "Have mercy on me a sinner!" It is blind unbelief that keeps you from realizing you need justification because you are totally lost, undone, unholy, unjust, and worthy of condemnation in the sight of God.
II Confirmed by the Holy Spirit
A Our second point is that the Scriptures are confirmed by the Spirit.
Article 5 of the Belgic says: "And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them ..." We believe what is in the canonical books.
I've been on the board of Redeemer Christian University and Mid-America Reformed Seminary. The two scariest words that any true Christian board member can hear is "Academic Freedom." Thank God I did not hear those words. Because in the name of Academic Freedom we have professors at some of our Christian Colleges who call into question the six days of creation, Balaam's talking donkey, Jonah's whale, Elisha's floating axe-head, the crossing of the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho, the widow's jar of flour and jug of oil. The next step on the road: reject the virgin birth, Easter's resurrection, Christ's ascension, and Christ's return to judge the living and the dead!
"And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them." Can we say "Amen" to this? Or does our enlightened minds scoff at this? Do we fall instead for the enticing answers of theistic evolution or the process of "de-mythologizing" Scripture?
"And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them." Throughout the centuries God's children have been willing to live and die for the truth of God's Word. Some have died amidst flames or by being torn apart by wild animals, singing and praising the God of the Word. They have endured persecution for the Word.
B If we believe without a doubt all things contained in them, why do we do so? Because the United Reformed Churches say so? Because we are orthodox, Reformed Christians? Because this is what our fathers and mothers believed?
No, we believe the Scripture's testimony because the Holy Spirit has convinced us it is true. The Spirit confirms the authority and dignity of Scripture. He bears witness in our hearts that it is from God.
Now, this is not the testimony of the Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics recognize the authority and dignity of the Word only because the church says so. Rome insists that the Bible is dependent on the church. The Biblical writings have authority for the Roman Catholic because the church receives them as holy and divine. The Roman Catholic receives the Scriptures from what is says is the infallible teaching authority of the pope, bishops, and cardinals. The Roman Catholic receives the Scriptures from mere men.
Do you see what this does? The Bible receives its authority from the church. It puts the church above the Word. But the church is not above the Word; rather, she is under the Word; she is under its authority and dignity. That goes back to the opening sentence of Article 5: "We declare" rather than "We receive." But we do not declare the Scriptures have authority and dignity; rather, we receive and believe them as having authority and dignity.
"The Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God." Apart from the Holy Spirit we cannot receive them as God's authoritative Word. Apart from the Holy Spirit we cannot believe them to be God's authoritative Word. But by the operation of the Spirit we receive and believe them as having authority and dignity.
III Distinguished from the Word of Man
A In our third point we see that the Bible is different than the words of man.
The Belgic says, "We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical." And these only. There are no other books of the Bible other than the ones listed in Article 4. Guess what this does to the Book of Mormon, or the writings of JW Charles Russell and Adventist Ellen White? They are not part of the Bible. They do not have the authority and dignity of the Bible.
"We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical." Now, Article 6 lists the collection of books commonly known as the Apocryphal Books. Apocrypha means hidden, and in common use it refers to something of uncertain authority, a story which cannot be verified. The term "Apocryphal" says it all -- the books are of uncertain origin and uncertain authority and cannot be verified. The Apocryphal Books are not holy and canonical. They do not have the authority and dignity of the Bible.
I suspect very few people here have read any of the Apocrypha. I have spent time looking at them. Some events presented as the wonders of God are reduced to tricks. Most of the time the hero and main actor of the story is a man and not God. And many of the historical accounts in the Apocrypha are simply inaccurate.
So why does the Belgic include a discussion of these books? Because eleven of them are included in the Roman Catholic version of the Bible.
B Is there any value to the Apocrypha? They certainly are not necessary for our salvation. Man's word cannot save; man's word cannot comfort the soul. Man's word gives no hope of eternity; man's word is not used by the Spirit to bring conversion and faith.
Is there any value to the Apocrypha? Consider that Rome has drawn some wrong doctrines from them, including the doctrine of purgatory.
Is there any value to the Apocrypha? The Belgic says we may "learn from them." Learn what? We can learn from them the difference between true and false books. We can learn from them to appreciate the true books of the Bible. We can learn things about Jewish culture and history.
We can learn from them so the Belgic says "The church may certainly read these books ..." May. May. May. But she Must Must Must read the canonical books for they alone guide our feet and light our path (Ps 119:105).
C Something important follows from this. If the Apocryphal books are not to be our guide, this ought to be the case for any word of any man, no matter how highly regarded he may be. This is true not just for Calvin and Luther but also for men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, D. James Kennedy, C. H. Spurgeon, or any of the 32,608 speakers found on SermonAudio. Let us be careful with the words of man -- even the most saintly of men. Yes, the Lord is pleased to use men to preach the Word, and we do receive the Word through them, but the preached word only is the Word of God when it is in agreement with the Scriptures.
We have received the Word of God. The Holy Spirit, Who also weeded out what should not be in there, confirms the Word. No other word will do.
Therefore, we give thanks to God Whose Word was spoken.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page