************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 5 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on August 2, 2009

Belgic Confession Article 5
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:13
"The Authority of Scripture"

Let's start with a review of where we are at in the Belgic Confession. Article 2 - God makes Himself known in the Bible. Article 3 - the Bible is inspired. Article 4 - the inspired Bible has 66 books.

Why are there only 66 books in the Bible? How can the believer in Christ be sure that these books alone are part of the Bible? Article 5 of the Belgic Confession of Faith answers these questions for us.

I Faith or Papal Decree?
A According to the Belgic Confession, there are two ways of knowing which books are in the Bible. The first way is by papal decree. So, the good Roman Catholic says, "I believe that the Bible has 66 books because that is what the church says; I believe that the Bible has 66 books because that is what the pope says I must believe" (of course, as we learned last time from Article 6, the Pope actually approves 13 apocryphal books too).

The church of Rome actually believes that it is the church that approves the books of the Bible. Under this view, the Scriptures are founded upon the church. According to this view, the church comes first, then the Bible. The church gives birth to the Bible.

The Belgic Confession is not overly impressed with this way of knowing which books are in the Bible. Listen, again, to how Article 5 puts it:
And we believe
without a doubt
all things contained in them [the canonical books]--
not so much because the church
receives and approves them as such ...
We do NOT receive and approve the Bible because the church says so, or the pope.

The Belgic Confession echoes the principle, formulated by Martin Luther, that the church is founded on the Bible, rather than the Bible upon the church: "The Scripture is the womb from which are born the divine truth and the church." "The holy Christian church, whose sole head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, stands firm in the same, and listens to no alien voice" (Ten Conclusions of Berne). Another of the Protestant church fathers went so far as to say, "Whoever says the gospel is not [the gospel] unless it agrees with the church's calculation and confirmation, errs and blasphemes God" (Ulrich Zwingli, "Sixty- Seven Articles of 1523").

B The second way of knowing which books are in the Bible is by faith, humble faith. Humble faith does not "approve" the books of the Bible. Humble faith does not "determine" the books of the Bible. Humble faith does not "pass judgment" upon the books of the Bible. Rather, according to Article 5, Reformed believers and churches "receive" and "believe" the books of the Bible:
We receive all these books
and these only
as holy and canonical ...
And we believe
without a doubt
all things contained in them ...
There you have it: we receive and we believe. We do NOT approve, determine, or pass judgment upon the books of the Bible. That is not for us to do. That is never for us to do.

The Belgic Confession is on solid biblical ground when it says this. What did the Thessalonian believers do? Did they approve or determine or pass judgment upon the Word or message of God? No! Absolutely not! Rather, they "received the word of God" (1 Thess 2:12) and they "welcomed the message" (1 Thess 1:6).

The Israelites neither doubted nor questioned when Nehemiah read the Law. When Isaiah said, "For the mouth of the Lord has spoken," the people did not question this. And, when John received the Revelation, he did not question if it really was Christ Who was speaking to him. In the history of redemption, the correct response to the Word of God was not to question it or approve it; rather, it was to simply receive it by faith.

We are called to receive and believe. When we do this, we follow the pattern of the Lord Jesus Himself. Remember the story of Jesus, at the age of twelve, learning and discussing the Scriptures in the Temple (Lk 2:41-51) Later, in Luke 11:51, Jesus rebuked unfaithful Israel for slaying God's prophets, charging them with the "blood of Abel" and "the blood of Zechariah" the first and last prophets of the Old Testament. Finally, in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
(Mt 5:17) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
Do you see in what high regard the Lord Jesus held the Old Testament Scriptures?

The books of the Bible, then, do not receive their authority from the church. They have authority apart from the church. They are holy and canonical apart from the church. It is not because of anything the church has said that we are to receive them "for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith."

The Bible's authority comes from God. That only makes sense when we consider what we have looked at in previous articles: that the Bible is God-breathed, that the Bible is inspired. Regardless of what men may say or do, the Bible is authoritative. Whether or not its teachings are believed, it is still authoritative. Whether or not there is a divine-human encounter, it is still authoritative. Whether or not its message strikes home with me, it is still authoritative. Whether or not I believe in the Jesus of the Bible, the Bible is still authoritative. The Bible is authoritative in and of itself as the very voice and Word of God; it does not get any of its authority from my response to it or from the church's teachings about it.

C Let's look at the phrase "for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith." We need to realize, my brothers and sisters, that there is a unbreakable relationship between faith and the Word.

Why is the Bible preached? Why do we read the Bible for devotions, during worship, in Bible Study, and at the Christian School? We don't do this to pass the time between Sunday breakfast and the opening kickoff or tipoff. We don't do this to irritate our teenagers and make them late for the basketball game. We don't do this for interest's or curiosity's sake. We don't do this because it is good for our children to get some religious training. We don't do this so we can get straight A's on Bible tests. If the Bible is preached or read for any of these reasons, we not only have failed, but we have failed miserably.

Scripture itself tells us its purpose and therefore its use. Listen to the following texts:
(John 20:31) But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

(Romans 1:16) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes ...

(2 Timothy 3:15) ... from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

(1 Peter 1:23) For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
Do you see why the Bible is preached? Why we read the Bible? Very simple, really: "for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith."

II The Witness of the Spirit and Scripture
A Back to the question I asked earlier. Why are there only 66 books in the Bible? How can the believer in Christ be sure that these books alone are part of the Bible? Why are the books of the Bible considered to be holy and canonical? Why are we to receive and believe them for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith? I already mentioned that we are to receive and believe the books of the Bible by humble faith, but this does not mean a blind faith. Rather, Article 5 tells us two solid reasons why we receive and believe the 66 books of the Bible to be holy and canonical.

First, let's start off with the Thessalonians. Take note of what Paul says:
(1Th 1:5) ... our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.

(1Th 2:13) And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
Do you hear how the Word came to the Thessalonian believers? It came to them with power. It came to them as the Word of God. It came to them by means of the testimony of the Spirit. Or, as the Belgic Confession puts it, "the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and ... prove themselves to be from God." The fact is, no one receives and believes the Bible to be truth, to be the inspired Word of God, unless the Holy Spirit works in them to believe.

Think of the Apostle Paul. He was a cruel and bloody foe of Christ and the Gospel. Suddenly he was changed into an Apostle of Christ and a proclaimer of the Gospel. What happened? Through the inner testimony of the Spirit, the Word of God took root in Paul's heart and he became a new man.

Every time hearts are converted, every time lives are changed, every time sinners become saints, and every time opponents become disciples, the Bible proves itself to be God's life-giving, life-changing Word. Only something from God could produce such tremendous life-changes. Every time I see sinners repenting, unbelievers converting, and young people professing their faith, I know for sure that the Word is from God and of God.

This says something about how to reach the unbelieving. Today, people push contemporary worship services, or seeker services, or the Alpha course as the best way to reach non-Christians. But when it comes right down to it, the way to reach the unbelieving is simply by proclaiming the Word of God. Once we have done that we have to stand back and let the Spirit use the Word to bring about repentance, faith, and obedience.

B Second, the Belgic Confession tells us about the accuracy of Biblical prediction:
For even the blind themselves are able to see
that the things predicted in them
do happen.
Here an appeal is made to the prophetic predictions which have been spoken and recorded by holy men of old. For instance, God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years (Gen 15:13-16). Or, think of Isaiah's great prophecy of Christ's virgin birth some 700 years before He was even born (Is 7:14; cf Mt 1:23). Isaiah even recorded the Lord's Word concerning Cyrus the Persian, calling him by name hundreds of years before he was born (Is 45:1). The Old Testament speaks in detail about the sufferings and death of our Lord (Is 53; Ps 22). And, it tells us about the outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2). Many of these prophecies contain remarkable and specific details which have been confirmed not only by the Bible but also by secular history and archaeological finds. Other prophetic predictions such as the preservation of the church, the spread of the Gospel among all nations, and the increasing wickedness of the world are being fulfilled before our very eyes. The inescapable conclusion from all of this is that the Bible must come from God.
Topic: Prophecy
Index: 2889-2894
Date: 3/1998.101
Title: Human Prediction Wrong

Compare the Bible's predictions to human prediction.
In 1901 Wilbur Wright said to his brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years (their first flight was in 1903).
In 1901 H. G. Wells, the British novelist, said "I must confess that my imagination ... refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea" (they were used extensively in World War I).
In 1911 Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the French military strategist and future World War I commander, said "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
A president of the Michigan Savings Bank gave this advice to Henry Ford's lawyer: "The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty a fad."
In 1934 David Lloyd, the former British prime minister, said "Believe me, Germany is unable to wage war."
In 1949 Popular Mechanics said "Computers in the future may ... perhaps only weigh 1.5 tons."
In 1954 during a performance of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, a young man performed. Afterward Jim Denny, manager of the Opry, fired the young man and said, "you ain't goin' nowhere son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck." The young man's name: Elvis Presley.
In 1963 Dr. Ian G. Macdonald, a Los Angeles surgeon, said "For the majority of people, the use of tobacco has a beneficial effect."
In 1977 Kenneth Olsen, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, said "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home."
Compared to human prediction, Bible prediction comes to pass. This proves that the Bible must come from God.

We can be confident that God has spoken and that He continues to speak in the Bible. Despite the claims of many who say, "This is what God told me ...," "God came to me last night and ...," it is only in the inspired Scriptures that we hear the voice of God.

God has spoken. Do you know what He says? "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him" (Lk 9:35). So, congregation, go to Scripture and listen there for the voice of Jesus. "Receive ... and believe ..."
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