The Joy of Being Reformed (1): The Belgic Confession of Faith

Are you Reformed? Am I? How would we go about answering that question? And if you were looking for a church home, and you visited a church that claimed to be Reformed, what might you expect them to teach and practice? Before we could say, “I’m Reformed” or “I’m not Reformed” or “I go to a Reformed church,” we’d need to know what it means to be historically Reformed. We’d need an honest and historically accurate definition of Reformed, right? And this isn’t very easy to understand today because the word “Reformed” has come to mean different things to different people.

It’s like the word “God.” Many Americans will say that we are “one nation under God,” but then if you press people further, you realize that what they mean by “God” is quite different. Some of us believe that God is the triune God of the Bible, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who alone is the one true God, but other Americans believe “God” is the universe or is a force inside each one of us or is Allah or something or someone else.

In my experience, when they use the term “Reformed,” most people are thinking about a certain view of salvation. They use “Reformed” to describe how they think about God’s sovereignty in salvation. In other words, “Reformed” is reduced to mean God predestines people to salvation according to His will and purpose and not according to any foreseen faith or condition in man. This is an extremely truncated or abridged use of the term “Reformed.” Historically, Reformed means a lot more than a particular view of salvation.

See, theology can be broken down into historical theology, systematic theology, and Biblical theology, and within these theological disciplines there are the disciplines of theology proper, Christology, Pneumatology, Anthropology, Hamartiology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and so forth. To be Reformed touches on all these disciplines, not simply Soteriology or a certain view of salvation. Someone isn’t really Reformed if they have a Reformed view of salvation but an Anabaptist or Lutheran view of the church. To be Reformed is to have a consistently Reformed hermeneutic of all Scripture or a Reformed understanding of all Scripture and the different disciplines of theology. In other words, to be “Reformed” is to have a Reformed understanding of God, Christ, the Spirit, angels and demons, the nature of mankind, the nature of sin, salvation, the church, and more. So, it is a bit unresponsible to diminish “Reformed” down to five points. Reformed is much more. You can wholeheartedly agree with the so-called “five points of Calvinism” and be far from Reformed. So, if we’re going to honestly answer the question, “Am I Reformed” or “Is my church Reformed,” we’re going to have to think more broadly than five points.

So, what does it mean to be historically Reformed? That’s a good question. Probably the simplest way to answer it is like this. To be historically Reformed is to believe and confess what the historic Reformed churches believed and confessed. What did the Reformed churches of the Reformation believe and confess? We’re not talking about Lutheranism, Anabaptism, or Roman Catholicism. We’re talking about Reformed. And at this point, there is no shortcut to understanding what it means to be Reformed. You’re not going to get a good answer in five minutes. It takes some time to listen, read, and think to first understand Reformed Theology, and then to find the deep comfort and joy of being Reformed. See, Reformed Theology has much to say on the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of the church, and the doctrine of last things, all for your comfort and joy. Reformed Theology mines these deep theological disciplines for the gold of comfort and joy found deep within these truths. Finding comfort and joy in Reformed Theology does demand something from you, but it’s not as daunting as it may seem. It’s more exhilarating and refreshing the deeper you dive.

So, where do you start to begin to understand what it means to be Reformed? There is no better place to begin than the Heidelberg Catechism. You can grab a copy on Amazon. A link is in the show notes. Much of this podcast has been devoted to helping you understand the Heidelberg Catechism. I could also direct you to the French Confession, Scots Confession, Second Helvetic Confession, Westminster Standards, and other Reformed confessions and catechisms. Still, I’d like to point you to the Belgic Confession written by Guido de Bres in 1561. The Belgic Confession originated from the area known today as the Netherlands and Belgium and was an attempt to summarize the Reformed faith as well as prove the Reformed faith was thoroughly Biblical. Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson note:

Basically, the Belgic Confession follows what has become the traditional doctrinal order of Reformed systematic theology: the doctrines concerning God (theology proper, articles 1-11), man (anthropology, articles 12-15), Christ (Christology, articles 16-21), salvation (soteriology, articles 22-26), the church (ecclesiology, articles 27-35), and the last things (eschatology, article 37). [1]

Beeke and Ferguson add, “Though it follows an objective doctrinal order, the confession has a warm, experiential, personal spirit, helped by its repeated use of the pronoun we.” [2] It helps when thinking about the content of the Belgic Confession to remember that its author and many who believed and confessed it were killed for it. Guido de Bres was martyred, along with thousands of other Reformed Christians, for believing and confessing the Reformed Theology expressed in the Belgic Confession. It would hardly seem historically accurate and right to count yourself among the Reformed if you rejected even 3% of the Belgic Confession.

Are you Reformed? Am I? Is your church Reformed? Today we’re embarking on a journey together to answer that question. I intend to present you with marvelous Biblical truths and help you find comfort and joy in them. As we work our way through the Belgic Confession paying particular attention to how to apply it to our daily routines, you and I are going to get a better grasp on what it means to be Reformed and just how much comfort and joy there is in being Reformed. You don’t have to be Reformed to join me on this journey. I hope that you’ll join me even if you know you’re not Reformed. Who knows, you may learn some things that greatly help you trust Christ.

Before I go, keep your eyes peeled for a new book that I’ll be publishing in the coming months. Try to guess the title! Okay, I’ll just tell you: The Belgic Confession. The Canadian Reformed Church has kindly allowed me to self-publish their version, which I intend to do, so you’ll be able to pick up a hard copy on Amazon for a few dollars. Till then, check out the Canadian Reformed Church’s Book of Praise and their online Belgic Confession. The info’s in the show notes.

Grace and peace to you, and I look forward to digging into the comfort and joy of marvelous Biblical truths explained in the Belgic Confession. Till next time, hope in Christ who is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).

The picture of this post is the hanging of Guido de Bres who died a martyr for the truths of the Belgic Confession. I found the picture at If this is an illegal use of the picture, please let me know at   

[1] Beeke, Joel R. and Sinclair B. Ferguson, eds. Reformed Confessions Harmonized (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), ix.

[2] Ibid.    

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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