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The Belgic Confession: Speaking from the Heart

This is the third post in our Justice and the Reformed Confessions series. Subscribe here to make sure you don't miss a post and to view the other posts in the series

The Belgic Confession speaks from the heart. In fact, the word “heart” is used ten times. Some might wonder why the Belgic Confession’s author, Guido de Bres, would appeal to the heart so frequently. But if you know a bit about the life, and death, of Guido de Bres, you know why the heart mattered so much to him.

Guido de Bres was born into a devout Roman Catholic family in what today is Belgium. As a young man, de Bres was compelled to join the growing Reformation movement. He moved to England to study as part of a community of refugees fleeing persecution for their Reformed beliefs. He was in England only a handful of years before moving back home to serve as a minister. His community faced fierce persecution, and many were forced to flee for their lives.

It was during this time that de Bres began to study under a man named John Calvin. But after just a few years of study, de Bres moved back to the place where his heart was, in ministry. While threats on his life were never far away, de Bres continued to minister faithfully. In the meantime; he began work on a document that Reformed churches would adopt as a doctrinal expression of their faith--the Belgic Confession.

The Belgic Confession is a beautiful document in many respects, perhaps no more profoundly than in its language and form, shaped by de Bres’ extensive knowledge of the Bible and his humble posture as a refugee. You can almost her the tenderness in his voice as you read the Confession’s opening words,

We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God— eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good.

Governments and religious communities have significant power to influence one another, as illustrated by the life and death of Guido de Bres, which is why Confessions like the Belgic speak into political contexts. In a time of political turmoil, violence, fear, and uncertainty; de Bres pointed people to God’s word that they might find strength and hope. In Article 24, he wrote, is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls “faith working through love,” which moves people to do by themselves the works that God has commanded in the Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by God’s grace.  

Faith bears fruit. And as we see in the life of Guido de Bres, people of faith can be significant actors in their world, with influence to wield. As the Church, we have done this well, and not so well, at different times throughout its history. But this illustrates our need for Confessions that point us to God’s word.

Rather than being prescriptive about laws and governance, the Belgic Confession is thoroughly descriptive--of who God is, or who we are in Christ, of how we as the Church reflect Christ in the world. The Belgic Confession does not seek to draw borders around the church, but beckons us to the Bible, and to find root there, in order that the essence of God’s word would flavor all that we do.

The witness of the church is threatened by our silence, by our seeming unwillingness to seek justice with the oppressed. It is here that the Belgic Confession meets us, and speaks to us, as people who hold to the same Reformed beliefs 500 years later. This Confession calls us to community as the universal church, across time and national borders:

And so this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain people. But it is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world, though still joined and united in heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith.
(from Article 27)

Guido de Bres was executed on May 31, 1567. He was just 45 years old. While we as present-day members of the church may have a tendency to downplay the importance of matters of the heart, to emphasize the mind over the heart, we’d do well to listen to the words of those who have gone before us.

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