by Burk Parsons
One dutchman, a theologian. Two dutchmen, a church. Three dutchmen, a schism — or so the saying goes. Though such a saying could rightly include Englishmen or Frenchmen, historically the Dutch have demonstrated their fervent tenacity for defining the truth, defending the truth, and, when necessary, dividing over the truth. Nevertheless, for the past four centuries, Dutch reformed churches, and for that matter all continental reformed churches have remained committed to three forms of confessional unity.
While some of our readers have perhaps heard of the Three Forms of Unity, it is likely that very few could explain that the three forms consist of three historic documents in the continental Reformed tradition: The Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. Although each document addresses different aspects of biblical doctrine, there exists a magnificent harmony among the three documents, providing all confessing Christians with thorough and concise affirmations of what we believe and why we believe it.
Unfortunately, however, many Christians in many evangelical churches these days are confessionally challenged in that they are either cynical, critical, or altogether skeptical of all things confessional — confessional documents, confessional churches, and confessional Christians. We might hear confessionally challenged Christians say things, such as “My only creed is Christ” or “I don’t need theology, just give me Jesus” or “Confessions divide, Christ unites.” Such Christians are actually under the impression that their churches don’t have confessions, when in truth every church has a confession, though it may not be written down and though it may constantly change according to the whims and fancies of the pastor. They have been somehow deceived into thinking that all of the various historic Reformed confessions only serve to divide the church of its unity and disarm the Bible of its authority. Nothing could be further from the truth, for what is so amazing about Reformed confessions in general is not how different they are from one another but how similar they are- — how they each use biblical language in affirming the faith once delivered to the saints so that we might live coram Deo, before the face of God, confessing Christ and contending for the faith.