:: Doctrinal Standards

Heidelberg Catechism
The Heidelberg Catechism is a document taking the form of a series of questions and answers, for use in teaching Reformed Christian doctrine. It has been translated into many languages and is regarded as one of the most influential of the Reformed catechisms.

Elector Frederick III, sovereign of the Palatinate from 1559 to 1576, appointed Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus to write a Reformed catechism based on input from leading Reformed scholars of the time. One of its aims was to counteract the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church basing each of its statements on the text of the Bible. Another one was to find common ground between the Lutherans and the Reformed.

Commissioned by the sovereign of Palatinate, it is sometimes referred to as the Palatinate Catechism.

The Catechism is divided into fifty-two sections, each to be taught on one Sunday of the year. The Synod of Heidelberg approved the catechism in 1563. In the Netherlands, the Synod of Dordt of 1618-1619 adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, together with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt. As such, ministers, elders and deacons were required to subscribe to it. Moreover, ministers were required to preach on a section of the Catechism each Sunday, so as to increase the often poor theological knowledge of the church members. In many Dutch reformed denominations, this practice is still continued.

In its current form the Heidelberg Catechism consists of 129 questions and answers. These are divided into three main parts:

I Of the misery of man

This part consists of the 2nd till 4th Sunday sections and discusses the Fall, the natural condition of man and Gods demands on him in His law.

II Of the redemption of man

This part consists of the 5th till 30th Sunday sections and discusses:

* The need for a Redeemer
* The importance of faith, the content of which is explained by an exposition of the 12 Articles of the Christian faith
* The discussion of these articles is futher divided into sections on 'God the Father and our creation' (Sundays 9-10), 'God the Son and our salvation' (Sundays 11-19, 'God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification' (Sundays 20 - 22)
* Justification
* The Sacraments of baptism and last supper

III Of the gratitude due from man

This part consists of the 31th till 52th Sundays sections and discusses:

* Conversion
* The ten commandments (Sundsys 34 - 44)
* The Lord's prayer (Sundays 45 -52)

The first Sunday section should should be read as a summary of the catechism as a whole. As such, it beautifully illustrates the character of this work, which is devotional rather than dogmatic. This can be seen in the first question, which is "What is your only comfort in life and death?", on which the answer is: "That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.".

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Belgic Confession
The Confession of Faith is popularly known as the Belgic Confession, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation Confessio Belgica. Belgica referred to the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession's chief author was Guido de Bres, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, who died a martyr to the faith in 1567.

During the sixteenth century the churches in the Netherlands were exposed to terrible suppression by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this supression, and to prove to the Catholic authorities that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who believed they professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Bres prepared this confession in 1561. In the following year a copy was sent to King Philip II, together with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would "offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire," rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession. Although the immediate purpose of securing freedom from persecution was not attained, and de Bres himself fell as one of the many thousands who sealed their faith with their lives, his work has endured and will continue to endure. In its composition the author availed himself to some extent of a confession of the Reformed churches in France, written chiefly by John Calvin, published two years earlier.

The work of de Bres, however, is not a mere revision of Calvin's work, but an independent composition. In 1566 the text of this confession was revised at a synod held at Antwerp. In the Netherlands it was at once gladly received by the churches, and it was adopted by national synods held during the last three decades of the sixteenth century. The text, not the contents, was revised again at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19 and adopted as one of the doctrinal standards to which all officebearers in the Reformed churches were required to subscribe.

The Belgic Confession consists of 37 articles which deal with the doctrines of God (1-2, 8-13), Scripture (3-7), man (14), sin (15), Christ(18-21), salvation (16-17, 22-26), the Church (27-36), and the end times (37).

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Canons of Dort
The Canons of Dort, or Canons of Dordrecht, formally titled The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands, is the judgment of the National Synod held in the Dutch city of Dordrecht in 1618 / 19. At the time, Dordrecht was often referred to in English as Dort.

Today, the Canons of Dort form one of the confessional standards of many of the Reformed churches around the world, including the Netherlands, Australia, and North America. Their continued use as a standard still forms an unbridgable problem preventing close cooperation between the followers of Arminius, the Remonstrants, and Dutch Reformed Churches.

These canons are in actuality a judicial decision on the doctrinal points in dispute from the Arminian controversy of that day. Following the death of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), his followers set forth a Remonstrance (published in 1610) in five articles formulating their points of departure from the stricter Calvinism of the Belgic Confession. The Canons are the judgment of the Synod against this Remonstrance. Regardless, Arminian theology later received official acceptance by the State and has since continued in various forms within Protestantism.

The Canons were not intended to be a comprehensive explanation of Reformed doctrine, but only an exposition on the five points of doctrine in dispute. These Canons set forth what is often referred to as the Five Points of Calvinism.

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