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The Athanasian Creed

This creed has been named after Athanasius (AD 293–373), the champion of orthodoxy against the Arian heresy. Although he did not write it, the name persists because it was commonly ascribed to him by the Medieval Church. Being of Western origin, the creed first appeared in the early sixth century. Although the author is unknown, it embodies the teaching of Augustine (AD 354–430) in his book De Trinitate, as well as the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon on the Person of Christ (AD 451). Written in rhythmic cadences, this creed has been chanted in public worship by some churches. It is the fullest ecclesiastical statement of the truths of the Trinity and the Person of Christ.

The Trinity

[1] Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; [2] Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

[3] And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; [4] Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. [5] For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. [6] But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.

[7] Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. [8] The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. [9] The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible. [10] The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. [11] And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. [12] As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. [13] So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty; [14] And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.

[15] So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; [16] And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. [17] So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord; [18] And yet they are not three Lords, but one Lord. [19] For like as we are compelled by the Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; [20] So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say: There are three Gods or three Lords.

 

[21] The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. [22] The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. [23] The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. [24] So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. [25] And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. [26] But the whole three persons are co-eternal, and co-equal. [27] So that in all things, as said before, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. [28] He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

The Person of Christ

[29] Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. [30] For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. [31] God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of His mother, born in the world. [32] Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. [33] Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.

[34] Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. [35] One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God. [36] One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. [37] For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; [38] Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; [39] He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; [40] From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead. [41] At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; [42] And shall give account of their own works. [43] And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

[44] This is the catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Amen.

The Nicene Creed

This creed is an accurate and majestic formu­lation of the historic faith of orthodox Christianity. Originating at the Council of Nicea (AD 325) and revised at the Council of Constantinople (AD 381), it affirmed the biblical doctrine of the Trinity and the Person of Christ in opposition to various heresies, especially Arianism. The Western Church added the article on the procession of the Holy Spirit from Christ, “and the Son” (Latin: filioque) when it was adopted in its present form at the Council of Toledo (AD 589).

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

Apostles' Creed

"What, then, is necessary for a Christian to believe?" asks question twenty-two of the Heidelberg Catechism. "All that is promised us in the Gospel, which the articles of our catholic, undoubted Christian faith teach us in summary" is the reply.

Though this creed was not penned by the Apostles, it summarizes the basic truths of Scripture taught by them in simplicity, brevity, and beauty. More than any other creed of Christendom, it may justly be called a universal statement of the faith. Best known of the ecumenical creeds, it gives a concise and yet full expression of the fundamentals of historic Christianity.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

  • the Creator of heaven and earth,
  • and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
  • Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
  • born of the Virgin Mary,
  • suffered under Pontius Pilate,
  • was crucified, died, and was buried.
  • He descended into hell.
  • The third day He arose again from the dead.
  • He ascended into heaven
  • and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
  • from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,

  • the communion of saints,
  • the forgiveness of sins,
  • the resurrection of the body,
  • and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Confessional Standards

Our Secondary Standards: the Three Forms of Unity

When asked, "What does the Bible teach?" or "How do you interpret it?" we respond with a unified voice by referring to the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed church which summarize the message of Scripture.

Our statement of faith includes the Apostle's Creed as well as the historic confession of the churches of the Reformation. We affirm and teach that system of doctrine which is set forth in the Three Forms of Unity: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. These three doctrinal statements, born of the Protestant Reformation, define what it means to be reformed. The Consitution of our denomination states,

ARTICLE 176. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which are called canonical, being recognized as genuine and inspired, are received as the true and proper Word of God, infallible and inerrant, and the ultimate rule and measure of the whole Christian faith and doctrine.

ARTICLE 177. The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dort are received as authoritative expressions of the truths taught in the Holy Scriptures, and are acknowledged to be the subordinate standards of doctrine in the Reformed Church in the United States.

(RCUS Constitution, Part IV. Doctrine and Worship, Section 1, Doctrine)

1. The Heidelberg Catechism

The Catechism or Instruction in the Christian faith received its name from the place of its origin, Heidelberg, the capital of the German Electorate of the Palatinate. That the Reformed Protestant faith might be taught and maintained in his domain, the godly elector Frederick III commissioned Zacharias Ursinus, professor at the Heidelberg University, and Caspar Olevianus, court preacher, to prepare a manual for instructing the youth and guiding pastors and teachers in the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Prepared with the advice and cooperation of the entire theological faculty, the result was a new Catechism. It was heartily approved by the Elector himself and the Synodical gathering of prominent Reformed preachers and theologians at Heidelberg, Germany.

The plan of the Catechism, following the outline of Paul's letter to the Romans, is an eminently practical condensation of evangelical doctrine. The answer to question one is the Gospel in a nutshell: salvation in Christ is our only comfort in life and death.

The Great Synod of Dort (1618-1619) declared that the Heidelberg Catechism was in all respects in harmony with the Word of God and required office-bearers to subscribe to it. It was called "an admirably composed compendium of the orthodox Christian doctrine, wisely adapted to the comprehension of tender youths, and also to the more elaborate instruction of adults." The Synod issued directives that it was to be used by parents in teaching their children, by instructors in the schools, and by pastors on each Lord's Day afternoon.

It has been deservedly the most widely used and influential catechism of the Reformation period. The Reformed Churches of Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Transylvania, and Poland adopted it. Among the thirty languages into which the catechism has been translated include Dutch, English, French, Polish, Hungarian, Greek, Lithuanian, Hebrew, Italian, Bohemian, Javanese, Arabic, Singalese, Hebrew, and Malay. In North America it was adopted as a standard of the Reformed Church in the United States from the very beginning of its history.

2. The Belgic Confession

This doctrinal standard of the Reformed Churches in the U.S. is named for its origin in the Southern Lowlands (Netherlands), now known as Belgium. Its chief author was Guido de Bres. Born at Mons in 1523, de Bres was converted to the evangelical faith through the diligent reading of the Bible. Under Philip II of Spain, an ally of the Romish Church, the believers in the Lowlands were sorely persecuted as revolutionaries. This Confession was written primarily as a testimony to the king to prove that the Reformed believers were law-abiding citizens who professed only those doctrines which were in harmony with Holy Scripture. First composed in 1559, a copy was sent to Philip II in which it was declared that these believers were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, although they would "offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to fire, rather than deny the truth of God's Word."

The document was published in French in 1561. Its content is dependent to a great extent on the confession of the Reformed Churches in France, written chiefly by John Calvin and published two years earlier. The work of de Bres, however, was not a mere revision of that work, for it gives a more expanded treatment of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, and the Sacraments. Though the confession failed to stem the tide of persecution, it was instrumental in helping thousands understand the Reformed faith. Guido de Bres was eventually captured, and sealed his confession with martyr's blood in 1567. His work has endured as an expression of the faith of a people suffering for Christ's sake and will continue to serve as a means of instruction in the Reformed faith.

The Belgic Confession was adopted by the Reformed Church in the Netherlands at the Synod of Antwerp in 1566. After careful revision of the text, the great Synod of Dort in 1618-19 adopted this confession as one of the doctrinal standards of the Reformed churches, to which all office-bearers (ministers, elders, deacons, professors of theology, and schoolmasters) of the churches were required to subscribe. Its excellence as one of the best statements of Reformed doctrine has been generally recognized by all Reformed churches.

3. The Canons of Dordt

The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute is popularly known as the Canons of Dort. It consists of statements of doctrine adopted by the great Synod of Dort which met in the city of Dordrecht, Netherlands, in 1618-19. The Synod met in order to settle a serious controversy in the churches initiated by the rise of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius, a theological professor at Leiden University, questioned the teaching of Calvin and the Reformed churches on a number of important points and had advocated a revision of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. After Arminius's death, his followers presented their views on five theological points in the "Remonstrance" of 1610, which taught election based on foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of a lapse from grace.

Convened by the States-General of the Netherlands on November 13, 1618 as a national synod of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, it was in fact an international counsel including twenty-seven representatives of foreign churches. With delegates from England, the Palatinate, Hesse, Switzerland, and Bremen, the Synod represented a consensus of all the Reformed Churches of that day. John Bogerman, pastor at Leuuwarden, presided. There were 154 sessions, the last of which was held on May 9, 1619. When the Canons were completed, the delegates affirmed them by their signatures.

In the Canons the Synod set forth the Reformed doctrine on key points of the Gospel--unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints. Because the Canons are an answer to the Five Points of the Remonstrance, they set forth only certain aspects of the truth rather than the whole body of the truth, as do our other confessions. This also explains the fact that the Canons are divided into five chapters, hence they have been called the "five points of Calvinism."

Each of the Canons consists of a positive and a negative part, the former being an exposition of the Reformed doctrine on the subject, and the latter a repudiation of the corresponding Arminian errors. Although in form there are only four Heads of Doctrine, we speak properly of five points, because points 3 and 4 were combined into one. After each Head of Doctrine there is a Rejection of Errors refuting specific teachings of the Arminians.

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