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This creed is named after Athanasius (AD 293-373), the champion of orthodoxy over against Arian attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity. Although Athanasius did not write this creed and it is improperly called after him, the name persists because until the seventeenth century it was commonly ascribed to him. Apart from the opening and closing sentences, it consists of two sections, the first setting forth the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and the second dealing with the doctrine of Christ, especially concerning his two natures. The teachings of Augustine (AD 354-430) in particular form the background to the Christological section. The creed itself appears for the first time in the first half of the sixth century, but the author is unknown. It is of Western origin and is not recognized by the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
The Heidelberg Catechism was written in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, ruler of the most influential German province, the Palatinate, from 1559 to 1576. This Protestant prince commissioned Zacharius Ursinus, twenty-eight years of age and professor of theology at the Heidelberg University, to prepare a catechism for instructing the youth and for guiding pastors and teachers. Ursinus was assisted by Caspar Olevianus, twenty-six years old and Frederick’s court preacher. Others had a hand in its preparation as is evident from the preface written by the Elector, in which he wrote that it was prepared “with the advice and cooperation of our entire theological faculty in this place, and of all superintendents and distinguished servants of the church.”
The Heidelberg Catechism was adopted by a Synod in Heidelberg and published in German in 1563. A second and third German edition, each with some small additions, as well as a Latin translation, were published in Heidelberg in the same year. The Catechism was soon divided into fifty-two sections so that a section of the Catechism could be explained to the churches each Sunday of the year.
In the Netherlands this Heidelberg Catechism became generally and favourably known almost as soon as it came from the press, mainly through the efforts of Petrus Dathenus, who translated it into the Dutch language and added this translation of the Catechism to his Dutch rendering of the Genevan Psalter, which was published in 1566. In the same year Peter Gabriel set the example of explaining this catechism to his congregation at Amsterdam in his Sunday afternoon sermons. The National Synods of the sixteenth century adopted it as one of the Three Forms of Unity, requiring office-bearers to subscribe to it and ministers to explain it to the churches. These requirements were strongly emphasized by the Synod of Dort in 1618–19.
The Heidelberg Catechism has been translated into many languages and is the most widely used and most widely praised catechism of the Reformation period.
This translation is based on the first German edition of the Catechism and was produced by the Christian Reformed Church of North America and adopted by their synod in 1975. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version 1984.
This confession is usually called the Belgic Confession because it originated in the Southern Netherlands, now known as Belgium. Its chief author was Guido de Brès, a preacher of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, who died a martyr to the faith in the year 1567. During the sixteenth century the churches in this country were exposed to the most terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were no rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Brès prepared this confession in the year 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 fire,” rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession. Although the immediate purpose of securing freedom from persecution was not attained, and de Brès himself fell as one of the many thousands who sealed their faith with their lives, his work has endured and will continue to endure for ages. In its composition the author availed himself to some extent of a confession of the Reformed Churches in France, written chiefly by John Calvin and published two years earlier. The work of de Brès, however, is not a mere revision of Calvin’s work, but an independent composition. In the Netherlands it was at once gladly received by the churches, and adopted by the National Synods, held during the last three decades of the sixteenth century. After a careful revision, not of the contents but 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 of the churches were required to subscribe. Its excellence as one of the best doctrinal statements of Reformed doctrine has been generally recognised.
Canons of Dort
The Canons of Dort are statements of doctrine adopted by the Reformed Synod of Dort in 1618-1619. This Synod had an international character as it was not only composed of the delegates of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands but also attended by twenty-seven representatives of foreign churches.
The Synod of Dort was held in view of the serious disturbance in the Reformed churches caused by the views of Jacob Arminius, a theological professor at Leiden University, who questioned the teaching of Calvin and his followers on a number of important points. After his death his followers presented their views on five points of doctrine in the Remonstrance of 1610. The Remonstrants held to conditional election on the ground of foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of a lapse from grace. These views were rejected by the Synod of Dort which met in 154 sessions over a period of seven months, from November 1618 to May 1619 under the leadership of Johannes Bogerman.
The Synod of Dort opposed the views of the Remonstrants and laid out the Reformed doctrine on the debated points in what is now known as the Canons of Dort or the Five Articles against the Remonstrants. These five points are unconditional election, particular atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. These points of doctrine do not represent all the doctrines of Calvinism but they do emphasise the biblical and Reformed emphasis on the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners.
Each of the heads of doctrine is expressed positively and then negatively, the former being an exposition of the Reformed doctrine on the subject, and the latter a repudiation of the corresponding Arminian error.
Church Order of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand
From Article One of the Church Order of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand:
In accordance with the apostolic injunction (1 Corinthians 14:40) that in the Church of Christ all things are to be done decently and in order, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, in this Church Order, regulate their organisation and activities, so that they may fulfil their calling according to the Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions. The main subjects treated in this Order are the Church's Offices, Assemblies, Task, and Discipline.
Westminster Confession of Faith
In 1643, during a period of civil war, the English “Long Parliament”, under the control of Presbyterian Puritans, convened an Assembly of Divines at Westminster Abbey in London. Their task was to advise Parliament on how to bring the Church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland and the Continental Reformed Churches. Shortly after beginning this work the Assembly adopted The Solemn League and Covenant to reform religion “according to the Word of God, and the example of the best Reformed Churches”. Parliament then directed the Assembly to “consider among themselves of such a discipline and government as may be most agreeable to God’s Holy Word.”
The Assembly was made up mostly of English Puritan ministers, but included six influential Scottish commissioners who were appointed to consult and deliberate but not to vote. The total number appointed to the Assembly was 151 but usually 60 to 80 were in regular attendance. These men were the finest representatives of the church of that age, men with considerable ability, learning and godliness. Their meetings began on the 1st of July 1643 and continued until the 22nd of February 1649 in 1163 sessions. They produced the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), a Directory of Worship, a Larger Catechism and a Shorter Catechism. These documents were formulated “through a process of committee work in the afternoons, followed by plenary discussion on the floor of the Assembly in the mornings, with regular additional gatherings for worship and fast days”.
The Assembly was often delayed by controversy with the Independent and Erastian members, but despite this, it “produced one of the truly monumental documents of church history, which has instructed, directed, and profoundly influenced Presbyterian churches worldwide ever since.” Reformed and Presbyterian churches in many countries have adopted the Confession and the Catechisms as their standards of doctrine, subordinate to the Bible. “While the Confession was composed by disciplined theological minds it displays the influence of men with deep pastoral and preaching experience. It is an outstanding expression of classical Reformed theology framed for the needs of the people of God.”
Westminster Confession of Faith with proof texts
This the Westminster Confession of Faith, with the Scriptural proofs, and without the alterations footnoted by the Reformed Churches of New Zealand in the document above.