Reformation Confessions and Evangelism

By Wes Bredenhof - Posted at YINKAHDINAY:

We’re continuing to celebrate what God did in the Reformation starting 500 years ago. For today, I’m sharing the notes from a talk I did in Brazil back in August.



One of the most important contributions of the Reformation was its production of confessions and catechisms. Only a few of them are still well-known today. For example, Reformed churches continue to use the Heidelberg Catechism written in 1563. They also continue to use the Belgic Confession written in 1561. What many people do not know is that there were numerous confessions and catechisms produced during the time of the Reformation. If we only look at the Netherlands, there were at least 18 Reformed confessions and catechism produced between 1530 and 1580.[1] James Dennison has produced a four volume set of Reformed confessions from the 16th and 17th centuries.[2] Volume One covers 1523 to 1552. It contains 33 confessions and catechisms translated into English. These come from all over Europe: Switzerland, Germany, Spain, England, the Netherlands, Bohemia and more. Moreover, this is not even close to a complete collection. The number of Reformed confessions is simply amazing.

Why did the Reformation produce so many confessions? After all, was not the Reformation all about Sola Scriptura, the Bible alone? They said they believed in the Bible alone. Yet they had all these manmade documents for their churches. How could they fit those things together? The answer is simple. They believed that their confessions were just faithful summaries of biblical teaching. Their confessions and catechisms never replaced the Bible or stood over the Bible. They were guides to the important teachings of the Bible.

The Reformation churches saw that confessions and catechisms were helpful. They were helpful as statements of faith. When someone wanted to know what their church believed, they could turn to the confession of the church. They were helpful as teaching tools. When someone was going to be brought into the church, the confessions were a pedagogical tool for teaching the important doctrines of Christianity. When young people were being discipled in the church, they would be taught with the help of confessions and catechisms. They were also helpful as something to bind the church together in doctrinal unity. These documents contained the faith that the church agreed upon together as the basis for fellowship.

In some instances, Reformation confessions were also regarded as evangelistic tracts. This is certainly true for the Belgic Confession.[3] It was addressed to a Roman Catholic world lost in darkness. It was an effort to win Roman Catholics with the gospel. The Belgic Confession was originally written in French, not in Latin. It was written in the language of regular people in order to win the regular people. It was also originally written in the format of a tract. It was printed in a small convenient format which would fit in your pocket. It was meant to be printed cheaply and in great quantities so that it could be widely shared. And it was.

In what follows, I want to look at some of these Reformation confessions and what they have to say about the evangelistic calling of the church. I’m going to mention the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, of course. I’m also going to be discussing some of the confessions and catechisms that are not as well known. I should say that I will not be discussing the Westminster Confession or Catechisms. These were written in the post-Reformation period in the 1600s. Our focus is going to be on the Reformation in the 1500s, particularly on the non-Lutheran side of the Reformation.