Belgic Confession Oddities

2 July 2010 by Wes Bredenhof

A couple of weeks ago we had a Classis Ontario West where a number of recent seminary grads were being examined for candidacy in the Canadian Reformed Churches.  During one of the Doctrine and Creeds exams, a colleague asked one of the men something about article 15 of the Belgic Confession.  The aspiring candidate was asked to evaluate a change that the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) had made to article 15.  The CanRC edition (along with the original and every other edition that I’ve checked) says this about original sin:

“It is not abolished nor eradicated even by baptism, for sin continually streams forth like water welling up from this woeful source.”

The examiner said that the word “baptism” was replaced with “regeneration” in the RCUS edition.  I’d never heard of that before.  I made a mental note of it.

When I got home, I checked the RCUS website to see this for myself.  However, this is what I found in article 15:

“Nor is it by any means abolished or done away by baptism; since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain…”

Hmmm…..was the examiner wrong?  We had some e-mails back and forth and he was sure that they had changed it.  Giving my colleague the benefit of the doubt, I did some further research with the help of the Wayback Machine.  There I found it, on a 2006 version of the official RCUS website:

“Nor is it altogether abolished or wholly eradicated even by regeneration; since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain…”

Further investigation by my colleague revealed that the RCUS did make the change, but somehow the changes have not been made on the most recent update of their website.

This amendment to article 15 is an odd, idiosyncratic change.  I have not yet heard a convincing reason for it.  “Baptism” was originally mentioned there because of the background of the struggle with Rome.  Rome claimed (and still claims) that baptism washes away original sin.  What is gained by swapping ‘regeneration’ for ‘baptism’?  Is there a new error being addressed?  What’s going on here?  If somebody could fill us in, it would be much appreciated.

7 responses to “Belgic Confession Oddities”

  1. Would the change have something to do with the RCUS’s strong antii-Federal Vision position?

    • Could be. But I don’t see how. I don’t hear anybody in the Reformed world (very broadly speaking) arguing that either baptism or regeneration takes away original sin. But maybe I missed something…

  2. joseph says:

    There has been a strain of reformed thought that has taught both baptismal regeneration and sola fide. Didn’t Calvin himself hold that God regenerate the sinner before, during or after baptism- that the order wasn’t important. David Dickson came pretty close it too. What do the oldest Belgic sources say?

    • Joseph,

      The earliest editions of the Belgic Confession say “baptism.” All of them. No one has ever had “regeneration” until the RCUS.

      The issue here isn’t baptismal regeneration. The issue is: what can take away original sin? The original BC says that baptism can’t, because the Roman Catholics said that it could. The RCUS says that regeneration can’t, but who has ever said that it could? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. What is the advantage to swapping “regeneration” for “baptism”?

      • John van Popta says:

        An interesting side bar here: The HC says that it is the holy conception and birth of Christ that covers my original sin in the sight of God. (Q&A 36)

        Have a great holiday!


  3. Wes:

    In my student days, I did a paper on this phrase in the BC. My interest in this expression had to do with the phrase of our BC (then), which said, “not altogether abolished by baptism…” — that made me think “well, is it partially abolished?” Didn’t seem to fit with what we were taught. In the paper I recommended going back to the first edition of the BC which said something like “not at all abolished.” Dr Faber like the proposal, was on a synod committee to revise the wording of forms and creeds, and the rest is history.

    Perhaps the RCUS was struggling with the same issue and tried to solve it by changing “baptism” to “regeneration”. Whatever their reason, it does not seem to fit very well into the context.

    • Thanks for that Jerry.

      One could then ask of the RCUS edition: is original sin partially abolished by regeneration? That doesn’t make any more sense.

      The word “altogether” apparently came in through the earliest Dutch edition (ganschelick). Interestingly, I believe it’s still in the edition of the BC used by our sister churches in the Netherlands (niet geheel). It was not in the Latin edition commissioned by Dort.

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