Historic DocumentsA few differences in emphasis, structure, and content of the major creeds, confessions and historic church documents by Bryan Peters
Here are a few differences in emphasis, structure, and content to be aware of:
- The Heidelberg Catechism is written to speak from the personal perspective of the catechumen (e.g., “What is thy only comfort”) whereas the Westminster catechisms do not use this personal perspective (e.g., “What is man’s chief end?”). The Westminster catechisms have answers which may generally stand on their own whereas the Heidelberg’s answers generally require the question to be understood.
- The Heidelberg is structured according to a Law-Gospel-Law sequence (or Guilt-Grace-Gratitude) with the Apostles Creed, Ten Commandments, and Lord’s Prayer prominently featured, whereas the Westminster catechisms add a prolegomena section (things which must first be discussed such as man’s chief end, the source of revelation, and the nature of God) before getting into the guilt, grace, and gratitude. The Westminster catechisms do not use the Apostles’ Creed.
- The Canons of Dort and the Westminster Standards use different language concerning whether assurance belongs to the essence of faith. I personally do not think they are at odds, but are both describing the ways in which a trust in Christ’s work may be present in the believer while the experience of knowing one’s personal appropriation of that work may be subject to doubts.
- The Westminster Standards are more comprehensive than the Three Forms, including Sabbatarian and covenant theologies which are present only in seed form in the Three Forms.
- The invisible/visible church distinction is featured prominently throughout the Westminster Standards. The Three Forms do not use this language, although the substance is present in Belgic Article 29.
- The Belgic Confession features Scripture quotations in the text, whereas the Westminster Confession had prooftexts appended.
- The Canons of Dort seem to go slightly further than the Westminster Confession on the subject of the children of believers that die in infancy (“godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy” vs. “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit”).
- The Three Forms use more of Calvin’s distinctive language regarding the Lord’s Supper.