The Board of Trustees informed Synod 2005 that a survey of 350 congregations indicated that “a substantial number of churches believe that an update is desirable,” that “the present Form of Subscription contains statements that are subject to misinterpretation” and that “a more contemporary expression of agreement will make the requirements more meaningful” (Acts of Synod 2005, p. 619). Synod 2005 appointed a study committee to revise the document, and Synod 2008 expanded the committee. After extensive interaction with the churches, the committee now presents its recommendation.
Instead of a Form we have a Covenant, a communal not an individualistic document. Instead of a Form that speaks only of the three forms of unity (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordt), the Covenant speaks of Scripture, the ecumenical creeds and the three forms of unity. It also addresses Our World Belongs to God, the contemporary testimony of our denomination, but refers to it in different language than the three forms of unity because it does not have confessional status. The committee’s explanation of its proposals on pages 627-630 of the Agenda is helpful.
Though the document speaks of “being formed and governed” by the three forms of unity, and “conforming our preaching, teaching, writing, serving and living to them,” a few overtures want some of the familiar language of the old Form instead. Hopefully synod will recognize that this new language addresses those concerns. This new document will serve the church well.
One of the goals of the committee was simplicity in language so the covenant would be easily understood by all who sign it. A document like this can suffer death by a hundred paper cuts, but is it as understandable as we would like? The first sentence with its many phrases is confusing: “We, the undersigned, believe the inspired Word of God as received in the Old and New Testaments of Holy Scripture, which proclaims the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of all things in him.” Why not mention the Bible? Is there a book known as Holy Scripture? Isn’t the Koran Holy Scripture for some people?
Wouldn’t it more understandable to say: “We, the undersigned, believe the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the inspired Word of God, proclaim the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of all things in him?”
The second sentence says, “Acknowledging the authority of God’s Word, we submit to it in all matters of life and faith.” Typically, (cf. Church Order Article 13) we talk about “doctrine (faith) and life,” recognizing that our life flows from our faith. Shouldn’t those two words be switched?