My comments will be in brackets ( [ ] ); Belgic Confession excerpts will be italicized.
Article 29: The Marks of the True Church
We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God,
[Who is to discern? The individual? Seems like it to me]
what is the true church-- for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of "the church."
[Okay, there is a true Church . . . good. Now let's see what it is, and how one finds it]
We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves "the church."
[So far so good, though there is much biblical indication that the wheat and tares grow up together in the one true Church. I'll let that slide for the moment]
The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;
[What is the Gospel? What is pure preaching of it? How many errors are allowed? E.g., Luther's baptismal regeneration is anathema to the Reformed, so is his Gospel not a pure one; thus Lutherans - and many Anglicans and Methodists, etc. -- are not in the true Church; therefore not Christians? What about the Reformed Baptists who don't baptize infants -- some or many of whom would even deny that baptism is a sacrament at all? If the gospel is defined as TULIP or suchlike, then this is circular reasoning (the gospel is merely what these folks say it is, on the basis of their own unproven and unsupported axioms). The Bible, which is supposedly the criteria of truthfulness here, does no such thing. It defines the gospel as the birth (incarnation), life (with all its miracles and teaching), death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, not as some technical theory of soteriology and justification. One can certainly deduce some theory of soteriology from it, but my point is that this is not what the Bible describes as "the gospel"]
it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;
[How did Christ institute them? We have seen the differences concerning baptism above. So are Lutherans and Reformed Baptists and other sorts of Baptists out of the fold? As to the Eucharist, similarly serious differences arise. Lutherans believe in consubstantiation; so their belief here is not "pure." And of course, if we look to the early Church Fathers, they unanimously accepted the
Real Presence, so that one must believe that the apostasy of the early Church on this score was well-nigh universal, and that only in the 16th century was true eucharistic belief restored, and even then not by Luther (or for that matter, Zwingli), but by Calvin. Now, what authority does he have? Certainly not apostolic authority, nor the prestige of passed-down apostolic Tradition, as his view is a novelty and an innovation. So there are a host of difficulties in almost every sentence here. They may sound great and highfalutin', but they conceal myriad historical and biblical problems and contradictions, as clearly seen in this merely brief, cursory treatment]
it practices church discipline for correcting faults.
[Sure, then when someone disagrees, he simply goes to another sect, on the basis of his own judgment as to what the pure church is, based on the Word of God (first sentence above). He applies the same criteria stated here to go somewhere else, because the final authority must reside in the individual, due to unresolvable difficulties and contradictions among the various sects. These appeared at the beginning of the Protestant Revolt (inevitably) and will always remain, because of this flawed principle of how one determines theological truth. If in fact there had always been one Protestant Church and one only, then these axioms might hold at least some water, but as this has never been the case, the whole edifice collapses in a heap of self-contradictions and woeful inability to consistently apply these nebulous, ethereal standards
to the real world]
In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head.
[This all sounds fine and dandy, noble and glorious, etc., but it is not nearly this simple, because there were and are foundational differences on almost every issue where Protestantism is to be distinguished from Catholicism in the first place. Until these can be resolved, then such talk within the Protestant paradigm is a pipe-dream of the most illusory sort]
By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it.
[The only self-consistent, historically-demonstrable way to establish this is by apostolic succession and an examination of history (as the Fathers taught). No Protestant sect can pass this test. But even using their own stated criteria of authenticity above, no one can figure out which sect is the true one, because the doctrinal disagreements run too deep and are too serious]
As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith,
[What is faith? Protestants disagree on this, too. How does regeneration and election relate to personal faith? How is one assured of saving faith? Can one lose that and fall away?, etc.]
and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.
[This sounds great, too, but it has never occurred in an entire group. Since sin is present in all professed Christian groups, the absence of it can hardly be the "proof" of the authenticity of one sect over another]
Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.
[Virtually all Christian groups would adhere to this notion, so it is of no help for our task, either]
As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God;
[And what would the Word of God teach about that, pray tell?]
it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ;
[What does this mean?]
it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases;
[The problems in this statement were already discussed. One can either appeal to the constant Tradition throughout the ages and apostolic succession, or else choose one of a host of Protestant options, all themselves ultimately arbitrary and man-centered and unable to be supported by Church history]
it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ;
[No Christian system is more man-centered than Protestantism, where a single man's word (Calvin,
Luther, Fox et al) has the greatest authority, far greater than any pope ever dreamt of. Any local pastor has far more influence or effect on the lives of his congregation than the pope has on a Catholic, in a practical, everyday sense. That's why Protestant congregations often split in two merely because a popular pastor felt called to move on to another assembly]
it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.
[We know what they are talking about, but the sin argument resolves nothing. Protestants were at least as intolerant in the 16th century as Catholics -- arguably far more, especially in light of their supposed principles of tolerance and supremacy of the individual conscience]
These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.
[Not quite. Protestants need to resolve the difficulties I raised above, and many more brought about by their utter inability to resolve their own internal squabbles. A bucket with 1000 holes in it cain't hold no water . . . ]