Creeds and Confessions
Creeds and confessions are more than simply doctrinal statements. They are not inspired and are therefore not on the same level as the Bible. Nevertheless, they are powerful summaries of the truth contained in the Bible. They also represent the historic Christian faith and are a product of the work Holy Spirit through the Church. Thus, although they not on a par with scripture and could theoretically be changed, they deserve great respect. In Reformed churches, creeds fall into two categories: the ecumenical creeds of the early church and the Three Forms of Unity.
The ecumenical creeds are basic doctrinal statements outlining the beliefs of the church. Several of them were written in response to doctrinal errors concerning the person and natures of Jesus Christ. These creeds are officially or unofficially held in common by most Christian churches, including Reformed churches.
The Three Forms of Unity: the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt, were adopted by the Reformed churches at the time of the Reformation. Each has a particular function. The Belgic Confession is a thorough summary of the beliefs of the Reformed churches that proceeds systematically and logically through all points of doctrine. In the First Protestant Reformed Church of Edmonton, one article of this confession is typically read along with the Apostles' Creed at each afternoon service. The Heidelberg Catechism is also a thorough exposition of Reformed beliefs specifically written as a means of instruction. In the Protestant Reformed Churches one sermon each Sunday is typically devoted to a topic taken from the Heidelberg Catechism. The Canons of Dordt have a much narrower focus. They specifically address the controversy over the Arminian error and present the Five Points of Calvinism over against Arminianism.
The Declaration of Principles is unique to the Protestant Reformed Churches and is not a confession per se. Rather, it is a clarification of the teachings of the confessions regarding certain doctrinal positions, especially the idea of the covenant. Its primary purpose is to serve as a basis for organizing new churches, so that there is a clear basis for agreement regarding what the other confessions teach.