Soapbox time… One of the things that really bugs me is when people believe that they can believe whatever they want to believe and yet still be called a “Christian.” True, there are certain things that are disagreed upon within the Christian faith — subject and mode of baptism, forms of liturgy, and the nature of the end times for example. But there are also some ideas and facts that are non-negotiable and are a “must be affirmed” part of the Christian faith.
This means two things…first, that there is intellectual content to the Christian faith. In other words, there are ideas that a person must positively affirm to be considered a Christian. Or, maybe even simpler yet, Christianity is not a set of feelings that you might have toward God or fellow man. It is not that “fuzzy-warm” sense that all things are going to be okay. And being a Christian (and with that, your assurance of salvation) has a great deal more to do with what you think than what you feel inwardly.
Think about it this way: there is a saying in America that the only things that are guaranteed are death and taxes. Let’s take the second part of that. Every year, come mid-April, people in America need to file their income tax paperwork (or an extension in some cases). If you do not file your taxes by this time than you can be assured that the IRS is going to visit you at some stage of the ballgame. As Americans, we are assured of this — that is the job of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). That assurance does not come from any set of feelings that we may or may not have. It comes from the facts that surrounding what the IRS is and what it is designed to do. It is built on an intellectual content about the IRS that is defined not by you, but by the IRS.
Similarly, when it comes to our assurance of salvation, we too must recognize that this assurance does not come from our inward feelings or preferences. It comes from our knowledge of God — who he is, what he has done, and what he has promised to his elect. Feelings and preferences are irrelevant in this case. We know what we know about God because God has revealed these things about himself…feelings about God are irrelevant. All weight must be based on what has been revealed in the Scriptures.
The second thing that this means is that if we are going to call ourselves Christian, we must affirm those things that God reveals about himself and cannot confirm that which is contrary. For example, there are some people who claim to be Christian yet deny the Triune nature of our God. Such is an untenable position. The God presents himself within the Scriptures as three persons yet one God. The creeds and confessions do not create this doctrine, the creeds and confessions simply articulate in a concise form what the Scriptures teach in a more exhaustive way. And thus, there are not only teachings that the Christian must positively affirm to be a Christian, but there are also positions which one cannot reject.
And thus, question 22 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, what does the Christian have to believe (intellectual content of the Christian faith)? The answer? “All that is taught in the Gospel…” And what is the Gospel? Good News — and that is all of Scripture. What comes next is how the Apostles’ Creed is helpful in explaining this in concise form (so long as we understand the Creed rightly). And though we are not saved by our knowledge, those who are brought to Christ in faith submit their understanding to the authority of Christ just as they do every other aspect of their lives.