What The Reformed Can Learn From A 1532 Synod: Preach Christ

God at all times has tied, as it were, the knowledge of Himself to certain suitable actions and signs, and these figures, shadows and types all point to Christ Jesus. Appearing in these last days, He has finished His course in the flesh, has gone into heaven, and manifests Himself daily to believers by the Holy Spirit. There is a unique, homogeneous mystery of the Father and Christ, so that no one may know the Father save through the Son. Therefore, it is most necessary that all servants of God and preachers of the kingdom of Christ should diligently proclaim this one Lord Christ Jesus, the knowledge of whom excels all things. We are faithfully to exhort one another, that as the servants of Christ we should preach only Him, our Lord, on whom rests the whole counsel of God. Then we shall not be found to be a preacher of the law, or a worldly preacher who teaches according to his own reasonings, in which case we would be rejected as a false servant of the Lord.1

This is chapter 7 of the confession of articles of the Synod of Bern. It is a remarkable document, from which I have benefitted and from which I think evangelical (in the best sense of that word, i.e., gospel) and Reformed churches can benefit.

The first thing to see is how the Swiss Reformed, in 1532, were interpreting Scripture. They saw it focused not upon national Israel (i.e., Dispensationalism) but upon Christ. They did not see the Scriptures as essentially about themselves (as in much of contemporary evangelicalism). They did not see Scripture as essentially law (Romanism and moralism). They did not understand the church to be the focus of the biblical story. Rather, they say, God has always “tied” himself, as it were—this “as it were” principle, which appears repeatedly in the Reformed confessions, is our shorthand way of signaling that we are not anthropomorphite heretics. We recognize that Scripture uses figures of speech, thus the “as it were” principle. See more on this in Recovering the Reformed Confession—himself to God the Son as the Word, who, in the fullness of time, became incarnate for us and for our salvation.

The old Reformed understood Old Testament to be largely composed of types and shadows. This is a biblical way of thinking and speaking. In Acts 7:44, Luke uses the Greek noun that we transliterate (trading English letters for Greek) as type (τύπος). It can mean “mark” (as in the marks on Jesus’ hands and side, John 20:25) or “pattern” (Rom 6:17) as it does here. This second usage is what Synod had in view. The use of type in 1 Corinthians 10:6 is close to the sense here, though there it carries the moral connotation of an example not to be imitated. “Type” in Phil 3:17 carries a similar sense, an example to be imitated (see also 1 Thess1:7; 2 Thess 3:9; 1 Tim 4:12; Titus 2:7; 1 Pet 5:3). Yet, the manna and the Red Sea certainly were types, patterns of future fulfillments. The biblical passage, however, to which synod alluded was Hebrews 8:5, which itself alludes to the very same idea that Stephen used in his speech: “[The Levitical priests] serve a copy and shadow (ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκια) of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

The pastor/writer to the Hebrews capitalizes on the idea of “pattern” and extends it to the temple, the priesthood, and the entire Old Covenant (Mosaic) administration of the covenant of grace. The noun used by the writer/pastor to the Hebrews is a different noun from the one Luke used for Stephen’s speech but it carries the same range of meaning. In John 13:15 it means a moral or behavioral pattern but here and in Hebrews 9:23 it refers to the copies of the heavenly things, which becomes, by analogy, a way to explain the relations of the old, Mosaic covenant, to the new covenant. In 2 Peter 2:6, Peter does the same thing. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a picture of the coming judgment.

The noun for “shadow” has the same function. It pointed both upward, to the heavenly realities, and forward in redemptive history, to the coming fulfillment of the divine promises. The Reformed have always understood all of these nouns to point us to God the Son (upward) and to Christ (forward in redemptive history). For us, Christ is the focus of the promises of salvation. More than that, we have understood God the Son to be actively involved in the redemption of the Old Testament church (including the Mosaic/Old Covenant) church. For more on this theme, the presence of the pre-incarnate Son in the Old Testament, see the resources linked below. This way of reading Scripture distinguishes the Reformed from most modern evangelicals, who see promises of future new covenant realities but for whom the Old Testament is mostly a collection of morality tales (e.g., “Dare to be a Daniel”) or allegories (e.g., what are the Goliaths in your life?).

Second, notice the implicit Christ-focused mysticism in the clause, “manifests Himself daily to believers by the Holy Spirit.” Unlike the neo-Pentecostals and the Charismatics, we are not expecting nor do we want extra-biblical, extra-canonical revelation. This does not, however, mean that, as they sometimes allege of us, that we have no doctrine of the Holy Spirit or that we ignore the Spirit. That is simply false. We are not Pentecostals (“enthusiasts,” they used to be called) but we certainly have a high doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We believe in the witness of the Spirit in the hearts of believers. We believe that the Spirit illumines the Scriptures, and that through the Spirit Christ communes with his people.

Third, Christ is the Word incarnate. This is a great challenge to contemporary evangelicalism, which seems to be devoted to finding God everywhere but in Christ. As a young evangelical I was taught that Jesus was my Savior, who died for me, but after that he was more or less absent from my piety and practice. We were taught to seek direct, private revelations from God apart from Christ and his Word. The sufficiency of the Word was regularly undermined, albeit unintentionally. My experience was not unique. Christlessness is so pervasive in evangelicalism that Mike Horton devoted an entire book to it: Christless Christianity.  The Spirit unites us to Christ. The Spirit points to Christ. This is the thing that the mystics and Pentecostals et al lose in their quest for continuing revelation.

The Apostle John says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This one was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1). He continues:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:14–17; ESV).

Our Lord Jesus said to his disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:7). Just before that he had said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the way. He is also the Word, the final disclosure and revelation of salvation and God’s will for our lives. There is no approach to the Father except through the Son incarnate. The great good news is that God the Son has become incarnate. We are no longer anticipating his incarnation. We are enjoying him and his benefits right now. He is at the right hand of the the Father acting as our Mediator. We have no need of human priests—he has instituted ministers—because he is our minister. We do not seek saints to intercede. They can neither help nor hear but Jesus can do both and he freely does both for all those who call on his name in faith.

Thus, finally, preachers should preach Christ. That should be obvious but it is not. Just as Christians are legal by nature so preachers are legal preachers by nature. We easily default to law preaching when we should be gospel preachers. The Synod of Bern was not a collection of antinomians. They well knew the value of the law but the unique word that the Christian preacher has that the imam and rabbi do not is the gospel Word, the Word about Christ, the announcement of his deity, his incarnation, his righteousness for us, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his return. We desperately need to hear that—more than the flock knows or will say. They will tell the pastor that they want more law or more therapy. They will reward him for doing that but the preacher has not been saint by the Chief Shepherd to be a therapist nor to beat the flock with the rod but to lead them to Christ our Savior and the Word of God.



1. James T. Dennison Jr., ed. Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: 1523–1693, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008–14), 236–37 .

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Dr Clark, are “sent” and “saint” REALLY pronounced the same in your dialect?

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