Are Confessions Themselves QIRC-Y?

A correspondent to the Heidelblog writes:

…I have been living in the Heidelblog lately, and have been challenged to rethink so many previous convictions. Thank you for this resource! I especially have been edified by the QIRC/QIRE idea, but thinking through it has raised the following question. How is following a historical confession of faith not a form of QIRC? Is the key in the I? Is it because it’s a natural consequence of sola scriptura?

Thank you and God Bless you,


Dear C,

Thanks for this and for the encouragement.

As you suggest, Sola Scriptura is a great hedge against the QIRC, which I take it is the more relevant of the two to this question.

It is a matter of definitions. The key adjective is illegitimate. The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty has three aspects: to know things the way God knows them, this is a form of rationalism. The Reformed reject this as contrary to the Word of God. Second, it is the desire to know things that cannot be known. This desire contradicts Deuteronomy 29:29. Third, it is the desire for absolute certainty in matters about which absolute certainty is either impossible or undesirable. The Reformed confessions do not indulge in this quest.

The Reformed Churches have met in assemblies and in prayer, and after much study, after consulting the church’s reading of Scripture from the preceding 1,500 years, has agreed with the Ancient Church on the essentials, as summarized in the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene-Constantinoplitan Creed, the Athanasian, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Before all that, and with the ancient church, the Reformed Churches start with the essential perspicuity  of Scripture: the Bible is, by divine intention, clear enough to know what we must know for the Christian faith and the Christian life.

Thus, adjective “historical” is potentially misleading. Yes, the creeds and confessions are historical but that is not all they are. We still confess these documents. We still teach them. They are a contemporary confession of our understanding of Scripture. We do not say that they are correct because they are ancient but because they are true to the Word of God.

It is not QIRC-y to hold confessions because, by definition, a QIRC-er is irreformable. He must be right and cannot be wrong and typically, he must be right about things that are outside the ecumenical creeds and Reformed confessions. He may be indifferent about the two natures of Christ, about which the ancient church and the Reformed church is deeply interested but absolutely certain about the age of the earth and length of the creation days. The Reformed churches do not confess on these issues, at least not that way. The concerns that have always animated the church also animate the Reformed churches and are reflected in their confessions. Further, our confessions are corrigible. Where we are wrong we are committed to revising our confession to conform to holy Scripture. Thus, most of the Reformed churches (especially in the USA) have revised their confessional language about the role of the state relative to the church (see the resources below).

Against the broadly evangelical latitudinarian spirit, which seeks to confess as little as possible (so called mere Christianity), the Reformed churches have always confessed the faith fulsomely, though we have not confessed on every controversial point. There have been issues that the churches have left open and there are yet issues we may address. Further, we reserve the right to form a new confession entirely, for which I have argued in Recovering the Reformed Confession (and again in Modern Reformation in 2017). See below for more.

With that basis, the churches have confessed the faith relative to the most important issues facing it and we continue to affirm that confession by subscribing and teaching it. The ecumenical faith and the Reformation consensus and the Reformed confessions are not illegitimate. We are not asking questions that Scripture is not answering. We are not seeking to bind consciences on matters that should be left to Christian liberty.

If we say that any certainty is illegitimate, then we have given up the faith for skepticism. After all, our faith rests on a fact claim about history: that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. Absent that reality we are above all men to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19), as Paul says. We are not skeptics. We are Christians.

©R. Scott Clark


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  1. Excellent. In the light of scriptural texts “possibly” propounding God’s desire all be saved, I have been told my adherence to particular redemption is itself a form of QIRC. I suggested it’s good and necessary inference based on the testimony of all scripture. Do you agree, and is good and necessary inference then itself a form of QIRC?

  2. Update from the Lutheran FB group. I misunderstood them. They indicated what is qirc is since we hold to particular atonement, one cannot know oneself is elect and therefore has no objective truth Jesus in fact died for them so must use qirc litmus tests of looking within. Whereas they say they know Jesus died for them because they are a part of all and know the promise is for them as a fact. Reformed has no such personal objective fact. They said they also look to their baptism in which they are United to Christ who died for them. I said I know I am saved because I believe the promise of Jn 3:16. They said maybe it’s a temporal faith and Jesus didn’t die for you? It’s all qirc for the Reformed they said.

    • Mike,

      That’s a caricature. It’s unfortunate that, after all this time, (450 years) some Lutherans seem unable to read Reformed catechisms and confessions for themselves. We spoke to these issues quite plainly at the Synod of Dort. I doubt that your interlocutors have taken the time to try to understand the Reformed confession on its own terms.

      They’re assuming that Reformed folk ask, “Am I elect?” or “Did Christ die for me?” When we do not. We ask, “Do I believe?” Which is the very same question the Lutherans want us to ask.

      Further, if they have trouble with definite atonement and then they have trouble with more than the Reformed since we did not invent the doctrine. We received it from the earlier Christian tradition.

      Like the Lutherans, our certainty rests in the promises of Christ. Full stop.

  3. That’s what I said. I look outside of myself to the promises of the gospel. I don’t look inside. I believe the promises of the gospel, and scripture tells me that is a gift from God to do so.

    I pointed out they too hold to election per their ch11 in the Solid Decl. I said does Christ dying for all mean more than the elect will make it to heaven? They said we don’t talk about election in Reformed’s terms. I said it’s a biblical term. Only the elect go to heaven. So there is no greater consolation saying he died for all. They wrest the universal texts as poorly as the Remonstrants. It honestly is more sloppy since they claim monergism and unconditional election. It’s an odd theology to say the least. Not sure Dr. Luther would have agreed to the final Book of Concord.

    • Fair enough, RSC. For another time and place, will try to work up at least a rough draft from notes on Calvin, Knox, the Geneva and Staten Vertaling Bibles, Owen and Turretin compared to Murray on 2 Pet. 3:9, Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11 and Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34.

  4. I found the free offer in Dort. Not that it was lost. I was. Lol
    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 8. As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe.

    • It’s not a question if the free offer of the gospel has been lost, but rather which one will prevail:
      1. The historic confessional free offer, 2. J. Murray’s version or 3. the PRC’s complete denial of the free offer. IOW distinguish.

      That is:
      1. Does God seriously promise/freely offer salvation to all who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ period full stop.
      2. Or does the free offer mean that God has an unfulfilled archetypal – secret or unknowable – desire to see the reprobate saved.
      IOW the “well meant” version of the free offer ala John Murray’s take on 2 Pet. 3:9 that it refers to all men.
      3. God does not freely “offer” salvation to all who repent and believe in Christ, but only “presents” the gospel that the elect might be saved. Which is what? To throw out or deny the free offer along with /because of J. Murray’s version of it?

      Yes, I know we have been through this before Dr. Clark, but again, I distinctly remember Prof. Strimple, the understudy of Murray, at a Reformation Day conference service in Bellevue, Wa. in the ’90’s taking quite the opposite approach to 2 Pet. 3:9 in that it refers to the elect, not to mention the general reformed trajectory on passage outside of the English Annotations that I am aware of.

      Long story short, I am in favor of the historic confessional free offer as over and against Murray’s or even the PRC’s take as the mark of orthodoxy (as well as getting a little tired of the political discussion of “Why do the nations rage and the people imaging a vain thing” over at the Next To Be Banned thread).

      Thank you.

      • Thanks Dr. Clark. I agree. I know nothing of Strimple or Murray, but this no doubt is a correct historical view. I did listen to Dr Strimple’s systematics at WSCal and thoroughly enjoyed amd agreed with them as I do Dort.

        Art 9 of the 3rd/4th head.
        The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life’s cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).

        As well as the 1st refutation under Art 2.
        Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.

        For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them” (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: “When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand” (Isa. 53:10). Finally, this undermines the article of the creed in which we confess what we believe concerning the Church.

    • David,

      Can you justify that claim?

      I think Mr Murray is on a spectrum with the traditional view (and I say that after doing a fair bit of work on this topic over the years; see below) but I don’t think that his argument was distinct from the historic view.

      “Seriously and Promiscuously: The Synod of Dort on the Free Offer of the Gospel” in Joel R. Beeke and Martin I. Klauber, ed. The Synod of Dort: Historical, Theological, and Experiential Perspectives (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 2020), 89–104.

      “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149–80.

    • For the laymen here can you please in a brief nutshell explain what the historic and view of Murray are? Seriously asking. Thank you.

      • Hi Mike,

        1. A couple of commenters have alleged or claimed that Murray’s view was distinct from the so-called traditional view. That this difference exists has not been established. I’ve been reading classic Reformed theology on this for 25 years and it’s not plain to me.

        2. Mr Murray was fairly well read in the Reformed tradition. I’m not aware that he thought that he was exceeding the tradition.

        3. You can read Mr Murray’s argument for yourself:

        4. The doctrine is essentially this:

        The gospel of free salvation is to be offered freely to all. The Synod of Dort, hardly a bunch of radicals, confessed:

        Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations,2 and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel (2.5).1

        As many as are called by the gospel are sincerely called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe (3/4.8)

        Behind this confession is the doctrine that there is an analogy between what God knows and what we know but not an intersection. God reveals himself as not desiring the death of the wicked. He reveals himself as desiring that all should come to salvation. We know too, however, from Scripture that God has decreed from eternity that some will be saved and others will be reprobated, allowed to remain in their fallen state. We do not know who are elect and who are reprobate, so we offer the gospel earnestly and freely to all. We let God do the electing and regenerating. We announce salvation to all and invite all to come.

        Commenting on Luke 2:10, Calvin wrote:

        For God had promised Christ, not to one person or to another, but to the whole seed of Abraham. If the Jews were deprived, for the most part, of the joy that was offered to them, it arose from their unbelief; just as, at the present day, God invites all indiscriminately to salvation through the Gospel, but the ingratitude of the world is the reason why this grace, which is equally offered to all, is enjoyed by few.

        5. Here is a survey of the Reformed tradition on the free or well-meant offer of the gospel:

        Here are resources on the topic:

        • Thanks Dr. Clark. Since the offer is for all, most Arminians and Lutherans etc will say “Jesus loves you and died for you. Believe the gospel.” On a practical level what do we say to a person or people since we dont know if Jesus died for them or not?

    • We say “Jesus died for sinners, and every sinner who believes will be saved, bar none.”

      What do the Lutherans have that we don’t? I won’t speak for one of them, however I will say that I don’t know of any hope in the knowledge that some for whom Christ died will not have the salvation which he procured for them.

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