Three Forms of Unity
The Three Forms of Unity is the name that is given to the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism. These three works are about the doctrinal concerns of Continental Calvinism. They are considered official statements of Church doctrine by many of the Reformed churches.
From 1618 to 1619, the Dutch government, acting for the Dutch Reformed Church, called a series of meetings that would come to be called the Synod of Dort. Members from the Netherlands and twenty-seven members from eight other countries met at this Synod to discuss and come to an agreement on their views. This agreement is known as the "Canons of Dort."
This meeting then added the Canons of Dort to two other documents, the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. Those were both commonly used by the Dutch Church at this time.
The reasons that they chose to do this were:
- to put in writing their understanding of the biblical teachings on the Trinity, the incarnation of Jesus, predestination, justification, and the Church,
- to let members get together in unity around shared beliefs that are important to the faith,
- to decide on certain ideas that are not essential (such as politics, education, etc.) in the hopes of stopping the churches from splitting over things that are more minor.
The different forms each serve different things:
- the Heidelberg Catechism is written in a question-and-answer format so that it can easily explain different teachings in the Bible to children and those who are new to Christianity;
- the Belgic Confession of Faith talks about different teachings in the Bible;
- the Canons of Dort are a series of very technical responses to very specific arguments raised about God by the Dutch Remonstrants.
- Text and description of the Three Forms from Philip Schaff's book Creeds of the Evangelical Protestant Churches at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library:
- Audio Recordings of the Three Forms of Unity in MP3 form