Saturday, January 10, 2015


"Dogma" is word with negative connotations these days. Like stiff, antiquated, opinionated, autocratic.  A popular bumper sticker reads, "My karma ran over your dogma." 

So those of us who believe God's revealed truths can be stated meaningfully (and organized) often use the term "systematic theology." But the term "dogma" (or dogmatics) is valid because it refers to the certainty and stability of the things which we are called to believe. 

Dogmas, according to Herman Bavinck (Dutch theologian, 1854 - 1921) are God's revealed truths that we are to receive, trust with certainty, and act upon decisively. They are not stiff, but rather trustworthy. They are not dry, exhaustive statements about God and his reality.  He wrote that "mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics."   

All churches, however, who receive God's revelation have a calling to be "confessing" churches, without being autocratic ones.  They are to have and proclaim truth as certainty, but not with self-important authority... 

...the church of Christ therefore has a certain task to fulfill with respect to dogma.  To preserve, explain, understand, and defend the truth of God entrusted to her, the church is called to appropriate it mentally, to assimilate it internally, and to profess it in the midst of the world as the truth of God.  It is most definitely not the authority of the church that makes a dogma into dogma in a material sense, elevates it beyond all doubt, and enables it to function with authority.  The dogmas of the church have, and may have, this status only if and to the degree they are the dogmas of God.  The power of the church to lay down dogmas is not sovereign and legislative but ministerial and declarative.  Still, this authority has been granted by God to his church, and it is this power that enables and authorizes her to confess the truth of God and to formulate it in speech and writing. 

(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, I:30-31)

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