Don't be a curmudgeon!

Our little church is on the verge of going confessional*. What that means, to those unfamiliar with the term, is that we are about to adopt a formal confession of faith, in particular the 1689 Baptist Confession of faith. We are in the process of reviewing it individually as members in order to determine if there are any portions with which we are not in full agreement. When we do adopt it, either in full or with modifications, it will become the profession which must be adhered to by anyone desiring the office of elder within the church. (Prospective members will not need to hold to this fuller confession, but to our church's much simpler affirmation of faith statement.)

With this in mind, I found an article in the August edition of Tabletalk Magazine called "This We Believe" by Carl R. Trueman extremely helpful. His is an excellent argument on behalf of creeds and confessions, which, I think, we would all do well to read. I've reproduced it below. (All emphasis is my own.)

Many evangelical Christians are instinctively suspicious of the whole idea of creeds and confessions, those set forms of words that certain churches
have used throughout the ages to give concise expression to the Christian faith. For such people, the very idea of such extra-scriptural authoritative statements of faith seems to strike at the very heart of their belief that the Bible is the unique revelation of God, the all-sufficient basis for our knowledge of Him, and the supreme authority in matters of religion.
Certainly, creeds and confessions can be used in a way that undermines the orthodox Protestant view of scripture. Both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches invest such authority in the declaration of the institutional church that the church creeds can seem to carry an authority that is derived from the church's approval rather than conformity with the teaching of Scripture. Evangelicals are right to want to avoid anything that smacks of such an attitude. Yet I would like to argue that creeds and confessions should fulfill a useful function in the life of the church and in the lives of individual believers.

First, Christians with no creed simply do not exist. To declare that one has "no creed but the Bible" is a creed, for the Bible nowhere expresses itself in such a fashion. It is an extra-biblical formulation. There are really only two types of Christian: those who are honest about the fact they have a creed and those who deny they have a creed yet possess one nonetheless. Ask any Christian what they believe, and, if they are at all thoughtful, they will not simply recite Bible texts to you; they will rather offer a summary account of what they see to be the Bible's teaching in a form of words which are, to a greater or lesser extent, extra-biblical. All Christians have creeds - forms of words - that attempt to express in short compass great swathes of biblical teaching. And no one should ever see creeds and confessions as independent of Scripture; they were formulated in the context of elaborate biblical exegesis and were self-consciously dependent upon God's unique revelation in and through Scripture.
Given this fact, the second point is that some Christians have creeds that have been tried and tested by the church over the centuries, while others have those that their pastor made up, or that they put together themselves. Now, there is no necessary reason why the latter should be inferior to the former; but on the basis that there is no need to reinvent the wheel, there is surely no virtue in turning backs on those forms of sound words that have done a good job for hundreds of years in articulating aspects of the Christian faith and facilitating its transmission from place to place and generation to generation. If you want to, say, reject the Nicene Creed, you are of course free to do so; but you should at least try to replace it with a formula that will do the job just as effectively for so many people for the next 1,500 years. If you cannot do so, perhaps modesty and gratitude, rather than iconoclasm, are the appropriate responses to the ancient creed.

Third, the creeds and confessions of the church offer us points of continuity with the church of the past. As I noted above, there is no need to reinvent Christianity every Sunday, and in an anti-historical, future-oriented age like ours, what more counter-cultural move can we as Christians make than to self-consciously identify with so many brothers and sisters who have gone before? Furthermore, while Protestants take justifiable pride in the fact that every believer has the right to read the Scriptures and has direct access to God in Christ, we should still acknowledge that Christianity is first and
foremost a corporate religion. God's means of working in history has been the church; the contributions of individual Christians have been great, but these all pale in comparison with God's great work in and through the church as a whole. This holds good for theology as for any other area. The insights of individual teachers and theologians over the centuries have been profound, but nothing quite matches the corporate wisdom of the godly when gathered together in the great councils and assemblies in the history of the church.

This brings me to my fourth point: Creeds and confessions generally focus on what is significant. The early creeds, such as the Apostles' and Nicene are very brief and deal with the absolute essentials. Yet this is true even of the more elaborate statements of faith, such as the Lutheran Augsburg Confession or the Westminster Confession of Faith. Indeed,when you look at the points of doctrine that these varous documents cover, it is difficult to see what could be left out without abandoning something central and significant. Far from being exhaustive statements of faith, they are summaries of the bare essentials. As such , they are singularly useful. Evangelicals should love the great creeds and confessions for all of the above reasons. Yet we should ultimately follow them only so far as they make sense of Scripture, but it is surely foolish and curmudgeonly to reject one of the primary ways in which the church has painstakingly transmitted her faith from age to age.

* Although my husband and I no longer (as of 2010) attend a "confessional" church, I do continue to recognize the unique value creeds and confessions provide in educating the church and the important role they have played in her history.

Comments

Andy C said…
Interesting process. What made the church move in this direction?

a clearly stated position of faith seems like a great idea, but are there any concerns with splitting the church over finalizing the confession?
Laurie M. said…
Our church is only a year old, with about 10 official members, several more in the process of membership, and several more in attendance regularly. We've decided to do this early in the process, while we are still small, in order to avoid doctrinal drift in the future. There is very little chance of us dividing over this at this early stage, because we members are all in fairly hearty agreement. Since our government is congregational, it will simplify things greatly if we deal with this now. Having such a doctrinal criterion will be very helpful as others aspire to the office of elder. Also, in the off-"chance" that we would decide to affiliate with a reformed baptist denomination at some point, being already confessional will be helpful. Those are the main and best reasons. Thanks for asking.
Joel Radford said…
So did you end up adopting it in total? Or did you avoid certain chapters, e.g. Christian Sabbath?
Laurie M. said…
Joel,
Thanks for stopping by and getting me to revisit this article.

We did adopt it, but not in total. I don't have a copy of the text with our annotations/adaptations, but I can summarize from memory. We did not adopt the statement that the Pope is the Antichrist, though at times it may be considered "an office of Antichrist".

We also did not adopt the article regarding the Sabbath. We are not officially Sabbatarian, or unofficially. (Although our Sundays tend to be entirely wrapped up in Church activities anyway.) We believe that Christ IS our Sabbath rest and that the observation of sabbaths was the shadow of which Christ is the substance.

In the question period leading up to our vote I requested clarification as to what this would mean to a prospective elder. "Does this mean that someone who is a Sabbatarian canNOT be an elder?" The answer was "yes". I was a bit puzzled about that, but the pastor's explanation satisfied me: we cannot have one elder counseling a congregant that it is okay to work on Sunday if duty requires - and his conscience is free in the matter, and have another elder confront him for being in sin for working on a Sunday. The elders need to be in agreement on key issues for the sake of the flock.

In answer to my friend Andy's concern above, we lost one couple, ostensibly due to this vote. No one had known they opposed it until moment the vote was taken. It was fairly well assumed the vote would be unanimous. As it turned out, he had hoped to be an elder and this, along with other issues led them to leave the church.

My husband voted in favor of the confession as a standard, though he knew it would exclude him from eldership. (He holds to the Lutheran view of con-substantiation. He also does not aspire to be an elder.) We both feel that this confession, as modified, is an appropriate base confession for prospective elders.

Thanks for asking. Is your church confessional?
Joel Radford said…
Our church does has a Confession that they devised themselves several years ago. Although I wasn't here for its adoption (only been here 8 months), it does tick many of the 'Reformed' boxes. Personally, I do love the 1689!

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