Confessing in an Age of Information Overload

Ethan Fordham   -  

The 21-century is the age of information. What do you want to know? You can go anywhere to find out. If you are looking for that long-lost friend from elementary school, you can simply do a search through social media and reconnect. Looking for a good recipe? There are not only countless cookbooks to look through, but you can also take a look online and read about the recipe and the author’s search for that strongly desired fish wort (Houttuynia cordata to be specific) from southeast Asia. Maybe you want to pursue a Ph.D. in any number of fields? Well, University libraries have what you need. Or, you can simply ditch the tiresome effort of looking at words on the page and simply look through a database of material. You might even find documents thought to be lost to time or ones that you would never have access to. In fact, libraries have those databases you’re looking for. No need for Barnes and Noble these days. If you are anything like me, maybe you’re at a party and everyone wants to know about the difference between club soda, seltzer, and sparkling water. One quick google search cleared that up for all of us. The reality is, we live beneath the crushing weight of an overabundance of information. The internet provides self-published books, blogs, and social media posts where anyone can say anything and gain an audience. There is a downside to all of this especially when it comes to questions about Christian doctrine. Where do you look for answers when it comes to the Bible? There is an abundance of people online who would love to convince you of what they think. There is no lack of novel, dangerous, and false information about what the Bible teaches. So, where do you go looking?

This is an important question to ask since the Bible is supposed to inform our beliefs and practices. The Bible is itself truth, and it is the foundation for any and all additional statements concerning what we as Christians believe. But, like we said last week, it is really not feasible to simply state “I believe the Bible” and leave it at that. What do you believe the Bible says about this or that? This is a hard question to answer because the Bible has a lot of hard things to say. If someone asks you a question about what the Bible teaches, you could just quote a verse. But, what does that verse mean? We need an explanation! I propose that a confession of faith is the tool for a church to explain what the Bible teaches.

We all have probably used SparkNotes in our lifetime. Back in school when you needed to write the book report but you simply ran out of time. You need some summary to complete your task. You didn’t read the book! (Note: I do not advocate this. Do the work!) SparkNotes is designed to explain and summarize the content of a book. A confession of faith is similar; it is designed to summarize and explain what a church believes the Bible teaches. To confess is to state the truth. When we confess our sins on Sunday morning, we are stating the truth that we sin and that God knows it. We are saying the same thing as God concerning our sin. When we confess the faith, we are stating the truth about what God says in the scriptures. We are saying the same thing as God in His word. A confession of faith is the truth confessed by a church. It is a summary statement of key doctrines in the body of truth known as the Bible. A confession is true insofar as it faithfully represents the truth in the Bible. When you look at a mirror, you know that the image you see is not you; only you are you. But, you trust that what you see is not a lie. The mirror shows your physical image back to you. A confession of faith is a mirror image of the truth in the Bible. It is not the Bible itself but is merely a representation of the Bible.

For instance, what do you believe about the Trinity? You could scavenge the Bible, internet, and systematic theology books to create your own definition. Though, this is would include a tremendous amount of work. You would have to sift through the fact that the Bible does not have a simple statement on the Trinity; that word search will fail you. Are any of us ready to work our way through the 312,000,000 google results that just appeared in 0.72 seconds? Systematic theologies can be very helpful. But, who are you going to read and what assurance do you have you are understanding it the way your fellow church members are? There is a simpler way. When a church has a confession, it provides not only a summary statement on the doctrine of the Trinity, it also has Scriptures to back up what is being said. For example, this is what the 1689 London Baptist Confession states about the Trinity with scriptural proofs.

  • In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences (a more precise word for person), the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, 27 of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: 28 the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; 29 the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; 30 all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him.
    27 1 John 5:7; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14
    28 Exod. 3:14; John 14:11; I Cor. 8:6
    29 John 1:14,18
    30 John 15:26; Gal. 4:6

There are multiple benefits to such a statement as this. First, the authors of this statement were convinced that the Bible teaches this doctrine. These are but a small number of potential places to go in the Word to begin to see the Trinity. Second, they used language that the church has used going all the way back to the Council of Nicaea. There is a connection to the rest of the church in its understanding of how to state the doctrine. Third, the use of such language gives us an opportunity to learn the what and the why of this pivotal doctrine; essence, substance, eternally begotten, and proceeding are all keywords to this wonderful doctrine and are worth our careful study. Lastly, the final statement ought to provide a profound warmth to our souls as we consider the Trinity and how the Godhead is the foundation for our life with Him. I could never have come up with such a statement if I had a thousand years to work on it.

So, when you or others have a question about what the Bible teaches, a confession of faith is a very natural place to go. Given the complexity of the Bible itself, and all the variety of opinions that exist concerning it and what it contains, we would all be very wise and helped by an approved and safe place to go to work out and explain biblical teaching. Information is available everywhere. Libraries, books, computers, and smartphones all provide access to incredible amounts of information. But, where will you go to understand the Bible?