Must We Confess?
There is a new church on the block. Sounds good, right? After all, you have a friend who moved into the area and you want to be able to recommend some churches other than your own. This new church is called Hope Church; not bad, we all like hope. You go to the one place where you know you can get some real information. You’re looking for the statement of faith. But, on the church’s belief page it simply says “Here at Hope Church, we believe the Bible.” Full stop. After that there is a series of one sentence statements followed by a series of Bible references. Short and to the point. That could be good. So, you recommend the church to your friend and they start attending. A few weeks go by and something is awry. Your friend comes to with all sorts of questions about the doctrine of the Trinity. You see, this church’s pastors say that since the Bible does not use the word “trinity” that it should not be believed. Rather, since the Bible says God is one, God simply manifests himself as father in the Old Testament, the Son in the gospels, and is now the Spirit for the church. They say that this whole Trinity business was an error that lead the church away from the plain teaching of the Bible. Worse still, this is not the only thing your friend is confused about. You have some work to do.
You have probably both asked yourself and/or answered for others these kinds of questions: Who is Jesus? What is God? Why should the scriptures be believed? How can I know I am saved? What will happen in the end times? These are great questions that need answers. And, we can only hope that we give good and convincing answers when asked. But, how would you answer these? It is probably not a bad idea to give someone some Bible verse to consider; in fact, that is a fantastic idea. Though, at some point, someone is going to ask for more. The Bible is the final authority for faith and practice. We can quote a Bible verse and have the truth stare us right in the face. But, we must ask what the Bible MEANS when reading what it says. Simply saying “I believe the Bible” is, oddly enough, not sufficient for explaining what the Bible itself states. But, the deficiency is not in the Bible’s ability to say something, it is our ability to competently unpackage its 66 Books, 1189 Chapters, and 773,000 words. Can we humbly admit that? We need help, and the good news is that we are not alone.
Creeds and confessions are doctrinal statements made over the centuries that have the purpose of competently expressing what the Bible teaches on certain doctrines. Now, a good systematic theology book does the same. However, systematic theology books are very large and they often reflect only one author. Churches throughout the ages have produced creeds and confessions that express a few things.
First, they express doctrine that must be believed in order to be considered a Christian. This is the case because they not only teach doctrine in a positive way, but they also deal with heresy. To begin denying what the Nicean Creed states is to potentially fall into one of the heresies it was designed to address; this is the case for the example in the introduction. The benefit of this first function is that it reveals the strong theological thread that stretches through the creeds and confessions all the way back to the ancient church. Can you say that you confess the same doctrine of the Trinity that our theological fathers did? The confessions follow the biblical teaching formally expressed in the ancient creeds.
Second, they express a doctrine that is particular to a church tradition. The most substantive difference between the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith are the chapters on baptism. Why? Because Baptists believe the Bible teaches that only confessing adults, and not children, should be baptized. But, the unity between these two documents on almost every other point of doctrine is evident. So, short of creating disunity, it actually reveals how much we have in common while remaining faithful to what each tradition believes about baptism.
Third, creeds and confessions express what is good for the church to believe. There are some beliefs that many disagree on while remaining within a particular church. For instance, there are four popular views about what Christ’s millennial kingdom is like. All four could be present in the membership of one church at the same time. But, what you’ll notice is that many of the confessions are silent on such issues. Why? Because the most important doctrine to confess concerning the end times is that Christ will physically return again one day to judge the living and the dead. The whole church needs to completely agree on that doctrine. It is good and necessary that the whole church believes in Christ’s second coming. Without Christ’s second coming you do not have Christianity. It is good to confess this truth. But, it is good in another way; it is also good for you. The way the confession states certain things are meant to propel one to deeper confidence and trust in what matters most. Take the final chapter in The 1689 on the last judgment:
- As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin, and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity, so will he have the day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come, and may ever be prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus; come quickly. Amen.
What do you think about when you read that? This is such a purposeful statement. It is encouraging, challenging, and comforting as we hope for Christ’s second coming. Personally, when I read that, I cannot help but think about how good it is, and how good it is for me to believe that.
A true confession is needed, one that expresses the teaching of the Bible, holds to certain theological distinctives, and is good. One must confess what the Bible teaches. We need words beyond the mere words of the Bible. We need help confessing what the Bible teaches. The Bible is worth believing. Creeds and confession help Christians confess doctrine that is biblical, theological, and good.