The use of confessions of faith is a common practice among reformed churches. Dutch Reformed Churches use the Three Forms of Unity, Presbyterians have the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Reformed Baptists hold to the 2nd London Confession of Faith of 1677/89 (2LCF). Typically, the broader evangelical churches have statements of faith but tend to stay away from the doctrinally and practically rich confessions from the seventeenth century. There are several reasons why churches should use confessions of faith –

First, the confession of faith defines the doctrine of the church. Using biblical and theological language, the confessions provide wonderful and succinct statements that articulate biblical doctrines. Churches benefit the most when they have agreement over the main teaching of the Bible. B. H. Carroll observed,

“A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. The more divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power, and the wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness. The modern cry, “less creed and more liberty,” is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy. Definitive truth does not create heresy—it only exposes and corrects. Shut off the creed and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly.[1]

Second, the confession of faith aids the church in the defense of the doctrine of the church. Jude says that the church of God must “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). In order for the church to defend the doctrine of the church, she must know that doctrine, and of course, the confession of faith is most helpful in this way.

Third, the confession of faith aids the church in the task of discriminating against who should be in a particular church. Robert P. Martin wrote, “The Bible envisages the local church not as a union of those who have agreed to differ, but as a body marked by peace and unity.”[2] While the use of the word “discrimination“ may alarm readers, it should be obvious that discrimination here is not based on ethnicity or gender or other such things, but on doctrinal convictions. For instance, a confession of faith helps a potential member to know whether or not a church is reformed, charismatic, etc.

Fourth, the confession of faith aids the church in the task of disciplining those who depart from the teaching of Scripture. Scripture is clear concerning this most important task of the church and the confessions of faith provide a helpful summary of those truths in Scripture that one must affirm in order to be considered correct. Samuel J. Miller said, “Whenever a group of men began to slide, with respect to orthodoxy, they generally attempt to break, if not to conceal, their fall, by declaiming against creeds and confessions…Men are seldom opposed to creeds, until creeds have become opposed to them.”[3]

Finally, the confession of faith aids the church in distinguishing doctrines that must be believed from matters of Christian liberty. The 2LCF says concerning Christian liberty, “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his word, or not contained in it.” The idea here is simple: the confessions are not only useful in what they do teach, but also in what they do not teach. The seventeenth-century confessions of faith did not hyper-regulate every jot and tittle of the Christian life; rather, they set forth the main doctrines of the Bible as consensus documents while recognizing Christian liberty on those things not directly addressed in the Bible.

Sunday school lesson – November 1, 2020

Sources

[1] Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. 2nd edition (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1995), 16. The quotation is from the Introduction (“The Legitimacy and use of confessions”) by Robert P. Martin and is highly recommended.

[2] Ibid, 17.

[3] Ibid, 14.