For centuries, God’s people have been using creeds and confessions in order to identify where they stand on critical issues of the faith. We can likewise see confessions in Scripture. We find in the Scriptures forms of early church confessions of faith. For instance, in Paul’s words to Timothy, we find an example of this in 1 Timothy 3:16:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
As was common in the early church, they organized the confession and arranged it into a hymn to be sung in worship. Yet, like all theologically sound hymns of the faith, the song is more than a superficial song. It’s a concise theological confession of truth about God and to be confessed for his glory.
Through the years, some groups have created intentionally broad confessions of faith in order to keep the line of divisions to a minimum and to maintain a big tent approach to their associations. Yet, in doing so, it’s almost inevitable that the group or denomination at some point takes a leftward turn due to a lack of theological conviction.
Still others err by rejecting the spirit of confessionalism by claiming “No Creed but Christ.” This group fails to see this is a creedal statement (yet very shallow), and they too find themselves with no anchor in swift cultural waters that eventually sweep them away.
Confessions and creeds, while not bulletproof, can be extremely beneficial when used properly in the life of a Christian home, denomination, or organization.
Fortress Wall for Protection
If you’ve ever had the privilege to visit a castle, the fortress wall can be quite impressive. The purpose of the fortress wall with it’s robust width and impressive height is to serve as a frontline defense strategy against enemies. There are always other weapons on the inside of the castle, but the fortress wall serves as a first line of defense against those who might come along and try to overtake the castle. The reason why many castles around the world today are merely partially standing buildings surrounded by piles of rocks is indicative of the fact that their wall was weak and the enemy prevailed.
In a similar way, a theological confession serves that same purpose as it provides a frontline defense against heretical statements, ideologies, and agendas that often plague God’s people. Flowing out of the Reformation are different streams where we have different confessions. Historically, we see the Augsburg Confession, Belgic Confession, Westminster Confession, and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith to name a few. Alongside the confessions, church history has provided us with important theological statements that respond to theological error. We can point to the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed as examples. In addition to creeds and confessions, we likewise have the catechisms that provide more light and clarity on theological distinctions and definitions.
When it comes to the gospel or doctrines like the Trinity which is at the very heart of Christianity, almost everyone agrees that confessions function as a defense against cultural attacks that seek to pervert the teachings of Scripture. However, as we have witnessed through the years, there are many entry points into the church where heresy can arise and lead people astray.
In recent days, we’ve witnessed a dust storm blow through evangelical circles as a well-known theologian, William Lane Craig, has sought to question the creation account and the legitimacy of the historic Adam. The 1689 London Baptist Confession, in Chapter 4: On Creation, in the first two paragraphs rules out any form of theistic evolutionary theory:
- In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good. ( John 1:2, 3; Hebrews 1:2; Job 26:13; Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:16; Genesis 1:31 )
- After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change. ( Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Genesis 1:26; Romans 2:14, 15; Genesis 3:6 )
The confessions are like large fortress walls that have powerful cannons lining the top of the wall whereby key Scriptures are fired against ancient heresies as they continue to attack God’s church in a cyclical manner.
Doctrinal Text for Discipleship
When it comes to the confession of faith, the text itself can serve as a wonderful tool for discipleship. As Paul makes clear, Christians confess that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved (Rom. 10:9). Yet, our initial confession leads us to further confessions of doctrinal clarity as we continue to grow and mature in the faith.
There are no wasted words in the Bible. The words in the confession are typically designed for specificity and clarity rather than obscurity and confusion. In other words, the word choices of the confession are designed to shine light on what might be considered dark and difficult to comprehend. This can be useful in the home for family worship and taught in the church for Christian discipleship. Small groups can use the confession of faith to increase knowledge and strengthen theological conviction of both the younger and older Christians within their local church.
Furthermore, we must not disconnect discipleship from worship. A solid historical confession helps us worship God in a better way because it strengthens our resolve as to why we worship, when we worship, and how we are to worship God. This allows our worship services to be focused on God rather than the cultural trends of the day.
Flag of Doctrinal Declaration
Throughout history, armies of nations have typically used the methods of flying flags on the battlefield that represent their nation. In today’s modern warfare, our military weaponry contains the flag of the United States of America as a mark of declaration and clarity. Even in our modern military techniques, we still see our troops flying the stars and stripes that represent America.
The historic confessions serve as a flag of declaration. They serve as a theological marker that reveals where groups of people stand on specific theological matters. This is not a tool of division, it’s actually a means of unifying God’s people on the truth of Scripture. A robust confession promotes unity within the church as it brings the church together and is a consistent reminder as to where the church stands on matters of the faith. This often prevents internal division and theological drift. When members are tempted to stray, they look back and see how far they’ve walked from the flag flying in the distance and that reference point can be instrumental in their return and spiritual maturity.
When it comes to the local church, a confession of faith serves as a transparent advertisement as to where the church stands on important theological matters and can be extremely helpful for potential new members in the community. When people are looking for a church home, it’s important to define the church’s position on key issues of the faith and a robust theological confession can do this with a great deal of precision. A confession communicates to the community: “Here is where we stand!”
A young Charles Spurgeon, who was serving as the pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in 1855, reprinted the 1689 London Baptist Confession and added a preface to it where he made some statements about the Confession. In his preface, he wrote:
I have thought it right to reprint in a cheap form this excellent list of doctrines, which were subscribed to by the Baptist Ministers in the year 1689. We need a banner because of the truth; it may be that this small volume may aid the cause of the glorious gospel by testifying plainly what are its leading doctrines . . . May the Lord soon restore unto His Zion a pure language, and may her watchmen see eye to eye.