Thursday, December 27, 2007
A Body of Beliefs
For about a week now, I have been putting up chapters from the London Baptist Confession of 1689. Like the Westminster Confession, the Savoy Declaration, the Belgic Confession and the Augsburg Confession, it is an expression of what a particular group holds to be true. They are called confessions because if questioned about the nature of our faith, it is these truths that we will confess to believe. Some Christians today believe that documents such as the 1689 Baptist or the Westminster Confessions, by virtue of their being put together by a body of men, are regarded by their adherents as being a set of beliefs that we read into the Scriptures. Some believe that those who have a confession of faith hold to it, in spite of what the Bible may teach. The veiled charged is that we read at least some of these doctrines into the Word of God.
While it would be folly to suggest that this has not been the case in the lives of many confessional Christians, such a view demonstrates a misunderstanding of what the confessions are. They are not a written statement of what we want the Bible to say. Rather, they are written statements of what we believe the Bible to actually teach, whether implicitly or explicitly. I do not call myself a Reformed Baptist because I read the London Baptist Confession and thought it sounded neat. I call myself a Reformed Baptist because I believe that the London Baptist Confession is a (fallible, human) expression of the truth contained in the Word of God.
The beauty of confessions of faith is the honestly with which it lays out beliefs and doctrines held to by its adherents. To know what it means to be a Presbyterian, all one has to do is but look up the Westminster Confession for a summary of their beliefs. Similarly, the Augsburg Confession is a summary of Lutheran theology. If someone identifies himself as an "evangelical" or even a "Bible-believing" Christian, I must wrestle with the vague, unspecified terms and will fail to understand just what exactly it is you believe. Honestly, there are few Christians out there who would not call themselves "Bible believing." In some respects, it is arrogant to claim such a title, as it implies that anyone who does not use the same identification holds the words of men over the Word of God.
Confessions of faith are also corporate in nature. They are designed to be expressions of the faith of a community of Christians. There is no subjective interpretation of the Word of God, which offers fewer opportunities to mishandle it. When we as a community express our beliefs, we can hold one another accountable to them, and edify one another through teaching, studying and meditating on them.
Confessions of faith use to be the normal practice among Christians. Now, they are the exception. With the decline in use of confessions, we have also seen a decline in interest in the doctrines and teachings of the church. Today, we prefer the feel-good emotionalism of our (self) worship services and new "biblical" dieting practices in our Sunday schools. We wonder why so many young people abandon their faith in college when we do not instruct them in that faith. In this area, the more one has to hold on to, the less one stands to lose.