While the first confessions of the church were intended to be statements of orthodoxy—that is, of theological truth—they were never meant for the church alone but were always intended to be an engagement with the false belief systems of the world. There is no dead orthodoxy in the church’s confessions. They always challenge us, and they always challenge the world.
The confessions were also intended to be a guide for the preaching of the gospel. Not any old “gospel preaching” will do for the faithful evangelization of the world but only such that is in agreement with the truth of God’s Word as summarized in the church’s confessions. The confession literally puts words into our mouths—biblical words, words to make sense out of our experience of believing, and words that we can and must use as we go out into the world as witnesses for Christ. The confessions are time-tested tools for catechizing new converts and disciples into the full extent and content of the Christian faith, of all that Christ taught us (Matt. 28:20). They give us the words by which we, young and old alike, can own the content of the faith. But in all this, the most pristine intention of confessions has always been and always will be to be a positive declaration of the true faith and of the gospel in order to win people over to salvation in Christ.
the act of confessing
We often misunderstand the confessions as something archaic, even static. We think of the confessions as documents to be filed under “orthodoxy” and kept in drawers until needed, if they ever are. But in truth, confessing the faith is a very powerful and dynamic event. It is something that happens—to us, to the church, and to the world. As Dorothy Sayers put it, “The dogma is the drama.” A solid, biblical confession recounts the drama of God’s involvement in the world to create and to redeem a people, the church, by His Son through the Spirit. What we confess immediately involves us completely, existentially. When the believer opens his mouth with a heartfelt confession, when the church collectively opens its mouth with a time-tested confession, it is a Spirit-led confrontation of the visible and invisible world with the two-edged sword of God’s truth. It is an event in which God Himself comes to judge and to save the lost. There is no contradiction between the preaching of the gospel and the confession of faith. The former is a function and consequence of the latter. Confessing the faith is the most countercultural act imaginable. It declares war on the unbelieving assumptions of the world that might otherwise go unchallenged.
let us confess
The confession is the megaphone of the church. When the church does not confess her faith, it becomes mute. It has nothing to say to the unbelieving world. But when it does, God uses it mightily in His work of salvation. For the sake of the elect, then, let us hold fast the confession of faith. Let us not engage in mere intramural debates but let us own the confession and use it the way it was always intended to be used: as a megaphone drowning out the lies of the devil and the world, as a guide to and bulwark of the truth, and as a means to convert the lost.
True confessionalism is always outward- looking. It always leads us right into spiritual warfare and quite possibly to martyrdom. That, however, is the soil in which conversions take place and the church grows. That may well be the most important lesson I have learned on the mission field.
To confess Christ with words of truth to an unbelieving world is not a hindrance to the missionary mandate of the church. Rather, it is part of how the church fulfills the Great Commission.