Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on confessions. Previous post.
As I wrote in my first post, the creeds and confessions of orthodox Christianity are the necessary, written responses of the church to the revelation of God in the Bible. Far from the cold and formulaic scribbles of dead orthodoxy, as critics sometimes call them, creeds and confessions are the lifeblood of healthy, humble, and historic Christianity. To further highlight why Christians should love creeds and confessions, we need to look at both their limitations and practical uses.
Recognize the Limits of Confessions
Confessions don’t pretend to be more than they are. In fact, they have two requisite limitations. First, a confession is not an extension of Scripture, as if it were God’s Word itself. It is a human response to God’s Word, an acknowledgment that He has spoken. As such, we value a confession only to the extent that it is faithful to Scripture. Thus, a confession is to be assented to whole-heartedly as a confession of God’s truth only when it accurately declares the truth of Scripture.
Second, confessions cannot contain the whole counsel of God or the full compass of everything those who subscribe to them believe. As a response to God’s Word, the confession points to and guides us toward the whole truth found in the Scriptures. A confession points beyond itself. Therefore, the view that confessions limit growth in the knowledge of God and His gospel is a view that misunderstands the intention of a confession. Confessions are not self-sufficient, doctrinal cages, but guides, witnesses, and safety nets.
In particular, confessions describe essential beliefs that command broad assent. They often remain silent on secondary matters or on doctrines that are not relevant to their confessional perspective. For example, it is appropriate and important for the London Baptist Confession of Faith to limit the mode and subjects of baptism according to Baptist principles. For other confessional perspectives, such details are not required. Functioning in this way, confessions promote “unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, charity in all things.”
Revel in the Unity of Confessions
In acknowledging that God has spoken clearly and specifically, confessions also bind our allegiance to what God has said. A confession is more than an obedient response to God’s Word; it also calls Christians to an ongoing obedient response to God’s Word. Written confessions presuppose that we are fickle people. We naturally stray from what God has said to follow the siren voices of our imagination and our culture. If we want to remain loyal to the gospel, we must bind ourselves to it. This is what confessions do; they fasten confessional Christians to the gospel so that those Christians keep on confessing gospel truth. Confessional fidelity guards against confessing something else. Committing to a confession nails your colors to its mast. You define yourself publicly by that allegiance. Without this commitment, it is much easier to shift allegiance without even noticing. Confessional commitments make it difficult to change our minds on the fundamental matters of the confession. Confessions help define and protect our theological identity.