Confessions: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

30 Jul

You and the elders want to define what “Smallton Church of Christ” actually believes. What do you do?

Since it’s birth, the church has been churning out doctrinal statements. Confessions, creeds, statements of faith… whatever you call them, everyone seems to have them. Even this blog has one!

How should we approach non-inspired summaries of the teachings of the Bible? In this post I’m going to summarise the good points, the bad points and the downright ugly points of confessions to help us know how to deal with them.

The Good

What reasons might you have for having a statement of belief for your church or organisation?

  • Confessions sort the “wheat from the chaff”. Even Mormons calls themselves biblical, so we need to define more specifically what we believe the Bible says, so we can differentiate ourselves from non-Christians and Christians who do not understand the Bible correctly.
  • If we consider individual passages without the whole scriptural context we can get it wrong. Brief summaries of Biblical teaching can help us see passages in the scope of scripture.
  • Some confessions and creeds were thought over by some of the most gifted theologians in the Church and have stood the test of time. Such statements ensure we are not created novel ideas from scripture.

The Bad

Confessions are a good thing, but there are some things we should be nervous of:

  • Some rip doctrine from its historical context. The Spirit told us about Jesus in the context of the history of Israel and the early church for a reason, because the Gospel is for real life.
  • Confessions can restrict exegesis. N.T. Wright criticises conservatives for not dealing with the Bible. We too easily say “But our confession says this…” rather than “The Spirit says this…”.
  • We can end up the teaching without scriptural support. I asked a friend about baptism of infants and he couldn’t give me an answer. He’d just learnt that this was what we do. We need to make sure people learn doctrine from the scriptures first. (Some older confessions very helpfully do give scriptural proof).
  • They can be wrong.

The Ugly

It can get even worse though:

  • Some confessions set up a revelation considered above or equal to the Bible and Christ. The chief example is the Catholic’s catechism. However, it can subtly happen even to sound churches
  • They can inspire a “salvation by sound doctrine” attitude. “Do you sign our confession? If not, you aren’t saved.” There are some doctrines to die over, and some statements truly sort Christians from non-Christians. But we must make sure we don’t exclude people from the kingdom or church fellowship because they do not understand the intricacies of sanctification or predestination.

In Conclusion

Overall confessions that are sound in doctrine can be very helpful. However we must be cautious they do not take a place above Christ and Scripture.

Choose your confessions with care, but most of all search the Scriptures for this is the best way to know truth.

(Picture “Heidelberg Catechism” by tymesynk under the Creative Commons Licence)

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