Why We Are Confessional, or a Word about Statements of Faith
We believe the Bible, that it is God’s Word, and we believe in Jesus, and sometimes we wish we could just keep it that simple. But, we don’t think that it is realistic or even biblical to suppose we can leave it at that. To begin with, the Bible itself gives us several model creeds (the word “creed” is from the Latin credo, which means “I believe”). Israel’s basic creed was “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4—monotheism & Israel’s God is the only true God). The apostle Paul gave the Corinthians a basic creed as a summary of essential doctrines to be carefully guarded and passed on (1 Corinthians 15:3ff). And when Paul speaks of “sound doctrine,” “faithful sayings,” and even “the form of sound words” in his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul meant creed-like statements and creeds. Finally, Jesus in laying upon us the duty of confessing Him makes creeds somewhat unavoidable. He asks, “Who do you say that I am” (Matthew 16:15). Those words “who do you say…” imply the idea “in your own words.” We must confess Him—that means a “confession of faith.”
Apart from the biblical models and mandate there are other things that make confessions and creeds necessary and unavoidable. First, for nearly 20 centuries pseudo-Christian cults and various inventors of new doctrines have glibly said things like, “I believe in Jesus,” and “I believe the Bible,” and they could, and those today still do, quote Scripture, just as the devil did. But the fact is, they select, camp out on, and twist a verse here or there (sometimes adding supposed extra-biblical revelation), disregarding and contradicting much of the rest of the Bible.
So how is it possible to smoke out the heretics’ distortions if we simply confine ourselves to quoting Bible passages? It is true that we may show the inconsistencies by showing how what they say conflicts with other texts in the Bible, but unfortunately it is still often necessary to explain texts. There are some things necessary for this task. First, we have to suppose that there is a correct interpretation of every part of the Bible, and there may be numerous incorrect ones. The apostle Peter, in addition to insisting on the inspiration of Scripture, also insists that, “No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). There is a right understanding and there are wrong ones. This is why in the New Testament there is apostolic emphasis on “sound teaching” (especially in 1 and 2 Timothy), and even phrases like “the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). Those words “sound words” mean a confessional formula, and it usually requires a group, a company of godly teachers who have agreed on the meaning of Scriptures and on some way of expressing those doctrines. The Church has always had to summarize its understanding in sharp, careful, definite contrast to false teaching. This is what the early Church did in articulating our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ.
Another matter that shows how unavoidable creeds and confessions are is this: it is our Christian duty to communicate the Gospel, the heart of the Bible’s message, to others, and to not just communicate the heart of it, but to teach them many things (Matthew 28:19, 20). That simply cannot be done without some summarizing about what is most essential, and what it means, i.e., a creed or confession. Further, you cannot teach your children without similar summarizing. We are not embarrassed to tell you, we use a catechism for teaching our children. The word “catechism” is straight from the Bible—Luke mentions one in his words to Theophilus at the opening of his Gospel (Luke 1:4). A catechism is a summary of Christian doctrine for teaching purposes that is set in question and answer format.
Creeds and confessions are unavoidable. Every Christian and every Church has one, although that confession may be written or unwritten, well thought out, or poorly. The minute you begin to draw conclusions about what the Gospel is or what the Bible is about, there you have a confession. It simply represents what is thought and believed about what the Bible teaches. And given the corporate aspect of our life as Christians, we need to confess together. And when we consider both the fact that we are already dependent on others who believed before we did and who taught us, it should be apparent that it does not make sense to ignore what the Church has believed and taught in the past. To us it seems arrogant to suppose we have no need of teachers, especially when the Bible tells us they are gifts from our Lord (Ephesians 4:11). But when representatives of the whole Church or some significant part of it, meet to settle an issue and write out what they together understand, these summaries, these confessions and creeds, although not infallible, should ordinarily be treated with respect and high regard.
We at Faith Chapel believe the Christian faith as it is summarized in the earliest of the creeds, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicean Creed. These creeds were short, and did service in their time, but issues have surfaced over the years that necessitated further creedal definition, as, for instance, the relationship between the human and divine natures in Christ. This is why the slightly later Formula of Chalcedon (ca. AD 451) was written. It carefully defines the relationship between the human and divine natures in Christ. It is a superb representation of biblical teaching.
At the time these early creeds were written it was possible for representatives of the whole Christian church, or at least all around the Medditeranean, to gather to undertake this important task. And there was only one orthodox Christian church at that time. But we believe, as do other Protestants, that the Church’s understanding of some things began to be corrupted over the centuries, and that the Church stood in need of reformation, of the Reformation. We believe that during the Reformation a biblical understanding of many things was recovered by great pastor-theogians like Luther and Calvin, especially concerning what the Bible teaches about the Church, its worship, and salvation. We believe wholeheartedly that Justification is through faith alone by the free gift of God’s grace alone, through the Person and work of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. Godly and learned men during the Reformation risked their lives to teach these rediscovered truths, and they set them down in carefully prepared and crafted Reformation confessions and catechisms, of which there are several. While there are several very good ones, we are conviced that our own are the high water mark of Reformation confessions. The godly and learned men who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, were not just godly and learned—they had had the benefit of Reformation teaching that stretched over the previous 120 years. These, which together are called the “Westminster Standards” were written between 1643 and 1648, became the official statements of faith of English speaking Presbyterians.