Recovering Confessions of Faith Justin Deeter

January 26, 2018

When a contractor builds a house, he must pour a solid and level foundation. If not, everything built upon the faulty foundation will be unstable. When it comes to those committed to build up the church, the same principle applies. Church leaders who build upon a faulty foundation, will only bring the church to ruin. The church must be founded upon the Word of God which produces deeply help and non-negotiable beliefs. In other words, doctrine and theology are essential in establishing the foundation of any healthy church. A pastor’s gaze can quickly shift to the new and shiny, whatever fashionable church trend that seems to be producing results. However, if pastors wish to lead their church to long lasting growth and maturity, he must labor to pour the right foundation for his congregation. To do this, a pastor must recover and emphasize his church’s confession of faith. Local churches summarize their foundations in their confessions of faith. Most churches have forgotten this document or rarely take it out of the drawer to consider, but if we hope to build robust, mature, and unified congregations, we must recover and emphasize confessions of faith.

Building Upon the Right Foundation

Paul’s words from Ephesians pour the foundation of the church for us.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, ESV)

In the church, God has redeemed sinners of all sorts by the blood of his Son. By his grace, he brings them together and makes them one. Unity exists in Christ, no matter our personal backgrounds or skin color; we are no longer strangers and aliens, but saints and members of God’s household. However, notice the importance upon which this household of God is founded. It is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” This is an incredibly important sentence. Paul tells us that the foundation is the apostles and prophets; what does this refer too? This refers to the Scriptural witness, the combined revelation of God in the Old Testament and the New. These prophetic and apostolic writings have authority to establish doctrine. In other words, Paul says that the foundation of the Church is built upon the Bible—sola scriptura, scripture alone.

So the church of Christ is founded upon the word of Christ. God has spoken through the apostles and the prophets to reveal the truth of Christ and his Gospel. Of course, Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. The church is founded with the blood of Christ. He birthed the church through the labor of his sufferings. The Scriptures then, bear witness and testify to who Jesus is. The Bible is the God-breathed authoritative word about Christ!

So why is this so important? Because it indicates the foundation of what brings the church together. It’s not our age. It’s not our music style preferences. It’s not our ethnicity. It’s not our income levels. It’s not hobbies. It’s not where we are from. It’s not our education levels. Rather, the foundation of the church is based on a set of shared beliefs—belief in Christ and the authority of God’s word.

If there is not an identifiable foundation that we all hold in common, then unity is an impossibility. If we base our fellowship around anything other than the Gospel of Jesus than a true church cannot exist. A true church is a gospel church, a church founded upon the cornerstone of Christ as defined by the apostle and the prophets in the Bible.

Confessions of Faith Bring Unity and Health to a Church

This leads us to consider the unity of the church. Paul tells us that upon this foundation of the Scriptures, the church is built up, joined together, and grows. That we, as individuals, join together as one. Many people consider doctrine and theology divisive. They say, “Theology seem too heady and to lead to argument and debate.” With such fallacious comments, we’ve witnessed an avoidance of doctrine and a silence on any issue of controversy in the last century. We reduced doctrine to achieve unity, but it’s a false unity. A doctrinally shallow church is at risk of drifting into error and deeply divided beneath the surface of superficiality. When you lift up the surface of the pretend peace, you will uncover people very much divided on the purpose and direction of the church, competing factions develop lobbying for power to push the church to go in their direction. A doctrinally divided church cannot grow. Doctrine and theology aren’t roadblocks to unity, rather they are the fence which protects unity.

So what’s the cause of the doctrinally shallow churches that dominate our country? Historically, I think you can trace this shallowness to the decline of creeds and confessions. Baptists have always been a confessional people, meaning that we’ve created and emphasized confessions of faith that clearly outline what a specific local church believes. Confessions of faith are short statements that clearly and simply spell out what the church believes. Though confessions of faith have no authority in and of themselves, they are helpful in clearly summarizing what a church believes from the Bible.

Baptists tend to give little time to the historic creeds of the church, such as the apostle’s creed or Nicene creed (Personally, I think that’s a shame and we ought to recover their use). However, Baptists have always been a confessional people, meaning we love confessions of faith and see them as vitally important. Baptists have written several confessions in their history, including, the First and Second London Confession, the Philadelphia Confession, the New Hampshire Confession, and the Baptist Faith and Message.

Confessions of faith are important because they set the parameters for the church’s unity. They define the borders of the church. Creeds and confessions ground the church in the history of Christian orthodoxy. A Christian leader evaluating evangelical Christians at the beginning of 2018 said, “Largely cut off from history, biblically illiterate, and catechized more by cable news than by the creeds, today’s evangelical Christians are naturally being shaped more by the ideological zeitgeist than by theological orthodoxy.”[1] I think he’s right. The problem with so many Christian’s today is that they are being shaped by culture rather than being shaped by the grand history of the Christian tradition outlined in creeds and confessions. I recently heard another pastor say this, “Many churches do not affirm or confess the historic creeds of the church, and we wonder why we are raising a generation of heretics.”[2] Have you ever wondered why so many young people today aren’t Christian or have rejected the church? Well, its because when they came to church we gave them pizza and games, not Bible and sound doctrine. The reason there are so many men and women abandoning the Christian faith of their upbringing results from a failure to faithfully bring children up in the robust confines of historic and doctrinal Christianity. We’ve exchanged robustness for shallowness, all to our detriment.

So, how can the church be built up and united? I believe the first step is a recovery of confessions of faith and making them central to the nature of our fellowship together as a congregation. In other words, theology and doctrine are important for lots of reasons, but one of those reasons is the unity of the church.

Ambiguity in theology leads to conflict. Uncertainty of beliefs stirs up division. Ignorance of the truth shackles us to immaturity.

Preserving Unity through Confessions of Faith

This statement of faith summarizes what a local church believes, and in that sense this doctrinal statement intends to set the doctrinal boundaries of that church’s identity. Though it doesn’t specify every foreseeable doctrinal issue, it does clearly define the bounds of their fellowship on the non-negotiable doctrines of a church.

Remember, a church is united by what she most deeply believes. In that sense, confessions of faith are wonderful gifts to the church to build unity. They are the guardrails on the highway that keep us from steering into a theological ditch. Yet, at the same time, they keep us from making a mountain out of a molehill on issues open for discussion in the church. The guardrails allow for some for variation on matters of Christian liberty. Thus, confessions of faith establish the church upon its foundation, Christ the Cornerstone as taught by the Scriptural witness—the apostles and the prophets. Let’s recover these important confessional documents to ensure we are building Christ’s church on the right foundation.

NOTES:

[1]  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/tgcs-leaders-share-5-challenges-and-5-opportunities-facing-the-church/

[2] Burk Parsons, Twitter, Jan 9, 2018.

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