25 Theses on why we use a book of old confessions

At Trinity Reformed Church we use a “Book of Confessions” to state what we believe the Scriptures to teach. While we have provided a bullet pointed summary of some key confessional elements here, we lament the fact that many churches today reject confessions, choosing rather a list of reductionist aphorisms, usually tucked safely out of the way somewhere on the website.  In our Book of Confessions, we define and position ourselves as a “Reformed catholic” congregation, which means that we uphold the distinctives of the Reformation while seeking unity with all Christians who fall within the parameters of the ecumenical creeds of antiquity (i.e. “orthodoxy”). Our Book of Confessions is not intended to be comprehensive. Yet, our collection aligns us with the church historic. Here are some of the confessions we subscribe to:

The Apostles’ Creed (ca. 200)
The Athanasian Creed (ca. 361)
The Nicene Creed (325; revised, 381)
Definition of Chalcedon (451)

The Thirty Nine Articles (1562)
The Three Forms of Unity (including The Belgic Confession [1561], The Heidelberg Catechism
[1563], The Canons of Dort [1619])
The Westminster Standards (including the Confession of Faith and [1646] the Shorter and Larger
Catechisms [1647]; American revision [1789]) (The WCF is our primary confessional document, the tie-breaker and the standard for doctrinally examining elders)

We view tradition as the proper way of respecting the work and heritage of the Holy Spirit in previous generations. In that light, here are twenty-five theses on why we use a book of old confessions.

  1. In striving to understand Scripture, the church ought to look first to our ancestors of the faith, those who gave us what Stephen Sykes calls “the public doctrinal inheritance of the Christian tradition.”
  2. If the church is to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), and if the church is going to stand against all distortions of the gospel (Col. 2:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:3), the church must know what it believes.
  3. Since Christianity is a particular way of looking at the world, we need a particular confession.
  4. When theology dies, wisdom dies.
  5. Without a confession, God’s people are cut loose to graze in other pastures.
  6. Rather than hiding what we believe in fear of offending those who disagree, we wish to declare those things we believe since we are not ashamed of them (Mt. 10:32f; Rom. 1:16).
  7. Without a confession, evangelicals cannot meaningfully speak of themselves as historic Protestants.
  8. The surest way to deliver the facts about Christ is to make plain factual statements about Christ.
  9. Despite the nostrums of psychotherapy, the Christian faith is as much a public religion as it is a private one. Thus, public declarations are required (1 Cor. 15:3-7).
  10. The apostles framed Christian faith in doctrinal terms, adamantly insisting it be preserved (1 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:9; Jude 3). It is a mistake to assume we can do better than they.
  11. Confessing the mystery of godliness in a confessional form (1 Tim. 3:16) helps us to “hold fast to the pattern of sound words” written in Scripture (2 Tim. 1:13).
  12. Without a confession of faith elder candidates cannot be examined to see if they make “the good confession” (1 Tim. 6:12).
  13. The Bible is a difficult book to understand. Confessions provide a broad interpretive framework for Scripture.
  14. Since the current trend is that of pastors embodying all that secular culture admires, the twenty-first century is no time to label confessions as “outdated.”
  15. Without a confession, there would be nothing to “hold fast” to (Heb. 4:14, 10:23, 13:15).
  16. William Butler Yeats was right: when things fall apart the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. The church needs a theological center to return to with conviction and passion.
  17. Not all creeds and confessions are created equal. Since confessions are secondary to Scripture, it is important to distinguish between the good ones that ought to be followed and the bad ones that need to be unfollowed.  
  18. You don’t understand the Bible unless you can summarize it.
  19. Catechisms can’t exist without confessions and children are always catechized by something. Shouldn’t it be the church’s confession rather than the world’s?
  20. The creed, “We have no creed but Christ” is flavorless gruel.
  21. Anti-creedalism possesses pride that matches the slogan-less slogan of “I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12).
  22. Hollow theology produces hollow living.
  23. There should always be lots of room for truth claims in the church (1 Tim. 3:15).
  24. How can we maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) if we don’t know what to unite around?
  25. Loyalty ought not to be blind.

Jason Cherry is a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.