The value of a confession has already touched on its proper use. It is used to promote and defend the truth of Scripture. More specifically in the local church it can be used to evaluate teachers and pastors as well as provide boundaries for ministry.
Churches use, for example, the LBC of 1689 to teach systematic theology. It can be a quick reference guide to defend the faith. It can be used for new member’s classes, family devotions and more. Many churches do not require new members to affirm this. It would be too much for new believers to understand. They have a shorter statement for that, desiring them to know what they are signing. The church wants to keep out enemies, not the weak. They use the confession for elders and deacons and those involved in teaching in the church. This provides greater unity amongst those teaching, something for the immature to work toward, and a set standard to evaluate ministries, and ministers supported by the church. If you want to teach here, or get money from us, we need to know what you believe. There is freedom of use.
The confession is not an end all. It does not solve all problems or mean the church can check out because it has a confession. It is meant to be an aid to the church and her members. This is to be a public confession as indicated in the Scriptures (Matt 10:32–33; Rom 10:9–10).
Some have written as many as nine different levels of subscription. This seems much too complicated. Whatever the subscription level, unending exceptions makes it meaningless, but not allowing any exceptions is unreasonable. Discernment is required. An exemption on matters of orthodoxy, for example the Trinity, should not be allowed, but perhaps on the order of church government, an exemption might be permitted. The individual taking the exemption needs to be willing to submit to the church on that issue and not make issue about it or stir up descent or cause disunity. He may be asked not to teach about the topic. Some doctrines in the confession are essential for salvation and others are for the health of the church. They are not all of the same importance.
There are objections or dangers to confessions. Three are common.
1) The main objection is that Confessions undermine the authority of Scripture. The LBC of 1689 explicitly and at the beginning denies this, giving an excellent statement as to the authority of Scripture. The problem here is the attitude given to the confession. The Roman Catholics give the claim of infallibility to several creeds and some orthodox may be guilty of some sort of hyper-confessionalism as well. This seems to be rather rare in church history and less of a problem with Protestants. This hyper-confessionalism actually goes against the confession! The Confession never trumps Scripture, it is normed by Scripture. Some think that if you quote the confession more than Scripture you are guilty of this as well. One wonders who is counting, but if every time a pastor is asked a question he quotes a confession and not Scripture there may be a problem in his own mind.
2) The sufficiency of Scripture is undermined. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 say we have everything we need. Again the confession affirms the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture is not sufficient for every task. If your pastor only read the Bible and never explained anything, you would complain he is not doing his job and you would be right. If you only allowed the pastor to preach using biblical words, his vocabulary would be very limited in trying to communicate. Explaining doctrine in extra biblical words does not deny the sufficiency of Scripture.
3) Confessions take away liberty of conscience. This goes back to the proper use of a confession. They are not meant to be strait jackets. Over one hundred ministers wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith. Rest assured they did not agree on every jot and tittle of doctrine and they made room for themselves within the confession. There is places where we can disagree with each other and both still be confessional and there are places where exemptions can be considered. A problem with the confession though may reveal a problem in one’s own heart or mind.
Other potential problems with a confession are along the same lines. Like all things in life a confession can be misused. These potentials for misuse are not the fault of the confession, but of sinful and imperfect humans. These dangers do not out way the benefits nor does it negate the biblical evidence and necessity of having a confession.
A church in having a historic confession has a great commonality within the immediate body and with believers all over the world past and present. Confessions are a useful tool for the church in training up its members and defending the faith once for all handed down. Confessions are biblical and necessary. May our churches be full of and training up theological contenders who are passionate about what they confess. May the church have a tradition that is normed by Scripture.
If confessions are so biblical and valuable, why have confessions gone away? A couple of ideas to mention would be:
1) With the rise of rationalism and skepticism the Bible itself has been down played. If the Bible isn’t the Word of God than I certainly don’t need a confession about it.
The Banyan is near the top of my list of “favorites” when it comes to trees. Unlike any other tree I know of, it has the capability of growing far and wide. In fact, the largest Banyan tree in the US covers more than an acre of land! You might think that is impossible until you get a look at these trees. As they grow out, in order to hold the weight of new growth, they send limbs downward, securing and stabilizing the tree in the soil below. It creates a network of mini trunks, so to speak, which is not only visually amazing but growth-promoting.
What is the practical significance of grasping and believing in the biblical
doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement on behalf of his people? In
what ways should a good understanding of the redemptive work of Jesus impact
the daily life of God’s people? I want to look briefly at two particular areas where
an understanding of the substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement can bear
fruit in the church. First, this post will briefly look at how the atonement Christ
made for his people provides ground for their assurance of faith. In a future post,
we’ll see how his atonement helps us trust in the God who is just and righteous.
The below thoughts and ideas were under discussion on Renewal Podcast, May 26, 2021, hosted by Coalt Robinson, Jay Wipf and John Goodell. They graciously invited fellow pastor Rob Clay to join the discussion:
Numerous volumes have been written on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as Coalt Robinson mentioned in the podcast. Quoting Luther, he said the doctrine of justification is that doctrine on which the church stands for falls. History is weighty on this topic, and we can learn much from reading those who have gone before. However, the Protestant position is not grounded upon the historical writings of the 16th nor 17th century theologians, but, like them, we must turn to the Scriptures for our sole authority on this crucial topic of justification.
Blood was also spilt over this doctrine, and many were imprisoned and lost their lives by taking a stand on justification by faith alone in Christ alone. This doctrinal position is reached by examining the clear teachings of Scripture on how one is justified, noting the instrument thru which Justification is received,
To claim that water baptism is a necessary element in one’s justification, is to erroneously read that back into these passages where they are obviously silent. The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly describe justification as a declaration by God of one’s right standing before God being received by faith alone. The basis or ground of one’s justification is the person and the work of Jesus Christ, His righteousness being credited to the sinner by faith alone.
Let’s define justification, so we understand what the term means, and then we will look at passages that clearly and unequivocally affirm justification by faith alone.
Justification Defined ~
Justification is the legal and forensic declarative act by God that sinners have a righteous standing or status before God on the basis of the righteousness of Christ (from His active and passive obedience) being imputed to them by faith alone.
Justification is punctiliar in nature, occurring at one definite point in time and not a progressive nor transformative process throughout one’s life.
Justification Received ~
Plentiful Scriptures highlight and draw attention to justification through faith alone, but let us focus on a few in the book of Romans. Paul belabors the point through Romans that neither Jew nor Gentile have righteousness according to their deeds. All are bankrupt of righteousness before God and find themselves, knowingly or unknowingly, guilty and condemned before God (Romans 3:19,23). According to verse 19, the whole world is under the law and held accountable to God (both Jew and Gentile in context).
The good news or the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) This seems to be Paul’s main point to the saints in Rome, that is, the righteousness of God in the gospel brings salvation to all who believe. Paul does not add any additional elements or actions on behalf of those saved in order to secure their justification before God other than faith.
This below passage in Romans 3:21-30 is lengthy, but consider the highlighted portions and how they speak exclusively to faith as being the instrument through which one is justified before God.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one-who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”
No less than five times this passage draws attention to justification by faith alone. No works of any kind, whether keeping the Mosaic Law nor water baptism nor any other best efforts one may try to do contribute to one’s justification.
The quintessential example of justification by faith alone and not according to any works is the patriarch Abraham. In Romans 4:1-5 Paul argues that Abraham cannot boast of any works before God, but by stark contrast in verse three quotes Genesis 15:6 saying, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Here is the context of Romans 4:1-5
“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
God justifies those who believe in Christ with no additional requirements for justification. This is clearly stated in Romans 4:5 “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
The reason this passage carries so much vital weight and power over the description of justification centers on the fact that Abraham lived before the giving of the Mosaic Law and Abraham believed before he was circumcised. (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:10-16) Paul expressly says that is why it depends on faith because the promise depends on faith and not our works.
In the most clear terms Paul speaks of justification by faith alone in Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It seems an argument from silence to say that if Paul desired people to know that one’s justification depended upon water baptism, he would have clarified it and crossed his T’s and dotted his proverbial I’s, theologically and soteriologically speaking.
However, in 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul divorces the gospel from water baptism by saying, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” To add anything to the gospel, whether it be water baptism or circumcision or church attendance is to have another gospel, which Paul anathematizes or condemns in Galatians 1:8-9. Perplexed by the Galatians departing from the gospel Paul had preached, he reminds them of justification in Galatians 2:16 “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
These clear passages on justification by faith alone set the stage for understanding and exploring the other Scriptures that speak to water baptism.
Beautifully, Paul speaks of water baptism as picturing outwardly what occurs supernaturally through regeneration by the Holy Spirit and faith in Christ in Romans 6:1-14.
Ephesians 1:13-14 13 “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” In this passage, Paul encourages the saints in Ephesus that upon hearing the gospel, they believed in Christ and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Echoing Galatians 3:1-5, they had received the Spirit, not by works, but by faith thru hearing of the gospel. Both passages address receiving the Holy Spirit by believing in the gospel and not a later event of water baptism.
Maybe another time on RenewalCast specific verses can be exposited, explored and compared to other Biblical texts, which seems so needed to clear the fog of water baptism and justification.
Time and space does not allow for all the forceful passages of Scripture to be brought to bear upon this topic of justification by faith alone. The promise of salvation is to those who hear the gospel message and believe in Jesus Christ by faith alone.
Further Scriptures to explore:
16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:21
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
1 John 5:13
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. - Romans 10:9-10
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
“8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—“
Robby Clay has been serving Christ in Texas planting a church. When there’s free time, his five kiddos keep him enthralled with local exploration, hiking and biking and an occasional chess game.
Summer brings many memories to the forefront of my mind and some of my favorite pastimes involved water. Whether a pool, lake or the beach…these places all brought refreshment and fun on those hot, lazy days. There were times of diving right in or assuming the cannonball position that soaked everyone standing around, but I’d usually start in the shallow end or the shore…getting my feet wet and my body adjusted to the coolness of the water compared to the sun on my back. Then slowly I’d head in farther, until I took that final plunge, submerging every bit of me and finding refreshment and relief from the heat of the day.
In my last post I discussed the relationship of the Law of God to the believer. While the
Law is the standard for how believers are to live, it is no longer in the form of a covenant of
works where they must do it in order to obtain, secure, or keep eternal life. The Lord Jesus came
as the Last Adam and was born under the Law in order to fulfill its righteous requirements. As
we saw last time, the Law as a covenant of works has both a promise of blessing and a threat of a
curse based on one’s performance to it. If at any point the person under the Law fails to perfectly
and perpetually keep it, then he is cursed with eternal death (Gal. 3:10). However, if one
personally, perfectly, and perpetually keeps the Law, then that person is rewarded with eternal
life. In Luke 10, when the lawyer asked Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus
said that he needed to do the Law (keep it perfectly at all times and in all ways) in order to live
(gain eternal life). This covenant of works is encapsulated in the phrase “do this and live” (Luke
10:28; cf. Lev. 18:5). Thankfully, our glorious Lord Jesus was born under this Law as a covenant
of works and fulfilled it by personally, perfectly, and perpetually obeying it as an Adam - that is,
as a representative for his people. Because of his perfect obedience to the Law, he earned eternal
life for himself and those whom he represented. Believers simply trust in Jesus’ perfect
obedience to the Law and his earning the reward of eternal life and receive it as a free gift.
Last time we looked at the biblical basis and now we will look at the historical use.
I believe much of the confusion over the law stems from not understanding how it is a
covenant of works. The late Meredith Kline once said that those who reject or do not understand
the covenant of works are the ones who end up putting others under it. This is because if we do
not recognize the covenant of works in Scripture - such as in Genesis 1-2 and Romans 2:6-13 -
then we will interpret those sections as normative for believers. For example, a Roman Catholic I
was recently interacting with quoted Romans 2:6-13 as proof that believers will be judged by
their works. Because he did not understand that Paul was talking about the covenant of works in
that section, which believers are no longer under since Christ has fulfilled it, he interpreted it as
incentive for obedience so that we can hopefully have enough works to pass final judgment. Not
only does a rejection of the covenant of works result in the legalism of putting believers back
under a covenant of works, it also leads to a form antinomianism. If the covenant of works is
rejected, then Paul’s statement “you are not under the law” (Rom. 6:14) cannot be interpreted as
no longer being under the law as a covenant of works, but rather only as to the content of the
law. In this post, I want to simply begin by very briefly introducing the covenant of works before
addressing in subsequent posts how it is necessary for having a theology where the Law and the
Gospel are clearly distinguished.
What is a confession of faith? Is it not the same as our church’s doctrinal statement? Why do we need one? Even if we have a confession, how do we use it and does it not present some dangers? These are somewhat common and good questions when some are learning of historical confessions of faith for the first time.
A creed or a confession is a restatement of biblical truth. It explains what Scripture says. To confess means to agree with. A confession is as an agreed upon understanding of the Christian faith. Confessions seek to answer basic core doctrines. If we do not know who God is we are committing idolatry. A confession states clearly and concisely who God is.
This paper will show primarily the biblical basis for a confession. An example of how a confession was used will show great value to having a historic confession of faith. Proper use, subscription, and dangers will be briefly addressed.