Posts Tagged ‘Confessions’

Ligon Duncan on Why ‘No Creed But the Bible’ Is a Lousy Creed

What does it mean to be a confessional church? When making our case for a particular doctrine, is it fine to reference our confession of faith, or would it be best to just stick to Scripture? Isn’t the Bible enough for Christians in establishing our doctrine and practice? Should we demand church members subscribe to a particular view of a third-level doctrine?

These are among the practical questions that sit at the heart of confessional Christianity. I put these questions to Ligon Duncan, a longtime confessional Christian and TGC Council member. Duncan, former pastor of the historic First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, now serves as chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary.

Is it biblical for the church to write and use confessions of faith?

Yes! It is absolutely biblical for a church to use a confession of faith. The famous shema of Deuteronomy 6:4—“Hear, O Israel: the LORD your God, the LORD is one”—is a confession of faith. It affirms the two ideas most basic to the Israel’s religion: that Yahweh exists, and that he is the one true God. In the New Testament, Paul calls these fundamental affirmations “trustworthy sayings.” Such basic statements highlighting the fundamental commitments of God’s people are found throughout Scripture.

What about writing confessions of faith? Again, yes. If you look at the history of creeds and confessions, you’ll see that human-created creeds and confessions arose out of the church’s desire to be faithful to Scripture’s clear teaching. Whenever false teachers were appealing to the Bible and twisting it to suit their own purposes, Christians defended the truth by clearly articulating their scriptural convictions with the most faithful language they could muster—and which the false teachers could not affirm. For instance, the word homoousios is not found in Scripture, but is designed to convey an indisputably scriptural idea about the deity of Christ and the consubstantiation of the Son with the Father. Arius and his company were unwilling to affirm it, and therefore that word was used to uphold biblical truth against heresy.




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How the Bible Relates to Man-Made Creeds

by Tom Nettles

The pivotal question of how one concedes authoritative force to a creedal, or confessional, proposition holds paramount importance in their use in pedagogical and disciplinary ways. If churches, associations, or denominations as a whole are to use their creeds as instruments of ordination, church instruction, and discipline, then some method of demonstrating the biblical character of their propositions must be clearly conceived. Phillip Schaff rightly reminds Christians, that “the Bible has, therefore, a divine and absolute, the Confession only an ecclesiastical and relative, authority.” Additionally, he warns that “any higher view of the authority of symbols is unprotestant and essentially Romanizing.” Having issued that caveat, he proposed, “Confessions, in due subordination to the Bible, are of great value and use.” He called them “summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice” (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3 volumes, 1:7, 8.)

Confidence in the biblical authenticity of a creed’s content comes by familiarity with its historical and doctrinal context compared with…




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Biblical Support for Creeds, Confessions, and Statements of Faith

by Jon English Lee

Is there a biblical argument for the existence and use of creeds, confessions, and statements of faith by church? That is, why does a church have the authority to require of its members subscription to a document outside of the Bible? To answer that question I will highlight several presuppositions behind and implications from the New Testament as it relates to false teachers and the proper use of doctrine.




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1689 Federalism

1689 Federalism is the Particular Baptist understanding of the Covenant of Grace as stated in the Second London Confession of Faith of 1689. This particular view is distinct from the Westminster view that holds to the concept of one Covenant of Grace under two distinct administrations which are the Old and the New Covenants. From this view, the Westminster Confession allows the Old Covenant to define the Covenant of Grace (its nature, its stipulations, its blessings) and end up with a Covenant of Grace that is mixed by nature because it includes the physical posterity of all those who profess faith. This understanding was perceived by the Particular Baptists to alter the nature of the New Covenant which is « not like » the Old Covenant (Jer. 31:32) and is pure by nature (Jer. 31:34).

The 1689 Confession rejects the One Covenant/Two administrations view of the Westminster. Instead, it affirms that the Covenant of Grace was only revealed in the Old Testament time until it became a formal covenant when the New Covenant was established. Therefore, the Particular Baptist understanding considers that only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace and defines it. This involves that the Old Covenant was not the Covenant of Grace and was only typologically linked to it but was in itself an earthly covenant that came to an end when the heavenly reality was established. Instead of seeing two realities (earthly/heavenly, internal/external) inside of the same covenant of grace, the 1689 Federalism affirms two distinct covenants: an earthly external covenant (the Old) and an heavenly internal covenant (the New). The New Covenant was first a promise that was put under the guard of the Law (the Old Covenant). It was then accomplished, sealed in the blood of Christ and given to believers in the form of a covenant.

In the lectures below, I expose chapter 7 of the 1689 (Of God’s Covenant). These lectures were given at the Reformed Baptist Seminary module on Creeds and Confessions held in Las Vegas October 2014. I offer here the MP3 files, the videos are available at RBS website:

You can find a French version of this teaching here:

1. The Covenant of Works (7.1) – Audio MP3

2. The Covenant of Grace – Paedo view (7.2) – Audio MP3

3. The Covenant of Grace – Credo view (7.3) – Audio MP3

4. Summary and conclusions – Audio MP3

5. Q&A (Dr. Bob Gonzales and Pascal Denault) – Audio MP3



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On Confessions of Faith

Theologian Russell Reno has noted that confessions of faith serve a dual purpose — to define truth and to isolate falsehood:

“The impulse behind confessions of faith is doxological, the desire to speak the truth about God, to give voice to the beauty of holiness in the fullest possible sense. However, the particular forms that historical confessions take are shaped by confrontation. Their purpose is to respond to the spirit of the age by re-articulating in a pointed way the specific content of Christianity so as to face new challenges as well as new forms of old challenges. As a result, formal confessions are characterized by pointed distinctions. They are exercises in drawing boundaries where the particular force of traditional Christian claims is sharpened to heighten the contrast between true belief and false belief…. As they shape our faith, confessions structure our identities.”

The Biblical and Logical Necessity of Uninspired Creeds

Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. — 2 Timothy 1:13

And he gave . . . pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no mo re children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. — Ephesians 4:11-14

Also [they] caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. — Nehemiah 8:7-8

To see the unavoidable necessity of uninspired creeds, consider the following conversation between

Hans (a paleopresbyterian) and Franz (a neopresbyterian):

HANS: We’re studying the Westminster Confession of Faith. Want to join us?

FRANZ: No; I don’t give heed to the words of men like you do.

H: What do you mean?

F: I go by the Bible. I can’t rely on the words of mere uninspired men.

H: Me, too. That’s why we’re studying the Confession. You should join us; it’d be very edifying.

F: Wait a minute. I just told you that I only go by the Bible, and yet you have just equated the study of this Westminster Confession with a study of the Scriptures!

H: And as I just said, I only go by the Bible, too. So, I’m not going to pay any attention to what you’ve just said. You’re not inspired, after all.

F: Of course I’m not inspired; but what I said was right because it was BIBLICAL.

H: How could it be biblical if it was merely what you — an uninspired man — told me? I only listen to the inspired words of the Bible. Isn’t it lording it over my conscience to tell me to accept your uninspired words as though they were the very inspired words of God?

F: Oh, come on. I may not have quoted chapter and verse, but I was telling you what the Bible MEANS. That’s why you have to pay attention to it.

H: Are you saying the meaning of the Bible, even if explained in the uninspired words of uninspired men, is still binding — in fact, as binding as the very words written in the Bible?

F: Well, yes, that is what I’m saying. The meaning of the Bible, though stated in different words, has the same authority as the exact words found there. And since I’m telling you that the meaning of the Bible is not to give heed to the uninspired words of men, you still have to receive it as though those exact words I’ve spoken were written in the pages of Scripture.

H: Wait a minute. How is what you’ve just said any different from the Westminster Confession? After all, the writers of the Confession were only putting forth what they thought was the meaning of the Bible.

F: Well, er. . . umm. . . .

H: I know of one difference: they were all preeminently qualified to expound the Word of God. They were recognized as having these gifts by the various churches that delegated them to sit at the Westminster Assembly. Any scholar who knows anything about Protestant history knows that these men were the “cream of the crop”, and that almost certainly there has never been since that time (and maybe even up to that time, except for the apostles themselves) one body containing so many godly and learned men. I don’t think you possess the same qualifications, at least not yet.

F: Hmmm, good point.

H: Furthermore, the Holy Spirit says in Ephesians 4 that Christ has given to the church teachers as a powerful and necessary means to building up the body of Christ into “a perfect or complete man”. Obviously, these teachers do not have the gift of inspiration, and yet the Spirit didn’t view this as a challenge to the sufficiency of Scripture, but rather as a necessary outgrowth of it. This is because he desires that we know the meaning of the Bible, not just the bare words. As R.L. Dabney said, “He who would consistently banish creeds must silence all preaching and reduce the teaching of the church to the recital of the exact words of Holy Scripture without note or comment.”

And, just because these men lived in the past doesn’t mean that they’re not a gift from God to us today. The Bible everywhere speaks of the church as one body throughout all history (Gal. 3:23-24; 4:1-3; Ps. 66:6; Hos. 12:4; Deut. 5:2-3). Therefore, the astute teachers of the past are our teachers as well, thanks to God’s gracious preservation of their writings. Actually, because these men were on the crest of the waves of reformation, and not in the trough of apostasy as we are today, we ought to pay more attention to them than to contemporary teachers. This is because all of us — including our teachers — have been blinded by our cult ure’s wretched and extreme departure from the Lord Jesus Christ.

F: What time did you say you were meeting? I believe the meaning of Scripture requires that I attend!

Larry Birger, Jr.


My note: I hold to the 1677/89 London Baptist Confession of Faith, but I believe that this illustration makes a good point. It shows the logical necessity of holding to creeds and confessions.

Tattoos for the Soul -Why We Need Confessions of Faith

full_why-we-need-confessions-of-faithFor twenty years, I have considered myself a “confessional Christian.” That means I subscribe to a historic confession of faith that I believe beautifully and accurately summarizes the Christian faith. This doesn’t surprise people who know me. I tend to wear my convictions on my sleeve. Literally. The tattoos that cover my chest and arms speak to the faith I hold dear. The tattoo on my hand reads “1689” for the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.

Because I love God, I love his word. And because I love God and his word, I love theology. And because I love theology, I love confessions of faith. To know God is to believe who he has revealed himself to be in Christ, to rest in his grace, and to obey him in faith. In all of this, we are dependent on the Holy Scripture, and are compelled to affirm and articulate the truths revealed therein. This is where confessions of faith play a vital role in the spiritual health of the Christian and the local church.




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