The historic Reformed confessions are of great significance to Christians of this new millennium as a means of expressing clearly and concisely their understanding of the authoritative teaching of Holy Scripture. They consign most of the ambiguity surrounding Twentyfirst century evangelicalism to the proverbial scrapheap.
Whilst we cannot regard them as having the same authority as Gods inerrant, inspired and infallible word, we must as the English Puritans and Scottish Covenanters did, use them to promote a biblical ecumenicity and order spoken of throughout Holy Scripture.
The Need for Creeds and Confessions
We live in an age when many confess their distaste of doctrinal standards believing
that they tend towards division and disunity amongst Christians. Therefore few are really enthusiastic about Reformed confessions whether they be Westminster, Savoy, Heidelberg or the 1689 Baptist. They state that such are unnecessary and that their creed is the bible alone. We must however evaluate this statement and its practical outworking.
It seems impressive until we realise that most cults use it too !! Should we not ask
what exactly does the Bible teach ?
Simply stated, a creed or confession is a summary of doctrine and it is significant that Holy scripture does make reference to such where Gods order is taught.
In 1 Timothy chapter 3:15 we read of the church that it is the pillar and ground of the truth. The term stulos (pillar) means a column which supports a building and hedraioma (ground) refers to the foundation of a structure. It therefore exists for the support and promotion of revealed truth. The church therefore exists for the support and promotion of revealed truth. It is her God given task to preserve and defend the truth with which she has been entrusted. Historically, we have mentioned some of those same detailed confessions still used today by a faithful remnant. In days of doctrinal confusion
there is a certain unanimity in these which we endorse as biblical, evangelical, catholic and reformed. They are much more than a simple statement of faith with which many are content today.
The following scriptures emphasise this: 1 Timothy chapter 4:6 speaks of the words of faith being the believers spiritual food. Such food consists of many definable truths.
2 Timothy chapter 1:13 urges Timothy to hold fast the form of sound words which would suggest that there already existed a definitive statement of doctrine in apostolic times.
The epistle of Jude in verse 3 exhorts believers to earnestly contend for the faith once
for all delivered to the saints. The Greek word pistis(faith) in the New Testament includes the meaning that which is believed and is frequently used in that objective sense.
Ultimately we believe in one of the watchwords of the Reformers, Sola Scriptura yet
it is needful for those who are in agreement concerning biblical doctrine to express it in written form and to walk by that same rule. Thus as we in Ireland promote a biblical ecumenism through the witness of REFORMATION IRELAND , it is essential that our unity is rooted and grounded in the doctrinal unanimity of Holy Scripture as expressed in these confessions of our evangelical faith.
In answer to objectors CH Spurgeon wrote in the Sword & Trowel in 1888: Surely, what we believe maybe stated, maybe written, maybe made known; and what is this but to make and promulgate a creed ?
BH Carroll also declared A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. The more divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power, and wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness
The Uses of Confessions
There are four ways in which confessions provide a needy bulwark in the local church
(1) For the proclamation and defence of the truth
In his epistle verse 3, Jude exhorts his fellow Christians to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.It is difficult to know how we as their successors can do so without clearly defining it and unambiguously teaching it to others ? In Philippians ch 1 v 27, Paul urges the church to stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. Without a confession detailing an adequate doctrinal standard it would prove difficult if not impossible to have a unanimity of purpose in key areas such as instruction of a congregation in alerting them to error.
(2) As a rule of fellowship, unity and discipline
Gods directive through Paul the apostle was to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace Ephesians ch 4 v 3. Such a confession is a positive aid to the preserving of peace and unity within the fellowship of the local church. Our Lord Jesus in Matthew ch 12 v 25 spoke of a divided house being unable to stand.
The question therefore arises, as to whether Calvinists, Arminians, Pelagians or Liberals
can worship, pray and witness together in a local situation. Surely those who differ so immensely cannot embrace harmony without consensus or agreement on the basics ?
Church discipline is another vital area following this. In Romans ch.16 v17 Paul exhorts
the local church to mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. Such must be excluded from membership in the local church, therefore a confession of faith lays a clearly defined standard of doctrine and practice for all.
Andrew Fuller wisely observed: the powers and capacities of different persons are various . the object of articles is to keep at a distance, not those who are weak in the faith but such as are its avowed enemies.
(3)As a means of evaluating preachers of the Word
In our generation we need to pray that our sovereign Lord might raise up men faithful to
the teaching of Gods infallible revelation, the Holy Scriptures which are able to make the sinner wise unto salvation and build the saint unto holiness. Paul, in his epistle to Titus concerning eldership described those with this responsibility as holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayer Titus ch.1 v 9.
We read clearly of false prophets and apostles creeping in unawares Jude v 4 and Peter warns us of those who would attempt to bring in damnable heresies 2 Peter 2 v 1. Yea we are exhorted to try the spirits whether they are of God because many false prophets are gone out into the world 1 John ch. 4 v 1. We must be sure exactly what a man believes on vital matters such as the inerrancy and sufficiency of Holy Scripture and on the nature and extent of the atonement. The reformed confessions identify such very distinctly for us.
(4) As a means of maintaining historical continuity and faithfulness to Truth
Local churches who subscribe in word and practice to doctrinal standards such as Westminster, Savoy or 1689 Baptist Confession hold a precious heritage of faith. Twentyfirst century Christians are exhorted to Stand in the way and ask for the old
Paths,wherein is the good way Jeremiah 6 v16.
In days of relativism and ambiguity we must hold fast to sound definition and declaration. As C H Spurgeon once said :
Weapons which are offensive to our enemies should never be allowed to rust.
In REFORMATION IRELAND whilst our evangelical motto is the word of God for
ALL of the island, we desire to support the local church where it is established around a confession of faith as a guideline to the outworking of SOLA SCRIPTURA to the glory of God.
Our statement of faith maybe viewed on our website at www.reformationireland.com
May we be enabled by His grace to clearly understand, appreciate and defend Gods word through translating these confessions into lives of obedience and holiness.
I must express appreciation for the help given in this article by an old friend, Jack McCandless who had originally thought of such around ten years ago. Now with a new century, new impetus has been given to declare these truths freshly, looking to the future in the will of God.
Raymond Stewart, November 2001