To many people a church confession seems like an extra layer of beliefs and teachings added to the multitude of beliefs and teachings found in Scripture. But, in fact, most church confessions are just the opposite.
The fundamental purpose of any good confession or creed is to summarize what is found in the Bible, not to add to it or complicate it.
Historically almost all Christian catechisms contain the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. From ancient times to our own day, this has been the universally accepted method of explaining the essential beliefs and teachings of Jesus and his apostles in a simple, organized way.
On the other hand, I’ve been involved with numerous Christian churches and organizations that don’t have confessions or catechisms as part of their formal belief system. When I’ve asked them why they don’t, the most common answer is that it just doesn’t seem like a very spiritual thing to do. Confessions, catechisms, and the like seem so dry and intellectual and even extrabiblical.
Yet when asked what they believe, more often than not the answer depends on who is in control of that particular church’s pulpit. And because the beliefs of these non-confessional churches depend on the personality in the pulpit, the direct result, I have found, is that the beliefs of these churches tend to fluctuate constantly.
To me it seems precarious, if not dangerous, to leave the teachings and interpretation of the Bible in the hands of one person—no matter how spiritual he or she may be. When a church’s belief system depends on one leader’s point of view, the church can easily become a personality cult rather than an extension of the faith and experience of the body of Christ.
In Matthew 28:18-20, the “Great Commission,” we find a good example of a biblical text advocating an organized (confessional) approach to faith.
Here Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I believe the Great Commission is our mission statement. It points to where the most energy of the church is to be focused and exerted: evangelism and discipleship. Yet the final verse in this great mission statement tells us something more. Jesus makes us a promise. Jesus tells us that we are never left on our own when it comes to deciding what we believe: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
That’s right; Jesus promises that he will always be with his church, throughout all of history. The church has never been on its own.
The apostle Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved, even though only as one escaping through the flames.
In other words, Paul tells us, we should expect that what we confess and believe today has been built on what has been confessed and believed before us over the past 2,000 years.
Confessions lay down the precious building blocks of what the body of Jesus has believed and how it has interpreted Scripture from the early church to our day. They help us discern between the wood, hay, and straw of our faith and the costly stones. They express not only the voice of Scripture but the voice of the entire church that has existed before us in history—and, consequently, the voice of Jesus.
After all, didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 18:19-20: “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them”?
To me, that statement is what a church confession is all about.For Discussion
- How would you define Braun’s argument in a sentence? Do the same for Luth’s argument. Are these opposing positions or just different positions?
- What idea in each argument brings you peace and joy? What idea makes you fearful? Why?
- How can the church determine the best way to use our confessions?
- What words of Jesus guide us as we discern the way ahead?
- How can our confessions reflect the time and context in which we live?