Introducing True Confessions

Welcome to a brand-new column. Sorry, we’re not going to dish out juicy “tell-alls” here.

Rather, we’d like to talk about the confessions that our church has adopted and that it requires our leaders to sign on to.

What are those confessions? How do they function in our congregations? Are they “true” in faithfully summarizing and interpreting Scripture? And do they keep us “true” to each other as members and leaders of a confessional church? We’ll take a closer look throughout 2010.

Why examine these now? Because currently the Christian Reformed Church faces two significant issues related to the confessions. In the next few years synod (our annual leadership convention) has some major decisions to make.

The first issue involves a proposed update of the “Form of Subscription,” the covenant all our officebearers must sign in which they pledge agreement with the teachings of our confessions. You’ll find information on the proposed update on page 243 of Agenda for Synod 2008 and on page 516 of Acts for Synod 2008, or visit www.crcna.org and click on “Synodical Resources” under “Resources.”

Any serious misstep in redrafting the original form of subscription could (arguably) make it difficult to hold our church leaders accountable for how they interpret Scripture. Conversely, it could set up the confessions as a “paper pope,” elevating them above Scripture itself.

The second issue regards a proposal from the denomination’s Ecumenical Relations Committee to add the Belhar Confession (see www.crcna.org/pages/belhar.cfm) to the six confessions we already have, raising similar questions: what are confessions and how should they function?

During the coming year we’ll be asking a number of Christian Reformed authors to (re)introduce those confessions to us. We’ll also ask someone to help us look at “Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony,” even though it doesn’t have confessional status. Finally, we’ll invite someone to briefly introduce the Belhar Confession.

So why do we have confessions?

Scripture requires our verbal response to the gospel: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Early confessions quoted in Scripture itself (for example, Phil.  2:6-11) make clear that believers should literally “admit together” their faith in Christ.

Because Scripture is so broad, we need to summarize its message. To do that accurately, we need each other (John 14:26).

Confessions help us avoid heresies that return to plague us. As George Santayana warned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Confessions help us to identify clearly where our denomination stands within the wider body of Christ.

Confessions help us to keep our leaders accountable. We’ll revise confessions if necessary, but only as a team.

The importance of confessions can be overestimated. Some idolize them as if doctrinal purity is all that matters. Knowing the truth is an important component of true faith in Christ. But our experience and practice of Christian faith are also crucial: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Others underestimate the importance of confessions. But true confession is also an essential element of faith. We cannot love whom we do not know. Jesus planted his church squarely on the believing disciples’ answer to this question: “Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15).

Which confessions we adhere to, how they function, and how tightly we bind our leaders to them makes a huge difference for our church. Be sure to revisit this column as we offer you a bird’s-eye view. And, so we don’t disappoint you entirely in what “True Confessions” seems to promise, we’ll toss in a few juicy bits of scandal about them just for fun.

Our Confessions

We share three confessions with most other denominations: the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. Two others show how we agree and disagree with (mostly) Roman Catholic doctrine at the time of the Reformation: the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. Our sixth confession, the Canons of Dort, shows how we interpret Scripture differently from other Protestants on the topic of election. 

FOR DISCUSSION:
  1. A number of churches profess “no creed but Christ” and do not wish to be bound by any manmade creed. What’s good about such a position? What’s problematic?

  2. Do you find the reasons that Bob De Moor gives for having creeds and confessions persuasive? Why or why not.

  3. All pastors, elders, and deacons in the Christian Reformed Church are required to sign their agreement with the teachings of the creeds and confessions and to agree that if, in the future, they come to hold different views, they will not spread those views unless and until they have been permitted to do so by the denomination’s ruling bodies. Is that fair?

  4. If you have made, or are intending to make, public profession of your faith in the CRC, you are asked to affirm that you “believe the Bible is the Word of God revealing Christ and his redemption, and that the confessions of this church faithfully reflect this revelation.” Does that ask too much or too little of you? Of others?

  5. Do you think we should update our confessions from time to time? If so, how?

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

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