Individual freedom excommunicated organized doctrine

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by ReformedBaptist, Aug 15, 2008.

  1. ReformedBaptist

    ReformedBaptist
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    Dear BB:

    The title of this thread are the words of Dr. Thomas Nettles from his online article "The Health of Confessional Christianity." His article is about confessional Christianity. For those not familiar with it, it refers to that form of practice in a local church that adopts or creates a confession of their faith which members in good standard are expected to be in agreement with.

    Being familiar with Reformed Baptists, I can say confidently that Reformed Baptist churches, including my own, are confessional churches. Typically we adhere to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. This confession is exhaustive. There is not an area of doctrine that isn't covered in it. The only thing the confession may need is an update concerning pressing modern issues.

    I am starting this thread to submit to the readers the benefits of churches being confessional. I will also share what I believe are the dangers that exist when both individuals and churches reject confessional Christianity.

    1. Let it first be said, because it is so often charge brought either against confessions/creeds or in denfense of no confession/creed, that a confession or creed does not take the place of the Bible. It is an expression or exposition of biblical truth.

    2. A written confession of faith in a church serves to test error in others. A heretic may well say "I believe in the Bible." and at the same time reject innerancy.

    3. It can serve the local church to organize (or systematize) biblical truth. Dr. Nettles wrote, "All that the Bible has to say about God's dealing with sinners in a gracious way to restore them to Himself may be organized into the biblical doctrine of salvation. Texts from Genesis to Revelation would be included in this doctrine; the organized presentation of it would not detract from biblical truth but would give powerful expression to it."

    4. Confessions are not a final authority for the church. They may be ammended, changed, or altered by consent of the local congregation.

    5. A creed works to keep a bay those who "creep in unawares" to local congregations. In Dr. Nettles article, he quotes William Stokes, "William Stokes wrote an essay on creeds that the Midland Association published in its two-hundredth anniversary history. Stokes, from Birmingham, argued that "it is not enough, therefore, that a man declares that he believes the Bible." Christian communities have not only a right, but an obligation, to ask in what sense he believes the Bible--as a Socinian, an Arian, or a Pelagian? Creeds not only have declared the faith of Christian communities but have served "to test and expose the character of dishonest men, who, under the plea of believers, entered the church to pollute its doctrine and to divide and scatter its members." Creeds then, as they should be now, were used against "the agents of the wicked one" who had crept into the church. "The orthodox creed was employed by the Church to correct the mischief by excluding the men."

    6. A creed/confession does not take away individual liberty of conscience. As long as the creed is not part of a church-state and being imposed on the masses, a Christian is free with regard to join or not join such churches.

    In close, the words of B.H. Carroll:

    The modern cry: "Less creed and more liberty," is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy. Definitive truth does not create heresy--it only exposes and corrects. Shut off the creed and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly."

    "Very solemnly I would warn the reader against any teaching that decries doctrines, or which would reduce the creed of the church into two or three articles."

    http://www.founders.org/journal/fj49/article1_fr.html
     
  2. Marcia

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    RB, very interesting. I am not Reformed (big surprise, huh?) but I like what is said here.

    I especially agree with no. 2 and with this statement by Carroll:
     
  3. rsr

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    I have come, over the past few years, to value the historic confessions very highly and to think it only sensible that a body of believers should have some common confession, both to define their positions and as a foundation for the teaching of the church.

    But how would you use such a confession? Would, for example, all members be required to prescribe to every tenet?
     
  4. Deacon

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    I'll spice things up here a bit.

    Having participated in an aborted attempt at making a simple “Statement of Faith” in my last church, I am familiar with some of the difficulties and pitfalls inherent to those who develop these documents.
    Aye, they are strong believers who construct them confessions!

    As others note, confessions are not meant to replace Scripture.
    Still, despite these admonitions, the historic confessions eventually carry much of the same authority in the church as the Scriptures from which they are derived.

    Many are familiar with the progressive nature of Scripture; God revealed our Scriptures in an increasing progression through the ages.
    So too there seems to be an increasing progression in our understanding of Scriptures.

    Keeping this in mind, these confessions are helpful as they anchor our faith to a fundamental understanding of the Scriptures but they can also be burdensome as they hold us back from developing a better understanding of God.

    Case in point is the debacle at Westchester Theological Seminary with Peter Enns.
    He was dismissed not because of a biblical err but because the progressive theological study of his was seemingly at odds with the Seminary’s confession.

    Rob
     
    #4 Deacon, Aug 16, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 16, 2008
  5. ReformedBaptist

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    No, not every tenant. But substantial agreement at least to be a member, and nearly complete agreement on all matter by elders, deacons, and teachers.
     
  6. ReformedBaptist

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    The issue with Peter Enns was with Westminster Theological Seminary, not Westchester. Also, Mr. Enns's errors dealt with his views with inerrancy contrary to what is declared in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The confession, in this case, was instrumental in showing Mr. Enns' his error. Enns wanted to redefine the doctrine of innerancy. Therefore, he would still be able to say he believed in inerrancy, but not as defiend by the seminary's own confession. In my opinion, the moment Enns changed his view, he should have resigned from the seminary. That doesn't appear to be the case.

    Enn's progressive theological study is at odd's the doctrine of Scripture. And in our day it is important that we clearly define what we mean when we say, "I believe the Bible." I am finding that those who move into heresy often move away from an established, thorough, written confession of faith.
     
  7. Revmitchell

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    How can I put this?...........This is pure bunk.

    There is nothing about scripture that is progressive nor should there be any progression of our teaching. Trying to suggest that we are held back by holding to firm understanding of scripture is against scripture itself.

    1Th 5:21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.

    Rom 12:9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

    1Co 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.

    Heb 3:6 but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

    Heb 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

    Heb 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

    If the Seminary held that the confession was based on scripture ( and if they actually were) then when the proffessor taught in a liberal manner contrary to them he in fact erred in scripture for the nature of biblical confessions are biblcial. And the proffessor should be released form his duties.

    Maintaining standards in Churches and Seminaresand holding to doctrinal statements are always necessary. We should take clear stands on scripture both on primary issues and secondary issues for this is where biblical unity is found.
     
  8. Deacon

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    Opps, in my haste I incorrectly used the wrong name, the Westchester vicinity and the Philadelphia seminary are so close by here.

    Bunk you say? Pure bunk??

    Progressive revelation is not a strange or alien idea.
    An illustration of the progressive nature of revelation is found in the book of Hebrews.

    Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.
    And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.
    God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.
    Hebrews 1:1-2 NLT

    How does this concept correspond to our progressive understanding of the Scriptures?
    You simply have to study the history of doctrine.
    Even such fundamental concepts as the Trinity had to be worked out and battled over.

    And as I said, I value confessions
    but one must remember, although they are drawn from Scripture, they themselves are not Scripture and neither is the particular tradition they expouse.

    Rob
     
  9. ReformedBaptist

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    First, it wasn't me who said your post was pure bunk. But I understand what he was driving at. Friend, your post missed the mark in my opinion. Your reply failed to actually recognize what was happening at WTS. I am not intimately familiar with the issue, but spent enough time on the WTS website to know that Mr. Enns departed from an orthodox position on inerrancy. At the very least he should have resigned, long before the seminary called for it. When he took the position to teach in the seminary he agreed to the Westminster. If his views changed over the course of time he should have left.

    The same would hold true for a Christian in a church. If that person rejects the church's confession of their faith, and that Christian changes their view, they should leave. If not, they should be disfellowshiped.

    Concerning progressive revelation I agree. Yet those former ways in which God spoke are now finished being summed up in the Son of God. This revelation is now inscripturated and is final and complete, nothing more being added.

    Concerning our understanding it must be conformed to the Scripture. A confession of faith or creed is (should be) an exposition of the Scripture. Certainly a church may amend the confession if they believe it does not conform to the Scriptures. However, if the church is agreed that the confession is a confession of their faith as it conforms to the Scripture, then it is good and right to use and serves the church well.

    "one" does not need to remember, in this case, that the creed/confession is not Scripture. It was already stated so in the OP and I do not know if any Protestant or evangelical church that thinks otherwise. So your point is moot and redundant and makes one wonder why you stated it.
     
  10. TCGreek

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    RB,

    I'm for the simple confession: "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3).

    But human confessions could serve some good, whether Reformed or non-Reformed.
     
  11. ReformedBaptist

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    The Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses could join your church on your simple confession.
     
  12. TCGreek

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    When a person recognizes the Lordship of Christ in their lives they'll give up mormonism and the like.
     
  13. ReformedBaptist

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    That misses the point TC. If someone came to your church and asked, "What is your confession of faith." and you answer "Jesus is Lord." and the person, great..I believe that too...and joins...and hold the Jesus Only doctrine, denies the Trinity, believes in extra-biblical revelation, and that baptism is required for salvation and its ok to pray to saints.

    Methinks you need to expand your confession of faith.
     
  14. ReformedBaptist

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    Dr. Robert Paul Martin, professor of Biblical Theology in Trinity Ministerial Academy, and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Montiville, NJ outlined four uses of confessions. They are:

    1. A confession is a useful means for the public affirmation and defense of truth.

    2. A confession serves as a public standard of fellowship and discipline.

    3. A creed (confession) serves as a concise standard by which to evaluate ministers of the Word.

    4. Confessions contribute to a sense of historical continuity.

    One of the strongest points I have seens Dr. Martin make is that it is a lawful (and likely necessary in my opinion) means for a church to function and fulfill its duty as 'the pillar and ground of the truth' by publishing a confession of its faith.

    God has entrusted the revelation of the redemption of man to His church. The church of the Living God is to proclaim this special revelation to the world in word and deed. We are also to defend the truth against error. Consider a few other points:

    1. Men use the very words of Scripture to promote heresy.
    2. Men deny biblical truth while at the same time swearing loyalty and fidelity to the Bible.
    3. "Modern Christianity is awash in a flood of doctrinal relativity. Satan and his forces love the imprecision of ambiguity which are rampant in our day."

    As the Lord moved me several years ago out of the charismatic movement my desire to know exactly what the church beleived that I joined became increasingly important. Of course, I hit my head a few times before I learned that I really needed to understand what a church believed on a multitude of subjects before committing my family to them.

    In addition, any church that I expressed an interest in joining had an equal responsiblity to examine me concerning my faith. Do you suppose I was questioned in regard to my faith and beliefs? Rarely. Most of the time if I wanted to be a member, I was welcome to be one. Of course, this was not the case with our present church. When I expressed interest in joining I was expected to have read the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the church distinctives. I was expected to have substantial agreement with them. The pastor visited me in my home before I was allowed to join. I was asked about my conversion to Christ. It took a few weeks to join this church!

    We have been with them now for almost 2 years. There has not come up but maybe one or two things I have disagreed upon and they are minor. I have seen no strife or division in this church at all. I am not suggesting that the church is immune to such things because of their public creed. But I have seen what others are saying are purposes of the use of a creed.

    I used to say that unless a preacher preached for at least 30-45min he probably did not preach the Gospel as he ought. I am beginning to think that unless it takes me at least an hour or more to read a man's or church's creed, they need to keep writing...

    RB
     
  15. TCGreek

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    If someone came to my church and asked, "What is your confession of faith," and I told them, "Jesus is Lord," and they confess the same but have a host of erroneous positions, then that gives us both a chance to explore the matters in light of the truth of Scripture.
     
  16. ReformedBaptist

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    You missed the mark again. I am talking about church membership brother. A thorough creed will ferrett out many heretics before they enter the fold.
     
  17. TCGreek

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    I too am speaking of membership in the local church.
     
  18. TCGreek

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    I'm not in favor of passing out a confessional or whatever they call it and ask people to sign off on it before they can join the local church.

    The Lord brings someone to the door of our church, if it is indeed the Lord, when the Lord is exalted and so on, that person will conform his/her life to the truth of Scripture.

    People are at different places in their lives. I'm not going to force some confessional on someone.
     
  19. ReformedBaptist

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    Well, at least your representing what I am standing against and what this thread is against. But you ought to back off on this rhetoric "force some confessional on someone"

    No one is forcing anything. People are free not to join. We are making, at least in our church, the public stand that no one but believers should be members of the congregation. Does your church allow unbelievers to be members of the church??? Do you not warn unbelievers in your midst from partaking of the Lord's Table?

    I fear the next thing I will learn of you is that you let unbaptized persons become members.
     
  20. TCGreek

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    At the same time we need to avoid slippery slope arguments.

    Unbelievers are not members of our church.

    If an unbeliever wants to partake of the Lord's Table, I'm not going to stop him or her.

    You got Scripture for that.
     

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