What is confessionalism?

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by Herald, Jun 7, 2012.

  1. Herald

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    Oct 29, 2011
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    In a previous thread a question was raised by a poster about confessionalism. What is confessionalism? Is it biblical? Where are confessions found? Does it supplant the Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice among Christians? Must a believer be confessional? All questions that deserve answers.

    What is confessionalism?

    Confessionalism is the practice of subscribing to a confession of faith. A confession of faith is a proclamation or statement of beliefs held by a group of Christians or individual Christians. Confessions are formal standards that serve as authoritative guides to the doctrinal beliefs of a church body.

    Is confessionalism biblical?

    Confessional subscription is not a positive command contained in the Bible. In other words the Bible doesn't command that a Christian must subscribe to a confession. However, since a confession is basically a commentary on scripture, confessions do not violate scriptural principle. It's the same thing as a church doctrinal statement. By definition a church doctrinal statement is a confession. The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is a confession.

    Where are confessions found?

    While the Reformed community is the first thing that comes to mind when confessionalism is discussed, confessions are used by almost all Christian denominations. As was said in the previous paragraph, church doctrinal statements are confessions. The reason the Reformed confessions have so much notoriety is because of the historical nature of these documents coming on the heels of the Reformation. These confessions codified the beliefs that separated the Protestant movement from Romanism.

    Does confessionalism supplant the Bible as the sole source of authority for faith and practice?

    Absolument pas (absolutely not)! The confessions are not scripture they are an interpretation of scripture. If your church has a doctrinal statement it is only valid to the extent that it rightly interprets scripture. From a Reformed Baptist perspective (and speaking only for Reformed Baptists) the reason that the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith is still subscribed to today is that its interpretations and conclusions have stood the test of time.

    Must a believer be confessional?

    Yes and no. "Yes" in the sense that he must confess (believe) the Christ-centered message of the Gospel. "No" in that he is not required to subscribe to a document other than the Bible.

    Is confessional subscription beneficial or harmful?

    If the confession is viewed as a supporting document, secondary to scripture, then it can be quite beneficial. All Christians have the Bible. Unfortunately not all Christians agree about what the Bible teaches. If an individual Christian is in agreement with a specific confession, that confession is able to explain a shared system of beliefs and eliminate the need to constantly try and reinvent the wheel.

    I like to use the blueprint story. If you're an architect that is tasked with building a skyscraper, you're going to have to draft a set of blueprints for the job. As you construct the building you're going to use those blueprints as your guide. The source of authority behind those blueprints is science and the law of physics. The blueprints simply are an explanation of what needs to be done. You don't draft new blueprints each day you show up for work. You have one set of prints that guide you through the process. If, however, the construction hits a snag, and that snag is found to be faulty instructions contained in the blueprints, you need to ditch the existing blueprints and draft new ones. It's similar with confessional subscription. So long as the confession accurately interprets scripture it can serve as a guide or blueprint, but the source of authority supporting the confession is the Bible. The minute the confession is found to be in error it should be amended or rejected. It's the same thing with a church doctrinal statement. It should be amended or rejected if it's found to be in error. In reality though, how many churches throw out, or even amend, their doctrinal statements? And even when the do it takes a super-majority quorum to make those changes.

    Can confessional subscription be harmful? Certainly. If a church or individual Christian looks to the confession as the source of truth then they run the risk of error. The Bible is the primary source document for Christians.
    #1 Herald, Jun 7, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 7, 2012

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