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Why I am a Confessional Protestant

Many friends and others have wondered and often asked me about why I am so ardently insistent on adhering to a strong confessional standard, and why I think they are critically important for the Church.  Many may also significantly wonder about this development considering my background in a non-confessional Methodist church and some forays into broad evangelicalism.  Below are some of my thoughts, both from reading a lot on the PuritanBoard and The Lost Soul of American Protestantism by D.G. Hart.

 I've been very encouraged by some of the wonderful things Dr. R. Scott Clark and several commenters have been writing about on the Heidelblog recently, and so I thought I'd give a bit of an apology for my confessionalism.

  1. Everybody has a confession and his/her interpretation of a passage of Scripture, and it is clear some teachings of Scripture are much more difficult to understand than others.  The fact that Chapter I.7 of the Westminster Confession has to state the obvious is a sad testament to the tendency of many a modern to dumb down God to bite-sized theology to where any and everyone can just learn everything in the Bible on a first reading of a passage.
    • Additionally, on every point of doctrine not hammered down confessionally, one leaves the door open for countless vain speculations and rehashings of the resolved arguments of the past.
    • This sort of thing becomes particularly apparent when one confronts many "Statement of Faith Churches", where radical varieties of theology can occur even within the same elders and pastors of the same church.  One elder might be a Calvinist, the pastor might be rather fond of Charismatic gifts and anti-Calvinist, another might be a culture warrior, and another might be very fond of Church Growth anti-doctrinal pragmatism.  How is any sort of coherent, mutually strengthening teaching supposed to come from a cauldron like this situation?
    • For reference: WCF I.7. "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them."  Proof texts: 2 Peter 3:16 and Psalm 119:105
  2. Just how exactly does my interpretation of anything in Scripture have an equal footing to that of my elders or pastors or the Church that has gone before me?  It is the height of intellectual arrogance to presume that my special and particular interpretation of some difficult passage is just as valid as that of someone trained and disciplined in theology and the original languages.
    • A quote from G.K. Chesterton, himself no fan of Confessional Protestantism, shall certainly suffice: "Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father."
    • In this light, while our generation may have the ability to hammer out some controversial or difficult areas of doctrine that previous generations did not have to address, it would be a travesty if every Christian had to completely build from scratch an entire Biblical Chirstian worldview.
    • If you doubt me, I'd like to suggest formulating a sound, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity strictly from the Bible, regardless of the amount of theological training or Biblical background that you have.  Here's the Athanasian creed for reference: http://www.carm.org/creeds/athanasian.htm.  
  3. Confessionalism is hardly ecclesiastial tyranny; on the contrary, when practiced properly, it should relive parishoners of having to confront elders or pastors on questionable teachings merely because of a personal interpretation of the passage (even if it is the historical one).  I, for one, desire to have officers who know their church documents and who wish to live by their ordination vows to teach within the confessions.  The last thing I want my pastor to do most of the time is spout off some new special insight or thinking about some major point of doctrine about which his denomination long ago came to an agreement.
  4. Confessionalism is a great and tremendous hedge against liberalism by requiring individuals wanting leadership in a voluntary organization to abide by the standards and doctrines of the denomination.  While it is unfortunate that until Christ's return, there will be division among the members of the visible church on confessional grounds between the various heirs of the Reformation, it would be vastly better for us to know that our leadership is holding true to the teachings handed down to us. 
  5. Baptisterians, Presbilutherans, and other combinations will happen among the laity and there is much liberty for discussion and various positions among the laity.  While it would be ideal for the laity to be equally confessional, clearly visible church membership requirements should not exceed invisible church membership requirements.
  6. Finally, my strong adherence to confessional standards means that I can pass down a concrete body of doctrinal foundations for my future children in the form of catechism and other components of family worship. 

To those wondering as about my confessional adherence, I wholeheartedly embrace the 1789 Westminister Confession (still considering Exclusive Psalmody), the Canons of Dordt, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  The Larger Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Heidelberg Catechism I mostly agree with, but I haven't actively and specifcially hammered out every doctrinal issue they teach.  

Soli Deo Gloria!

  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous02-10-2007

    How do you determine when tradition is wrong? — Matt S.

  2. Theoretical
    Theoretical02-10-2007

    That is a good question, Matt, and a helpful counterbalance to consider.

    I would certainly say that individual Christians have to determine where their convictions lie and should choose their church bodies accordingly, ideally sharing large amounts of theological common ground with the church and denomination.

    Within the denomination itself, there are explicit policies and procedures for amending the confessions should they be determined to be in error.  In the WCF, Chapter XXXI is very helpful in this regard as to a means of redressing problems in the church. Clearly the Bible must rule as the final judge and any confessions or creeds must be secondary to it in authority.  From Scripture itself, I believe the place for binding councils is found in Acts 15 as the most prominent issue of division in the Church of that era, the role of Gentiles within the Church     

    Again, it is unfortunate that every confession of faith after the Fall is falliable, though not necessarily in actual doctrinal error.  Every sound protestant church confession provides means for church councils to evaluate controversial points of doctrine, and this process has been conducted numerous times in the past, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.

    The history of the Westminster Confession in America is a good illustration of this pattern.  The American Presbyterians officially amended the Confession with regard to the article on the Civil Magistrate, owing to the radically different circumstances of the 18th Century American republic compared to 1640s England.  Similar changes have been made by other bodies to accomodate new issues and correct perceived or real old flaws.

    Tradition truly is a double-edged sword, that can be very harmful when it is misused.  With that said, the last thing the overwhelming majority of American society and especially American Christianity has done throughout history is to overvalue tradition or prescribed forms of any sort. 

    The very fact that the Emerging Church and many of the elements of the Federal Vision movement exist is as a cry out to Protestants to lay claim to a rich theological and historical heritage of worship and life.  Their mistake is to look to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy for inspiration when there is gold at their feet.

    -Scott

  3. Tas Stacey
    Tas Stacey02-05-2009

    Thanks for writing this. The other day I spent a good hour or so arguing with a couple of pastors from an anti-confessional denomination.

    They used the most annoying arguments, like saying that I held the WCF above the bible, or implying that the authors of the confession thought they could write better than the Holy Spirit.

    Essentially, their argument was that if it agreed with the bible, it was unnecessary, and if it disagreed with the bible it was heresy, so.

  4. Tas Stacey
    Tas Stacey02-05-2009

    Thanks for writing this. The other day I spent a good hour or so arguing with a couple of pastors from an anti-confessional denomination.

    They used the most annoying arguments, like saying that I held the WCF above the bible, or implying that the authors of the confession thought they could write better than the Holy Spirit.

    Essentially, their argument was that if it agreed with the bible, it was unnecessary, and if it disagreed with the bible it was heresy, so.

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