Faith precedes practice. Creed governs deed. What you believe controls what you do. This is true even though at times a person’s actions may be contrary to his confession and it is the very fact that he professes a standard that enables his actions to be judged in harmony with or contrary to his beliefs.
For that very reason creeds and confessions are vital to healthy biblical Christianity. Samuel Miller, the venerable 19th century Princeton professor of ecclesiastical history, decisively argues this point in The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions: Addressed Particularly to Candidates for the Ministry. Such documents are summaries of revealed truth and do not in and of themselves constitute truth. Miller writes,
“Creeds and confessions do not claim to be in themselves laws of Christ’s house, or legislative enactments, by which any set of opinions are constituted truths, and which require, on that account [emphasis added], to be received as truths among the members of his family.”
Yet, as summaries of what God’s Word teaches, creeds and confessions serve those who adopt them as useful boundaries to promote fellowship and unity, while guarding against error. The Christian who dismisses such summaries by claiming that the Bible alone is his creed lumps himself in with some of the worst heretics that the world has ever seen. This is why, as Miller says, “the adoption of a creed “is not only lawful and expedient but also indispensably necessary to the harmony and purity of the visible Church.” Followers of Jesus must be clear not only in our commitment to the Bible being the Word of God written but we must also be clear in our profession of what that Word says and means on key issues related to faith and life.
B.H. Carroll, the founding President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary recognized the importance of confessional Christianity and so chides those believers and Christians who demur from full confessionalism:
“A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. The more divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power, and the wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness.
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 work would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly.”
With all of the wonderful renewal in doctrinal Christianity that we are witnessing in our day there needs to be a corresponding commitment to bold confessionalism that unashamedly and formally declares, “This is what the Word of God says and what we, therefore, believe.” Such was the conviction of those on whose shoulders we stand and whose works we appreciate in generations past: men like P.H. Mell, John Broadus, James Boyce, Basil Manly, Sr. (and Jr.), Charles Spurgeon and B.H. Carroll. They were unashamedly confessional men.
The celebration this year of the 325th anniversary of the publication of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith provides a wonderful opportunity to reconsider the confessional power and gospel advance at the 2014 Founders Conference in Charleston (birthplace of the Charleston Confession), South Carolina October 16-18. I hope to see you there!
Please join us at the 2014 National Founders Conference!
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