Healthy Christianity is Confessional

Healthy Christianity is Confessional

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.

Follow Tom Ascol:

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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