The Need For the Church Confession
By Dr. Ken Matto
(1 Cor 1:10 KJV) Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
One of the main attacks against the church which is happening today is the teaching that Church Confessions are unnecessary and that Christians are swearing allegiance to them. First of all, let me say that the Confessions are never equal to Scripture. The confessions are extracted from Scripture and is to be viewed only as a guideline of biblical understanding. Wherever the confession departs from the truth of Scripture, that part must be brought into line with the Scriptures or it is to be deleted. For example, the Scriptures teach in many different areas that divorce is not to take place to end a marriage because the only thing that ends a marriage is death.
(Rom 7:2-3 KJV) For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. {3} So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
In the Westminster Confession, there is a section which speaks that divorce is acceptable under certain conditions plus remarriage is also acceptable as the offending spouse is to be viewed as dead. The section is copied below.
V. Adultery or fornication committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract.[485] In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce:[486] and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.[487]
[485] Matthew 1:18-20. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
[486] Matthew 5:31-32. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
[487] Matthew 19:9. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. Romans 7:2-3. For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
It is interesting to note that the Scriptures they use to justify divorce and remarriage are very clear that these things are wrong. I do not know why they refuse to change it or to remove the Scriptural “proof text” and then make the claim of divorce and remarriage an opinion rather than trying to make it Bible based. It is this kind of opinionating that causes biblical Christians to look at the Confessions and contest the entire document. When you look at the whole confession you will find much good theology and a good starting place for new Christians. The confession must never be the end of a Christian’s study to understand the Scriptures. (2 Pet 3:18 KJV) But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. As Christians we are to continue in Bible study beyond the confession so we may continue to grow in the faith. I have a copy of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith and here is a comment concerning the confession made by C. H. Spurgeon:
“This little volume,” he wrote, “is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby you are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of the Scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.
Be not ashamed of your faith; remember it is ancient gospel of martyrs, confessors, reformers and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail.
Let your lives adorn your faith, let your example adorn your creed. Above all live in Christ Jesus, and walk in Him, giving credence to no teaching but that which is manifestly approved of Him, and owned by the Holy Spirit. Cleave fast to the Word of God which is here mapped out for you.”
Positive Aspects of having a Church Confession
We started off this article by quoting 1 Corinthians 1:10:
(1 Cor 1:10 KJV) Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
One of the biggest problems in the Corinthian Church was divisions in the body of Christ. These divisions were based on the fact that people were following different preachers. (1 Cor 1:12 KJV) Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. This is one of the biggest problems in the individual church body today. With the advent of the electronic media in 1906, there have been many Christians who have gone on the air and began to teach the Bible. In an average day, anyone who listens to Christian Radio, will hear a different preacher every or every hour. This means that each Christian can hear many different views of the Bible. Some of these divergent views will eventually make it into the theology of the listener and eventually it will be adopted. One such broadcaster is James Dobson who has an audience primarily made up of women. I have heard his broadcast many times and he knows exactly how to employ emotions on his program. When a person is either in tears or in laughter, they are then at the height of their vulnerability. Tony Campolo gets people laughing and then he plugs in his socialist dogma while they are laughing so there will be little opposition to his teachings.
In an average day one can hear the teachings of Charismatics, Free-Willers, prophecy pundits, Reformed, Doctrines of Grace, loss of salvation preachers, youth ministers that have no more intelligence than a rock, etc. Then in music you will hear the Christian rock, traditional hymns, Southern Gospel, contemporary music one level below rock, etc. So when you listen to a Christian station, you will be bombarded by many different things. The problem is that many Christian radio stations do not care what they put on as long as the broadcaster pays their bill. The same goes with television. There are many programs on TV which teach gospels that are different than the true gospel. People get caught up in the ranting of Charismatic preachers and when they hear that God wants them “healthy and wealthy” it will stick to them like glue and they will cling to those teachings and will bring them into their church.  It is situations like this where the confessions are a valuable tool, for the following eight reasons:
I will use the 1689 Baptist Confession for this section.
1) It outlines the beliefs of the church
If someone comes into your church and they visit for a while, they may like the church and want to join. They are given a confession and as they read it, they see that predestination is part of the teachings of the church. However, they hold to the belief that a person can accept the Lord for their salvation out of their own free will. Now one of two scenarios will take place, either that person will stop coming to the church or upon examination to join, that person will be told that predestination and election are tenets of belief and since they believe in free will, will be disallowed from joining the church based upon their belief. Of course, many churches are interested in numbers which results in allowing anyone to join, regardless of belief.
2) Keeps Uniformity of Belief
By disallowing anyone with any belief system to join the church, there will be a fulfillment of the 1 Corinthians 1:10 verse, in that all will be of the “same judgment.” That word “judgment” in this verse means “intention or opinion.” The uniformity of belief within a congregation will allow a church to grow rather than divide and fight each other.
3) Solidarity of Beliefs
When an entire church believes the same way and the doctrines of truth can be taught without congregational reprisal, then that church will continue to be a strong church. The stronger a church grows in the faith, the stronger a witness they will have. This is why a general statement of faith is useless because Christians of all denominations and with all kind of beliefs can agree on a general statement. This is why those theologians of years past put together very detailed confessions, to make no mistake on where the church stood. These confessions were made during the times when a person could actually be excommunicated for heresy. Today if a person is a heretic, they get promoted to positions of authority.
4) A Confession also affects the life of a Christian
In the 1689 confession, it deals with things like marriage, Christian liberty, Magistrates, etc. The confession is not only concerning itself with belief systems in the church, it holds the Christian culpable to God and to the local church to behave like a Christian when one leaves the local assembly. We are to live out a Christian life which is in keeping with the Christian faith. A confession which does this is a worthy guideline for Christian living.
5) A Confession helps a new Christian
A confession which contains a good amount of subjects with applicable proper Scriptural basis will help a new Christian begin their Bible study. The London Baptist Confession contains 32 sections and would make a great 32 week Bible study in a new believer’s class as it hits the major beliefs. From the starting point of the confession, the study can then easily fan out to other subjects in Scripture. By the end of 32 weeks, the new Christian is standing on a pretty good Biblical basis and if they continue in their studies, will become strong Christians.
6) A Confession quashes debate
A good biblically based confession will be able to end a debate which can severely threaten the unity of a true church. If someone brings in a doctrine which is not biblical and it is addressed in the confession, it can help stem the situation. If the subject is only broached in the confession, then further study in the Scriptures can be done to ascertain truth. Healthy debate is good, only if it does not destroy the unity in the church.
7) A Confession is a defense document
A confession can be used by Christians as a tool for an apologetic defense of the Gospel. It is a handy tool whereby Christians can easily show unbelievers or liberal Christians the true tenets of Christianity. With it’s accompanying sets of Scriptures for each point, it can become an irrefutable tool in witnessing.
8) A Confession is a stabilizing document
A detailed confession which takes its teachings from Scripture will be a document that cannot be changed and will keep a uniform set of basic teachings before the congregation. In today’s churches we have a Statement of Faith basically for every individual church. A statement of faith is easily changed because it requires the addition or subtraction of only a few words. Since movements like Tongues and Dispensationalism came into vogue in the 1800’s, it was now mandatory that those churches which fell to these movements had to do away with the confessions and create their statement of faith to include beliefs in these two false systems.
What I have presented here is a short account of thought on the good biblical confessions. I want to reiterate that the confession is never held higher than Scripture. Like all biblical teachings, it is extracted from the Scriptures and the Scriptures take preeminence. Whenever the confession and Bible disagrees, the Bible takes authority and that is not debatable. The confession can be a great tool to help a church remain faithful to the teachings of Scripture. It can help do a pre-screening of candidates that may bring in a false or damnable heresy. The confession is not something which should be done away with. If more churches would adopt some of the old confessions, we might see a stronger Christianity.
The use of the great confessions began to fizzle our in the latter part of the 18th century and early part of the 19th century. They were normally replaced with statements of faith. I believe the reason for this is that with the rise of Dispensationalism in the 1800’s, new statements of faith had to be written because pre-tribulationalism was unknown before 1830. The old confessions held to the last day rapture of the Saints (section 31 in the 1689 Confession) and unbelievers alike (one general resurrection). With the rise of Dispensationalism came the rise of the tongues movement which was also not written about in the old confessions. Therefore, with the rise of these two false movements, the old confessions had to go, in their stead, was statements of faith which can easily changed at will.
If your church has a good confession, do not forsake it. It shouldn’t be the final authority but only a guideline for all Christians in the church. It will cause the church to be unified and a unified church on doctrine, will be a growing church. This was Paul’s concern and desire for the Corinthian church. I hope it is the desire for your church.