14 June 2005

On Baptist Confessions and the Dumbing-Down of Doctrinal Standards

Sam Waldron has written an article responding to a controversial piece by Shawn Wright ("Should you use the 1689 London Confession in your church?"), which was posted last month at the 9Marks website.

Waldron's article is also posted at the 9Marks site, with a very gracious introduction from Mark Dever, Executive Director of 9Marks Ministries.

I have no dog in this fight, since I don't hold to every detail of the 1689 Confession's Sabbatarianism anyway. The church where I serve uses a different (though still fairly detailed) doctrinal statement, which was written by the elders here long before I came. But I nonetheless think the 1689 is a fine confession—in some significant ways superior to the 1644 London Baptist Confession, which I do affirm without reservation. (By the way, I think there's much to be said for using the historic confessions, rather than writing a brand new one every time we plant a church. That's a slightly different issue than the debate between Wright and Waldron. But only slightly.)

Anyway, I read both articles, and I agree in principle with Waldron's objections to Wright's rationale. Here's the money quote:

Wright’s position requires that the church confess only as much as its newest, baptized member understands and believes. This is clearly wrong. Surely the Bible requires the church to believe and confess much more than this. The great Reformation confessions are treasuries of what the church had come to believe over the previous 1600 years. The confession of the church must not be held hostage to the immaturity of its youngest members. The youngest members must be nurtured redemptively and lovingly up into the fullness of its faith.

I'm glad 9Marks posted the follow-up. Waldron's article is wonderfully clear, and his discussion of the role of doctrinal statements says exactly what I would have wanted to say—only Pastor Waldron says it far more elegantly and succinctly than I could have.


Jeremy Weaver said...

As a Southern Baptist I agree with Waldron on this point, and you too, (surprise!). My denomination has too long sought the lowest common denominator in terms of basis for fellowship. While I do believe it is good for Calvinistic Baptists and Non-Calvinistic Baptist to cooperate for missions and other endeavors, I also believe that this has trickled down into our local churches in a way that is not so good.
Local Southern Baptist Churches have adopted the mentality that concerning the lost says, 'Get a decision and don't ask questions', and concerning new members, 'We won't ask if you won't tell.' Basically if you say, 'Jesus', then you're a Christian.
Thank God I'm a member of one of the rare Baptist Church's where doctrine matters. When my wife and I joined we had to sign the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, and my brother is the Pastor!
But I must say, growing up as an Indy-pendy, funny-mental, King James Baptist, I must thank God for a denomination that at least has a doctrinal standard. In the churches I grew up in this discussion could never take place because there was no Statement of Faith.
But getting back to the question at hand, every church should adopt, not create(what truth are you going to express that hasn't already been stated in 2,000 years of church history?) a Statement of Faith, and every church should hold to that Statement of Faith.
But I say, and not the Lord.

David said...

Phil, your church's doctrinal statement is as perfect as I've found. I spent quite a chunk of time trying to formulate a systematic statement I could use in our homeschool program. Then I came across the statement at TMS, which I've learned is the same as Grace Church's, said "Hallelujah," got permission to use it, and now my kids are learning it. They wish it was shorter.

So, thanks to all the elders who worked on that. It's been a great blessing to us.

(the one without a smiley pic)

Matthew Self said...

It seems to me what a church confession says a new believer needs to believe and what is practically (or typical) required of a new believer is usually two different things. A common saying I hear is, "You don't clean the fish before you catch it."

D.R. said...

"The confession of the church must not be held hostage to the immaturity of its youngest members. The youngest members must be nurtured redemptively and lovingly up into the fullness of its faith."

I think that this concept of a church being "held hostage to the immaturity of it's youngest members" applies to all sorts of situations in the church, not just those of the confessional kind. I have been in enough Baptist business meetings to understand this all too well.

Mark Ritchie said...

Nevertheless, the Sabbath issue shows the huge problem a book-sized statement of faith can have. The 1689 confession also identifies the Pope as "that Antichrist, that Man of sin, and Son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming."

Heaven forbid that some of our Internet Calvinists would write a statement as lengthy as 1689. The number of ephemeral theories and oughtright falsehoods would greatly exceed the few found in great statements like 1689.

Daniel Nolan said...

Are you suggesting that the position of Pope isn't an evil one?

[Gal 1v8]But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

[v9]so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Now, if this includes Paul, it definitely includes any non-Apostle like the Pope. Surely it IS sin to preach another gospel, and he must be punished if he is accursed.

Of course, if the Pope didn't preach heresies then this wouldn't apply

c.t. said...

The sections of the doctrine of beliefs at Grace Community Church titled the Rapture of the Church through the section titled Eternity is a good example why churches shouldn't draw up their own confessions...

At least there should be the humility to not make dogmatic that which is so obviously contested by men whose undersanding I would assume the elders who drew up that document would have great respect for. Anyway, anything that appears in a confession that is less than a 150 years old should be classified officially as an enthusiasm.

Mark said...


Doctrinally speaking, I was wondering if you are Covenantal Premill., Dispensational Premill. or "leaky" Dispensational Premill. or ....?

Concerning confessions, my experience (though not vast) and from speaking with friends is that in Baptist churches around here (SBC mostly) the confession is rarely heard about. You rarely hear a reference if ever to the 2000 Baptist Confession. I know one SBC church that is about to hire a new pastor that believes you can forfeit your salvation. He describes himself as classical Arminian which I don't believe can be supported 100% by the 2000 Baptist Confession. I doubt many have even read their own churches confessions to any degree.


Kurt N. said...

I admit curiousity about your eschatological (did I spell that right?) position as well, Mr. Johnson.

Don't invoke rule #1 on us! ;)

Ron Grove said...

I attend a 1689 confessional church and the way it's done here is that our Church covenant has a section called "Articles of Faith" where what the elders call "The Things Most Assuredly Believed" are located. It's pretty short and gives scriptural proofs. At the end of that it states:

"While Scripture alone is authoritative and Scripture alone binds the conscience, we believe a more detailed explanation of these truth/articles are contained in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith to be an assistance to our faith."

So the 1689 is the teaching position of the Church, but we're not required to submit to each and every point (the reference to the Pope as "that Antichrist" rather than "an Antichrist" being the most common). Before membership I did have to go over some key passages in the 1689 with the Elders, though.

Dave said...

I suppose one element of this discussion that seems missing is whether the church is congregationally governed or not. If not, then one can make the case more easily that some group may decide for the church what its doctrinal statement is (therefore the younger, more immature believers don't control it).

If the church is congregationally governed, then there will probably be a desire for greater agreement among all who are brought into membership.

Perhaps this experience is unique to me, but it seems like the prospective members who have problems with the fuller doctrinal statement are not new converts; they are people whose minds are already made up contrary to the statement.

JohnB29 said...

Yeah, those London Baptist Confession 1689 people. They're all going straight to hell. Not like us London Baptist Confession 1644 adherents. Sheesh.

Here's a funny piece from Larknews.com:

The Rapture occurred March 31, 2005, at 9:43 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time and took both people on the planet whose theology was exactly correct.

Dan Wilson of Ottawa, Canada, was snatched away while sleeping.
"He spent years refining his eschatological scheme," says his wife. "Just last week he told me he had it all right, but I still disagreed with him on a minor point. I regret that now."

Rejna Thanawalla of New Delhi, India, also experienced the Rapture, say friends.
"She knew exactly what the books of Revelation and Daniel meant," they say. "Sadly, none of us listened to her."

In a surprise, Tim LaHaye says he was "slightly wrong on the subject of the Beast," and was left behind. Other prophecy experts say they, too, botched minor points in their end times charts.

"Looks like we'll have to stay and wait this out,"said one disappointed pastor. •

BlackCalvinist aka G.R.A.C.E. Preecha said...

don't answer the eschatology question, Phil! Don't let em' label you!

j/k :)

I've become more 'reformed' over the years and I believe the 1689 and the accompanying catechism (posted on John Piper's website) is a perfect 'faith to confess'.

I knew someone would pick up and answer it once they posted Wright's article on the RB List.

Joe said...

Phil - great blog man.

I love the 1689. I'm one of those guys who always has a copy in his bag. But I also believe that the church is in need of drawing up new confessions. Particularly now. Times changes, and different issues need to be addressed/clarified. Christians (even Baptist Christians) have always written new confessions from time to time to address their culture and creeping heresy. The BFM 2000 is a good try, but I think it falls terribly short of what we need.

Joe Thorn

aquascum said...

At the end of his essay, Waldron lists several reasons why churches should hold to the 1689. I'll just add another: it is one of the few confessions to repeatedly make pastoral applications of its own doctrines. Thus:

"...which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our Communion with God, and comfortable dependance on him" (2.3).

With respect to God's eternal decree, "so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, to all that sincerely obey the Gospel" (3.7).

Other applications occur re: the doctrines of divine providence (5.5), justification (11.5), assurance (18.3), and the last judgment (32.3).