In recent decades, the practice of churches adopting formal creeds and confessions has largely gone out of style. Many Christians have come to think that creeds and confessions create unnecessary divisions, or that they over-complicate the Christian faith. This, in turn, has given rise to the popular notion that we need “no creed but the Bible.”
So why do we think we need confessions? Can’t we just stick to the Scriptures?
Indeed, we affirm that the Bible – being God’s inspired word and revelation of himself – is the sole and sufficient authority pertaining to all matters of life and godliness, for all the ages. However, we don’t believe it follows that “no creed but the Bible” represents a proper understanding of the church’s relationship to the truth of the Scripture.
In 1 Timothy 3:15, the apostle Paul described the church as the pillar and buttress of the truth. Notice that he does not refer to Scripture as the pillar and buttress of the truth, but the church. This is not an idle distinction.
John Calvin, in his commentary on this verse, writes that the church is called the pillar of truth “because the office of administering doctrine, which God hath placed in her hands, is the only instrument of preserving the truth, that it may not perish from the remembrance of men.”
Paul isn’t saying that the church is the source of truth. God alone is the source of truth, and we find his special revelation preserved in the Scriptures. But it is the church’s role to administer that truth – to hold it up, to preserve it, to lay it forth, to bring it to bear.
Calvin further explains, “the Church maintains the truth, because by preaching the Church proclaims it, because she keeps it pure and entire, because she transmits it to posterity. And if the instruction of the gospel be not proclaimed, if there are no godly ministers who, by their preaching, rescue truth from darkness and forgetfulness, instantly falsehoods, errors, impostures, superstitions, and every kind of corruption, will reign. In short, silence in the Church is the banishment and crushing of the truth.”
In other words, it isn’t enough for the church to merely have the Scriptures. Rather, the church must actually confess the truth contained in the Scriptures in order for the truth to be made manifest in the world. There’s nothing controversial about a man saying he believes the Bible. Every Christian will say he believes the Bible. Controversy arises when a man declares, or confesses, what he believes the Bible actually teaches. John the Baptist, for example, was not put to death for simply believing God’s word. He was put to death for confessing the truth of God’s word concerning the king’s sexual immorality (Mark 6:17-18). It was through John’s confession of the truth that the truth was brought to bear.
Historically, confessions of faith have been useful tools by which churches have sought to state clearly and precisely what they believe the Bible teaches about an array of vital topics. Some confessions are fairly narrow in the elements they address. For instance, the scope of the Nicene Creed of the fourth century was primarily to confess the truth concerning the deity of Jesus Christ in the face of a particular heresy of the day. More recent examples of confessions like this might include the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the 2017 Nashville Statement. In contrast, some confessions seek to be more comprehensive in their scope, endeavoring to give an exhaustive account of what the Bible teaches concerning the essential elements of the faith. Examples of this kind of confession would include the Augsburg Confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the London Baptist Confession.
We believe that the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession stands as a faithful account of what the Scriptures teach, and would espouse it as our church’s confession of faith.