Saturday, January 13, 2007

We have a confession to make

Evangelicalism in the UK is confessionally minimalistic. There are several reasons for this.

As a rule evangelical para-church organisations are intentionally minimalistic in their doctrinal statements in order to unite as many individuals, churches and fellow organisations as possible around a common confession of faith. With some variety those statements are sufficient for the purpose that they are used for. They provide clear summaries of central doctrines using a minimum of words (with varying degrees of precision, faithfulness and clarity depending on the organisation). They can appear to be a lose collection of abstract statements, even though they are in fact shaped by the unfolding revelation of the gospel.

My impression, and it is only an impression, is that this minimalist approach is not only a concession for the sake of a broader unity but it is also a fact of church life. Or to state it another way, the impression I have is that confessional minimalism is the rule not the exception.

And even where older, and fuller, confessional statements are adhered to, whether they ever get used in the way that they were intended to be used is another matter altogether.

Doubtless there are several contributing factors to this situation. It is stating the obvious even to mention the fact that some evangelicals need persuading that doctrine is good, true, wholesome, beneficial and necessary for the church as opposed to being dry, dusty, cerebral, and irrelevant to practical Christian living. My guess is that a neglect of the doctrine of the church has also played a part in this, and the unhelpful spin-off of regarding "secondary truths" to be of no intellectual and practical consequence for believers. But whatever the causes and contributing factors it is a situation of lowered immunity and poor health.

Richard Muller has some wise words to say on recovering this situation. You may find that his position is a world away from contemporary thought, practice and perceived wisdom in the church:

"We must do all that we can to assure the contemporary use of our confessions and catechisms in the life of the church. They must not be relegated to the status of dead standards that are brought to bear only when problems arise and are then put back on a shelf in a closed book when the crisis has passed.

It is well for us to remember that the confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were, first and foremost, declarations of faith. They were not (and, therefore, ought not to become) rules for belief imposed on the church from without: they are normative declarations spoken from within by the church itself, for the sake of pronouncing the church's biblical faith. We do justice to their contents only when we declare them—only when we confess them—as the expression of our corporate faith and corporate identity.

More confessions and varied patterns of subscription are not the solution to our problem. Only the regular use of our confessions as standards for the expression of biblical truth can render them effective and, indeed, contemporary in their significance.

Only by declaring the confessions, by using them in the contexts of preaching, of teaching, and of corporate worship, can they fulfill their intended role as positive guides, arising out of the faith of the church in its meditation on Scripture, to the ongoing work of the Reformed churches".

1 comment:

Highland Host said...

I couldn't agree more. Just yesterday I actually had cause to quote a church's Articles in the pulpit.