The Necessity of ConfessionsPosted: September 3, 2010
1. The existence of the church itself calls for confessions to be written.
The faith that is within the believers has to be confessed. The heart is full of it and must be pronounced. That counts for the individual believer but also for the church as a whole. In the Scriptures the mysteries of godliness are reflected and they are embraced by faith in the heart. The result is that the believer confesses these matters with his lips. The church knows about God, and Divine matters, about the creation and fall and sin and reconciliation through the mediator and His blessed work and about the future judgment and the final condemnation of the wicked. These matters are perfectly well known and must be confessed. Because the church exists therefore confessions must exist. It is a given. There have to be clear delineated concepts of the truth. This is not a matter that she can take or leave; it is an essential aspect of being a church. Otherwise she ceases to be a church.
2. The necessity of self-defense.
The church dwells in the midst of the world and is not of the world. Her testimony causes all kinds of reactions. Often the church must confess that there is a lethargic spiritual life, that there are all kinds of divisions. There is conformity to the world. There are other sorrowful matters and these all cause the church too often to place her confession and faith underneath a bushel. The strength of her testimony was gone.
Too often the church has withdrawn herself into a self-satisfied retreat from the world and sought her strength in her isolation. Then the church herself was the cause that the world forgot the church and had no interest in her message.
But everywhere where the church confesses and stands in the midst of the world with her confession, then the world cannot live undecided towards the church. Her testimony is too intrusive, too divisive, and too radical according to the standards of the world. Then the church does not allow people to have a calm conscience if they live outside of the Lord. The result is that hate scorn and suffering are laid upon the church.
The church may then never defend herself with carnal weapons or with sword, but with the clear testimony of the truth. To glorify her king the church will testify of God’s Word, prove her innocence and publicly proclaim what doctrine she propagates.
The church has to defend also changes and reformations why certain matters are changed.
3. To openly testify of the unity in the doctrine of the church.
Already in the days of the reformation it became clear that one of the most effective means to show the unity of faith was to make use of confessions ands creeds. The churches would send each other their creedal statements. In this way the unity of the spirit can be experienced, as we read in Eph 4:3. To promote this unity we make use of confessions.
Forefathers from the very onset of the reformation felt these matters.
Already Calvin saw the need of this statement of unity in the faith. In his preface to the catechism of Geneva he states:
“In this confused and divided state of Christendom, I judge it useful That there should be public testimonies, whereby churches which, though widely separated by space, agree in the doctrine of Christ, may mutually recognize each other. For besides that, this tends not a little to mutual confirmation, what is more to be desired than that mutual congratulations should pass between them, and that they should devoutly commend each other to the Lord? With this view, bishops were wont in old time, when as yet consent in faith existed and flourished among all, to send Synodical Epistles beyond sea, by which, as a kind of badges, they might maintain sacred communion among the churches. How much more necessary is it now, in this fearful devastation of the Christian world, that the few churches, which duly worship God, and they too scattered and hedged round on all sides by the profane synagogues of Antichrist, should mutually give and receive this token of holy union that they may thereby be incited to that fraternal embrace of which I have spoken?”
At the Synod of Armentiers in The Southern Netherlands 1565? it was decided that all elders and deacons would sign the Belgic Confession. At the Synod of Pentecost of 1565 in Antwerp this article was decided upon that at every synod all the delegates shall make a public confession of their faith to state the unity of faith and also to ascertain if something needs to be added to this confession or not. At the Synod of 1571 in Embden it was decided that in order to promote the unity in the doctrine we decided that all the delegates shall sign the Confession of faith as well as the French confession. The same in Alkmaar 1573 and in 1574 at Dort Provincial synod. Guido de Bres himself underscored the apologetic motive of the Confession, the churches saw in this confession a banner of unity.
4. To maintain the purity of doctrine.
In the course of time the church has been assaulted by damnable heresies. The church had to clearly express what she stood for. The heretics have often awakened the church and caused her to stand firm on the truth once delivered to her. Without Arius Athanasius would not have performed his life work. Without Donatus and Pelagius Augustine would not have developed to such an outstanding theologian. The church had profit even from the struggles against heretics.
The church against Arius clearly testified of Divine nature of Christ and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as portrayed by Athanasius was made into a confession. At the council of Carthage in 418 Pelagianism was completely banished and condemned. The heretics forced the church to conduct a deep exegesis. Actually the salvation of souls was at stake. Over against deceit they had to place the truth in clear formulations. These became confessions.
To be tolerant here would have shown a lack of character. When scripture has spoken and Christ has made this message clear to the church then the church may sign no pact of tolerance but must be sharp in portraying and exposing deceit and lying.
The church used thereby the Word of God and could plead and experience and trust the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit would lead into all truth. In clear words the church could state that she believes and confesses and condemns.
This was again the case during the reformation. Calvin wanted to maintain the purity in doctrine by also letting the children of Geneva study the truth in catechism. This catechism would lead the children to do confession of faith. The confession of the church was seen as a means to maintain the purity of doctrine.