In our Adult Bible Class we are taking an in-depth look at our Confession of Faith and using it as a springboard to teach our people Systematic Theology. Our Confession, properly used, is an excellent tool for that very purpose. We spent over half a year on Chapter 2 – “Of God and the Holy Trinity”. Obviously we were looking beyond a mere explanation of the statements contained in the three paragraphs of the Confession. We used the Confession as our guide to the discipline of Theology Proper. Now, we are in Chapter 3, “of God’s Decree”. Our Confession can serve us well as a quick and easy tool to proclaim the faith that is most surely believed among us, and also serves as a skeletal backbone which systematizes the teachings of Scripture.
The Confession serves many useful purposes for us as Reformed Baptists. We hand it to visitors and to those who are interested in joining to let them know the direction and framework of the things they will hear from our pulpits. We use it as an educational tool for our people. We use it as a check against heresy in leadership. In the circles I came from, it was loudly proclaimed “no authority but the Bible, no creed but Christ”, but there really was both authority and creed. It was unwritten, and usually consisted of whatever the pastor of that particular church believed.
As Reformed Baptists we are careful to maintain the truth that the Scriptures alone are inspired and are the final authority in faith and practice. Every Reformed Baptist pastor that I know believes that. Yet, if we are not careful, such a statement, as true as it is, can over time begin to minimize the importance of the Confession in our own thinking, and if this statement is proclaimed over and over from the pulpit, can minimize the importance of the Confession in the minds of our hearers. The Confession is secondary to Scripture, but we should not be inculcating the belief that the Confession is contrary to Scripture.
My early theological training emphasized that in my theology I was to be a “Biblicist”. As such I was to make sure that I was neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian. I was to be “a Calvinist on my knees and an Arminian on my feet”. As we explored expository preaching, we learned if the passage was a Calvinistic one, preach it like you were a Calvinist. However, if it was an Arminian passage, we must preach it like an Arminian. Without a robust systematic theology we became theological schizophrenics, tossed to and fro, all in the name of balance. Unfortunately, the message that comes from such a practice is that theology is confusing; it makes no sense, and is best left to the theologians. The layman just needs to “get to know the real Jesus.” The “real” Jesus is often learned from the Christian culture around us. A trip to your local Christian Bookstore and an examination of the Christian trinkets that abound should make that realization rather shocking.
Let me recount a typical journey in grace for many who become Reformed Baptists from Fundamentalist or Evangelical backgrounds, two groups that loudly trumpet the cry of “no creed but Christ”. Somehow we came into contact with good literature, like “Banner of Truth” books, and we discovered the Puritans. From reading the Puritans we learned that they did more than burn witches and make sure a woman was clad in such a manner that her ankles wouldn’t show. As we read various Puritans for ourselves we discovered the richness of the Reformed Faith and began to form a Christocentric theology. As the journey continued for many of us, we came to that crucial fork in the road that would lead to paedobaptism, or keep us in the Baptist camp. What joy came when we discovered we did not need to “re-invent the wheel” and write a new confession from scratch. We as Baptists have a rich creedal heritage steeped in the Doctrines of Grace. That heritage was hidden from us most likely because of opposition to the strong Calvinistic teachings in that heritage. Many of the older guard among us then embraced the Confession, not so much because we learned from it, but because we discovered it after our other readings, and found it to agree with the truths we had already embraced. Once we began to study the Confession, we learned even more.
No one lives life in a vacuum. We are influenced by our families, our culture, who we read, who we listen to, our friends, our enemies, what we watch, in short, we are influenced by everything around us. We are most heavily influenced by what we take notice of the most, whether in agreement or in disapproval. What catches our attention has a profound influence upon us, just like the Puritans did in those early days.
Evangelicals pride themselves on being “Biblicists”. How can anyone be against being a “Biblicist”? Every Reformed Baptist we know confesses that the Bible is the only supreme authority for faith and practice. In fact, the Confession itself states this truth, so what is the problem? The problem is this: The term “Biblicist” is simply too broad. It needs definition. It says so much, it in essence says practically nothing. “I believe the Bible” is a crucial statement, and we should not give a serious hearing to anyone who refuses to confess it. But if we are content to say only that, how are we going to interpret this Bible that we believe? This is where Creedal Christianity is vital, linking us to the wisdom of Christians who came before us instead of ignoring their contributions and re-inventing the wheel over and over again. This is the safety and solid foundation we find in a Confession like our own 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.Steve Marquedant Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church Ontario, California www.sgbc-ontario.us