Blogmatics—On Confessions of Faith

Blogmatics (i.e. what we at Ancient Paths believe)

You can find my own articulation of our beliefs in this post. But, the title of this blog being Ancient Paths, I thought it appropriate to also point to some of the old historic confessions that accurately represent the doctrinal beliefs we hold. So then…

Ancient Creeds

Though I take some exception with the specific wording here and there, I think the creeds have tremendously valuable formulations that, sadly, have been forgotten and ignored in much of modern Christianity. And, for that reason, we no longer have any moors by which to define historic Christian orthodoxy.

Confessions of Faith

I come from a tradition that typically has some rather considerable disdain for confessionalism. This is unfortunate for various reasons, and not necessarily characteristic of the older tradition of which I am a beneficiary. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself confessional, simply because of some of the connotations that term now carries. However, I think the historic confessions are indispensable to a robust understanding of theology, and I would consider myself to be more or less in line with these four confessions.

Some Modern Declarations

Again, with some minor differences in preferred wording, I have found the following declarations on specific topics (and two modern confessions) to be of considerable public value, and of tremendous personal benefit as well.

Extra Reading

I’ve found these confessions to be particularly helpful in their wording, for the most part, but unfortunately have some significant disagreements with the views expressed in one or more places.

  • Helwys’ Confession (1611) (with the exception of article 7 on falling from grace; but I especially appreciate his wording on election in article 5; particularly relevant to our day is article 16 on the appropriate size of a congregation—as Voddie would say, if you can’t say amen, you ought to say ouch)
  • The Standard Confession (1660) (a helpful Baptist confession, but my discomfort lies primarily in articles 12 and 14)
  • The Orthodox Creed (1679) (This is an important confession, but it’s problematic when it comes to the Adamic Covenant, and thus the active obedience of Christ)
  • A Short Confession or a Brief Narrative of Faith (1691) (This confession has some unfortunate wording concerning original sin and justification. Despite this, the sections on the extent of Christ’s death, providence, and election, are especially helpful)
  • New Hampshire Confession (1833) (This is a well-written Particular Baptist confession based loosely on the 1689; I disagree with their wording on Perseverance, and the Christian Sabbath, but the majority of the confession is solid)

For the Uncomfortable and/or Curious

If the idea of subscribing to historic confessions is new to you, you may find these articles from Founders Ministries helpful. Of course, Founders subscribes to the 1689 Second London Confession, which I disagree with at various points; however, their arguments and explanations are still valid and a very valuable introduction to the importance of utilizing the creeds and confessions.

 


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Series on How to Compose a Doctrinal Statement

Aside

Below, you’ll find links to my series on how to develop and write a doctrinal statement. I’ve geared this toward churches specifically, but I hope it will be of some benefit to you personally as well. This also is my personal statement of faith (adapted for churches of course), so this will let you get to know me a little better as well.

Reflections on Transcendent Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

I believe that truth, goodness, and beauty are transcendent realities rooted in the nature and character of God. Belief in these absolute, transcendent standards is rooted in a recognition that God is the source, sustainer, and end of all things (Romans 11:36).

All truth is grounded in the reality that God is True. All virtue is grounded in the reality that God is Good. All beauty is grounded in the reality that God is Beautiful.¹

Therefore, as image-bearers of God, I believe Christians must commit themselves to thinking God’s thoughts after him, to behaving in ways that conform to God’s moral character and will, and to loving those things that God calls lovely.¹

Belief in objective, transcendent standards of truth, goodness, and beauty is a uniquely conservative distinctive. Most Christians readily affirm that the Bible should shape our beliefs and morals. Many, however, have not even given thought to how the Bible ought to shape our affections as well. That is, we must work to align our values and affections with those of God. This is what Paul refers to in Philippians 4:8 when he says to dwell on whatever is “true,” “right,” and “lovely.” The word for lovely is defined as “worthy of taking delight in,” or, “worth the effort to have and embrace.” In other words, there is an objective standard for what is worthy of our delight and affection. It is, therefore, wrong to love what God hates, or take delight in what God is disgusted with, or to call beautiful what God calls ugly.

We must not only learn propositional truth about God and live in accord with His moral imperatives, but we must allow Scripture to shape and cultivate within us rightly-ordered affections as well. Nevertheless, right beliefs, morals, and affections are not always transparent, and thus require careful judgment to discern biblically.¹

Part of the image of God in humanity is the capacity to love, for God loves and He is love. The Scriptures clearly teach that the most important human duty is to love God and love others. Love is a function of the will, and not merely of the understanding. A right relationship to God involves more than an abstract or theoretical understanding of the truth of His Word. Rather, it includes grasping the truths of God’s perfections and mighty deeds and relishing these truths as beautiful and lovely.²

Furthermore, as an intellectually conservative Christian, I seek to not disparage or shun tradition simply because it is tradition, nor praise and value innovation simply because it is new and progressive. On the contrary, conservatism seeks to cherish and nourish tradition as valuable and worth conserving—not simply because it is tradition, not as though tradition is authoritative, and not as though it is necessary to preserve all available elements of church history, nor to remain in a bygone century—but rather out of a genuine respect for the permanent things, that by carefully evaluating the values, forms, and functions of traditions, we may preserve and hand down to future generations that which is true and good and beautiful within the Christian tradition.

Conservative Christians seek to take what is timeless, true, and permanent, and apply it to our changing world. We desire to be faithful Christians in the present, while honouring and building upon what we have been handed.³

Conservative Christianity wishes to conserve and pass on the truth, goodness, and beauty of essential Christianity.³

(Exodus 28:2; Deuteronomy 6:4–5; Psalm 15:4; Matthew 22:37–39; Mark 12:29–30; John 17:17; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 11:2, 16; 14:40; Philippians 3:17; 4:8, 9; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 12:28–29; James 1:17; 1 John 4:16–21)

virtus et honos

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 10 — on the Authority of the Doctrinal Statement]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.

This is the last section of the doctrinal statement, and the last post in this series. I hope it’s been interesting and perhaps helpful.


Section 10 — Authority of this Doctrinal Statement [1]

This doctrinal statement does not exhaust the extent of our beliefs. The Bible — as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, itself the very standard of truth — speaks authoritatively concerning doctrine, morality, and the proper conduct of mankind [2], and is the inceptive and final source of all that we believe [3]. For the purposes of this church’s doctrine, the Council of Elders bears the delegated responsibility of interpreting and communicating the Bible’s meaning and application for the church [4]. We do believe, however, that the foregoing doctrinal statement accurately represents the teaching of the Bible and, therefore, is binding upon all members.

(John 17:17; Acts 15:12–21; 20:28; Galatians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:1–2; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2–3; 2 Peter 1:19–20)


Notes:

1] The National Center for Life and Liberty strongly recommends, for legal and practical reasons, that the local church “should adopt, as part of its bylaws, a statement explaining that the Bible is the sole and final source of all the ministry believes and that the statement of faith, as a reflection of the major doctrinal and lifestyle beliefs of the ministry, is binding upon all members, staff, students, and volunteers.”

2] See the statement on the Scriptures

3] “Inceptive” means that the Bible is not just our final standard — it’s our starting point. The Bible is the first place we go to decide what we believe. What makes Scripture the standard of truth is that God’s word is the very source of truth. See note 3 on section 1 for more info.

4] No matter who you decide must biblically, or will practically, hold the final functional responsibility of “interpreting and communicating the Bible’s meaning and application for the church” — the council of elders, just the senior pastor, or the congregation as a whole — it needs to be specified in your documents, or you will face unbelievable division over who gets to decide on a difficult issue that arises one day. In my view, the elders are clearly given the authority to teach the Word to the congregation, with the congregation given the command to submit to and trust their leadership (while still holding the power as an assembly to remove an elder when he compromises the gospel or is otherwise no longer qualified to be an elder). Thus, this position is reflected in where I place the functional authority in this statement — with the leadership. Read my thoughts on church polity for more explanation.

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 part 4 — on Disputes and Accountability]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Disputes and Accountability Between Members: We believe that the church possesses all the resources necessary to resolve personal disputes between members, and that members are prohibited from bringing civil lawsuits against the church or other members of our assembly to resolve personal disputes [1]. Disputes among members are to be dealt with personally and privately, or brought before the Council of Elders [2].

We believe that by seeking membership at this local church, the believer submits himself to the leadership and authority of the church [3], and commits [4] to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others [5], to make and to be fully committed and competent disciples of Christ, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, recognizing the potential for loving, corrective discipline in cases of unrepentant sin, as prescribed in Scripture, that the member may be restored to fellowship with both Christ and His church.

(Matthew 18:15–20; 22:37–39; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 6:1–8; 2 Corinthians 2:5–11; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:31–32; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 3:9–11)


Notes:

1] It may feel strange to include this in a doctrinal statement. But not only does it provide ample legal protection for your church (if a member seeks a lawsuit, all you have to do is point the judge to the member’s signature by which he agreed to this doctrinal statement, thus binding him to not pursue a lawsuit — this has happened and it does work), it is also a biblical standard (1 Cor 6:1-8) that, if understood and followed, fosters a greater depth of community.

2] We should always try to resolve disputes privately, including only the parties involved at first, and then bringing in another mature believer or two when necessary. Disputes should always be dealt with at the lowest level possible (Matthew 18:15–20).

3] Many will react to the language of submitting to the local church and it’s leadership, but in actuality, that language is more biblical than the language of voluntarily joining a church.

4] This commitment to pursue Christlikeness is not unique to those Christian’s who decide to join a church — it is the calling of every believer. The difference is simply that in the context of the local church the believer gains the resources, encouragment, training, and accountability to faithfully pursue this life of discipleship.

5] The two greatest commandments (Matt 22:37–39)

Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 part 3 — on Gender, Family, and Divorce]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Gender Relationships: We believe that God has created both men and women in His image — equal in value and in standing before Christ — but that He has delegated differing and complementary functions/roles to men and women within the family and the church. God created the man to be head over the woman as Christ is head over the church, and this headship is to find expression in both the marriage relationship and in the church. We hold to and affirm, in full, the Danvers Statement on manhood and womanhood [1].

(Genesis 1:27–28; 2:20–23; Deuteronomy 22:5; Romans 1:26–29; 1 Corinthians 11:3–16; 14:34; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 5:18–33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Timothy 2:8–15; 1 Peter 3:1–7)

Family Relationships: We believe that God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. The husband is to lead his wife, and to love her as Christ loves the church. The wife is to respect her husband, and to submit herself to the Scriptural leadership of her husband, as the church submits to the headship of Christ. Children are a heritage from the Lord, and are to be viewed as a blessing in fulfillment of the creation mandate for the glory of God. Parents are to seek to cultivate wisdom and virtue in their children by developing within them rightly-ordered beliefs, morals, and affections, that they may better know, glorify, and enjoy God. Parents are responsible to oversee their children’s spiritual and moral instruction, which includes a consistent lifestyle example and appropriate discipline (including Scriptural corporal correction).

(Genesis 1:26–28; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 6:5–9; Psalm 127:3–5; Proverbs 19:18; 22:6, 15; 23:13–14; Mark 10:6–9; 1 Corinthians 7:1–7; Ephesians 5:18–33; 6:1–4; Colossians 3:18–21; 1 Peter 3:1–7)

Divorce and Remarriage: We believe that God disapproves of and forbids divorce, and intends marriage to last until the death of a spouse. Divorce is regarded as adultery except on the grounds of sexual immorality or the abandonment of an unbelieving spouse [2]. However, marriage to an unbeliever is not solely a legitimate ground for a divorce [3]. Reconciliation should always be the first recourse [4], with divorce being only a last resort, since any breaking of the marriage covenant is a grievous violation of God’s intended design [5]. Divorce is also permissible when a believer is in an ungodly union, such as a homosexual “marriage” [6].

(Malachi 2:14–16; Matthew 5:31–32; 19:3–12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:1–3; 1 Corinthians 7:10–16, 39; 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6)


Notes:

1] Remember from the statement on the Scriptures that you can use a statement like this to reference an external document which then becomes as binding as your doctrinal statement.

2] There is a legitimate interpretation that views the abandonment of an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:13–16) as the only ground for an allowable divorce (viewing Jesus’ statement regarding immorality as merely referring to when the adultery has happened, as opposed to giving a ground for acceptable divorce); however, I don’t hold this view, and instead interpret Jesus as allowing for divorce in the case of unrepentant sexual immorality on the part of one spouse.

3] I’ve heard of people using this as an excuse to get a divorce. However, Paul doesn’t seem to allow for the believer to initiate the divorce, but rather to merely agree to it if the unbeliever insists.

4] In fact, if a divorce happens and it was unbiblical, the two parties are to remain unmarried in order to allow for reconciliation. It is only after reconciliation is no longer possible (such as when one person wrongfully remarries) that the other person is biblically allowed to remarry.

5] If we took this to heart, there would be far less divorce in the church.

6] This statement explains how the church can respond to the situation of a homosexual couple that gets saved and wishes to conform their lives to God’s standards. The church can, and should, counsel that couple to legally end their union. This is allowable because we understand that, according to the biblical defintion, a homosexual union is not a true marriage in the first place, and the couple is living in a sinful, though legal, union that must be broken off in order to obey and glorify Christ and pursue a life of discipleship.