What is a Christian Confession?
The words “apology” and “confession” were historically used in the church differently from how we use them today. We “apologize” when we ask someone to forgive us for something we have done wrong. We “confess” to a crime or injury when we admit guilt for committing it.
When we talk about apology in the church, we mean that we give the reason for our faith. When we share our faith with unbelievers, we “make an apology” or engage in what is called “apologetics.” In the same way, when we “confess our faith,” we publicly declare our faith in God.
Every Christian church has a confession of faith, or statement of beliefs, whether it is written down or not. Without a common confession, everyone can believe pretty much what they want, even if it is not what the Bible teaches. With no common confession, the church is a free-for-all (and maybe not even a church). Over the last 2,000 years, churches have developed written confessions of faith for three reasons:
- To publicly declare belief in the God who reveals himself in the Bible, and what God requires of all people.
- To have a common statement or summary of beliefs that can be used to teach new believers and children.
- To help resolve disputes and other issues that arise in the life of the church.
You might ask, “Why don’t we just use the Bible as our common confession?” We do! The Bible is the rule God gave us for faith and life and is the ultimate authority in everything concerning faith and life. No confession, no matter how long or short it may be, can be used on its own. The Bible was given by God. All confessions are written by mankind. God’s Word is far superior to anything written by people.
You might next ask, “If the Bible is the ultimate authority, why do we need a confession?” The problem is that Christians disagree on what the Bible teaches because no human person can understand everything perfectly. A confession is designed to be a summary of beliefs held by a particular group of Christians. There are essential points in common in all true Christian confessions, but no confession is perfect. Any confession that can be shown to be wrong according to Scripture must be corrected.
Here is an example of one of the oldest confessions of the Christian Church still in use today. It is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, though it was written after their time:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
In the next post, I will break this confession down into its various parts, taking time to explain each one. For now, just know that by ‘catholic’ we mean ‘universal’ or the church of all believers in all time. The confession we use at The Valley Remnant is a much longer one called “The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.” Even though it is longer, it completely agrees with the Apostles Creed and other historic Christian confessions.
There is a lot more to be said about confessions, but let this serve as the starting point for future conversations.
Soli Deo Gloria – To God alone the glory!