Over 250 Protestant Leaders Sign 'Reforming Catholic Confession' on Essentials of Christian Faith

"[L]eaders from around the world released on Tuesday a theological statement affirming the essentials of the Reformation. And its Protestant authors contend that in this 500th anniversary year, the document is a "catholic" statement in its best sense." CPost

Website with document and signers

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TylerR's picture

I'm just not sure why this is necessary. It's takes an explicit "mere Christianity" approach, so you already know it lacks teeth in certain areas. I'm just not sure what the point of the document is. What's wrong with the 1833 NHCF, for example? People from particular faith traditions are probably just fine with the Augsburg Confession, or the WCoF, or the 1689 LBCF.

The document explains:

Protestants disagreed amongst themselves and begat not one but many church families and traditions. We acknowledge that Protestants have not always handled doctrinal and interpretive differences in a spirit of charity and humility, but in making common confession, as we here do, we challenge the idea that every difference or denominational distinction necessarily leads to division.

The document goes on, and explains a great deal more. I'm just not convinced this kind of project actually accomplishes anything. This project will be forgotten in a few weeks. What is the point? What practical difference does this project make? I understand the drive for a catholic mindset, acknowledging all true Christian (no matter their denomination) are brothers and sisters in Christ. But, who are they trying to convince with this project? It seems like an academic, vanity project. What real difference does this make to a normal Christian? I can make an argument the Nashville Statement is necessary and helpful. This? Not so much.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Philip Golden Jr.'s picture

Tyler, you said:

What's wrong with the 1833 NHCF, for example? People from particular faith traditions are probably just fine with the Augsburg Confession, or the WCoF, or the 1689 LBCF.

While there are parts of these confessions that I am fine with, I would not necessarily be comfortable with all that is described in them. Maybe the LBCF or the NHCF but I would have some points of disagreement with the WCF, the Augsburg. Likewise, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Reformed Churches would have various problems with the LBCF and the NHCF. I think the desire was truly for "mere" Christianity, and, those historic confessions have denominational distinctives that go beyond "mere" Christianity. I know I could not sign as one who fully supports the WCF, even though I appreciate it greatly and have benefited from it.

I think the other advantage of this confession is that it is concise and readable in today's language. Just as we struggle with some of the archaic terminology in the KJV, so, I think, the "normal Christian" would struggle with some of the language in the historic confessions. 

That being said, I struggled with two areas in particular with this confession. As I read, I asked myself if I could sign this. As I neared the end, the answer was no. Firstly, I am curious as to exactly what is meant by the sacraments as "...sealing the gracious promise of forgiveness of sins and communion with God and one another through the peace-making blood of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26; Col. 1:20)." I understand that this is a common view from the Reformed perspective as "signs and seals" are often lumped together. I'm just not sure I am comfortable with using the terminology of a physical and symbolic act as having the outcome of "sealing." The scripture certainly refers to the sacraments (or ordinances) as signs, but I'm not sure if it is truly biblical to refer to them as seals. Maybe I'm splitting theological hairs, I dunno!?

The bigger issue for me is their is a failure in this confession to biblically define the fate of the unbelieving. The document is very soft and allows for a multitude of different views on God's judgment of unbelievers. Personally, I believe that "mere" Christianity requires a full, biblical view of the eternal damnation of the unbelieving to everlasting torment. All the classic confessions mention this to one extent or another. This confession just states that the unbelieving will be consigned to "an everlasting fate apart from him, where his life and light are no more." This does not truly state the historic "catholic," Protestant, or biblical teaching. Apart from that I think I could sign it.

There are also ecclesiastical entanglement questions here that are probably best left for another discussion. Suffice it to say, as I read the confession and the signers, I asked myself if I should judge signing this by my agreement with the content of the confession or by the authors and signers. I think judging it by the content is best, but I think the question can inform how we look at cooperation and association in regards to separation.

Phil Golden

TylerR's picture

I love the 1833 NHCF. I also love the clear, articulate explanation of some dispensational aspects from the modern GARBC Articles of Faith (derived from the NHCF). I also love some stuff from the Belgic Confession, and the 2nd Helvetic Confession. I could probably create my own confession of faith fairly easily, by using the 1833 NHCF of faith as a base, and borrowing here and there from the Belgic, the 2nd Helvetic, and the GARBC.

I need to re-read Trueman's book on confessions. I think they're needed in churches today. My impression of this latest confession is that it is very general and minimalist.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

CAWatson's picture

"The Bible is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it commands, trusted in all that it promises, and revered in all that it reveals"

In this phrase, Vanhoozer's love of speech-act theory and hermeneutics shows all of its glory - and is the backdoor to theological liberalism. In his book on 5 views of inerrancy, Vanhoozer claims inerrancy in all that the Bible teaches - and then separates theological truth from historical instances. The theological truth behind the fall of Jericho is inerrant. He then makes the claim that people have an epistemological right to believe in the historicity of the event "until proven otherwise." 

The third defection into Unitarianism is upon us, gentlemen. 

WallyMorris's picture

17 years ago, Evangelicals (The Committee on Evangelical Unity in the Gospel) published "This We Believe", a book length statement of belief, with a small statement of affirmations and denials at the end. Much better than this "Confession".

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN