Creeds and Confessions

Confessing the Faith: The Place of Confessions in Church Life

"Our regular confession of the fundamentals of the faith is partly an endeavor to humble ourselves. In a global city like Vienna, we aren’t usually the first true church that one of our new members has encountered.... we regularly pray for their success. Indeed, we confess our unity with them in the gospel, that is, for instance, expressed in the Apostle’s Creed." - 9 Marks

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“Good and Necessary Consequence” (WCF) or “Necessarily Contained in” (2LCF): Is There a Difference?

In Chapter One: “Of the Holy Scripture,” the Second London Confession of Faith (2LCF) is almost identical to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the Savoy Declaration (SD) on which it is based.1 There are only three minor differences worth noting.2 First, the Baptists add a sentence at the beginning of the chapter that is found neither in the WCF nor in the SD: “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”3 Second, the Baptists reword a phrase in §6. In agreement with the WCF and SD, the Baptists agree that God’s will in Scripture is “expressly set down.” However, whereas the WCF and SD assert that God’s will “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture,” the Baptists change the wording and speak of God’s will being “necessarily contained in Holy Scripture.” Third, the Baptists follow the Savoy Declaration (SD) and add a phrase at the very end of §10: “the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.”4

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How Shall We Confess the Faith? Strict vs Substantial Subscription (Part 3)

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

A Better Way: Substantial Subscription

Smith and Clark argue that if a Confession is unbiblical at any point, the church ought to renounce whatever article is out of accord with Scripture and adopt one that is in accord with Scripture.28 Of course, there is an element of truth in this sentiment. Ideally, if we know something is wrong, we ought to fix it. On the other hand, in a sin-cursed world we should not expect a perfect confession.29 Nor is it easy to convince churches to amend their confessions. Sam Waldron’s perspective on the Second London Confession of Faith (2LCF) reflects a more realistic view. In his address to the 2010 General Assembly of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America, Waldron remarks, “I believe in the 1689 Baptist Confession … . It’s not a perfect confession; it’s just so much better than all the rest.”30 If that is the way we view the 2LCF (i.e., not perfect but the best we know of), should not the kind of confessional subscription we expect and promote correspond to our view of the Confession?

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How Shall We Confess the Faith? Strict vs Substantial Subscription (Part 1)

Most churches and denominations require a higher level of commitment to their doctrinal standards from their leaders and teachers than they expect from their members. Historically, there have also been different degrees or levels of subscription expected of church officers, teachers, or candidates for the ministry. On the one hand, some churches advocate modes of subscription that allow for a looser or more flexible commitment to the church’s official creedal statements. On the other hand, others advocate a mode of subscription that requires complete or nearly complete agreement with the doctrinal standards in view.

Those who support looser forms of subscription often express a concern to protect the subscriber’s liberty of conscience and the primacy of Scripture’s authority. Those who support tighter forms of subscription are concerned to protect the church from too much doctrinal latitude that could open the door to serious theological error or heresy. Moving along the spectrum from tighter to looser modes, we might classify the following absolute, historical, strict, system, and substance.1 The more common modes among Reformed churches that are confessional are strict and system subscription. This essay will offer a critique of strict subscription and will make a case for a conservative version of system subscription. We are calling this mode “substantial subscription”—not to be confused with the looser forms of substance subscription.

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