Statements of Faith

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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New vs. Old – why updating doctrinal statements does not represent change

"The history of the Christian church and of doctrine is not a history of a changing, evolving religion.  Rather it is a history of resistance to novelty.  One of my seminary professors insightfully observed, 'In the history of doctrine, truth is assumed until it is challenged.'” - Proclaim & Defend

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