Monday, March 12, 2012

Confessions and Scripture

In the first paper of The Fellowship Theology Project -- which is the doctrinal basis of a burgeoning new Presbyterian denomination (more on that later) -- is a discussion on the role of creeds and confessions in the life of the church. I really like this as an articulation of why I choose to be part of a confessional church and Christian tradition. So I throw this out there for your consideration.

Why should contemporary Christians bother with confessions?

The Reformed understanding of the church’s confessional and theological tradition sees contemporary Christians as participants in an enduring theological and doctrinal conversation that shapes the patterns of the church’s faith and life. Communities of believers from every time and place engage in a continuous discussion about the shape of Christian faith and life, an exchange that is maintained through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Today’s church brings its insights into an ongoing dialogue with those who have lived and died the Faith before us. . . .

Participating in their colloquy frees us from the narrow prison cell of our own time and place by listening to the voices of our brothers and sisters who struggled to be faithful in diverse circumstances. Through their confessions of faith we are privileged to hear their wisdom in the midst of our own struggle to be faithful. We overhear conversations among our forebears that expand and enrich our apprehension of the gospel. Sometimes we simply listen in on their discussion, at other times we pay particular attention to one of their voices, and many times we find ourselves participating actively in lively instruction.

The questions of our parents in the faith may not be identical to ours, but their different approaches enable us to understand our own questions better. . . . Throughout the conversation we are aware that all councils may err, yet because we are not doctrinal progressives we acknowledge the confessions have a particular authority over us: we are answerable to them before they are answerable to us.

What is the relationship between confessions and the Bible?

The confessions are not final authorities; Scripture is the authority that measures all doctrinal, confessional, and theological expression. The Reformed tradition has always understood that while confessional standards are subordinate to the Scriptures, they are, nonetheless, standards. They are not lightly drawn up or subscribed to, nor may they be ignored or dismissed. Being questioned by the confessions is not an exercise in servitude, but liberation from the tyranny of the present that enables us to live freely and faithfully within God’s will.

As subordinate standards, the confessions are not free-standing authorities. They are subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who is known through Scripture, the word of God. Subordination to the Lord and to Scripture’s witness serves to locate confessional authority, however, not diminish it. The confessions provide reliable guidance to our reading and reception of Scripture, protecting us from self-absorbed interpretation, and opening us to Christ’s way, Christ’s truth, and Christ’s life.

Confessions of the distant and not-so-distant past serve as a guard against what C.S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery, the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited." I eagerly accept the historic creeds and confessions of the church as foundational to my personal understanding of Scripture. Before asking the question 'What do I think this text means?' there is great value in asking 'What have Christians of the past thought this text meant?' In other words: I believe in the communion of saints.

1 comment:

Randy said...

Excellent as always, especially this: "Before asking the question 'What do I think this text means?' there is great value in asking 'What have Christians of the past thought this text meant?' In other words: I believe in the communion of saints."

Glad for a moment to enjoy your thoughts.