Confessions of Faith - Cautions
Cautions in Confessional Utilization
This series has discussed the legitimacy (Part 1) and benefits (Part 2) of utilizing confessions of faith, along with what it means to hold or subscribe to a confession of faith (Part 3). This final post will explore a few cautions in confessional utilization. The human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9). Even after we become Christians, we struggle with the flesh in many ways (1 Jn 1:10; Jam 3:2; 1 Tim 1:15; Col 3:5; Rom 7:15-19). Because of sin, lovers of creeds and confessions can easily turn them into idols. It is all too easy to become self-righteous and prideful, looking down on others who do not hold to the same confession, and one can be tempted to revert back to the errors of the Roman Catholicism and create a tradition that ends up practically taking the place of Scripture alone as the final authority.
Creeds and confessions of faith have a rightful place in describing what a person or a church believes. But it is a great error for confessions of faith to supplant the Bible as the ultimate source for beliefs and the place one goes to in order to settle arguments. This is a temptation in many Reformed confessional circles, but ironically this very mindset is actual anti-confessional in and of itself. As stated in earlier posts, most Reformed confessions (including the 1689 London Baptist Confession) contain statements on how Scripture is the supreme authority! Much of contemporary American evangelicalism has little respect for church history and the study of the Bible through the ages, but the opposite error is to claim that something is true simply because it is in a confession of faith. John Frame, an ordained minister in the confessional Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) rightly says
there is a tendency among some leading evangelical thinkers today to base theological judgments on tradition, rather than directly on Scripture. I don't deny the value of traditions, confessions, or historical study. But to make them ultimately normative is to violate the sufficiency of Scripture as God's word. In most cases, the arguments used constitute genetic fallacies: something is good because it comes from a good tradition, or bad because it comes from a bad one. Thus, traditionalism weakens the cogency of theological argument.
If one begins to appeal to tradition with little reference to Scripture, the biblical and Reformation principle of sola Scriptura is practically denied. Creeds and confessions can and should be used as teaching aids and as accompaniments to biblical study, helping to show others that Biblical interpretations were not new or developed by an individual in his basement. In this way, respect and solidarity are shown for brothers and sisters who have labored for thousands of years throughout church history. But how can one truly say Scripture is his ultimate authority if he looks down on others who appeal to the Scriptures for their doctrines while he is appealing to confessions? John Frame rightly says “a theology worth its salt must always be prepared to show specifically where in Scripture its ideas come from. And showing that always boils down in the final analysis to citations of particular texts.”
Confessional Christians can also fall prey to thinking that creeds or confessions are stagnant and can never be updated. This attitude functionally makes the confession inerrant. It must be remembered that much has been learned much since the Reformation. Furthermore, creeds, confessions, and catechisms had a cultural element to their writing, as many include statements directly related to theological controversies from the time they were written. Today’s theological battles and cultural challenges are different than ages past, so associations and denominations would be wise to make additions or revisions to more effectively minister in our current context.
Confessions of faith have an appropriate place in the life of the church. They are permitted by the Bible, and helpful for those inside and outside of the church when they are detailed and public. Christians must be cautious, however, to not require too strict or too loose forms of subscription and must be on guard against an attitude which elevates confessions above the Bible. These dangers in and of themselves don’t negate the importance of confessions, since the problem is the human heart and not confessions themselves. The church today would do well to recover its confessional heritage.
- 1689 Society Contributor: David T
 John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2002), 10.
 John Frame, Selected Shorter Writings, vol. 3, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 2016), 35.
 John Frame says, “There is a need for new creeds today, for Christians to confess their faith anew against modern heresies...the Reformed churches have learned much since the Reformation confessions. They have learned much about covenants, biblical inerrancy, redemptive history, Christian epistemology, apologetics, personal ethics, and social issues.” John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company, 1987), 306.
 For example, Tim Keller states, “Catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrines of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counterculture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.” Timothy Keller, “Introduction,” New City Catechism, last modified 2017, accessed August 2, 2017, http://newcitycatechism.com/introduction-timothy-keller/.