The Truths We Confess
A confession of faith is a statement of what one believes. Over the centuries there have been classic confessions which have stood the test of time: The Nicene Creed (325), the Westminster Confession (1646), The Savoy Confession (1658), and the Second London Baptist Confession (1689). Although the importance of confessions and creeds have been lost on many in our generation, the importance cannot be overstated as it relates specifically to Protestant believers.
Protestants, in rejection of the unbiblical ecclesiastical structure of the Catholic church, recognized that the truths of God’s Word could be discovered and ascertained by individual believers. In fact, they maintained that the Scriptures alone are the final authoritative rule in all matters of faith and practice. Yet, who is to interpret these Scriptures? Who has the authority?
The Roman Catholic Church would say it is the job of the ecclesiastical leaders to interpret these Scriptures for the people of God. Many in the evangelical community would say each believer is autonomous and must decide for themselves. Herein lies the danger. In the latter formulation, the ecclesiastical leaders are subject to error and corruption and can lead the sheep astray. In the former, the autonomous sheep goes astray thinking he is a ruling interpreter of Scripture unto himself. In both formulations, man becomes the supreme authority by virtue of being the interpreter. How can we avoid these pitfalls?
The Confession of Faith
The confession of faith is a not merely one man’s opinion about the Word of God, nor is it the determination of a small ruling faction. No, the confession of faith is the affirmation of leaders and congregants alike. It respects the role of the Spirit in the lives of all believers while at the same time acknowledging the ecclesiastical authority which the Scriptures themselves affirm. Most importantly, it recognizes that neither the congregant, nor the ruler, is the authority. The confession recognizes that the Scriptures alone are a rule unto themselves, and we are merely affirming together what it, on its own authority, says.
The test of a great confession is not merely that it is penned well, or affirmed by many, but that it properly expresses the truths of Scripture.
The First London Baptist Confession (1644)
Not all confessions stand the test time. Some might argue that if the confession fails to stand the test of time, it may not be a very good confession. However, in some cases the confession itself falls into disuse as a result of modernization or circumstances that are outside the control of those who are making their unified confession.
That is precisely what happened to the First London Baptist Confession of 1644 and its subsequent reprint in 1646. As the London Baptist confessors were trying to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists, the Westminster Confessors where drawing up a confession of their own to establish their beliefs. The Westminster Confession was published widely and became a standard in its time and many generations thereafter. In order to show their unity, the Congregationalist congregations modified the Westminster confession in 1658 and published the Savoy confession to show solidarity among Protestants. Following suit, the Baptists published the 1689 Baptist Confession and it became a standard among particular (Calvinistic) Baptists.
However, the seeds of the 1689 confession were planted in a little confession published in 1644 by seven Baptist congregations looking to distinguish themselves from the falsehoods of the Anabaptists. The 1644 Baptist Confession is the Baptist’s uncompromising statement of unified belief. It was not tailored to fit an already popularized confession of another denomination. In that sense, it is a more honest look at the historic Baptist’s beliefs.
Why These Confessors Confessed
Over the next few months, we will be looking at each of the 52 Articles of the First London Baptist Confession of Faith and considering their merits. However, before diving into Article I, it is important to look at the title of the confession and consider the purpose and intent of the seven Baptist congregations.
A CONFESSION OF FAITH OF SEVEN CONGREGATIONS OR CHURCHES OF CHRIST IN LONDON, WHICH ARE COMMONLY, BUT UNJUSTLY, CALLED ANABAPTISTS; PUBLISHED FOR THE VINDICATION OF THE TRUTH AND INFORMATION OF THE IGNORANT; LIKEWISE FOR THE TAKING OFF THOSE ASPERSIONS WHICH ARE FREQUENTLY, BOTH IN PULPIT AND PRINT, UNJUSTLY CAST UPON THEM.
In part, this introductory title speaks as much to us today as it did to those in the days of the confessors themselves. This confession is for the information of the ignorant. Many in our day are completely unaware of this confession, and even less are aware of its contents. Further, the Confession was published for the vindication of the truth. This Confession puts forth the truths they confess and rests them firmly on the authority of Scriptures.
Still, there is a part that does not apply in our day. The confessors were specifically concerned with the way other congregations were unjustly equating them with Anabaptists. Further, they were concerned with “aspersions” that were being “frequently” cast upon them both in “pulpit” and in “print.” It is clear that that these Baptists were setting forth their beliefs, but also correcting the slanderous statements which were frequently being published and spoken against them by other congregations.
While we may may not resonate specifically with the Anabaptist comparisons, there is a parallel in our day that mirrors my own purposes for writing this series of articles. There are, even in our day, different types of Baptists. As the London Confessors sought to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists, in our day Reformed Baptists need to distinguish themselves from dispensational Baptists. Furthermore, particular (Calvinsitic) Baptists need to distinguish themselves from Arminian Baptists congregations.
In many ways, this confession, along with the 1689 confession is just as important today for Baptists as it was in 1644. Surely the consequences today are much less extreme but the defense of truth remains just as important. As we always have, particular and Reformed Baptists must separate themselves from their dispensational and Arminian counterparts while showing solidarity with their Reformed brothers and sisters. We must do this for the same reason: For the vindication of the truth and the information of the ignorant.
There may be a tendency for non-Baptists to turn a way from a series of articles like this. However, I would encourage those of all denominations to engage the material in this Confession. Throughout this series of articles we will look at the Confession as well as the Scriptures cited in each of the 52 articles. I think, in the end, it will do exactly what the original confessors set out to do. It will show unity on points of truth that all believers agree upon, and it will show contrast precisely where the London Congregations intended to draw contrast.