Baptist, What Do You Believe? #1

Introduction: Creeds and Confessions

What is the difference between the two? A creed, such as the Apostles Creed, is usually much shorter than a confession. The main reason this is so is that the primary purpose of a creed is to define the barest minimum requirement for orthodoxy. In other words, anything outside the boundaries of a creed defined non-Christianity. A creed often arose in response to vital disputes in the church. These disputes usually dealt with the nature of Jesus. Was He truly a man? Was He truly God? How do you define the Trinity?

Creeds, like confessions define what one believes. The word Creed comes from the Latin verb credo, which means “I believe”. Creeds, because of their nature, defining essentials, are more binding. To not accept a creed as representative of your beliefs means to not believe in true Christianity. This is called heresy. A person in this position is called a heritic. For instance, if you do not believe that Jesus is God, as the Jehovah’s Witness believe, you are not a Christian.

Confessions as a rule are much more detailed than creeds. Whereas creeds usually consist of one paragraph or article, confessions have many articles, with several paragraphs each. Confessions contain the same essentials found in creeds, but they also contain what would be called non-essentials. the essentials are defined in more detail, and the non-essentials are thoroughly defined.

Confessions are not so much a binding statement to insure orthodoxy, but they are more a declaration of what a group of like-minded people believe. In other words: What is it that holds us together? What is it that makes us first Christian, and second Baptist?

Why Do We Have Confessions of Faith and Why Do We Study Them?
Baptists from the begining of their existence have had confessions of faith. There are several reasons for this. The report in the front of the BF&M2000 explains several of these reasons.

  • “Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines.” If you have something you believe deeply and cherish, then you will want to defend what you believe. A confession does this by laying out in logical, systematic order what we believe.
  • “Through out history we have . . . [adopted] statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture.” This statement shows a two-fold purpose for confessions: a witness to the world, and a pledge to God and each other to be faithful to God’s word.

One of the first Baptist confessions, the First London Confession of 1646 states in it introduction that it was 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.”

Why Do We Keep Revising our Confession?
Again, to borrow from the preamble to our BFM2000: “New challenges to faith appear in every age.” The preamble goes on to explain the issues of the day that brought about the need for each revision and addition to the previous confession. If nothing else, language changes; words’ meanings change.

Is a Confession on Equal Footing with Scripture?
Baptists have never held their confession up to the standard of Holy Scripture. Note in the preamble statements number two and four:

(2) That we do not regard [confessions] as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.
(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

Baptist Hallmarks
There have been two hallmarks to Baptist belief from the very begining. They are religious liberty, and the priesthood of believers. They are cherished blessings, and at the same time the source of much dispute among baptists. Again, let’s look at one of the closing paragraphs of the BFM2000 preamble:

“Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty, and deny the right of any secular or religious authority to impose a confession of faith upon a church or body of churches. We honor the principles of soul competency and the priesthood of believers, affirming together both our liberty in Christ and our accountability to each other under the Word of God.”

Religious liberty and the priesthood of believers are not priveledges, they are responsibilities. Many people use these two catch phrases to justify reletavism. Religious liberty or liberty of conscience does not mean that every belief is true and valid, it means that I have the responsibility to respect other’s beliefs, and to know what I believe and why. The priesthood of believers does not mean that I have the right to interpret God’s word any way I see fit. I have a responsibility as an individual to study God’s word, and with the aid of others who have gone on before me, to determine what that Word says.

Long or Short?
The farther you go back the longer the confessions seem to be. Is this a problem? Why is our BFM2000 barely one tenth the length of the 1689? Which is better, and why? Here is a comparason of length among two confessions, one modern and one old, and the Apostles Creed.

The Apostles’ Creed: 110 words
Baptist Faith & Message 2000: 4044 words (3016 without scripture references), with 18 articles, and 78 paragraphs.
1689 confession: 16,806 words, with 32 articles and 707 paragraphs.

One thing that makes our shorter, but not too short, confession better is that it provides breadth for many churches to come together and cooperate on issues such as missions and education. As we cover the various articles in the coming weeks we will look at how the brevity allows latitude on non-essential issues.

Reference material:
Preamble to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000
The 1689 Confession
The Apostles’ Creed

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