by Jamie Barrett
What is a Confession?
If someone asked you what your church believes and teaches, what would you say in response? How much of what you believe would you tell? What are the non-negotiables? How much time would you invest in giving your answer? We as Baptists, specifically Southern Baptists, believe certain truths that not all traditions hold in common. For example, we baptize believers by immersion after a public profession of faith in Jesus. A confession is a succinct way to respond to anyone who might ask what you believe. Additionally, a confession is a concise way to teach the membership of our church what we believe. At Lighthouse Baptist Fellowship, we have adopted the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 that briefly answers the question of what we believe as Southern Baptists in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. It is important that not only prospective members be familiar with our confession, but also that each of our members are well acquainted with this important document. It is important that we study each article of our confession and look closely at the Scripture references that support each section.
Is a Confession Authoritative?
A confession has no authority over Scripture. Rather, a confession captures what we believe God has already said in the Bible. If a confession cannot be clearly defended by Scripture, the confession must be abandoned or undergo necessary revisions. We believe that the Bible in all 66 books of the Old and New Testament are authoritative over the body of Christ. The local and universal church adheres to God's Word without compromise or revision. To depart from Scripture is to depart from existing as Christ's Church. A confession maintains absolutely zero authority on its own. A confession points to the authority of Scripture.
Creeds and Confessions
Creed comes from the Latin word credo, meaning I belief or I trust. When we say what we believe or trust in, we are declaring our creed. A confession is what we confess we believe as followers of Jesus Christ. Creeds and confessions are used interchangeably to concisely express what we believe.
A Brief History of Baptist Confessions
The church has sought to clarify what we believe through confessions for a considerable time. The Baptist Confession of Faith was first drafted in 1644 in London, England. It was agreed that the confession needed a revision, so they revised it in 1689 in London to create the Second London Baptist Confession. Baptists in United States wrote the Philadelphia Baptist Confession in 1742 and the New Hampshire Confession of Faith in 1833. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary drafted the Abstract of Principles that every professor was required to align with and sign. Each Baptist minister was free to create his own confession or to adopt either the Philadelphia or New Hampshire confession. The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) was developed to provide accountability to the Foreign Mission Board. The BFM also helped provide more assurance of orthodox doctrinal distinctions with both the sending churches and the missionaries being sent abroad. The confession has undergone two revisions. The confession was originally composed in 1925. The first revision came in 1963 and the second revision came in 2000.
We Have No Creed but the Bible!
Whoever first made this bold declaration, and anyone who repeats it, is unwittingly asserting a creed. Doctrinal orthodoxy lost popularity as the liberal (moderate) agenda took control of the SBC. However, in recent decades the SBC has undergone a conservative resurgence that has changed not only the landscape of the seminaries, but also local Baptist churches. The perspective is changing to what it was with our SBC founders. However, no creed, confession, or council has authority over Scripture nor should they include anything outside the bounds of Scripture. If any of these are found to be in lack of conformity to Scripture, they must be rejected. They are to be considered heterodoxy, not orthodoxy. An example of this is the Vatican I and Vatican II. The Roman Catholic church departed from orthodoxy and elevated creeds, confessions, and councils over Scripture. They inappropriately exalted the position of Pope and Tradition as superior to Scripture. As Christians, we wholesale reject this notion. However, we still hold to orthodox creeds such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Baptists: Confessional from the Beginning
From the very beginning of our existence in the U.S., Baptists, especially Southern Baptists, have seen the urgency of adopting a confession for each autonomous church that accurately summarizes what we believe. The founders of the SBC were vigilant to preserve doctrinal orthodoxy both in the seminaries and in the churches. Through the years and the shifting landscape of the denomination the SBC has made a great deal of progress in preserving our doctrinal distinctions through the conservative resurgence. We can look back and see a clear pattern of faithfulness to our denomination’s distinctives. This is due to the confessions that have pointed us back to the supremacy of Scripture. The fact that Southern Baptists have been confessional from the beginning is a wonderful blessing to embrace.