Yet more on being confessional

Posted on February 10, 2009

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In a recent discussion with some local Baptist ministers, someone mentioned the idea of writing a confession of faith for a particular church congregation. This seems a popular idea at the moment (presumably someone famous and American has insisted it is the only way to be a properly Biblical congregation somewhere?).

My immediate response was ‘Don’t do it!’ Analysing the thought later, there are actually some convictions underlying this response, some good Baptist convictions about not imposing confessions on people. If you want to bring a church together around a confession, then perhaps; to suggest imposing a confession on an already-existing church appears to me to be a fairly basic breach of Baptist church order. We once went to prison, and worse, rather than accept such impositions. Assuming you could get 100% agreement (not just a vote nem. con. at a meeting, but informed, detailed acquiescence) it may be permissable, but…

The visceral response came from somewhere else, however. I was involved in the tail-end of the process of revising the EAUK basis of faith, and I realised then that it is astonishingly difficult to write a good symbol. Three years, and at least thirty pairs of eyes – many of them highly gifted theologians – in to that process, the late and lamented David Wright gently pointed out to us that we had managed to choose a phrase, entirely by accident, that actually contradicted a core Reformation conviction about the atonement.

A Baptist church doesn’t need a doctrinal basis (it might need a written covenant; that’s rather different); if it did, why not just use the EA one? The chances of producing anything better, or even one tenth as good, are about as remote as my chances of winning the National Lottery (and, yes, I am a good enough Baptist to refuse to buy lottery tickets…)

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