I’ve been posting on why Redemption Hill Church is confessional. The term confessional has lost its luster over the last 100 years, but prior, most churches held to a Confession of Faith. In this series of blog posts, I want to show the value of confessions and why a local church should be confessional. The series on confessionalism is about 1) The Nature of Confessionalism, 2) The Parameters of Confessionalism, 3) A Vision of Confessionalism 4) the Subscription to a Confession. If you are new to confessionalism, or the term is foreign, that’s ok. The purpose of cornfieldtheology.com is to introduce people to new concepts, terms, and theological ideas.
These four blog posts on confessionalism have been adapted from a paper I submitted to the elders of Trinity Fellowship Churches in preparation for Theology Day before our General Assembly in November of 2021. In this second of four posts, I discuss the parameters of a Confession of Faith. I’ll state the purpose of this post with a question: how much theology should, or should not be, in a Confession of Faith?
Somewhere In The Middle
A Confession of Faith is not a systematic theology book. A systematic theology book has its place, but it is not a functional expression of faith for a local church. In 2020 I took several members of the church through a systematic theology book. The class enriched the students. It provoked good questions. But there was a sense that the breadth of a systematic theology book can be overwhelming. A person could study systematic theology for a lifetime and die realizing they have only scratched the surface. And there is the other end of the spectrum. A Confession of Faith cannot be summed up in a few statements on a church website. Try this for an exercise. Contact your local pastor and ask how he decided what ten theological points to put on the website? Did he copy and paste from another website? Is the statement of faith so vague that a Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist all agree? Far too many local churches, networks, and denominations refuse to be held accountable with “all that theology.” To take the words of Alexander Hamilton out of context, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” So, if a Confession of Faith is not taking a seminary class on systematic theology, and it’s not your garden variety 10 points found at a local church website, then what is the right balance for a Confession of Faith?
A Confession of Faith aims for the middle. It is deep in its theology and wide in the various doctrines. A Confession of Faith cannot address everything, but it addresses much. A confession must have primary doctrine and secondary doctrines. Tertiary doctrines should be held with an open hand and often not included in a Confession of Faith. Primary doctrines include doctrines central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, the incarnation, atonement, and justification must be affirmed, taught, and defended at all costs. Secondary doctrines are also essential and help to distinguish a church or denomination from other churches and denominations. Secondary doctrines might include baptism, the Lord’s Table, and the revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit. Tertiary doctrines are not a point of division and distinction but are no less worthy of time, study, reflection, and conviction. A tertiary doctrine might include the specifics of eschatology. There is no need to break fellowship with a brother or sister in Christ who holds to historic premillennialism when I hold to reformed amillennialism. The challenge lies in determining what is primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary doctrines are more obvious, but secondary and tertiary doctrines might be malleable depending on a person’s conviction. Nonetheless, a Confession of Faith aims to find a consensus on what should be included in a Confession of Faith.
More to a Denomination
The parameters of our Confession of Faith can be narrowed a bit further. Trinity Fellowship Churches has five confessional foundation commitments. These confessional foundation commitments distinguish Trinity Fellowship from other churches and denominations. These commitments include a commitment to be reformed, Christocentric, continuationist, complementarian, and baptistic. These commitments are included in our Confession of Faith and help define the parameters.
Shawn Powers is the lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church. You can follow him on Twitter at shawn_DSM.