6 Reasons to Confess Your Faith Corporately

Article
05.19.2016

These days, it’s hard to find churches with a strong and public commitment to their confessions of faith. To be sure, most if not all churches have a confession—at least in some form—but it’s often relegated to obscurity, unknown and certainly unarticulated by the congregation as a whole.

But for most of its existence, the church has identified itself as a confessional community. Indeed, from the time of its initial formulations of doctrine—the rule of faith, the canon of truth, the early creeds—to its current practice of recitation of confessional formulas, the Christian church has considered this element to be a normative part of being the church.

By and large, the straying from confessional Christianity is a negative development in recent church life. In fact, there are several good reasons we should seek to reclaim a robust and distinctly confessional orthodoxy. I’ve listed six of these reasons below.

CONTINUITY WITH CHURCHES PAST

If there is to be any substantive continuity between today’s churches and those from past centuries, we need to recover habits that have drifted away from confessionalism or even repudiated it. After all, confessions of faith serve “to maintain coherence, integrity, and, in effect, Christian identity.”[1]

I agree with Thomas Oden, who wrote that this recovery would enable Christians to experience “the joy and power of confessing the faith with the whole intergenerational church over all times and places.”[2] To voice a common confession of faith as the church assembles together, and in continuity with the church throughout the ages, stimulates and demonstrates the unity of the body of Christ.

ENCOURAGING PERSONAL ASSURANCE

Corporate confession of the faith by the church is also beneficial for providing personal assurance that the faith its members confess is indeed the true Christian faith. We’re all aware of genuine Christians who are plagued by doubts. While many factors may contribute to this lack of subjective assurance, one that’s often overlooked is doubt about the actual content of belief.

This unsettledness may manifest itself in questions like, “Is what I believe true?” or, “Is this anything more than a mere parochial and existential commitment?” Accordingly, regular corporate confession of the faith encourages, even if it does not ensure, our confidence of its truthfulness.

AN AID TO UNITY

A confession of faith also contributes to the cohesiveness of a local church’s. In fact, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of a common confession of faith for both members and their church.

What about your church? Does your congregation struggle to maintain unity? Perhaps the reason for the weakened bonds between church members is the absence of a common confession of faith binding the community together.

Moreover, a possible contributor to splintering churches is their lack of a confessional framework for working out internal problems. A confession could helpfully refocus the attention of church members on the essentials of the faith that powerfully unite them. This would then put into perspective all secondary or tertiary matters that pale in comparison to the truths which bind them together.

DEEPENS TRUST AND COMMITMENT

Attention to a corporate confession also fosters a deepening of trust in the faith as well as one’s personal commitment to it. because of “the self-involving nature of confession.” As theologian Anthony Thiselton explains, “Confessions declare a content, but they also serve to nail the speaker’s colors to the mast as an act of first-person testimony and commitment.”[3]

The point is simple: regular confession of the Christian faith deepens personal faith and, over time, develops a disposition of belief in Christ-followers. When challenged, this disposition of belief responds with a firm and settled conviction that expresses itself appropriately. Community confession of the faith, then, provides an important training ground for dispositional belief.

PROTECTS AGAINST HERESY

Additionally, this confessional characteristic may also serve to ward off the always-present threat of heresy creeping into and destroying the church. Certainly, this proposal is no guarantee of safety; one can readily point to churches that liturgically repeat historic Christian creeds yet have drifted away doctrinally so as to become false churches.

While not a panacea that guarantees doctrinal faithfulness, the corporate confession of the faith can stand against a fall into heresy, a slide that’s tragically facilitated by a loss of historic consciousness in many churches and denominations. Speaking of Christ-followers united together historian Martin Marty emphasizes that confessions “serve to call believers out of isolation and anarchy into the beginnings of coherence and shared life. A confession serves to define and thus to delimit the boundaries of belief and shared life.”[4]

This “boundaried” element means our explicit confession of the common faith entails an implicit rejection of whatever constitutes “anti-faith.” Oden summarizes this idea succinctly: “There is no confession without some presupposed understanding of the truth, and hence disavowal of contrary untruth.”[5]

OFFERS A HERMENEUTICAL FRAMEWORK

Finally, confession of the common faith provides a hermeneutical framework for the church and its members. Theologian Geoffrey Wainwright writes, as “a résumé of the Christian faith,” creeds and confessions “provide a hermeneutical grid through which the believer could interpret both the ampler witness of scripture and the Church and also his own religious stance.”[13] In an increasingly biblically illiterate ecclesial situation, provision of guidelines for reading and interpreting Scripture is sorely needed, and a common, corporate confession of the faith fosters such a framework.

CONCLUSION

In summary, its confessional characteristic means that the church is united by both personal confession of faith in Christ and common confession of the historic Christian faith. This latter practice needs to be reclaimed.

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Editor’s note: This article is a heavily adapted excerpt from Dr. Allison’s book Sojourners and Starngers: The Doctrine of the Church.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 10.

[2] Thomas C. Oden, Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), 179–180.

[3] Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 11, emphasis his. For further discussion, see H. H. Price, Belief, Muirhead Library of Philosophy (London: Allen & Unwin; and New York: Humanities, 1969), 20.

[4] Martin Marty, Church Unity and Church Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964).

[5] Oden, Turning Around the Mainline, 180.

[6] Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology, 192.