Why Confessions Matter

If I have the Bible, why do I need anything else? Many serious, well-intentioned Christians have asked this question out of suspicion toward “man-made” creeds and confessions. But is there a better alternative than “me and my Bible”?

1. Confessions Are Unavoidable

Because everyone reads the Bible through the lenses of their theology, we always believe more than what is literally stated in the text of Scripture. As soon as we unpack what we believe about Scripture, we’re trying to do on our own something like what has been articulated by historic confessions and catechisms. Confessions even address such basic issues as which Bible we believe, or—at least—which Bible books should be considered canonical, or authoritative (Belgic Confession of Faith 3­–6; Westminster Confession of Faith 1:2–3). Historic confessions can help us be honest and public about the theology we already have.

2. Confessions Help Us Agree

Scattered throughout the Bible are micro-confessions, terse summaries of the biblical faith (e.g. Deut. 6:4–5; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3–7). Historic confessions do the same thing on a larger scale. Their beautiful harmony on the essentials of the Christian faith can remind believers that we’re far more united than we’re divided. Even in areas of disagreement (such as the mode and proper recipients of baptism), they teach us which doctrines demand our most serious attention and suggest ways and texts to shape our thinking. In the way they renounce error without being schismatic, they can teach us how to disagree doctrinally without forgetting Jesus’ solemn words: “The one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

3. Confessions Free Us from Human Traditions

Churches without confessions can more easily fall prey to the unwritten and unofficial preferences and doctrinal peculiarities of church leaders. Pastors, elders, and deacons who affirm historic confessions commit to teaching and defending God’s word in a way that respects not just their own consciences but also the theological understanding of a broader cloud of witnesses. Believers must submit to proper spiritual authority (Heb. 13:17). But in churches that have public confessions, believers—in making membership vows—are not writing a blank check of submission to their leaders.

4. Confessions Root Us in a Transcendent Community

Confessions deliver us from the naiveté of acting like we are the first to read God’s word. They urge us to respect, or at least consider, what believers in earlier times and faraway places thought about the Christian faith. Against the modern emphasis on the new, the relevant, and the subjective, the confessions help us benefit from the hard labors of prior gifted theologians and remind us that we stand in a long line of Christian soldiers who have been comforted and fortified by this old faith. The confessions often speak in very personal terms, but never at the expense of a communal identity.[1]

5. Confessions Address Difficult Issues

Historic confessions were developed by pastors, shepherds who loved the sheep under their care. For this reason, confessions sound less like theological instruction manuals and more like a minister speaking to his congregation. When a friend’s wife left him some time ago, I could encourage him with words from the Belgic Confession: “For there is no creature, either in heaven or on earth, who loves us more than Jesus Christ” (16).

And confessions are surprisingly contemporary, offering guidance on such issues as creation (Belgic Confession 12), abortion (Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 135), early infant loss (Canons of Dort 1:17), polygamy, child-raising (Second Helvetic Confession 29), homosexuality (Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 139), and gender identity (Westminster Confession of Faith 4.2), just to name a few.

6. Confessions Can Aid Personal and Family Devotions

Historic confessions can be a great way to study the Christian faith. And at their best, they’re far from dusty. The Westminster Shorter Catechism lists perfections of God that can draw us into amazed love of our Savior (Q&A 4). The first three articles of the Canons of Dort’s teaching on confession (2:1–3) can be slightly modified into a beautiful prayer of penitence. With only a few pronoun changes, the twenty-sixth answer of the Heidelberg Catechism makes for a comforting prayer to “God, the Father Almighty.”

7. Confessions Can Raise Our View of Scripture

“The Word of God … contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” is “the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&/A 2). “It is expressly commanded of God that nothing be either put to or taken from” Scripture (Second Helvetic Confession 1.2). “Creeds cannot create new revelation, invent new teachings, or make new laws to bind the consciences of God’s people. Creeds serve to affirm the authority of God’s word, not to stand alone as authorities unto themselves.”[2]

Internalized by God’s people, confessions can remind us who we are and shore up the foundations of churches threatened by secularism and nominal Christianity.


[1] The Heidelberg Catechism uses the plural pronouns “we” and “our” almost 200 times. Thirty-two times the Belgic Confession says, “We believe.”

[2] Burk Parsons, Why Do We Have Creeds? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2012), 19.

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