Monday, March 18, 2013

Confessionalism: Unity in Diversity, and Diversity in Orthodoxy

[Previous post here]

There are two extremes in the Christian life with regards to the handling of doctrine in the life of the church. One is to so emphasize one's doctrinal rightness that soon the person becomes a church of one, because no two thinking people will agree on every single detail of doctrine. The other extreme is to de-emphasize the importance of doctrinal correctness, in favor of either the consensus view, or the view of submitting to the church leaders always on doctrine. The first extreme breeds the tyranny of the individual, while the second extreme breeds the tyranny of the many, or the tyranny of the (ecclesiastical) elite. The former can be seen in Dispensationalism and Fundamentalism with its many church splits, while the latter can be seen in broad evangelicalism (both types), the house church movement (tyranny of the many), and traditional hierarchical polity churches and also many charismatic churches (tyranny of the elite). As it can be expected, the pendulum almost always swing from one extreme to the other. The house church movement for example react against the tyranny of the elite, and end up having the tyranny of the many. Others reacting against anarchic church settings as seen for example in the house church movement move towards hierarchical settings, preferring the order of the one over the chaos of the many. Still others reacting against the anti-intellectual slant move towards the individualistic side, thus moving towards the tyranny of the individual.

To this mess, Confessionalism presents an alternate solution. Instead of making the individual, or the many, or the leader/elite as king, the Scriptures as interpreted in a Confession of Faith is king. The Confession of Faith functions as the constitution of the church, and sets forth the boundaries of what the Church thinks are orthodox, what is necessary to be believed, and what is not mentioned as being necessary to be believed. While dividing the local church or denomination from others who disagree with the church's confession, it unites all who hold to it as a true interpretation of the Christian faith.

In dealing with handling doctrine in the life of the church, being confessional means that whatever the Confessions teaches as necessary for the faith has to be believed. Thus, there is a true unity of faith among believers in a church. There is therefore an objective standard for measuring doctrinal issues, not a subjective and fluid standard as that of the individual, the many, or the elite. At the same time, what the Confession does not take a position on people are free to hold on to divergent views on the topic, without having the need to contend and split over the issue. If at any time, any person thinks that such and such a view ought to be proscribed by the church's Confession, then one could discuss amending the Confession of Faith the church holds to.

Now, of course, being confessional does not solve all problems. The system could be perfect, but Man is not. Nevertheless, such will work towards preserving unity in the church while allowing legitimate diversity in it, while minimizing tyranny of one sort or the other from taking root in the churches. Such unity in diversity, and diversity in orthodoxy, holds truth and love together, without trying to elevate one over the other, and thus makes for a healthier church.


Charlie J. Ray said...

Exalting church membership above orthodoxy is the error of the papists.

PuritanReformed said...


I believe you have been banned from this blog, for slandering Dr. R Scott Clark. I only allow this one. Please refrain from commenting until you have repented from your slander.

While orthodoxy is important, to divorce salvation from the visible church is the mark of the Anabaptists, Quakers and all sectarians. God saves people into the church, not save people into some amorphous fellowship with Him. The error of the papists is not to "exalt church membership above orthodoxy," but rather to center the church not upon Word and Sacrament, but upon tradition and apostolic succession in the one man of the pope.

Until you have repented of your slander, do not reply here