Our whole shtick here at The Baptist Reformation is to ultimately encourage Baptists in recovering their Reformational roots. That’s a big project, because even within the Reformation and its premier thinkers, there were differences. So, what kind of “Reformed” do we mean when it comes to being a Baptist who wants to recover his Reformational roots?
There were a few things the Reformers and their followers almost unanimously came down on, not the least of which was confessionalism.
If you were to go to The Reformed Collective and check out their standards, confessionalism is a requirement across the board. If you’re Reformed and want to write for the Collective, you don’t have to be Baptist only, you don’t have to be Presbyterian only, you don’t have to be a Paedo Congregationalist only or even a Dutch only; but you do have to be confessional along one of those theological traditions.
What does it mean to be confessional?
When I say “confessional” I mean to describe a person or body of persons who subscribe to one of the historic Reformed confessions; either the Westminster Confession, the 2nd London Confession, the Savoy Declaration, or the Three Forms of Unity.
So, why is it so important to be confessional?
Being confessional was largely the norm until the Enlightenment. Prior to Enlightenment thinking, there was a high view of the church, her doctrine, and the spiritual wellbeing of the people of God—not primarily in an individualistic sense—but in a corporate sense.
There is biblical support for this corporate nature of the faith. The Christian religion isn’t to be relegated to a personal exercise, primarily. Paul, for example, always addressed local churches only addressing an individual once as far as we know—Philemon. He wrote Timothy and Titus instructing them on how to lead the people of God and how overseers ought to conduct themselves within the context of the church. Jesus Himself emphasized the corporate nature of the church as it regards church discipline, for example (Matt. 18:20).
What does this have to do with confessionalism?
Confessions are documents drawn up by churches or denominations which describe a particular interpretation of Scripture as it relates to various theological themes (e.g. creation, justification, eschatology, etc). With our modern-day individualism, we’d rather navigate our own route of interpretation and chart all sorts of innovations. But, this was never the way Christ’s church was intended to operate. Yes, as believers we have regenerate consciences, but this does not equate to authoritative decision-making when it comes to church dogma. Our interpretive decisions should always be subordinate to our local church leadership and, primarily, the Word of God as it interprets itself (cf. analogy of Scripture and analogy of faith).
All that to say, confessionalism has fallen on hard times. Rather than cohere in unity under a singular doctrinal banner, we’d rather further divide on different issues or just maintain a form of doctrinal ignorance—leaving room for disagreements to arise further down the road.
Is being Baptist the same as being confessional?
Our Baptist forerunners were confessional. That is a historical fact.
Charles H. Spurgeon subscribed to the 2nd London Confession, and many particular Baptists before him did the same. Baptists arose out of a confessional tradition. One of the purposes of the 2nd London was to show the Westminster Presbyterians just how close we were to their position, for the sake of unity.
Being Baptist, historically, meant being confessional. Nowadays, being Baptist almost means just about anything, as long as you believe in baptism after a profession of faith… credible or not.
Biblical reasons for confessionalism
Many biblical scholars agree that Paul’s confession in 1 Corinthians 15 was the earliest Christian creed (cf. Gary Habermas). Paul writes:
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
Creedal Christianity, therefore, dates back to the earliest days of the church, and why wouldn’t it? Old Testament theology was creedal as well—think the Shema and the Law (Ex. 20; Deut. 5). These were words that defined the faith of Old Covenant Judaism. Likewise, Paul’s recitation of the first creed in 1 Corinthians 15 is an essential definition of the Christian faith, broadly speaking.
Biblical and historical reasons for creedal Christianity abound, and if we were to go looking for further evidence in the early church, just after the apostolic era, we would find confessionalism alive and well up to the Enlightenment and, specifically, until the 2nd Great Awakening.