“I agree with every word, but only Roman Catholics read creeds.”
A member of our congregation said this to me after I’d just finished discussing why our church reads creeds and confessions during congregational worship. To him, the issue was at once simple and decisive: our church shouldn’t read creeds because Baptists don’t read creeds.
His sentiment isn’t novel. The purpose of creeds and confessions in the life of the modern church—in this case, Baptist churches—is the subject of much debate. Unfortunately, many churches fail to see the positive impact of creeds and confessions and, in so doing, disregard them altogether. However, creeds and confessions bring unity to the church in both its orthodoxy and its orthopraxy, thus protecting the church from heterodoxy.
But how does a pastor cast a confessional vision of church for a church that has never been confessional?
THE BIBLE DRIVES THE CHANGE
Confessions did not create the church, the Word of God created the church. Thus, evangelicals prioritize preaching. Calvin would go so far as to say, “The church is built up solely by outward preaching. . . . By his word, God alone sanctifies [churches] to himself for lawful use.” The church is created and revitalized through the Word of God by the Spirit of God.
However, an emphasis on the expositional teaching of the Bible will naturally and organically result in a defined confessionalism. Biblical preaching guides a congregation to a defined confessionalism because terms like “Christ” and “church” carry with them massive theological import and doctrinal content. Christ’s identity is highly particular; it communicates something specific about what Jesus did for us and for our salvation (John 20:31; cf. Matt 1:17; 16:16). In the Apostles’ Creed, “church” appropriately precedes “the forgiveness of sins” because forgiveness of sins does not take place apart from the gospel the church preaches (John 20:19–23; Acts 2:38; cf. Isa 33:14–24).
Christians must know something particular about Christ’s identity, about the nature of Christ’s church. Substantial revitalization in the life of the church best occurs with a renewed interest in expositional Bible preaching and a renewal of the church’s confessional life.
PRACTICAL LITURGY FOR BAPTISTS
The idea of liturgy brings us to our original question: “How does a minister cast a confessional vision of church for a church that has never been confessional?” Here’s what it looked like in our church:
Our elders have led our congregation toward a weekly worship rhythm that integrates biblically reflective statements of tradition into corporate worship. Each week, our congregation has a time where we read aloud from either our confession of faith or a creed.
Since our basic beliefs represent the foundational beliefs of Christianity, we consciously see ourselves as guided by four widely accepted and historically Christian statements of faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
When we read creeds and confessions, it teaches our congregation that we join with all faithful believers across time and throughout the world today in confessing our faith to the glory of God. As the content of doctrine is repeated and taken in as what is true, the church is unified in its worship.