How thankful we should be for the historic creeds and confessions of the Christian church. They are an excellent help to understand, promote, and defend Biblical truth. We are the poorer for it if we fail to make use of them.
Creeds are general statements of faith which identify the differences between orthodoxy (accepted standardized Christian belief) and heresy (belief which undermines a right view of God and salvation). Creeds deal with the key points which unite all Christians. The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedon statement are examples. Confessions are more detailed than creeds, their purpose is to systemize doctrine. Confessions are used to distinguish between church groups / denominations. Whereas creeds present the big picture, confessions get into the nitty gritty. The Augsburg Confession (Lutheran), the Three Forms of Unity (Dutch Reformed Church), the Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian), the Thirty-nine Articles (Anglican) are examples.
Then there are church constitutions. A church constitution sets out the rules established for the ordering of a particular church. Often a constitution will draw attention to the confession that the church holds to. It may also refer to one or more of the creeds. People wishing to join a church in membership generally have to declare their agreement with the constitution before the existing members.
With these documents, it is perhaps helpful to think of layers in the shape of a triangle – beginning with the Christian faith in its broadest sense and drilling down to the pointy end of specific church belief and practice.
As Reformed Baptists we subscribe to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Our constitution refers to it as a guide and summary of the things we believe. That is precisely what it is, a useful guide and summary. It is not, however, the reason for our existence. Our church does not exist in order to create a society of 1689 subscribers. Our church exists in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The Confession is the means by which we affirm the core doctrines of the church. It provides a succinct outline upon which we find agreement.
While maintaining the place of the Confession, we must not give it unwarranted status. The 1689 BCF is not the power of God unto salvation. It does not sanctify. It does not create unity in the church. It does not cultivate love for others. It does not produce ministerial integrity. It is not the arbiter in all matters. Zeal for confessionalism can become cultish. It can reduce faith to theological abstraction rather than the life we have in Christ. Reformed Baptist churches have suffered immeasurably through people more concerned about being confessional in profession than Christlike in practice.
Our focus must always be Christ. Our goal is to know Him experientially. Our mission is to make Him known. Our standard is His Word. The 1689 BCF is a means to an end, it is not an end in itself.