H&S: Confessionalism Afterparty

Nothing too organized here, just some post-debate thoughts:

  • Everybody there had an astounding time!
  • One thing you can’t get from the audio: a couple of times, Davie said “scripture” or “my bible”, and reflexively held up his iPod.  I’m not saying it’s bad to read the bible on an iPod, it’s just funny.
  • Also, when Davie recommends that all the heads of all the denominations in the world be locked in a room with only bibles until they come to an agreement, the hilarious interjection of “they’d write a confession” came not from Brian, but from Blogorrhea regular, Kazooless, a.k.a. The Onomist, sitting with me in the front row.  Audio listeners will miss out on the look on Davie’s face.
  • On that topic, I thought the whole “lock ’em in a room” idea was pretty silly (or at least naive).  Even without their confessions, the heads of all the world’s denominations would still be bringing in their disparate hermeneutics and interpretations, which are equivalent to their confessions, which is the whole (correct) point of Brian’s argument that confessions are like bellybuttons: everybody’s got one.  (And for that matter, why doesn’t Davie want to lock the heads of all the world’s non-denominations into that room too?)
  • I’d like some historical backup for those claims about Calvin and Zwingli executing people.  I know what was going on with Servetus in particular, but I had never heard those charges about so many others.

So if you were there, or if you listened to the .mp3s, what did you think?

34 Responses

  1. I listened to the debate on mp3 and had a few thoughts.

    I’m no fan of the whole system of confessions, so I’m not entirely unbiased here.

    I thought Davie scored several times on the Holy Spirit leading us into all truth and the confessions getting in between the believer, the Word of God and the Spirit as an extra “intermediary” He made strong points about believers in prison, in a far-away land hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit through their Bible alone. I also thought his reciting of all those damning passages in the “uncorrected” version of the WC was enlightening, and the fact that it was changed because of political expediency, not because of a wrestling with the text and the leading of the Holy Spirit. “I will not base my family’s faith on a changing and uninspired document.” Very strong points.

    Brian’s best moment was when challenging what we do when two Christians disagree on interpretation of texts, both, ostensibly, listening to the Holy Spirit for themselves. He had several good lines, one of which was, “I trust the Holy Spirit, I just don’t trust myself.” I also thought it was a shrewd move to turn and ask him, “Are you an Apostle”? I laughed out loud.

    Davie’s best moment was also a snide remark when Brian was glowingly talking of the confessions as a necessary companion to the Scripture, and was groping around for a suitable adjective to describe them. Davie offered, “an intermediary”?

    I thought Davie was hilarious with his “you foolish confessionalists” paraphrase of Galatians.

    I thought the friendliness and cameraderie came through, and that both guys were clear about where they stood.

    As for me and my family, I’m with Davie. Thanks but no thanks to basing my life on and uninspired and changing document.

  2. So you’ll stick with uninspired and changing personal interpretations that don’t happen to be written down?

  3. Another funny exchange came when Davie asked Brian, “Are you a Reverend?” Brian said, “yes”. Then Davie asked, “Are you a ‘right’ Reverend?” “No,” said Brian. “What do you have to do to become a ‘right’ Reverend?”, Davie asked.

    Then Davie said, “That title is a hangover from Anglicanism anyway.”

    That’s when Brian turned and asked Davie if he was an “apostle”, and Davie said, “No, but I’ve met one.”


  4. No, I’ll stick with the Scripture and the Holy Spirit, the One who teaches us and leads us into all truth.

    It’s scary the way some Reformed folks cling to the WC, almost with the same fervency that Mormons have their “Doctrines and Covenants”, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have their “Studies in the Scriptures” and the fundamentalists have their “Scofield’s Notes”.

    Thanks, but no thanks. The Bible can stand on its own.

  5. Yeah, I was a little surprised at the Reverend thing. I’m not used to hearing that title tossed around; usually “Pastor”, sometimes “Minister” or “Teaching Elder”.

  6. The Bible can stand on its own.

    Actually, it can’t do anything unless it is preached (Rom 10:14), and I loved that quote Brian had “The Bible doesn’t preach itself!”

    No, I’ll stick with the Scripture and the Holy Spirit, the One who teaches us and leads us into all truth.

    If that means what you want it to mean, how can two Christians ever disagree on doctrine?

    Guess the author:

    moves of the Spirit: The Charismatic Movement, the Shepherding Movement, the Worship & Praise Movement, the Word of Faith Movement, the Spiritual Warfare Movement, the Prophetic Movement, and more. Many if not all of the above movements were rapidly becoming inaccurate in many areas with the subsequent loss of true purpose and power.

  7. Who “preached” to Luther when he read, “The just shall live by faith”?

  8. Let me guess: Davie Copp?

  9. reciting of all those damning passages in the “uncorrected” version of the WC was enlightening, and the fact that it was changed because of political expediency

    You mean assertion, and argument by “c’mon!”. I spoke to a very knowledgeable guy at my church last night, and he told me that although Westminter was not rewritten until 1788 (and the changes finally adopted in 1789), the American Presbyterians had been omitting those problematic paragraphs from their confession since at least the early 1700s

  10. Who “preached” to Luther when he read, “The just shall live by faith”?


  11. Albino,

    I feel sorry for RubeRad who puts these debates together. He takes pains to smooth the way for a debate wherein the participants don’t “talk past each other”. He doesn’t always succeed and this time he failed miserably, or so it seems. The comments now coming forth on this blog would indicate that none of the opposition really gets what a confession is.

    You seem to think that a confession is the interpretive vehicle for scripture. That is not the case. A confession is an “index” (as RR has eloquently put it elsewhere) into scripture that states what the handler of the confession (the subscriber to the confession) believes. Included in most confessions is a statement about what properly constitutes, to cite just one example, how to interpret scripture. The WCF states that the way to interpret Scripture is Scripture itself, with the more clear passages shedding light on the more obscure passages.

    What interests me is that you also have stated how you believe scripture is interpreted. And that is that the “Spirit leads you into all truth”. Fine. I don’t happen to believe that, but you have made the assertion. It is what you believe.

    You reference Luther (and it seems you do so approvingly) regarding the protestant belief in justification by faith alone. This too is in the WCF.

    You also refer to the Bible itself. At this point you are pretty vague on what the Bible is. By the Bible, do you include the Apocrypha? If not, you should probably say so. Many people would be curious to find out what you believe constitutes this Bible of yours.

    You are taking steps to formulate your own confession. These are baby steps but you are well on your way.

    I constantly battle sin in my own life. What would you offer by way of a biblical assertion as to what might comfort or condemn me as I wrestle with my own assurance of salvation? I’m sure you have something. Offer it here and your own confession may be said to have grown just a little bit more. Can you see the value in indexing scripture in this way? Surely you wouldn’t want to say to a brother, “Just find it yourself in the Bible, it must be in there somewhere.”

    I recently had to vote on whether to have the church send Obama a letter urging him to not amend Title X, the so called “don’t ask don’t tell” directive for Sodomites entering the military. What do you think the Bible says on that issue? It would be helpful for a Bible man such as yourself to provide scriptural backing for such a decision. What do you think? This entry, too, belongs in your growing confession.

    Somehow, you’ve gone off the rails by thinking that confessions are for the Reformed the means of doing biblical hermeneutics. They’re not.

    And I now know that you yourself have a confession with at least two (and a half) entries in it.

    I await more.

  12. BTW, when I asked

    What do you think the Bible says on that issue?

    I was referring not to sodomy but to the issue of the church, as the church, lecturing the state.

  13. Bruce, I think it would be helpful for you to listen to the mp3 of the debate.

    What are your thoughts on Tiger’s resurgence?

  14. I should have known better. I’m truly sorry I made the effort. I’m out.

  15. I was unable to attend the debate and have not listened to it so my comments are somewhat irrelevant but I give them anyway.

    Bruce makes a great point about defining what confessions really are about. If that was the argument Brian held then I think he wins the debate.

    There is nothing wrong with confessions.

    There is something wrong with putting confessions at the level of scripture.

    I recently read a comment on another blog where the commenter referred to Calvin’s Institutes as “inspired”.

    Maybe it’s just semantics but it sounded an awful lot like the commenter believed the institutes to be at the same level of authority as the Bible itself.

    Surely not all confessionalist hold to such an opinion but that they are often perceived as such is why the biblicists will continue to get all in a tizzy.

    So yeah, I am down with confessions as an “index”, but they aren’t the Bible.

    And unfortunately I can’t agree with everything in the WC so I refuse to sign off on it as my own. Nevertheless I can still use it as an “index”, a tool to help organize my thoughts.

    • Thx for jumping in Dbalc. Do be sure to listen to the .mp3. I really wish you (and many other men from LWC) could have made it out.

      I certainly hope that whoever that commenter was, they mean that Calvin’s Institutes were “inspired” in the same sense that I might say that the reinvention of the sympony for the 20th century by Dmitri Shostakovich was “truly inspired.” In other words, “so good, it seems as if he must have had supernatural assistance”, but we (Christians) understand it as a hyperbolic figure of speech.

      The funny thing is, that’s exactly the Copp/Ost concept of the Holy Spirit’s role in biblical interpretation, a concept which crumbles under the weight of errors and disagreements we have seen among Christians for thousands of years.

      And DBalc, it’s not surprising that you take exception to parts of WCF — just as it’s not surprising that I take exception to some parts of the Statement of Faith of City at the Cross. (It’s also well-known that in those areas I believe you contradict the Bible, and we have spilt many pixels discussing those areas — likewise, in those areas that I disagree with CatC’s SoF, Copp would contest that I am unbiblical, and plead with me to repent). My point is, DBalc, have you ever had a look at the London Baptist Confession? I think you would find it interesting to look at this side-by-side comparison of the WCF and LBC, and see to what extent LBC addresses your concerns.

  16. Who “preached” to Luther when he read, “The just shall live by faith”?

    Since it was truth, it must have been the Holy Spirit. So why would you deny him when he proceeds to write it down into confessions and catechisms and teach it to others, and, as much as he can, to strive to make others also believe it and confess it?

    Who preached to the Anabaptists when they overthrew Muenster and established polygamy (based on their reading of scripture)? Or why did Anabaptists write the Schleitheim Confession?

    Who preached to Finney when he crossed his fingers in taking Presbyterian ordination vows, abandoned the “paper pope” of Westminster, and rejected original sin?

  17. Reuben, in admitting that the Holy Spirit revealed or “preached” to Luther through the Scriptures themselves, you undermined your earlier argument.

    As to your other examples, the Holy Spirit never tells us to do anything contrary to His revealed Word, the Bible.

    Never put up a document or set of confessions in between the people and the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

  18. Bruce and Dbalc, I think it’s great that you are both interacting here, but we were reacting to what happened in the debate. It would be incredibly helpful if you would take the time to listen to the debate first, so we would all be on the same page.

  19. Well kids…I seem that my name is being ‘thrown around’ here in some interesting ways.

    First of all, let me say how much I enjoyed doing the debate with Brian Tallman and all of the guys there. It was quite great to see so many men so interested in right doctrine, truth, and theological dialogue and query.

    Now, a couple of other things in response to some of the above posts.

    1. I am all for a systematized WRITTEN statement/confession of what I or a community believes. I write my sermon notes, I write doctrinal papers and notes for our church community. I do not just hold up the Bible on Sunday’s and hope it speaks, nor do I just read Scripture. I comment on them, or I “confess” what I believe they are saying to the Church. To argue that I supposedly do not have an ‘set’ or ‘written down’ or ‘articulated beliefs’ is as wrong as to argue that since I did write something down as at Statement of Faith for my community, that I am a ‘confessionalist’ in the same manner and to the same degree as the PCA.

    1A. Having said the above in # 1, what I said there is a long way and a far cry from what the WCF is and has become within the PCA and other denominations. Again, that may not have been the intent of the document, although with the vigorous punishment of those who were deemed ‘heretics’ thereby I am not sure, but it is what it became. Over and over I tried to debate that the nature of what we call a ‘confession’ has to be such that it never, ever, becomes a document that lifelessly or unchangingly binds or brings bondage to a church or its people.

    2. Under the “Guess The Author” section, I am quite sure that I wrote those statements. I am not sure the point of the ‘guess the author’, but there is no doubt that those ‘movements’ moved into error of both doctrine and practice. Please do not think that because I did not include any mainline denominations that I do not feel that they too have fallen into error. In fact, my omission of them in that list may in and of itself reflect my thoughts on that.

    2A. My criticism of those movements falling into error was not determined by the standard of a Confession written over 300 years ago, but by the standard of the Word of God itself, as enabled and revealed by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Lord Himself comes to the a Church and brings correction to them, whether it is doctrine or practice or both. This is what we see in the Book of Revelation and the Lord coming, by His Spirit, to interact with the seven churches. 6 out of the 7 are corrected by a living word, not a ‘tradition’ or ‘confession’ that John or Paul or anyone had written 30 years prior.

    3. Bruce S. talks about the need to formulate a confession with talk of biblical positions on Sodomites, etc. See point 1 and 1A.

    4. On the American Presbyterians…when they changed, or omitted, the troublesome points, is not my point. My point is that it WAS changed and the reason was not because of fresh grappling with Truth/Scripture in the light of the Holy Spirit’s speaking.

    4A. The WCOF was a great, but fallible and humanly motivated and inspired, document when should have simply been seen as a “Hey, this is what we believe, but we do not claim to know it all, nor put our trust in our interpretation of the Scripture, but we place our confidence in the Scriptures itself. AND…that is how it should always have continued to be regarded.

    5. On Reuben’s thoughts on City At The Cross’ Statement of Faith and my thoughts on the WCF…if I disagreed with something in the WCF, I would not say immediately and up front that it was ‘unbiblical’. I WOULD say: ‘Hey, that’s not how I interpret the Scripture. I see it such and such a way. I would then say, “Hey, let’s lock ourselves in a room and see if we can come to agreement by just looking at the Scriptures and allowing the H.S. to talk to us.” NOT to come out with a consensus Confession, as the theological bunny who hopped into our debate chortled, but to come out with a closer relationship with each other and the Word of God.

    6. I say, if you must, Confess and write Confessions to your heart’s desire (or the Spirit’s leading), but NEVER allow them to become something equal to the Scripture, nor NEVER allow them to occupy the space between every believer and the Word and the Spirit. If you are a Confessionalist, in order to guarantee that those three things NEVER occur, you may have to tear up your Confession every couple of weeks, months, years, decades, or at least centuries and then start over…fresh manna!!

    7 Regardless, let us not let a debate on Confessionalism, or any other such thing, become a reason for tension, bad blood, or ‘quitting’ on one another. Let us strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace!

  20. I would not say immediately and up front that it was ‘unbiblical’. I WOULD say: ‘Hey, that’s not how I interpret the Scripture

    Potato, pahtahto, which of course, is my whole point.

  21. No, its quite different…

    One is: If you say “Potato” you are violating the Scripture in that “Potato” is unbiblical and saying things that are unbiblical is wrong and an attack against God.

    The other is: If you say “Potato”, you are violating MY interpretation of Scripture, but, I will not condemn you for that. I may disagree and continue to say “Pahtahto’, I may even ask if we can look at it all again, but, I that is different than saying that you are violating the Scripture.

    I think my words, “Immediately” and “up front” are also significant in creating a true brotherly rapport in and through which we may be able to come closer to John 17

  22. Guess the author:

    “Change,we can believe in”

    “Yes we can”

    Just trying to lighten things up a little……..

    I just finished the audio…..still digesting….

  23. My criticism of those movements falling into error was not determined by the standard of a Confession written over 300 years ago, but by the standard of the Word of God itself, as enabled and revealed by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Lord Himself comes to the a Church and brings correction to them, whether it is doctrine or practice or both.

    And my point was not how do we now know that they are in error, from the scriptures or from the confessions? If they are in error, then by definition they contradict the scriptures, and to the extent that confessions are biblically faithful and address those areas, those errors also contradict confessions.

    My point, as I say, was not how we now know they are in error, but how did they get into error in the first place, if (as you assert) they were led by the Holy Spirit (into all error)? The answer is that they are tossed about by every wind of doctrine.

  24. I think the main problem with confessions is not that they are, in and of themselves, unbiblical, but that there are rife with dangerous tendencies. While no one I know claims that the WCF is either a) on par with Scripture or b) an interpretive grid for Scripture, their actions can sometimes belie their words.

    When catechisms are memorized in more quantity and with more energy than Scripture itself, when the confession is used as a primary text for a Bible study, when church officers are required to make a vow of subscription, that’s when I start to get suspicious.

    Again, the WCF is a wonderful document, and, as others have said, a great topical index for Scripture…. it’s what we DO with it that worries me.

    Of course, the “Spirit-only” position is likewise rife tendencies which are no less dangerous. When the wisdom of the church fathers over the centuries is disregarded, when debates that were seemingly long decided and dead re-appear, when the individual is lifted out of and above his accountability to the church, I fear that we are left in just as bad a position as those who treat the WCF as holy writ.

    I like Davie’s idea of re-visiting the Confession (in some kind of official way) each year… not starting completely fresh per se, but taking a critical and humble look at each jot and tittle to validate its Biblical foundations. Of course, it’s not very likely that we’ll see the kind of ecumenical council that produced the WCF for the foreseeable future. The church was a lot less fragmented at the time. Maybe we should just drop all this confession/anti-confession talk and get on our knees and pray for unity. Argh

    • I’ll give you this; one of WCF/LC/SC’s biggest faults is its greatness. It is so stinkin good, only one attempt to change it has ever been a good idea (1789 American Revision). All other changes to it have just made things worse (see the mainline/liberal PCUSA who watered down inerrancy, resurrection, etc.) Likewise, I’m afraid of what would happen if we tried to mess with it today.

      • The Savoy Declaration and the Second London Baptist Confessions were attempts to change it, and they were good ideas.

      • I’m sure you confess that the delta from Westminster to Savoy or LBC were biblical corrections. And I’m sure you’ll understand that, since I confess that my confession and my church’s confession is biblical, by definition, I also confess that rejection of parts of that, is a rejection of biblical doctrine, and is thus unbiblical.

        I am glad, however, that confessional standards do exist that I can point Baptists to.

  25. Hey Rube,

    I do not deny that the WCF is a great confession of faith…I would probably agree with 80+% of it…I would affirm its content without being bound by it.

  26. I just finished listening to the recordings on Friday, and wanted to share my thoughts on the matter. Though most of my life has been spent without even acknowledging confessions, I now admit that they are useful tools (when wielded wisely).

    Using a confession as an index of Biblical theology and topics seems to me to be eminently useful… particularly if one also refers to the Scripture proofs that accompany the WCF and others. It’s very helpful in organizing the contents of the Bible, and is eminently more practical than a concordance (or even the simple admission that “I know it’s in there somewhere”).

    Given the large variations in beliefs that purport to be Biblical, it’s useful to have a coordinated statement that shows what a particular church believes. In this way it can function as a document defining the common ground for believers, as well as defining terms that can serve as the basis of discussion or argument. For computer programmers, I’d liken this to a “code library” that contains the solutions to a lot of previously-resolved problems that can be reused instead of having to come up with the same answers afresh again and again. Having a body of doctrine is important to allow us to get down to the deeper aspects of theology, so that we’re not constantly wrestling with the same issues.

    Finally, I find the individualistic aspect of “let the Holy Spirit speak to me” very disconcerting. Not only does this inhibit the establishment of a truly shared vocabulary, it’s in direct contrast to Covenant theology’s insistence that God communicates to and works through groups of people. In fact, this morning’s NLPC reading from Proverbs 18 (verse 1) supports this:

    Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
    he breaks out against all sound judgment.

    How can we truly be a church, a unified body of Christ, if everyone feels
    qualified to interpret the Bible for themselves?

    In conclusion, it seems to me that Davie was arguing primarily against the WCF itself, because it seems clear to me that he must support some form of codified doctrine to differentiate himself from those with whom he disagrees. I admit that the WCF is not a perfect document, but it is well-crafted and well-known, and is a reasonable standard to use when wielded properly: not on par with the Bible, but as a means of understanding it and tying its teachings together.

    • Good points all, auggie. (And BTW, nice sax offertory on Sunday — I liked the blue ending)

      I also would point to II Pet 3:16: the Scriptures are not said to be twisted by evil, malicious persons, but by “the ignorant and unstable”, because “there are some things in them that are hard to understand.” The Bible is not easy, which is why so many people get it wrong. And that’s not even to claim that I have it right, it’s just a logical consequence of so many people reading the same Bible, and sincerely disagreeing.

      • Yes, and that “sincere disagreement” is precisely why we need individual bodies of Christ to rally around common statements that define what they have in common—and what sets them apart from others.

        (Also BTW… that was a tritone substitution. :) )

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