Confession of Faith Topical Study

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To confess faith is to join others in publicly avowing belief or trust, usually in someone divine ("I believe in God the Father, Almighty"). In a secular culture, confessions of faith may be fantasy, heresy, idolatry, or commercial blather, but for Christians they are serious business. They put faith "out there" to be challenged, affirmed, ridiculed, praised, ignored, respected, or persecuted. Whether said, sung, or acted out, confessions of faith let believers deliberately rehearse their faith, keeping it fresh, alive, and ready for whatever may be coming.

In Scripture

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deut. 6:4 - 5).

"O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens" (Ps. 8:1).

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want (Ps. 23:1).

"You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, `My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust'" (Ps. 91:1 - 2).

"Simon Peter answered, `You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God'" (Matt. 16:16).

"Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, `Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.' Thomas answered him, `My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, `Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe'" (John 20:27 - 29).

"If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved" (Rom. 10:9 - 10).

"No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says `Let Jesus be cursed!' and no one can say `Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).

"I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and 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 and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:3 - 7).

"At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10 - 11).

"The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the foremost" (1 Tim. 1:15).

"Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Tim. 6:12).

"The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:11 - 13).

"When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4 - 7).

"Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession" (Heb. 4:14).

"By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God" (1 John 4:2 - 3).

"Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:8).

"God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God" (1 John 4:15).

Points to Ponder

Public avowal of belief: To confess faith is to join others in publicly avowing belief or trust, usually in someone divine ("I believe in God the Father, Almighty").

Not always in a divine being: But not always. Jews and Christians are not alone in confessing their faith. Lower politicians confess their faith in higher ones: "He'll lead us into a shining future." The Bible regularly warns against "false teachers," or people who recommend confessions that will lead them astray. Tyrants confess faith in themselves and their movements: Hitler was fond of crowing, "God is with us." Confessions of faith may be blasphemous, or they may be trivial: "I trust Sudsy-Wash to give me a truly whiter white."

Ritualized fantasy: Or they may be ritualized fantasy. Craig Barnes has observed that in contemporary American life, some of the wildest confessions of faith come from the lips of commencement speakers: "Your life is in your hands. You are the master of your fate. So reach for the stars, work hard, and you can be whatever you want to be" . Mindful of commencement clichés, a Massachusetts high school English teacher by the name of David McCullough offered an antidote to them in his now-famous commencement address. Standing before the 2012 graduating class of Wellesley High School, McCullough said to them, "You are not special. You have been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped, feted, fawned over, and called sweetie-pie. But don't get the idea that you're anybody special, because you're not." McCullough went on to say that there were 37,000 high school graduations that day, and so a minimum of 37,000 valedictorians. Not even valedictorians are special. He added that, according to astrophysics, our planet is not the center of our solar system, our solar system is not the center of our galaxy, our galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists say the universe has no center — "so you cannot be it," McCullough told the graduates .

For Christians, confessions of faith are serious business. Confessions of faith may be fantastical, heretical, idolatrous, or trivial, but for Christians they are serious business. As Romans 10:9 - 10 states, it's one thing to believe in your heart and quite another to confess with your lips. Confession puts faith "out there," to be challenged, affirmed, ridiculed, praised, ignored, respected, or persecuted. Confession makes private faith public. It is so essential to the identity of a follower of Jesus that denying one's faith stains a believer's resumé forever. Peter became "the disciple who denied his Lord." (Though it's majestically typical of God's redemptive grace that Peter also became the rock on whom Christ built his church. The largest and most famous Christian church in the world is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome!)

Christians confess their faith, but they also confess their sins. Augustine's autobiography is famous for alternating and connecting the two forms of confession. Augustine owns up to years of wandering through labyrinths of lust and dishonesty, always turning his back on the God who pursued him: "Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new; late have I loved you. You were with me and I was not with you" (Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992], X.xvii.38). In two sentences Augustine acknowledges the best and the worst. Perhaps the word "confess" may express both realities because both expose vulnerability. "I am a sinner and liable to the penalty for sin" — vulnerability. "I am a sinner, liable to the penalty of sin, and can't save myself. I desperately need the outside help I can trust" — vulnerability again. We are tainted, and we are needy. Confession says it all.

Certain patterns: Biblical texts show certain patterns in confession of faith. They may center on God the Father, who is often simply called "God;" on Jesus Christ, especially as Messiah, Son of God, Savior, and Lord; or on the Holy Spirit. They may unite a whole people as Deuteronomy 6:4 - 5 does as it is recited morning and evening by faithful Jews to this day. They may recount some of the deeds or events of God or specifically of Jesus Christ ("Christ died for our sins . . . he was raised on the third day . . . then he appeared to more than five hundred" (1 Cor. 15:3 - 7)). And, of course, the gracious, mighty acts of God elicit acclamation, which then shows up in confessions of faith ("How majestic is your name" or "Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"). They may center a whole gospel as Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah does in Matthew and Mark (Matt.16:16 and Mark 8:29). They may express the resolution of doubt, as in the case of Thomas in John 20. Or they may refute heresy: 1 John 4:2 reveals that the early gatherings of Christians were plagued with teachings by so-called "docetists" — people who held that Jesus only "appeared" to be flesh and blood. But no, says John, the only godly teaching here is that Jesus was actually fully incarnate.

On resisting creeds: Some Christians resist creeds ("no creed but Christ"). They are properly impressed with the risk involved in summarizing difficult and disparate Scriptures into a man-made summary. But the Bible is a big book and hard to teach as a whole. Moreover, it itself contains creeds, which form the basis of the ecumenical and intramural Christian creeds. And, of course, with or without the formal Christian creeds, believers sing their confession of faith all the time. This is true not only of standard old hymns such as "Holy, Holy, Holy" but also of more contemporary spiritual songs such as "There Is a Redeemer"). In both, believers confess their faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Acted out confessions of faith: Confessions of faith may also be acted out, as in the case of the woman who anointed Jesus with precious ointment at Bethany (Mark 14:3 - 9).

Confessions keep Christians' common faith in front of them. Whether said, sung, or acted out, confessions keep Christians' common faith in front of them. It's not only in their hearts, but also in their brain, on their voice, in their mouth and ears. By confession believers deliberately rehearse their faith, keeping it fresh, alive, ready for whatever may be coming. Such confessions declare a commitment to what is confessed, and, implicitly, the follow-through actions appropriate to such confession. We will "live in the light of what is."

Common in songs for children: Confessions of faith are common in songs for children: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." And they are often alive on deathbeds: "My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1).

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.