A Fresh Look at an Old Confession

Note: This post has been adapted from the preface of A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, slated for release by Mentor in November 2022.


It has been correctly said that true Christianity “is confessional Christianity,” and that a church with “a little creed is a church with a little life.”[1] The true church has always confessed her faith openly for there is a “faith which is once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). As Christians, we should never be ashamed of this fact. Sadly, there is a motto which is proclaimed by some professed believers which says, “No creed but the Bible.” The problem with such a slogan is that it completely cuts people off from the body of instruction that God in grace has so wonderfully given to the churches through gospel teachers throughout the centuries (cf. Eph. 4:11, 12). Such a notion, if embraced, leaves an individual with only what one particular group believes and teaches.

This is dangerous and has resulted in many being misled. B. H. Carroll (1843-1914), who was a pastor, theologian, and first president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, put it this way:

“The modern cry: ‘Less creed and more liberty,’ is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy. Definitive truth does not create heresy—it only exposes and corrects. Shut off the creed and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly.”[2]

Historically, Baptists have set forth what they believe in confessions of faith. Of all of their confessions, the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689[3] became the most popular confession among the Reformed Baptist churches. This confession has been in greater or lesser use among the churches at various stages of history. But whenever it was heartily embraced and faithfully applied, the churches were the strongest and purest doctrinally and morally.

It is encouraging to see in our day a revival of interest in this confession among our churches. I say this because this robust document plainly puts forth those things “most surely believed among us” (Luke 1:1 KJV). As congregations, it is vital that we don’t merely say, “We believe the Bible.” Rather, we must show people exactly what it is from the Bible that we believe. For example, if we say, “We believe in Christ,” could not the cults say the same? Sadly, they could (2 Cor. 11:4). But who is Christ? What is His nature? And why did He come and what did He accomplish, etc.? Here is where a good confession of faith is wonderfully useful. This resource lets people know exactly what we believe about major subjects in Scripture, things which are foundational to our faith. Additionally, being a confessional church lets people know that we are not “new kids on the block.” Rather, it proves that we are part of a stream of theology and practice that our Baptist predecessors have held for centuries.

For these reasons, it is my hope that a new exposition of this historical text will serve the churches well for decades to come. Over thirty years ago, Dr. Sam Waldron wrote a helpful exposition of The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 that now appears in its fifth edition on Evangelical Press. While I continue to highly commend that work, I hope that our upcoming commentary will be welcomed as a fresh expression of trustworthy doctrine for a new generation of believers.

I want to thank each author for his diligent labors. All have worked hard to finish their chapters amid many pressing duties. Brothers, I trust that our combined efforts will be that which we can look back on in the years ahead and praise our great God for His wonderful assistance. May the Lord Jesus Christ be pleased to use this work to promote the glorious biblical faith we hold. And may He use this book to encourage His followers to get into “His book,” the Bible, which alone is our final authority for all things.

I close with words from the preface to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith which Charles Haddon Spurgeon republished for his congregation in 1865. He said:

"This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby you are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of Scriptural proofs, will be ready to give an account for the hope that is in them. Be not ashamed of your faith; remember it is the ancient gospel of martyrs, confessors, reformers and saints. Above all, it is “the truth of God,” against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. Let your lives adorn your faith, let your example adorn your creed. Above all live in Christ Jesus, and walk in Him, giving credence to no teaching but that which is manifestly approved of Him, and owned by the Holy Spirit. Cleave fast to the Word of God which is here mapped out for you."[4]


Rob Ventura is one of the pastors of Grace Community Baptist Church of North Providence, Rhode Island. He is the author of Expository Outlines and Observations on Romans (forthcoming 2023, Mentor).  He is a coauthor of A Portrait of Paul and Spiritual Warfare, and is the general editor of Going Beyond the Five Points, Covenant Theology, and Lectures in Systematic Theology. He is also a contributor to the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible. He and his wife, Vanessa, and family live in Rhode Island.


Related Links

Podcast: "Confessional Subscription and the Minister’s Integrity"

"Finding Common Ground" by James Renihan

"Confessing Christianity: Yesterday's Reformation for Today's Reformation"by Chad Van Dixhoorn 

The Need for Creeds Today by J. V. Fesko

The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman


Notes

[1] Tom Ascol article: B. H. Carroll and Robust Confessionalism: www.founders.org/2017/02/23/b-h-carroll-and-robust-confessionalism/accessed June 27, 2020.

[2] B. H. Carroll An Interpretation of the English Bible, Vol. 11, Colossians, Ephesians, Hebrews (Nashville: Broadman, 1948; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973) 140.

[3] Although this confession is commonly called the “1689,” it was originally published unsigned in 1677.

[4] Cited on the copy of the 1689 published by Chapel Library.