Alan Knox has an interesting post on creeds and confessions today. Alan’s basic point is that the earliest creeds and confessions of the church served to differentiate between believers and unbelievers. The well-known and larger later confessions that we are most familiar with (Westminster, London Baptist, etc.) serve a different function: dividing believer from believer.
For example, consider the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is a very famous and popular confession written in the 1640’s. But, there are few people (perhaps a few extremists) who would claim that disagreeing with parts of this confessions would indicate that a person is not a Christian. The same could be said of many, many confessions written since the Reformation.
So, what’s the purpose of these confessions? We’re no longer interested in differentiating between Christians and nonChristians. Now, we’re more interested in differentiating between one Christian and another. In other words, these confessions separate brothers and sisters in Christ from one another.
I think Alan has a very valid point. The confessions and creeds that came out of the 16th and 17th century are not dividers between believers and unbelievers but declarations of distinctive beliefs that divide one group of Christians from another. I agree with parts of the Westminster Confession but not all of it. I agree with far more of the 2nd London Baptist Confession but again not all of it. So as a consumer looking for a “church”, I am going to gravitate toward those churches who hold to the 1689 LBCF as opposed to those holding to the WCF.
In the same way, we use denominational labels to separate from one another. When we moved to Lansing and were looking for a church, I pretty much had no interest in churches with “Lutheran”, “Episcopalian”, “Pentecostal” or “Methodist” in the name. I knew they didn’t subscribe to the same set of distinctive beliefs that I did, so there was no need to bother with them.
What we are left with are a series of dividers to help us narrow down and restrict who we fellowship with. Sure people in other churches are Christians and in theory we are brothers and sisters in Christ, I just don’t want to have anything to do with them because they are wrong about (insert doctrine here). What is ironic is that many of the people who are most vociferously opposed to consumerism and “church shopping” are the ones who are most likely to demand a church that is just right based on their set of doctrines and similarly most likely to separate from other believers without a second thought. One man’s church shopping individualism is another man’s principled stand for the truth!
The Gospel is divisive, that is clear from Scripture. It stands against the world and all that the world holds dear. Truth is a divider and I am OK with that. On the flip side, modes of baptism, styles of church government, end-times beliefs are not issues that I can in good conscience separate from my brothers over. I can and have no problem with arguing that position A is the more Biblical position as opposed to position B. I just don’t see where we can separate from other believers based on those doctrinal positions. I am the only Calvinist where we gather on Sunday morning and probably one of the only non-dispensationalists. It is hard to swallow at times but if these are my brothers and sisters gathered as the church, where do I get Scriptural warrant to separate from them?
It seems that we should use our declarations of faith, our creeds and our confessions, to declare our unity with one another and our common witness to the lost and dying world. If we spent as much time and effort and study and prayer on reaching the lost as we do in finding ways to differentiate between one another, how powerful would our witness to the world be?
Maybe we should spend more time separating from worldliness instead of separating from fellow believers.