I am writing with urgency and passion regarding this issue. My, and the elders and the Leadership Team’s, great desire is that we constantly move toward greater health and harmony in the truth of the gospel for the Glory of God. It is to this end, we bring these proposed confessional changes. I want to share with you why this is both important and necessary.
Sound doctrine in the church in America is under attack both within and outside the church. The words of Paul are unfolding before our very eyes, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths,” (2 Timothy 4: 3-4). This reality means that we must recommit to preach the truth of Scripture. We must know what we believe and why we believe it. There is no time to spare. The lost are perishing and the nations are raging, but Christ is reigning. His church is the outpost of truth and hope.
To merely say, we love truth, without defining that truth is insufficient. That is the benefit of confessions of faith. They are not inerrent or infallible, but they are succinct summaries of our common convictions. In fact, I believe it is entirely biblical to have statements of belief. Earlier in 2 Timothy, Paul had counseled Timothy to hold fast to the teaching of truth. “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you,” (2 Timothy 1: 12-14). It is that pattern of sound words that we have in a strong confessional statement.
What does a confession do and what does it not do? First, it does not bind the consciences of believers. Only the Bible has authority to do that through the work of the Holy Spirit. That is why it is crucial to understand that in any confession that is as elaborate as the one we are proposing, there will not be absolute agreement on every issue. The constitutional revisions that we are proposing state quite clearly that only the Bible has authority in the life of the believer. That means that there are issues in the confession that do not rise to the level of disfellowshipping. We have referred to these as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level issues. Issues like election and predestination, irresistible grace, and so forth do not require affirmation by all members of Oak Crest. I hope you will affirm them, because I convictionally believe they are the teachings of Scripture, but God is the judge of the conscience in your life. We will gladly continue to affirm that these issues do not rise to the level of 1st level issues, and only in reference to the elders do they rise to the second level.
What does a confession do? First a confession is a statement to the outside world of what we hold the Scripture to teach. If someone visits Oak Crest and considers joining us, they deserve an in depth explanation, should they choose to read it, of what the elders will teach. In other words, what will they hear week in and week out regarding the gospel from the pulpit?
They will hear the word taught, pure and simple. So in that sense, the confession does hold a level of accountability for our elders more than for other members. We might call it a level 2b issue. It does not sever fellowship within the church, but it does provide a body of summary doctrine to which the pastors confess as their commonly held “pattern of sound words.” In describing the 2nd London Confession, which our confession is a revision of, Charles Spurgeon said these appropriate words, “This ancient document is a most excellent epitome of the things most surely believed among us. By the preserving hand of the Triune Jehovah we have been kept faithful to the great points of our glorious Gospel, and we feel more resolved perpetually to abide by them. This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby ye 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 the scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason 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 recommend 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 to you.”
Another crucially important function of a confession is it is a statement that we can refer to on a legal basis. By this I mean, in an age of rising litigation against churches, a key protection is a doctrinal confession. Churches have the right to discriminate on the basis of religion. That fact in itself may be under threat in coming days due to activist judges. But even aside from that, churches do not have the right to discriminate on the basis of sex. Therefore, if a unrepentant transgendered person applied for membership and we denied that person membership, he may file suit against Oak Crest. Our goal would be to prove we discriminated on the basis of religious convictions regarding gender, but they would try to prove we discriminated on the basis of sexual bias. It is at this point that a clearly articulated confession of our convictions would serve as legal protection.
I am personally 100% convinced that our proposed confession of faith is not in any way contradictory to our existing confession of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. It is, on the other hand, far more extensive and elaborate. We are proposing our own confession of faith that, while it is a revision and adaptation of the 1689 2nd London Confession, it will be an appendix to the constitution allowing us to revise it as we gain greater biblical clarity on a number of issues. Therefore, rather than speaking in vague generalities, we will be well suited to speak truth to power while holding fast to the faith “once and for all handed down to the saints.”
I say all this to sincerely plead with you to take interest in this and affirm it on November 30th. We will never “teach according to the confession.” The confession will not and must not ever be a blunt instrument with which we beat one another into submission. God forbid! We will only and always teach according to Scripture, nevertheless a clear and straightforward statement of faith is a great resource for our church and outsiders. Each of our resources; our own confession, the Cambridge Declaration of 1996, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy of 1978 will serve us well for decades, even centuries to come – if the Lord tarries. Come quickly Lord Jesus.