B.H. Carroll and Robust Confessionalism

B.H. Carroll and Robust Confessionalism

Should a church use a confession of faith? If so, how robust should that confession be? While few modern Baptists may be willing to identify with the Campbellite “no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible” approach to church life, considerably more seem to be skeptical of or even decidedly against the use of a robust confession of faith by local churches. Yet an extensive confession can serve a church well especially in seasons of doctrinal minimalism and confusion such as our own.

B.H. Carroll, the founder and first President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, understood this well and minced no words in his insistence on robust confessionalism. He rightly noted the inextricable connection between doctrine and devotion, faith and life. He writes,

All the modern hue and cry against dogma is really against morals. The more we reduce the number of the creed articles, the more we undermine practical religion.

Since the Bible is not minimalistic in its revelation of what we are to believe and how we are to live, neither should our confessions be. Commenting on Ephesians 4:1, Carroll insists that the practical admonitions of Paul necessarily are built on his doctrinal instructions.

Neither Christ nor the apostles predicate morals on any other than a doctrinal foundation. If we are to walk worthily of our calling, we must first know the doctrine of the calling, that is, unto what we were called. And all our “lowliness and meekness and longsuffering and forbearance toward each other, and diligent keeping of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” are dependent on the antecedent doctrines set forth, otherwise there is no force in Paul’s “therefore.” And what one of the doctrines in the three preceding chapters or in this can we omit from our creed without omitting something profitable in our life? A Christian’s creed should enlarge, and not diminish, up to the last utterance of revelation in order that each article might be transmitted into experience.

Carroll’s conviction that true Christianity is doctrinal led him to argue that increased theological clarity is inherent in sanctification. It also made him suspicious of those who suggest that a church’s confession of faith should be briefer rather than fuller.

A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. The more divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power, and the wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness.

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.

A robust, sound confession of faith is in no danger of taking the place of Scripture or being elevated to the same authority as Scripture. The Second London Baptist Confession (SLC), for example, begins by declaring that “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”

Neither does a church’s use of a robust confession require that a person must fully subscribe to it before he or she is eligible for membership. Again, as the SLC states in 26.2,

All people throughout the world who profess the faith of the gospel and obedience to God people Christ in keeping with the gospel are and may be called visible saints, as long as they do not destroy their own profession by any foundational errors or unholy living. All local congregations ought to be made up of these.

While leaders and teachers in the church should be expected to affirm the confession more fully, such subscription is not necessary for the membership since every healthy church will be comprised of young, weak and not-yet-carefully-instructed believers.

So if your church is thinking of revising or adopting a confession of faith, don’t settle for a minimal statement on the grounds that doing so will be better for the congregation. Consider again the wisdom of B.H. Carroll whose views reflect a spiritually healthier season of Baptist life than we currently enjoy:

Very solemnly I would warn the reader against any teaching that decries doctrines, or which would reduce the creed of the church into two or three articles.

We are entitled to no liberty in these matters. It is a positive and very hurtful sin to magnify liberty at the expense of doctrine. A creed is what we believe. A confession of faith is a declaration of what we believe. The church must both believe and declare. The longest creed of history is more valuable and less hurtful than the shortest. While “the faith” has many articles, there is unity in them. They articulate. And it is intensely important to bring all members of the church into unity touching all the faith.

Biblical Distinctions(Tensions/boundary markers/fences) held by the Reformed Confessions….for Gospel Precision

 

General/Special Revelation

 

Providence: Divine/Human Causality (First and Secondary)

 

Creation: Twoism/Oneism

 

Creator/Creation

 

God/Man

 

Man/Woman

 

Man/Animal

 

Good/Evil

 

Holy/Profane

 

Creation/Falleness

 

The Will of Man: Free/Bound

 

Divine/Human Natures of Christ

 

Old/New Covenant (Continuity/Discontinuity)

 

Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace

 

Particular/Common Grace

 

Law/Gospel

 

Justification/Sanctification

 

Justice/Mercy

 

Orthodoxy/Orthropraxy

 

Fear/Fear Not  

 

Pre/Post Fall

 

First/Second Adam (Romans 5)

 

Profession/Possession of Faith

 

Physical/Spiritual Circumcision

 

Visible/True Israel (Romans 3:3-5)

 

Faith/Faithfulness

 

Saving Faith/Repentance

 

Repentance/Good Works

 

Actual/Imputed Righteousness (Forensic)

 

Sins of Commission/Omission

 

Theology of the Cross/Theology of Glory

 

Wheat/Weeds

 

Faith/Assurance

 

Transcendent/Immanent

 

Communicable/Incommunicable Attributes

 

Gospel/Implications of the Gospel

 

In the World/Not of the World

 

Sanctificaiton: From/To, From within/From without

 

Conscience: Where is it Free for individual Christians? Where is it Bound for all?

 

Church: Visible/Invisible

 

Church: Militant/Triumphant

 

Church: Mixed yet True/Apostatizing  

 

Sacraments: Sign/Thing Signified

 

Prophesy: Promise/Fulfillment

 

Eschatology: Already/Not-Yet

 

Utopian fallacies are fueled by the flattening of Distinctions/Egalitarianism (One-ism) under the desire for no tension.

 

Secularism/Paganim Destroys all Fundamental Distinctions from Genesis.

   

The Historic Reformed Confessions display the framework for showing relationship and distinctions.

Chapter 25 – Marriage

1. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman. A man must not have more than one wife nor a woman more than one husband at the same time.1

1Genesis 2:24; Malachi 2:15; Matthew 19:5, 6.

 

2. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife,2 for the increase of humanity with legitimate offspring,3 and for the prevention of immorality.4

2Genesis 2:18. 3Genesis 1:28. 41 Corinthians 7:2, 9.

 

3. Everyone who is able to give rational consent may marry.5  Yet Christians are to marry in the Lord.6  Therefore, those who profess the true religion should not marry unbelievers or idolaters. Nor should the godly be unequally yoked by marrying those who lead evil lives or hold to damnable heresy.7

5Hebrews 13:4; 1 Timothy 4:3. 61 Corinthians 7:39. 7Nehemiah 13:25–27.

 

4. Marriage should not occur within the degrees of blood relationship or kinship that are forbidden in the Word.8  These incestuous marriages can never be made lawful, so that the individuals may live together as husband and wife, by any human law or consent of the parties involved.9

8Leviticus 18. 9Mark 6:18; 1 Corinthians 5:1.

Chapter 21 – Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

1. The liberty Christ has purchased for believers under the gospel is found in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, and the severity and curse of the law.1 It also includes their deliverance from this present evil age,2 bondage to Satan,3 the dominion of sin,4 the suffering of afflictions,5 the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave,6 and everlasting damnation.7  In addition, it includes their free access to God and their obedience to him, not from slavish fear8 but from a childlike love and willing mind.9

All these liberties were also enjoyed in their essence by believers under the law.10  But under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further expanded. They are free from the yoke of the ceremonial law to which the Jewish congregation was subjected; they have greater confidence of access to the throne of grace; and they have a fuller supply of God’s free Spirit than believers under the law usually experienced.11

1Galatians 3:13. 2Galatians 1:4. 3Acts 26:18. 4Romans 8:3. 5Romans 8:28. 61 Corinthians 15:54–57. 72 Thessalonians 1:10. 8Romans 8:15. 9Luke 1:73–75; 1 John 4:18. 10Galatians 3:9, 14. 11John 7:38, 39; Hebrews 10:19–21.

 

2. God alone is Lord of the conscience,12 and he has left it free from human doctrines and commandments that are in any way contrary to his word or not contained in it.13 So, believing such doctrines, or obeying such commands out of conscience, is a betrayal of true liberty of conscience.14  Requiring implicit faith or absolute and blind obedience destroys liberty of conscience and reason as well.15

12James 4:12; Romans 14:4. 13Acts 4:19, 29; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 15:9. 14Colossians 2:20, 22, 23. 151 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 1:24.

 

3. Those who use Christian liberty as an excuse to practice any sin or nurture any sinful desire pervert the main objective of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction,16 and they completely destroy the purpose of Christian liberty. This purpose is that we, having been delivered from the hands of all our enemies, may serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our lives.17

16Romans 6:1, 2. 17Galatians 5:13; 2 Peter 2:18, 21.

One or Two?

by 

An ideology is taking over the West that is both very spiritual and self-consciously anti-Christian. It intends, ever so subtly, without ever saying so explicitly, to grind the gospel into the dustbin of history. The 1960s was an incredibly formative decade. In 1962, Mircea Eliade, the world expert on comparative religions, observed: “Western thought [he meant Christendom] can no longer maintain itself in this splendid isolation from a confrontation with the ‘unknown,’ the ‘outsiders.’” As if on cue, the “Fab Four” met the Maharishi and introduced the “wisdom of the East” to popular Western culture. In the same decade, the “Death of God” theology arose, which turned out not to be the final triumph of secular humanism over the God of the Bible but instead the arrival of “the new polytheism” in the rebirth of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome. Bob Dylan sang, “The Times They Are A’Changin,” and we heard for the first time of the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” an age of pagan utopian spirituality. This was the age when many became aware of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism through the discovery of ancient Gnostic texts and the psychological theories of the modern, very spiritual Gnostic Carl Jung, who called Christian orthodoxy “systematic blindness.” Jung followed the ancient Gnostic god Abraxas, half man, half beast, as a deity higher than both the Christian God and the Devil. His secular biographer recently stated that Jung, like the Roman Emperor Julian in the fourth century AD, succeeded in turning the Western world back to paganism.

The results of this pagan invasion of the West are stunning. In August 2009, Newsweek announced that “we are all Hindus now,” meaning that the Western “Christian” soul has been profoundly and definitively altered by Eastern spiritual one-ism, the seductive message of which is bound up in the Hindu word advaita, meaning “not two.” Here is the massive clash of two fundamentally opposed worldviews. Whereas Scripture affirms two-ism (the Creator/creature distinction and all the distinctions God creates in the cosmos He made), Hindu one-ism categorically affirms that things are “not two” but “one.” In a cosmos without a Creator, all distinctions collapse and man is god.

The conversion of the West has had practical effects. California is now mandating, in the name of oneist fairness, that gay history must be taught in all the schools, including grade school. The effect on Christian teachers will be devastating. If they leave, we hand over public education to the pagans. The same is happening in the military chaplaincy, just the way it happened in the fourth century under Julian the Apostate, who turned the empire back to Isis worship and purged Christians from the imperial administration.

Pagan territory is new for us. The theological binary (two-ism) is being ineluctably undermined by the rejection of the normative male/female binary. In a Swedish, tax-funded preschool, teachers can no longer use the pronouns him or her and must address the children as “friends.” “Homophobic,” gender-specific children’s stories such as “Thumbelina” or “Cinderella” are forbidden. A Toronto couple is raising their baby, Storm, without telling anyone the child’s gender.

While only 1.4 percent of the U.S. population claims a same-sex orientation (see the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2011), this minuscule tail wags the massive dog of Western culture because the agenda of homosexual oneness fits the “new ideology” of advaita — “not two.”

The one-ism of secular environmentalism is capturing the mind of the rising generation, raised in grade school through college on the notion of “sustainability” that worships Mother Earth and flattens the difference between creatures made in God’s image and those that are not.

What will happen to gospel witness when Western culture is “purified” of its literary canon and its Christian ethical past? The church must still speak and live out all issues of fundamental truth, whatever the cost — not to save America but to save souls from eternal doom. Without a clear understanding of the biblical worldview of two-ism — especially without the unambiguous embodiment of gender distinctions — as part of the image of God, we lose the essence of who we are as human beings, and the gospel loses its clarity.

It is time for people everywhere to hear that the good news concerns the amazing grace of reconciliation with God, the great Other, who, while transcendently different from us, redeems sinful creatures like us and restores to us personal fellowship with Him through the atoning death of His Son.

Confession The Faith–The 1689 Baptist Confession for the 21st Century

Chapter 18 – Assurance of Grace and Salvation

1. Temporary believers and other unregenerate people may deceive themselves in vain with false hopes and fleshly presumptions that they have God’s favor and salvation, but their hope will perish.1  Yet those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus and love him sincerely, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may be certainly assured in this life that they are in a state of grace. They may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God,2 and this hope will never make them ashamed.3

1Job 8:13, 14; Matthew 7:22, 23. 21 John 2:3; 3:14, 18, 19, 21, 24; 5:13. 3Romans 5:2, 5.

 

2. This certainty is not merely an inconclusive or likely persuasion based on a fallible hope. It is an infallible assurance of faith4 founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel.5  It is also built on the inward evidence of those graces of the Spirit about which promises are made.6  It is further based on the testimony of the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.7  As a fruit of this assurance, our hearts are kept both humble and holy.8

4Hebrews 6:11, 19. 5Hebrews 6:17, 18. 62 Peter 1:4, 5, 10, 11. 7Romans 8:15, 16. 81 John 3:1–3.

 

3. This infallible assurance is not such an essential part of faith that it is always fully experienced alongside faith, but true believers may wait a long time and struggle with many difficulties before obtaining it.9  Yet with the enabling of the Spirit to know the things freely given to them by God, they may attain this assurance using ordinary means appropriately without any extraordinary revelation.10  Therefore, it is the duty of all to be as diligent as possible to make their calling and election sure. In this way their hearts may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience. These effects are the natural fruits of this assurance.11  Thus, it does not at all encourage believers to be negligent.12

9Isaiah 50:10; Psalms 88; 77:1–12. 101 John 4:13; Hebrews 6:11, 12. 11Romans 5:1, 2, 5; 14:17; Psalms 119:32. 12Romans 6:1, 2; Titus 2:11, 12, 14.

 

4. True believers may in various ways have the assurance of their salvation shaken, decreased, or temporarily lost. This may happen because they neglect to preserve it13 or fall into some specific sin that wounds their conscience and grieves the Spirit.14  It may happen through some unexpected or forceful temptation15 or when God withdraws the light of his face and allows even those who fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light.16  Yet they are never completely lacking the seed of God,17 the life of faith,18 love of Christ and the brethren, sincerity of heart, or conscience concerning their duty. Out of these graces, through the work of the Spirit, this assurance may at the proper time be revived.19  In the meantime, they are kept from utter despair through them.20

13Song of Solomon 5:2, 3, 6. 14Psalms 51:8, 12, 14. 15Psalms 116:11; 77:7, 8; 31:22; 16Psalms 30:7. 171 John 3:9. 18Luke 22:32. 19Psalms 42:5, 11. 20Lamentations 3:26–31.

 

The Perseverance of the Saints

1. Those God has accepted in the Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect can neither totally nor finally fall from a state of grace. They will certainly persevere in grace to the end and be eternally saved, because the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable. Therefore, he still brings about and nourishes in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit that lead to immortality.1  Even though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet these things will never be able to move the elect from the foundation and rock to which they are anchored by faith. The felt sight of the light and love of God may be clouded and obscured from them for a time through their unbelief and the temptations of Satan.2  Yet God is still the same;  they will certainly be kept by the power of God for salvation, where they will enjoy their purchased possession. For they are engraved on the palms of his hands, and their names have been written in the book of life from all eternity.3

1John 10:28, 29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:19. 2Psalms 89:31, 32; 1 Corinthians 11:32. 3Malachi 3:6.

 

2. This perseverance of the saints does not depend on their own free will but on the unchangeableness of the decree of election,4 which flows from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father. It is based on the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him,5 the oath of God,6 the abiding of his Spirit, the seed of God within them,7and the nature of the covenant of grace.8  The certainty and infallibility of their perseverance is based on all these things.

4Romans 8:30 Romans 9:11, 16. 5Romans 5:9, 10; John 14:19. 6Hebrews 6:17, 18. 71 John 3:9. 8Jeremiah 32:40.

 

3. They may fall into grievous sins and continue in them for a time, due to the temptation of Satan and the world, the strength of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation.9  In so doing, they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit;10 their graces and comforts become impaired;11 their hearts are hardened and their consciences wounded;12 they hurt and scandalize others and bring temporary judgments on themselves.13  Nevertheless, they will renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.14

9Matthew 26:70, 72, 74. 10Isaiah 64:5, 9; Ephesians 4:30. 11Psalms 51:10, 12. 12Psalms 32:3, 4. 132 Samuel 12:14. 14Luke 22:32, 61, 62.