Re-post from Jan 07 from the old HB:
Nancy and “William Twisse” (the first prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly lives!) have both written to the HB to ask why it focuses so much on the Reformed confessions. Nancy writes:
I am new to this reformed family. I’m just another out there like Echo mentions so I still have some questions and hesitations. WT expresses my thoughts well. I do trust that those who do often quote the confessions do sincerely subject them to the authority of scripture. I see no grounds for questioning the genuineness of those in reformed circles. But, like WT I do find the frequent references to confession over the Bible curious. This post is not necessarily a criticism but a curiosity about reformed culture.
Dear Nancy and WT:
First, the HB was established (are blogs “established”?) to encourage the recovery of the Reformed theology, piety, and practice.
Second, it’s not as if it’s possible to do without a confession. All churches have a confession. Even those who confess “no confession” have a confession. Just try to teach “pro confession” in a no-confession church and see what happens. They’ll ask you to stop or leave. Why? Because they confess “no confession.” Confessions are inevitable.
Third, they come in two forms: written and unwritten. The Reformed confession is written so that we all know what we’re confessing and what is the constitution of our churches.
Fourth, the question is not whether Scripture is the unique authority for faith and life. Of course it is. We confess that it is. The question is how we are to read the Scriptures. By using written confessions, we are reading the Scripture with with the rest of the contemporary and historic Reformed church.
Fifth, the confessions record those conclusions that the Reformed churches have decided are essential to the Reformed reading of Scripture. Think of it this way, if Reformed = “whatever anyone says that Bible teaches,” then the adjective “Reformed” is literally without any fixed meaning. In that case, then “Reformed” means everything to everyone and nothing to anyone. If that’s the case, then why do we bother having Reformed churches at all?
Sixth, this doesn’t mean that the confessions are incorrigible, but it does mean that the confessions define the Reformed reading of Scripture. If someone can show that the Reformed confession errs, the Reformed churches are bound by their own confession to revise it according to Scripture; but that’s serious business done in the courts and assemblies of the churches and after serious research, time, and prayerful consideration of weighty arguments. After all, it’s not as if we’ve never read the Scripture before. Remember, in the whole history of the church all heretics quote Scripture. The Socinians (who ended up denying the Trinity) said that they were “just following the Bible.” The Arminians (who wanted to redefine our doctrine of salvation) were “just following the Bible.” Even the 19th- and 20th-century liberals said that they were “just following the Bible.”
Seventh, the confessions are not and have never been superior to Scripture. The confessions themselves say this. Westminster Confession 1.10 says:
The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
We also understand Scripture to teach that ecclesiastical assemblies have real (if derived and ministerial) authority. WCF 31.2 says:
It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word.
Finally, this site focuses on “recovering the Reformed confession” because I am convinced that they are true and that they form the best and proper boundary for what it is to be Reformed. To put it another way, I subscribe (endorse) the Reformed confessions because I think they’re biblical. If I didn’t think they were biblical, I wouldn’t subscribe them.