Although not particularly popular, either in our present secular milieu or in bearing our present ecclesiological amnesia, I continue to believe that having, holding, and requiring a confession is good for us. In short, a confession is good for our health, even if it, at times, requires medicine that might not taste great at first. The alternative treatments often yield chaos, will-worship, self-promoting celebrity cults, confusion, methodolatry, or continual flux.
I say this with 3 caveats: (1) first, if the confession is thoroughly biblical and thus timeless and not provincial; (2) second, if the confession is used rightly as a subordinate standard, not as an ordinate standard; and (3) third, if the confession is used by pastoral and spiritual men to serve unity and clarity.
On the first caveat, no confession deserves any respect if it is not thoroughly biblical. A confes-sion, if a faithful echo of what God already says, can guide us and protect us from the disabilities of an age or locale. Confessions that parrot and lightly amplify the soundings of Scripture endure, while also equipping God’s family with strength and perspective to avoid the ditches of every fad or heresy. Biblical confessions, thankfully, save us from re-inventing every wheel. Confes-sions that stand on the shoulders of prior saintly exegetes are the AP courses that settle certain matters and yield a head start—that is, for those who are humble enough to learn from others.
On the second caveat, a subordinate standard, it should be understood, is exactly what that term implies: both subordinate (always to Scripture) and still a standard. A secondary standard is still a standard, and many fields use secondary standards to assist their practitioners in quality control. A confession is designed for that. It is simultaneously shorthand and proven wisdom; it is orthodoxy and orthopraxy at the same time. Unless one’s lifespan is infinite, when we pray for God to “teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts to wisdom,” confessions will often help us in the stewardship of time as well as protect us from crippling idiosyncratism. A subordinate standard can aid health.
On the third caveat, the telos of a confession is to serve unity and clarity. Many of us learn the hard way that the most damning laws and standards are those unwritten ones. The Pharisees, ancient and modern, are masters of using the unwritten standards to club the uninitiated into a coma. An explicit, biblical confession, on the other hand, does not subject the believing community to these secret laws; instead, it liberates us from self-standards and also makes the church open to all under the same standards. Thus a solid confession cleanses from disease and bolsters the immune system with a salutary unity.
—David Hall, “Good Medicine For A Church’s Health”