That was one of the questions I asked in Recovering the Reformed Confession.
After all, ministers and ruling elders subscribe the confessions and catechisms but Rick Phillips is certainly right when he speaks of progressives and confessionalists in his “Dear Bryan” of 2015, which the fellows at the Presbycast tweeted out this morning. In all likelihood, the PCA is composed of more than just those two groups, which even further marginalizes the confessionalists. Nevertheless, Phillips is right to distinguish between the easy, one might even say lazy, identification confessionalists with traditionalists and the cultural-political “Christian right.” Still, the question remains: have not the “progressives” and the “confessionalists” but written their name below catechisms and confessions and sworn to uphold and defend the same? Why then does “confessionalist” mark out only one group?
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Every church has a moral imperative to confess to the world what it believes, and to believe what it confesses. Every minister has the same duty. That was the mindset of the Reformers as they publicly defended themselves against the Roman Catholic charge of heresy. And subscribing a Confession used to be a simple matter of literally adding your name below a list of confessed articles, sure. Some folks understand the above history and some apparently do not. If one thought a confession contained errors they simply did not subscribe it — he did not deem it to be his faith. In every case one is duty bound to attempt to perfect his church’s alleged errors in its Confession through church process; no person should subscribe any Confession which they cannot sincerely confess to be “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.”
Does this sound like “niche” Protestantism to you?
I agree but I don’t understand your point.
My point is that if the original ideal involved in formulating the Great Confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries was understood and conscientiously kept, then the term “niche” Confessionalist should not have been coined. One either subscribes or he doesn’t. If one subscribes one stands in solidarity with the other subscribers. No subscriber to these major Confessions gets placed in a pejorative “niche”.
I should add that the ideal of these Great Confessions was to confess the faith of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, or as Irenaeus coined it, “the faith believed by all, at all times, and in all places”. This ideal eluded the Roman Catholic Church and is becoming elusive even to Confessional Protestants today.
The original point of the post is that, as a matter of fact, the confessionalists are only a niche in the NAPARC world. I wrote an entire book to try to change that situation, to try to persuade the (ostensibly) confessing P&R world to take up the confession again and apply it to our theology, piety, and practice. I am not advocating that confessionalism should be a niche but I am recognizing that it is one and that fact should make us all uncomfortable.
Yes, I know your position and support it. We Confessionalists sadly do occupy a only niche in the NAPARC world, but this is because churches and denominations have changed the definition of what it means to be Protestant and Reformed since the 17th Century. If the various reformed groups would frankly declare the true consensus articles in the minds of their leading professors, with their variegated hermeneutics and theologies, the resultant splintering and reconstructing of the great Confessions would become apparent to the world. NAPARC would then need to reconsider the basis of its fraternal relations. Dozens of Westminster Confession of Faith variants and sub-variants might emerge, confusing the world and necessarily denominating Protestant Christianity even further. But I say that it would be these multitude of WCF sub-variants, now frankly confessed and believed, that would occupy niches, while the Great Confessions remain better approximations to the genuine Apostolic Faith. The Apostolic Faith may indeed be called a remnant Faith in any given epoch of time but by its universal and everlasting existence deserves a more noble term than “niche”.