Our church is a confessional church, in that we have a specific set of doctrinal beliefs that we affirm, or “confess” as a denomination. This means that you can know what our church, and others in our same denomination, generally believe with regard to the Bible’s teaching. Some Christians are opposed to confessions and creeds. Some may also wonder how they fit with my previous post that asserted the sufficiency of the Scriptures to inform our church on doctrine. However, the simple response is that confessions are not our foundation. Nor do they replace Scripture, or even get placed on a parallel with Scripture. Rather, they are to assist the church in the promotion of peace, purity, and unity, as they provide a tool for us to systematically discuss and agree upon the teachings of Scripture. Thus, a confessional church should not treat its confession as inerrant or infallible. It is not God’s Word. Yet, a confessional church such as ours believes that the confessions we hold to are an accurate summary of those doctrines taught in God’s Word. To the degree these man-made documents are in accordance with Scripture, these confessions, creeds, and catechisms can help promote unity in the church on what we believe, and assist the church in educating the members on the doctrines of Scripture.
However, to say that we are a confessional church is not specific enough, for there are confessional churches of many theological positions; churches that confess doctrines with substantial differences than our own. Specifically, our church is confessionally Reformed. There are several denominations coming from a Reformed perspective, who have confessed different (but compatible) confessions and creeds in history. Our denomination and church joins with those like-minded brethren in confessing the Westminster Standards, originally written in the 1640s (with a few minor amendments since then). The Standards include the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The official versions used by the OPC can be found here.
It would be helpful to note that in our church, individual members are not required to subscribe to each of the tenets of doctrine expounded in these Standards. However, every ordained officer in our church and denomination is required to affirm that they “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” So, if you visit our church, or another church in our denomination, you should have a great deal of confidence that you know what the leadership in the church believes.
This continues to be important today when many churches continue to disregard sound doctrine. Every generation seems to have heretical movements rising up from the church that pervert the truth of Scripture. It can often be difficult for a Christian to discern erring leaders when they don’t clearly come out and confess systematically what they believe the Bible to teach. Furthermore, even among many conservative, Bible-believing churches, there can be doctrinal differences of substance. As a Christian, when looking for a church to join, it is helpful (and very important) to know where a church stands theologically.
On a practical note for me, this means that whenever I am looking for a church to visit (such as when I’m traveling), or whenever I am asked for a church recommendation in a specific geographical area, I typically start (after my own denomination) by turning to the churches that are a part of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). These member churches all are confessionally reformed, and so I have a pretty good sense of what I’ll be getting from any of them, even before I visit them for the first time.