Denominations and Creeds

I’m back. After my marathon of posts reflecting on Half the Church, I needed a break. Intense theological thinking can be exhausting. But my brain won’t stop, and lately it’s been sending me down the rabbit hole of creeds and statements of faith. This has been helped by my purchase of a collection of Documents of the Christian Church that I found at a bookfair. As a result, I’ll be referencing some of those documents in this post.

I’ve gone to Presbyterian churches my whole life. I understood, even if I didn’t always apply, the Gospel from an early age. I know what it means to be a Christian and follow Jesus. The basic truths almost universally held by Christians are outlined in a statement of faith called the Apostles’ Creed. One of the many versions used is included below.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

As a teenager I was big on historical fiction, and as a result learnt more about the historical significance of the Reformation – and so taught myself more about the theological implications. I learnt what it meant to be a Protestant, and I embraced that.

But I’ve always been a little hazy on what being a Presbyterian meant – I knew vaguely there was something about the Westminster Confession, but that was about it. Well not anymore!

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the Westminster Confession for awhile now. There’s mixed news. I agree with the parts on the Bible (Holy Scripture) and the Trinity. I have some misgivings about predestination – but I also have misgivings about the idea of no predestination or elect. I know for sure we cannot save ourselves, and without God’s grace freeing us from sin we would struggle to do any spiritual good. But I also don’t know how free will fits into all this…

When it comes to Creation, of Providence, the Fall, the Covenant and Christ as Mediator, I am there. Justification, Adoption, Sanctification, Saving Faith, Repentance into Life, Good Works….these are all concepts I know and believe, though often not under those names.

But then we get to the Perseverance of the Saints, the Assurance of Grace and Salvation. This is where I cannot stand with this confession of faith. I know the language used at the time was not aimed at making these concepts sound acceptable, but I cannot accept it. How are people meant to tell if they really are elected? How do I know I’m really saved? It says those who stop believing ‘vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish,’ – how do I know that’s not me? How do you know? Especially if we are to believe what was said earlier, that we are inclined to evil, all the time?

There are further points in the confession, some I agree with, some I am not sure about, for instance, Baptism and Marriage, and parts that I could not swear to (for instance, in the section on the Church, where it calls the Pope the Antichrist). But if I was asked to swear to the Westminster Confession, I couldn’t. I’m not a real Presbyterian.

At this point I should acknowledge that I know denominations and labels are not that important. But for me, I want to know what I believe, and the only frame of reference I have is what different branches of Protestant Christianity believe. I don’t know if believing some of the Westminster Confession is enough. I don’t know what the alternatives are. But I am willing to look and find out.

Ironically, I’ve been reading the Book of Common Prayer. I’m finding a lot about it reassuring – the unchanging words and statements of faith, reminding me of Jesus. For now, I’m leaving you with the Confessions of a Sinner prayer, because praying it daily is helping me in my walk with Christ.

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare those, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore those who are penitent; according to Your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name.
Amen 

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