1689 Confession of Faith - Overview
**Spoiler, I'm not a historian**
If you have any upbringing similar to mine, you either do not know what a confession is, you did not hear about what a confession of faith was until your adult life, or you know what it is but it's what those catholics do. To go ahead and get a stigma out of the way, I am not discussing confession of sins, the activity in which the catholics enter the phone booth to tell the priest all their dirties. What I am talking about is a Confession of Faith. Confessions are wonderful tools that consolidate what we believe as a church into a compact document. There are many confessions that have been produced throughout church history, most of which stem from creeds. The way my simpleton mind understands it, for I am no scholar, creeds were created in the early church as concise sayings of key doctrines of the church. Some of the earliest creeds were the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed.
As history carried us along, different heresies began to arise in the church that needed to be addressed. This is why the earlier creeds were so concise. They needed to firmly state what the church believed. When more heresies came along, the church had to back up and punt on what was already written. More words were added to tackle the heresies of the times. The more that needed to be addressed, the more specific the addressing became which, in turn, started leading to some denominational splits. Some smart guy along the way probably recommended they call it "confession" because it's a confession of a specific set of beliefs. Also, the word is longer than "creed."
Confessions are split into chapters and sections just like a book. Each chapter tackles a specific doctrinal point, and each section is a specific detail about that point. All sections have scripture references to show where the wordsmiths derived their thoughtful statements. For example, in the 1689, Chapter 1 is titled "Of the Holy Scriptures" where the writers break down things such as the sufficiency of scripture, authority and inerrancy of the scriptures, and which books are canonized. Confessions are meant to be read horizontally. Just like a book, the chapters are building on what came before them. For example, in the 1689, the first five chapters explain the Word, who God is, and how He acts. Immediately following we see the fall of man which is proceed by God's response to said fall, and so on.
"Confessions Aren't in Scripture"
To address the rebuttal that confessions are not found in the scriptures, I would tell you that the apostle Peter was married. Did you know that? "And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him." (Matthew 8:14-15) The only place in scripture that even alludes to Peter being married is here in Matthew and in the synoptic equivalents. All we have here is that Peter had a mother-in-law which would necessitate that he was married.
So what does this have to do with Confessions in the Bible?
"Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 1:13)
Paul, in his letters to Timothy, very plainly tells him to publicly read the scriptures, and to teach the scriptures, and to hold fast to the teachings of the scriptures. But here, quite distinctly from scriptures, he urges him to follow the pattern of the sound words that Timothy had heard from Paul. Now, I am not trying to win you over into believing this meant Paul had a confession structured as we know them today. However, it is clear here that there was some other pattern of words and teachings that were common knowledge that Paul had taught Timothy to remember. We cannot overlook the fact that we get our doctrine from these men that wrote the letters of the New Testament, whose words were built on the foundation of Christ and the prophets. But this is my point exactly! Their letters are a reflection of their pattern of thinking, that is, what they knew to be the Christian faith. Their doctrine was firmly established amongst themselves (Paul, Timothy) as they were teaching others how to live for Christ.
So, I do not doubt that there were set teachings amongst the disciples that they adhered to. We just started calling them creeds and confessions sometime later.
Confessions & You
Ironically, most Baptist churches in the southern region of Mississippi know the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith about as well as they know how to sit on the front pew. This may be because many preachers in our area are not "trained pastors" that went to a seminary. They simply have the gift of reading the Word of God and relaying that message to their people. Some preachers do understand what confessions are, but prefer to say "no confession but the bible." Others know what they are but are not quite sure how to introduce them to their congregation, or they know them but disagree on several of the points so they would rather not introduce a large semi-binding document on their congregation when they do not believe in all of it themselves. Liberty of conscious (Chapter 21, Paragraph 2).
I won't bore you with the history of the 1689; just know that it was penned by anonymous reformed Baptists in the year 1677 but was not signed off on until 1689 for official use. This is an important fact to know that these men did not do this for any sort of fame or to show off their intelligence. They did this because of a deep rooted conviction of a lack of knowledge of the Word of God in the church and in the family. The Bible is a giant book. It would take you around three days straight with no sleep and constant reading to finish it cover to cover. From this Holy Word, many heresies have been born. Jehovah's witnesses and many other heretical denominations would agree with you on the statement "no confession but the bible." Amen! they say. These confessions give us a chance to be specific on what we believe about the bible. We can use it as a guard rail on slippery slopes.
Think about how big the Bible is, and imagine the daunting task of teaching all of it, and every doctrine you don't even know you believe, to your children. I have news for you, you probably will not be able to. But you can teach your kids confessions and catechize them (more on that another time). Deuteronomy 6 tells us to raise up our kids in the Word of God, teaching them day and night, when they rise and when they sleep, when we walk beside the way (or take them to school). Parents, Fathers, that is a tall order. God is faithful and many families have succeeded in this. But just as God uses human instrumentation in the preaching of His word to call His sheep, he can use human instrumentation to form a concise document summarizing what we believe from His word. I would encourage you to read through the 1689 Confession and submit yourself to God's guidance. These men are not God, but they viewed the Word of God with high reverence. Every doctrine that's laid out is backed by scripture.
We will begin a walkthrough series of the 1689 confession. After reading through most of the major confessions last summer I found that I fully align with this confession. The plan is to walk through this confession by section. Some of the posts may be two minutes long and some may even spill over our targeted maximum of ten minutes. Just as it is our passion on this site to get people zealous for the Word of God, it is also our prayer that you would become zealous for His people and the history of the Church. These confessions have carried the church along for centuries. There are churches today that recite these confessions aloud in their services. Imagine that for a minute: God's people gathered together in reverent worship of His majesty, reciting aloud the Holy Scriptures in unison and reading aloud together our unified belief in the living, triune God. What a beautiful picture!
We pray that this series would bless you tremendously and that you would be imparted a knowledge that you can take and teach others with. Be zealous for God's Word and His people! Show people how to have joy in God and His Word. Go and serve our God this day.
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.