"Rooted conviction" speaks to the reality that Red Tree believes certain things deeply. The burning question is three-fold: What do we actually believe, why do we believe it and how do we arrive at those particular beliefs?
In previous posts, I explained what it means that we are committed to Scripture (not taking cues from our instincts or our own ability to reason) and centered in the gospel (not around a collection of ethical advice). Now I will explain more fully what it means that we are a confessional church (not captured by cultural trends).
Confessional (not captured by
Red Tree is a confessional church. This refers to our embrace of confessions and creeds that have been developed throughout church history intended to define and better explain the teaching of the Bible.
Being a confessional church means we have a rootedness. We’re committed to a certain tradition that that we believe best reflects the entire teaching of the Bible. We understand the reality that creeds and confessions have not been very popular as of late. Many people and churches believe confessions bring division to the church rather than serving to unite. They're viewed as being a tightly wound and narrow way of looking at things. Why would we embrace historic confessions instead of “just loving one another” or promoting unity in the church?
First of all, we recognize there is no such thing as a biblical church that is also not a loving church who promotes unity. However, it must also be recognized that the kind of unity that is not unified around truth is not really a biblical unity. Confessions and creeds take seriously the fact that the Bible has actually teaches us things and we need to understand these teachings.
Creeds and confessions are embraced by the biblical authors themselves. For example, the Apostle Paul made statements in the book of 1 Timothy (in chapters 2 and 3) that reference early confessions, early works that were put together by the Christian church prior to his writing. These creedal statements attempted to put into words the best understanding and interpretation of what had just happened with the death and resurrection of Jesus. In 1st Corinthians 15, when Paul writes about the significance of the gospel, that Jesus came from heaven to earth; that he really died and was literally raised from the dead, Paul is quoting from early formulations of written interpretations of what had just happened with Jesus in light of the Old Testament promises.
The church formulated these teachings in order to explain the significance of what happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the church continued this practice through the ages. In the first, second and third century, there were questions and even confusion about how to articulate exactly who Jesus is and what is his relationship with God the Father and Holy Spirit. So, church leaders and theologians gathered to wrestle through these these important issues and the result was the birth of helpful written confessions for the church.
For example, the Nicene Creed is a creed that was formulated in 325 AD. This is creed is one we refer to as an ecumenical creed because the church has universally embraced this teaching about the identity of God and his relationship with Jesus and Holy Spirit. The creed states, "We believe in one God and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, begotten of the father, God of God, light of light. Of one substance with the father and in the holy ghost who proceedeth from the father and the son who with the father and the son together is worshiped and glorified."
Every word in that creed matters and was directed toward certain erroneous teachings that were prevalent in their day. They were formulating a teaching of Jesus Christ and the Trinity. The creed of Chalcedon in 451 AD is another example of the church clarifying confusion about biblical doctrines (teachings). The Apostles Creed is yet another example. This ecumenical creed was formulated in the fourth century. It states, “I believe in God, the father almighty maker of heaven on earth and in Jesus Christ his only son…” and on it goes. These ecumenical creeds teach the basic biblical doctrines of “who is God?” and “who is Jesus Christ” and “what is their relationship with one another?”.
Throughout time, different regions of the church throughout the world articulated in more depth the basic teachings of the Bible. These included biblical doctrines of of the church (Ecclesiology); the doctrine of Christ (Christology); the doctrine of humanity (Anthropology); the doctrine of future things (Eschatology); etc. Confessions were the flowering of taking all the subjects of scripture and putting grammar to them so the church could be unified around faithful biblical teaching.
Another important confession we embrace was birthed in the sixteenth century. It is called the Westminster Confession of Faith. We subscribe to this confession as a church associated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Other confessions that we subscribe to include the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Three Forms of Unity, which is the Belgic confession of faith. These are all wonderful resources that articulate the historic church’s deep convictions about what the bible actually teaches.
How do these Confessions serve us? Here are three really simple ways to think about why it's important that we’re a confessional church.
1) First of all, the confessions serve as a test. When ministers are ordained, for example, in the PCA (the denomination of which Red Tree is a member) there is a certain subscription that has to be honored. Ministers must subscribe to the teachings of these confessions and if there are areas we disagree with, we make those known to the larger body. This provides us with common ground, a standard to know we’re approaching scripture, historic Christianity and the teachings of the Bible with a similar mindset.
2) Secondly, it provides a text for reference for the entire church. All members of the church can refer to the confessions as we wrestle with important questions, like, “what does the bible teach about baptism?” or “what does the bible teach about growing in the Christian faith and fighting against sin?” or “what is our purpose in life?”. Our confessions and catechisms were written to answer these questions and we are able to continually study them in order to better understand what the scriptures teach.
3) Third and lastly, you might see these confessions as a testimony of the historic church and the way God's people have come together faithfully in the power of the holy spirit to interpret, understand, and apply the Bible to our lives. It's a beautiful testimony to see how God has worked in the church through the centuries. We have the best explanation of biblical teaching in written form in these confessions. You might say these confessions serve as authoritative documents for the church, even though they are not our ultimate authority. They are subordinate standards because our chief and ultimate authority is scripture itself. Our confessions never, never rise above scripture, but they are helpful for us to understand scripture and to be rooted in a historic Christianity together with the church since the days of the Apostles. Therefore, we are rooted as a confessional church.