Are Confessions of Faith Useful to the Church? Here are Five Reasons Why They Are…

By Steve Meister

Many churches that subscribe to a confession of faith often seem to make little use of it. While their confession may be on file formally, it has little functional value in the congregation’s life. Are Confessions of Faith any use to the local church? And if so, how are they supposed to be used?

As a pastor of a church that confesses the Second London Confession of Faith (2LCF), here are five ways we seek to employ our confession of faith in the routine of ordinary life and ministry. They are laid out in something of a logical progression, considering how our confession is a resource for everyone, from pastors to prospective church members.
  1. 2LCF is a starting point to interpret any given text of Scripture, especially for those of us who preach and teach. This is not ignoring the final authority of Scripture, nor the reformation principle of Sola Scriptura, but instead the practical application of the analogy of faith – the classic reformed rule of interpretation which states that the whole meaning of Scripture rules the interpretation of any given text of Scripture (2LCF 1.9). Every reader and preacher of Scripture approaches the passage before them with some conception of the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), “the pattern of sound words” (2 Tim 1:13), or “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). In a confessional church our confession articulates clearly what we believe Scripture to mean, along with the saints who’ve gone before us, so that we can delve more deeply and faithfully into any given passage.
  1. 2LCF “norms” the ministry of the Word among us. Using older language, a confession of faith is a norma normata (“a rule that is ruled”), while Scripture alone remains the norma normans (“the rule that rules”). Certainly “Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule” (2LCF 1.1), but that does not mean it is the only rule, absolutely speaking. There must be subordinate standards that are agreed upon by churches to express what they believe Scripture means. If it were otherwise, how would we ever determine whether any teaching among us is biblical as we understand it?

James Bannerman put it this way, “A man may accept as the rule of his faith the same inspired books as yourself, while he rejects every important article of the faith you find in these books. If, therefore, we are to know who believes as we do, and who dissent from our faith, we must state our creed in language explicitly rejecting such interpretations of Scripture as we deem to be false.” ¹

Whether any sermon, Sunday School curriculum, recommended book, or even a hymn or song is biblical is determined by whether it agrees with our Confession.


  1. 2LCF instructs new candidates for pastoral and diaconal office in the church. Pastors and elders are called by God to be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2) and “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught” (Titus 1:9). Likewise, in the diaconate, men “must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim 3:9). So, a key part of preparation and examination for office in our church involves a study and examination on the Confession. Can a man articulate and defend the substance of its doctrine from Scripture? This is simply exploring whether he is in fact “able to teach” among us.


  1. 2LCF is the basis for the congregation to hold the teachers and teachings of their church accountable. In our church covenant, among the promises we make as members of one another, we include:


“We will work together for the continuance of a faithful gospel ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines.” ²


This reflects the biblical expectation that final oversight of the congregation belongs to the congregation. Offenders are to listen to the church (Matt 18:17). When doctrinal error crept into Galatia and Corinth, Paul did not write to a subset of the church – nor to a theological institution outside of it – but to the congregations themselves (see Gal 1:6-10; 2 Cor 11:3-4). The final earthly authority for affirming orthodoxy and addressing heresy in the church’s teaching ministry is the church. So, church members must be familiar enough with the Confession to be able to question and examine teachings and teachers accordingly.


  1. 2LCF is the basis for considering the profession of Christians and their candidacy as church members. Engaging with our Confession actually begins before membership, in the membership process itself. New member candidates are first exposed to the Confession and what it means to be a confessional church in our Membership Matters class. We expect a “subscription of unity” to 2LCF for all members, which is helpfully explained in Tom Hicks’ article, Can a whole church really subscribe to a detailed confession of faith?” ³ Practically, this means that prospective church members agree to:
  • Not teach or advocate for anything contrary to the Confession, including on social media.
  • Be teachable and open to persuasion to everything in the Confession.
  • Expect that the church’s goal in their discipleship and growth will be a full affirmation of 2LCF, on the basis of Scripture.

During the membership process, we then ask if there are any areas of the Confession where they have questions, have not yet formed an opinion, or may presently hold a contrary position. The nature of their answers will form a large part of their membership interview with one of our elders. 

Additionally, in the “Foundations Track” of our Discipleship Classes (think adult Sunday School), I’ve written a twelve-week overview of 2LCF to get young Christians and new members reading our Confession more deliberately, understanding its organisation, and discussing the substance of its teachings. We have also divided the Confession into a 52-week reading plan to encourage ongoing reading, perhaps even a discipline of once per week. Also, during our midweek meetings, I or another pastor will give a thirty-minute meditation on The Baptist Catechism, expounding on the relevant Scripture and sections in 2LCF. Of course, this does not include citing the Confession in our preaching and teaching for handy summaries of what Scripture teaches on a given issue. If church members are to be faithful to do what Scripture expects of them, they must have a growing familiarity with our Confession.

These five uses are far from exhaustive. (We have not even considered how creeds and confessions may be utilised in public worship). But it hopefully offers some insight into how a confessional church can make sure their Confession is a functional document in their life together. 

It is probably worth noting that one of the most common compliments we receive from visitors is “This is a church that loves God’s Word.” Amen! Every day and twice on Sundays. It’s a privilege to pastor such a spiritually minded congregation. To be sure this is not in spite of our confessionalism, but because of it. A functional Confession should never be pitted against a spiritual hunger for the Word of God. As Christians better grasp that pattern of sound words, they will grow into a greater knowledge of the Word of God and a deeper devotion to the God of the Word.


Picture of Steve Meister

Steve Meister

Pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church, Sacramento, CA