by Jonathan Woodrow
Written confessions of the faith are tools in the school of the Holy Spirit (the church) for aiding and renewing the church’s task of confessing the truth. Confession and formulation of confessional texts are a product of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit; in turn, confessional texts aid the church’s spiritual act of confessing the truths of Scripture. It is important to underline that written confessions are not Scripture! No confession claims to be Scripture or on par with it. The Westminster Confession, Savoy Declaration, and the Second London Confession all begin with chapters that state that Scripture is the final authority in matters of faith.
Confessions are not Scripture, but they are the product of God’s revelation through Scripture and the work of the Spirit in illuminating the minds of those who study the bible. When seen in these terms, confessions are indispensable spiritual tools for the church’s life, worship and teaching.
The basic confession of the New Testament is “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 1:2). No one can confess “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). How will people confess and call upon the name of the Lord? Paul tells us in Romans 10:14-17 that Jesus calls people to make the confession through the preaching of the word.
All confessions of the truths of Scripture come about because God has first worked to reveal himself through his word, and the Spirit has enabled sinners to come to faith and make the confession. In a world of spiritually dead sinners, God is working to bring men and women, boys and girls, to spiritual life. He enables people who once suppressed the knowledge of the truth to speak the truths of Scripture. Confessions are the products of the bestowal of this new spiritual life on God’s people and the self-communication of God through his word.
The act of confessing the truth about God is an ongoing task of the church (through preaching, teaching, worship and evangelism). By the Spirit, the church confesses the faith “Jesus is Lord” as a summary of all that that statement entails. Verbal confession of the truth precedes written confession, and written confessions aid verbal confession. Written confessions are not just log books of truths or documents to be forgotten and left on the shelf, only to be taken down to solve a dispute. They are forms of sound words crafted to aid our ongoing confession of the truth.
John Webster says:
“Textual formulas are instruments of confession, but they do not in any way render the act of confession superfluous…Confession is a permanently occurring event; the church never reaches a point where the act of obedient confession can be put behind it as something which has been made, and which can be replaced by a text which will become the icon of the church as confessing community. Properly understood, a confessional formula does not put an end to the act of confession but attempts to ensure its persistence.” 
Written confessions, adopted by a church and properly used, ensure we keep confessing the truth of the gospel (in worship, in teaching, preaching and evangelism). They act as a constant prompting back to the truth. Churches have a habit of drifting into assuming the truth rather than teaching the whole counsel of God and being challenged by it. There are many churches which have a confession in their founding documents but who don’t use them. Simply having a confession doesn’t stop a church from drifting; it doesn’t mean the church has its theological ducks in a row and no longer needs challenging. Written creeds and confessions should renew the life and verbal confession of the church and keep challenging her to keep on track. Webster again:
“A creed does not ensure the church’s safety from interruption — quite the opposite: it exposes the church to the need for an unceasing renewal of confession of the gospel, of hearing, obedience, and acknowledgement of that which the formula indicates.” 
In other words, a sound confessional formula, or document, constantly reminds us of the key truths of Scripture and practices of the faith that the church often forgets. Far from distracting us from God’s word, a good confession is an instrument for calling the church back to God’s word and a means for giving voice and form to the church’s spiritual duty to confess the faith.
 J. B. Webster, ‘Confession and Confessions’, 123.