Continuing the idea of resistance and going against the grain of the modern world from two days ago is this delicious tidbit from John Webster (again!) on the value of creeds and confessions. In his essay “Confession and Confessions” Webster writes:
Because confession is public attestation, it is inseperable from conflict and affliction. To recite the creed is to enter into the revolt against the world and against the church insofar as it has not yet left the world behind. Public confession challenges by setting the whole of the life of the church and the world beneath the judgment of the gospel. It therefore involves a denial of untruth and a glad and courageous affirmation of truth. A confession that fails to do this- that is not dangerous, that does not venture to contradict- is not a confession worth making, but simply a domestic inventory of Christian attitudes. Real c0nfession is linked to martyrdom: both are testimony and attestations of the truth that evokes conflict and suppression.
Creeds and confessions are misused if they serve as badges of honor to differentiate the nerds from the jocks (“Well, I subscribe to the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, so nehhhhh!”)- they’re boundary markers visibly delineating what is and is not true of the triune God, and, by extension, who does and does not belong to Christ. They are vitally important to the life of the church as concrete instances of faithful proclamation of the gospel and the reality it entails. Creeds and confessions instantiate the church’s allegiance to her Lord by testifying to the truth of his witness to and against the world.
Recall that our word “martyr” is derived from the Greek words marturia and matureo, the noun and verb forms of “witness”, respectively. Webster explicitly links witness to suffering here, echoing Jesus’ testimony that faithful, prophetic presence in the world will most assuredly result in mockery, exclusion, repression, and even death. To steadfastly identify with Christ and transmit his words to the world is a martyrdom of its own whether you are killed for it or not because you will be hated: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you,” Jesus says (John 15:18-19); it hates him because he testifies “about it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). Confessions are textual, anti-world rebellions in which the church together stares the powers and principalities in the face and declares, “This is where we stand; we will not be moved.”
The world wants to intimidate the church with its hatred but this strategy presupposes that its approval is something worth having in the first place. Confession is a way to publicly say, “Don’t waste your breath: give your worthless acceptance to someone who cares.” The act of confession draws the church together in a countercultural solidarity and reignites her zeal for her Lord, her zeal to suffer for him and for one another, her zeal to spurn the counterfeit solaces the world has to offer and embrace instead their absolute opposite. Confessing together encourages believers to persevere in faith and hope and love against the world’s disgraceful schemes and knits our hearts more closely together in so doing. Would that evangelicals would experience a resurgence in the joy of confessing together and incorporate creeds into their congregational life once more!