LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The Christian faith includes essential doctrinal content that the church must believe, teach and confess, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told students and faculty members during the annual fall convocation Aug. 28 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Preaching from Hebrews 11:1-6 and Acts 16:30-31, Southern Seminary’s president said a clear articulation of central Christian doctrines in a confession of faith is more important than ever for evangelical churches and seminaries because they minister in a postmodern culture that denies the existence of objective truth.
“We must understand that Christianity is not a mood,” Mohler said. “It is not an emotion. It is not a feeling. It is not an amorphous set of beliefs. It is established by the truth of God’s Word, by the saving reality of God’s deeds in Jesus Christ, around certain definite doctrines without which it is not possible to exercise the kind of faith that saves.”
The faith of which Scripture speaks includes irreducible truths such as the character and attributes of God and the person and work of Christ, Mohler said, noting that creeds and confessions are important summary statements of these truths that have a long and venerable history.
“One of the problems of our contemporary age is that when people hear the word ‘faith,’ they tend to think of faith in faith,” he said. “They tend to think of faith as some sort of mental or spiritual exercise. They think of faith as a mere act of the will. They are not thinking of faith that is scripturally defined in terms, first of all, of the truth that is there affirmed, the content of that faith. We are not saved by faith in faith, we are saved through faith in Christ. There is a huge difference there.”
Southern Seminary is a confessional institution, adhering to the Abstract of Principles, a statement of faith that Basil Manly, Jr., a founding faculty member, penned and the school adopted when it opened in 1859. Professors must sign the document, agreeing to teach “in accordance with and not contrary to” its doctrines.
Four members of the Southern Seminary faculty signed the Abstract prior to Mohler’s sermon: T.J. Betts, assistant professor of Old Testament interpretation; Greg Brewton, associate professor of church music; Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics; and Randy Stinson, dean of the School of Leadership and Church Ministry.
“It is important for us to remember that this is not an innovation,” Mohler said. “We did not come up with this.
“This comes out of a tradition of confessional subscription, out of a creedal and confessional history of the church whereby God’s people, particularly churches, have received the stewardship of biblical truth and have sought to articulate that truth, to perpetuate that truth, to make that truth a matter of common accountability and common faith…. It is done before a watching church by a teacher who says, ‘These are the things that I believe. I take my stand upon these doctrines, defined and definite.'”
Confessions of faith, Mohler said, have been crucial throughout church history because they have helped Christians to distinguish orthodox doctrine from heresy. He pointed to examples such as the Nicene Creed that arose out of the Council of Nicaea in 325. The creed affirmed the orthodox expression of the deity of Christ against the threat of Arianism — a heresy that argued Christ was merely a created being, that there was a time when He did not exist. The orthodox belief in Christ’s deity as set forth in the Nicene Creed is central to the Gospel and the proclamation of it, Mohler said.
“Why are we here? It is because of who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ has done,” Mohler said. “It is because we know of the existence of God and the character of God and we see the glory of God displayed in the entire drama of redemption.
“All of this is why we are here and we must be able to articulate these things if we are genuinely to know them, to believe them, to treasure them and if we are to perpetuate them. We must have a means of distinguishing the true from the false, the right from the wrong, the orthodox from the heretical. This content requires definition.”
Baptists have been a confessional people throughout their history, Mohler said. Southern Baptists did not adopt a confession until 1925 because the denomination’s churches and associations had their own statements of faith. The SBC first adopted the Baptist Faith & Message in 1925 because denials of God’s truth were rampant in the culture and were threatening churches, Mohler said.
Some argue that the Bible is their only creed, but Mohler note that cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons also claim the Bible as their source of doctrine. Thus, it is important for Christians to know, in summary form, what the Bible teaches. While Scripture is the sole authority for Christians, confessions serve as concise expressions of its most important doctrines, Mohler said.
He concluded with nine reasons why confessions are important. Confessions, he said: define the truth, correct error, operate as standards for God’s people, assist in worship, connect modern Christians to the faith of their fathers, are useful as a teaching mechanism, protect the teaching, summarize the teaching of Scripture and define Christian unity.
It is the task of local churches to believe, teach and confess the doctrines central to Christianity, he said.
“The faith once for all delivered to the saints is articulated wherever the saints are found,” he said. “We wish to speak with the saints these same truths.
“Let us remember we are here because we believe. Let us remember that we are believers drawn to a believing institution serving a believing church in order that we may be believing teachers and believing ministers of the Word of God. Let us remember that faith has essential content. Let us treasure that content, not merely that we would get the doctrines right, not merely that we would teach the doctrines rightly, but that God would be rightly glorified in His church, the pillar and the ground of truth.”
Jeff Robinson is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.