The Spirituality of a Confessional Church
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering."
Hopewell is unique among churches in the Ashland area as we are a "confessional church." This is the fourth article in a series which is examining what this means and why it is important.
Be sure to check out parts 1, 2, and 3.
Confessional churches are, shall we say, different. Often there is a certain feel to them. That's because the confessions typically create a unique culture. As we come to this final article on the subject of a confessional church, it may be good to think about the vibe that is produced in the church as a result of subscribing to the confessions.
Here is a quick rundown of just a few of the characteristics that are common to confessional churches:
1. Vigorous, doctrinal preaching - The Confessions are, above anything else, a high commitment to the Scriptures. They summarize, what we "confess" to be true. That usually plays out in the pulpit.
The depth of faith contained in these doctrinal standards enriches the level of teaching that occurs from week to week. Congregation members often gain a great deal of edification through the preaching of the Word and find it to be quite substantial for their souls.
2. Solid Ministers of the Gospel / Leadership - One reason why the teaching ministry is such a blessing is because confessional churches expect a well trained minister. Congregations expect their ministers to not only be thoroughly trained in the confessions themselves, but they must also be adeptly acquainted with the Scriptures that undergird them, the history that surrounds them, and the practices that they set forward.
To put it another way, confessional churches have high standards. That transposes into a high standard for those who preach and serve as elders in the church. The laity, having bulked up on Biblical and confessional material, probably isn't going to settle for any ole schlub being in a position over them.
3. Reverence & Listening - In a Pentecostal church, you will likely see people bouncing away in the aisles. In a Fundamentalist church, you may see a loud, sweaty preacher. In a Confessional church you will likely see a degree of quiet stillness.
This is not the "frozen chosen" as many jokingly call it. To the contrary, it is active engagement coupled with reverence. The confessions set forward the greatness of God and focus upon his majestic being. The confessions teach us to listen to God speak in and through his Word. The natural product is that the congregation quiets themselves so that they may revere God and give adequate attention to the means of grace.
4. Means of Grace - I had never heard this term prior to being in a confessional church. But the confessions talk a great deal about how God brings his saving grace to bear on his people.
Christ accomplished our salvation and the Spirit applies it. But the Spirit works to grow us in this grace by means of the reading and preaching of God's Word, the sacraments, prayer, etc.
As these things are conveyed in the confessions, it naturally leads the congregation to give specific attention to these means of grace, both in the corporate context of worship, and in individual homes.
5. Sacramental piety - Confessional churches have a well developed theology of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and, as a result, put a significant emphasis on them in worship services.
The confessions themselves were written in response to a lot of the abuses of the sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. Thus they spend a lot of time explaining the biblical teaching regarding them.
In sum, the confessions tell us that the sacraments are not merely pictures of the gospel or memorials for reflection. Rather they are lively declarations of the gospel. As such they are means of grace which press the validity of God's promises in a vivid manner and help us progress in our battle against sin.
6. A Covenantal Perspective - The idea of covenant is one of the most prominent themes of Scripture. The confessions have captured this fundamental teaching in their records and communicate it effectively throughout their pages.
Even though the Westminster and London Confessions have some slight nuances on the subject of covenant theology, they both concur when it comes to the basics: All humanity have become covenant breakers as a result of Adam's fall and deserve death. But the Lord redeems his people through the covenant of grace.
This covenantal perspective helps make the gospel all that much more central in the context of God's people. It also serves to give students of the confessions an enriched understanding of God's call to faithful obedience.
Admittedly, many non confessional churches may have some of the same distinctives. There's no doubt about that. But there is also no doubting the fact that the confessions foster a certain culture within the church. They set forward a unique spirituality and shape the practices and piety of those congregations which truly embrace them.
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Overcome Anxiety for Good
For the last several weeks Hopewell has dug deeply into the issue of anxiety and shown how the Lord can deliver his people from it. If you or someone you know struggles with the issue of anxiety, be sure to check out the messages.
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A Reformed and family integrated Church in Ashland, Ohio.
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1995 Baney Road
Ashland, OH 44805