What Do We Believe, Part One
Holy Scripture, The Triune God, Humanity, and Salvation
⏱ 25 min. read
Why do we have a statement of faith?
We should think about a statement of faith as having two major functions. First, it has a doxological function, and then, it has a confessional function.
We’re going to spend a bit of time here before we talk about our actual statement because I want you to think theologically before we highlight rather uncontroversial matters in Redeemer’s statement of faith.
The doxological function —a Statement as worship
A statement of faith springs out of the worship of the congregation and it reinforces the worship of the church. It also reflects the character of a given congregation’s worship. John Webster points this out when he wrote that creeds emerge out of the “act of confession” where a church binds itself to the gospel in worship (Webster, “Confession,” 69). He argued we should see it as that before we see it as a proposition of facts about God.
Consider what Paul is doing in 1 Cor 15:3-4
1 Corinthians 15:3–4 ESV
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
Paul anticipates two things here. That what he was taught as a confession would be the confession of the Corinth church, sure, which is our second point. But he hopes it would fuel their worship—that is, he wants them to live their life in light of the glory of the resurrection.
The confessional function —a Statement as text.
Here is a helpful definition of a confession of faith from Webster again:
A creed or confessional formula is a public and binding indication of the gospel set before us in the scriptural witness, through which the church affirms it allegiance to God, repudiates the falsehood by which the church is threatened, and assembles around the judgement and consolation of the gospel (Webster, “Confession,” 74).
We set our Statement of Faith in front of us to
- Summarize the Bible’s teaching in a way that is faithful to it and helpful to life.
- Affirm our desire to be faithful to God and his Word.
- Identify theological error.
- Gather around it for mutual accountability and edification.
We can say it this way: a statement of faith seeks to draw a circle large enough to include as many people as possible around the truth without having any ambiguity about the things we should reject.
Why do we have this statement of faith?
If you look at the Statement of Faith in front of you, you’ll notice that a small note clarifies that it is adapted from the New Hampshire Confession of Faith.
Indulge me by hearing a bit of historical information, and then we’ll talk about its usefulness in today’s conversation. I promise this matters.
Particular Baptists came to America with a confession of faith preloaded, the Second London Confession (1689) and enjoyed relative unity around an Americanized version called the Philadelphia Baptist Confession (1742) that clarified against some Presbyterians of that day that singing new things called “hymns” was not sinful. You see, worship wars are nothing new.
But some of these Particular Baptists in the late 1700s became very uncomfortable with some changes happening in American Christianity in the 1820s. They opposed missionary agencies, Bible distribution, and seminaries, believing them to invention of men. This group splintered off and became the Primitive Baptists, “Primitive” not because they rejected modern life but because they wanted to try to maintain what they believed to be an ancient form of Christianity.
These guys were not without cause for suspicion. Charles Finney had been modifying theology to minimize the effect of sin and maximize human ability.
Into this world, some New Hampshire Baptist set out to clarify the sovereignty of God in salvation while emphasizing the value of missionary cooperation.
The New Hampshire Confession helps us today by charting a course between the fractionalization of the so-called Christian nationalists suspect of evangelical cooperation and the easy-believeism and anti-theology of non-denominationalism.
We have made minor changes, such as substituting “Jehovah” for “Lord,” updating 19th century syntax, and adding statements to clarify that we hold to historical Christian positions on gender, marriage, and sexuality.
What do we believe about Scripture?
We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction. It has God for its author, salvation through Christ for its purpose, and truth without any mixture of error for its content. It reveals the principles by which God will judge us. Therefore, it is and shall remain to the end of the world the true center of Christian union and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.
Let me highlight a few important things there:
- We affirm plenary inspiration. While men penned the actual words of Scripture, God is its author (inspiration). Inerrancy follows from inspiration.
- Because it is God’s word it had authority. We must obey Scripture because God is its author and through it He speaks.
- Scripture is sufficient. There isn’t an extra tier of secret knowledge needed for godliness accessible only in following one or two teacher’s thoughts or adopting seemingly ancient spiritual practices. God is just and plainly tells us everything he expects from us.
- This is not to be confused with exhaustive. The Bible does not tell us how to remove a tumor from a spinal column and it did not tell first-century Gentile Christians how to plumb a line for construction. Because God created an ordered universe, we are free to make empirical observations and rationally deduce other bodies of knowledge.
- However, it is the norma normans, that is, it is the norm which interprets all other statements and sources of knowledge outside of itself. So, all observations and deductions must be evaluated in light of the Bible.
What do we believe about God?
We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God. He is an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is the LORD, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth. He is inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love. In the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are equal in every divine perfection, yet carry out distinct but harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.
Let me again highlight a few things:
- God exist in Trinity eternally. He is not created or begotten.
- Highlighted here are the classical doctrines of creation ex nihilo and God’s superintending providence over the universe. He is infinite; space, time, and matter are not.
- God exists eternally in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. There is no difference in rank between these persons. Each are co-equal in majesty and glory. The taxis of the Trinity does not imply rank, but the persons cannot be ordered any other way: from the Father through the Son by the Spirit. The Son does not beget the Father and the Father does not proceed from the Spirit.
- The persons carry out distinct appropriations while working together inseparably. That means that every act of God is accomplished by the respective appropriations of the persons. The Son is sent by the Father; the Son take human nature upon himself; the hypostatic union is accomplished by the conception by the Holy Spirit. At the baptism of Jesus, the Son is in the water, while the Father speaks and the Spirit descends.
- This doctrine becomes important within the immediate theological conversations we have related to charismatic heterodoxies. The Spirit does not command, confirm, reveal what the Father has not spoken finally through the Son.
I trust we’ll spend many more moments together glorying in the doctrine of the Trinity. It is worthy of our allegiance, fascination, and dedication. It is also entirely logical when one studies the history of exegesis summed up in our simple formulas such as Nicaea and Constantinople.
What do we believe about man?
We believe that humanity is the special creation of God, made in his own image. God created them male and female as the crowning work of his creation. The gift of gender and sex is thus part of God’s creation. Both are immutable. The gift of marriage consists of the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. Such a covenantal marriage figures the way God relates to his people in Christ.
Humanity was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker. By voluntary transgression, however, humanity fell from that holy and happy state. As a result, all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint but by choice. Being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, they are now positively inclined to evil. Therefore, mankind stands under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.
Now, the original confession included only the second paragraph, but ours is an age of an anthropological crisis. So, we have added this first paragraph. Honestly, I cannot remember where I found this paragraph, and a Google search for the phrases did not net an original document. I believe they are from documents I have to sign at Southern, but I am not sure. Wherever they are from, I did not write them.
I’m going to spend a bit more time here given our cultural moment:
- Humanity is not just another facet of God’s creation. Men and women are the crown of creation. The legacy of Carl Linnaeus’s taxonomy may have us rank among the animals based upon physical characteristics as homo sapiens, though there are ironies backed into the anthropocentricity of these classification systems. Instead, we are in an order unto ourselves.
- Created intent matters here. Adam was not an elect homo sapien. God had creative intent when he created Adam and Eve. Yet, please note that this statement of faith does not specifically detail a creation position one must hold to be a member at Redeemer—whether it be young or old earth, gap or apparent age theory. This will be a “matter of theological opinion” at Redeemer. Creation models are not irrelevant as if they were a mere preference. Instead, matters of theological opinion are offered up for legitimate discussion and debate yet not binding on individuals’ consciences, provided that the creative intent and unique creation of humanity is upheld.
- We also see in nature and special revelation (Scripture) that God distinguishes between all sexes with genetic and physiological characteristics which are immutable. We do not even have to look at Genesis for this fact. If you change the primary and secondary sexual characteristics of any human, and dig up the skeleton decades after that man or woman passed away, a genetic test will reveal a pair of either XX or XY chromosomes.
- In fact, this immutability is implicit within the arc of Genesis 2. Adam sees the pairs of animals and notices that one does not correspond to him. That Hebrew word (נֶ֫גֶד) normally means “before; in front of,” but we get clues on how to interpret that word from how intertestamental Jews interpreted this from how they translated the Hebrew into Greek as ὅμοιος—a female to complete the pair. That is, Adam did not merely need someone to help him work the fields. Presumably an ox would have worked well for that. He needed someone who as the ESV translated, “fit.” I don’t want to belabor the point here. We understand the sense of the text, I’m sure.
- We have to give some attention here because some have recently failed to subordinate their generally what we call “critical theories” to the norma normans, and they suggest the idea of complementarianism is read backwards on to the Hebrew text. Or that sexual distinctions are an effect of the fall or an imposition of a male patriarchy. Our confession is derived directly from the grammar, the prepositions and nouns of the text.
- Next, we have a clear statement on marriage. Anything other than a lifelong, heterosexual marriage is contrary to Scripture.
- There is forgiveness for any sexual sin, but adultery, divorce (except for a few cases), and any other forms of πορνεῖα falls short of God’s justice and design for human flourishing.
- There is forgiveness for any arrogance, but calling anything other than a monogamous covenantal union between a man and woman marriage falls short of God’s justice and design for human flourishing.
- While we were created in a state of holiness, we now exist in a world broken by our own individual making. Apart from God, we now long to sin.
What do we believe about salvation?
Now, our confession on salvation is multifaceted, because the New Hampshire brothers are heirs to the Protestant tradition and navigated the controversies of their own days. So, you’ll see many:
Jesus Christ, The Way of Salvation
We believe that the salvation of sinners is entirely of grace, through the mediatorial offices of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. By the appointment of the Father, he freely took upon himself our nature, yet without sin. He honored the divine law by his personal obedience, and by his substitutionary death made a full atonement for our sins. He rose from the dead and is now enthroned in heaven. Jesus unites in his wonderful person the tenderest sympathies with divine perfections and, as such, is qualified in every way to be a suitable, a compassionate, and all-sufficient Savior.
We believe that a great gospel blessing which Christ secures to those who believe in him is Justification. Justification includes both the pardon of sin and the promise of eternal life. It is not given in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but only through faith in the Redeemer’s blood. By virtue of this faith his perfect righteousness is freely imputed to us by God. Justification brings us, immediately at the time of salvation, into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God, and secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity.
The Freeness of Salvation
We believe that the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel. It is the immediate duty of all to accept these blessings by a heartfelt, repentant, and obedient faith. Nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth, but his own inherent depravity and voluntary rejection of the gospel, which only magnifies his condemnation.
Grace in Regeneration
We believe sinners must be regenerated, or born again, to be saved. Regeneration consists in the giving of a new and holy disposition to an otherwise rebellious sinner. It is accomplished in a way that is above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit and in connection with divine truth, thus securing our voluntary obedience to the gospel. The proper evidence of regeneration consists in the holy fruits of repentance, faith, and newness of life.
Repentance and Faith
We believe that repentance and faith are sacred duties and inseparable graces that are wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God. He convinces us of our guilt, danger, helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, causing us to turn to God with true sorrow, confession, and pleas for mercy, while at the same time receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest and King, and relying on him alone as the only and all sufficient Savior.
God’s Purpose in Grace
We believe that election is the eternal purpose of God, according to which he graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners. Being perfectly consistent with the free agency of man, election includes all the means in connection with the end of salvation. It is a most glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy, and unchangeable. It entirely obliterates boasting and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust, and an active imitation of God’s free mercy. It encourages the greatest possible exercise of human responsibility. It may be discovered by its effects in all who truly believe the gospel. Election is the foundation of Christian assurance, and confirming our election deserves the utmost diligence.
We believe that sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness. It is a progressive work. It begins in regeneration and is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit—the Sealer and Comforter—by the continual use of God’s appointed means, especially including the word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, prayer, and the oversight and fellowship of a local church.
The Perseverance of Saints
We believe that all true believers endure to the end. Their persevering attachment to Christ and to his people is the grand mark distinguishing them from false professors. A special providence watches over their welfare, and they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Unfortunately, I do not have the time to read through each of these articles, but I want to highlight a few things for you:
- Jesus Christ is incarnate Son of God, and thus, is the exclusive way of salvation. To suggest that there are other ways to know God apart from Christ is to deny the fundamental identity of Jesus Christ himself. You cannot know God if you do not know God! This is why Jesus says John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”
- We are saved by grace through the “mediatorial offices of the Son,” that is, Jesus as prophet, priest, and king.
- Jesus kept the law perfectly where we could not so that his perfect justice could be imputed to us (Cf., Justification).
- In the incarnation, he took upon himself our nature and made a substitutionary atonement. Redeemer holds that while other atonement theories—such as Christus victor—have merit they have a subordinate relationship to substitution. That is, they may indeed all be present in Scripture. Yet because only substitution actually requires a cross, it is prior to all the others. So, someone could be a member of Redeemer and affirm a plurality of atonement views. But he or she could not deny that Jesus Christ made a substitutionary atonement for sin.
- Critically, we affirm that justification is by faith alone. What that means is that we are made right with God by faith. “Justification includes both the pardon of sin and the promise of eternal life. It is not given in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but only through faith in the Redeemer’s blood.” We also affirm that Christ’s righteousness is imputed, i.e. credited, to us. That means that salvation is not, as some have recently argued, by affiliation but by decree and imputation on the basis of faith.
- We also affirm that salvation is available to all who believe: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Our statement of faith does not deny particular redemption, but it also does not require it. Also, all men and women everywhere have an opportunity and responsibility to repent and believe the gospel.
- Faith, according to Scripture, is a gift of grace given by God. Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Because even the grace to believe by faith is a gift of God, we affirm that it is God that grows us in Christlikeness (Sanctification) and holds us in grace (Preservation of Saints).
So, we’ve seen that statements of faith are to fuel and guard worship. They have a doxological and confessional purpose. They are done in context, and Redeemer is in a context. We chose this confession of faith to address our particular moment, aiming to be as catholic as possible while remaining uncompromisingly evangelical and baptistic.
Next week, we’ll look at some of the distinctives of Redeemer, that is, our doctrine of the church, our understandings of the sacraments, and our relationship to the state.
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John Webster, “Confession and Confessions,” Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (Bloomsbury, 2016).
Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Crossway, 2019).
Tom Nettles, “The New Hampshire Confession: Warm Evangelical Calvinism,’ Founders Online, accessed May 4, 2023, https://founders.org/articles/the-new-hampshire-confession/.
__________. “The Noble New Hampshire Confession,” Founders Online, accessed May 4, 2023, https://founders.org/articles/the-noble-new-hampshire-confession/.