Since we’ve been talking a little lately about what it means to be “confessional,” I figured I’d offer these brief thoughts on what it means for me at least, as a catholic and Reformed Christian, to be confessional. This is from a comment which I left this morning over on Sacramental Piety .
The historic Reformed confessions are not to be adhered to in a slavish manner, with the church simply going along reciting the same old things over and over as though our confessions are on a par with Scripture. To be a confessing church is to be a church that confesses here and now, and this necessitates, at times, making progress on earlier forms of thought. Schaff has rightly pointed out that this idea of progress upon older forms is indeed a fundamentally Protestant principle, for without the validity of progress in light of Scripture and the ongoing tradition of the Church (which did not reach canonization in 1647), the Reformers had no right to do what they did: that is, question hundreds of years of Medieval dogma and reformulate church doctrine in the light of Scripture.
Thus, we must continue to build on their work, and continue confessing our faith. Just because someone disagrees with a Reformer on this or that point, or articulation of a common point (and the Reformers were no monolithic bunch, anyway), does not necessarily imply that one is an enemy of the Reformation. In fact, if the views which such a person is advocating are Scriptural, it may even be the case that said one’s agenda is more in line with the spirit of the Reformers than detractors who claim the title “confessional.”
Now, let me be clear: Confessing and Reformation are acts of the Church. It takes a Church to confess and it therefore takes a Church to revise a confession. If a man brings to the table a doctrine with Scriptural arguments in support of it, which he claims should lead to a revision of our confessional standards, and the confessing Church (represented by her appointed presbyters) as a whole finds those arguments lacking, then said man ought to submit to the faith of the community. However, this does not mean that we ought to reject all such attempts out of hand as being “opposed to the confession” or “against the Reformation,” for the Reformed confessions themselves were never meant to operate in this way, and the Reformation itself was never about holding up a certain stage in the church’s theological development as the standard by which all later developments might be judged. This right is reserved for Scripture.
The Reformed churches must never, of course, abandon their doctrinal heritage or the theological trajectory set by our forefathers. But we must be a continually confessing and Reforming church, building upon the thought of past ages with a perceptive eye turned to the present and the future. As a committed Presbyterian, I believe that Wesminster Confession 1.10 was included in the Standards of my particular tradition for precisely this purpose.