22 agosto 2016

We are a confessional church

What does being confessional? Reformers affirmed their orthodoxy by adopting creeds, catechisms and confessions to summarize and declare an organized what they believed. This is an ancient practice in the Christian Church, originating in the prayers of the believers of the old covenant and in baptismal rites of the first century [1]. Paul instructs Timothy to "keep the pattern of sound teaching which you heard from me, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you - guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us " (2 Timothy 1:13,14). Therefore, Christians are called to keep the "good deposit", that is, faithfully preserving the doctrinal system, without changing its essence. The purpose of the confessional practice was to identify the unit for the truth, report the error and delete the heretics.

What is the need to be confessional? David W. Hall notes that the practice of confessional subscription by reformers had the following doctrinal reasons: unity, clarity, defense of false charges, defense and preservation of identity, as well as a variety of public statements [2]. This concern is in line with the clear teaching of Scripture. Jude states that "although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3). He did not refer only to the subjective aspect of faith, that is, the trust and consent, but, especially, the doctrinal content of faith. So, your argument is that your readers should defend the doctrine that received against individuals who had entered the Church, and disseminated licentiousness, and deny sound doctrine (Jude 4).

We are a reformed denomination of Puritan heritage. So, we subscribe to the Westminster Standards as a faithful exposition of Scripture teaching. The endorsement of these doctrinal documents must be integral, that is, in all its doctrinal statements. This means that we accept all the statements and strive to live by them. But, unfortunately, some people, being Presbyterian, are not consistent. There are a few reasons for this: 1) those which do not because they were instructed; 2) those who know superficially and, ignoring the precise statements and their implications, end up not fulfilling his word; and 3) those who declare verbally accept, but, intentionally, reject the heart. The last divorced conviction of the confession, and this result in confessional dishonesty. We understand that the mental reservation is always sin! It is my intention with this text, as a member of this church, you are informed, indoctrinated and, honestly, commit to our Reformed confessional identity.

Our tradition uses confessions and catechisms to present our doctrinal system [3]. This is a context in which we are called to confess our faith to those outside the church. These documents systematically summarize the teaching of Holy Scripture about various topics. They are also useful for the exercise of true piety, as well as a brief presentation of what we believe in our Reformed faith.
The IPB requires its officers and members of the full subscription of the Westminster Standards, which are:
1. The Westminster Confession of Faith
2. The Westminster Larger Catechism
3. The Westminster Shorter Catechism

However, we accept and use to study the reformed faith [4]:
1. The Belgian Confession (1561)
2. The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
3. The Second Helvetic Confession (1566)
4. The Canons of Dort (1618-1619)

And also we received the ancient creeds as part of our statement of faith:
1. The Apostles' Creed
2. The Nicene Creed
3. The Creed of Chalcedon

How we use catechisms and confessions? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Our denomination uses them to assert their Reformed confessional identity. When someone asks us what we believe, they represent our doctrinal heritage. They are useful for continuous reading and consultation of doctrinal body of our convictions.
2. The presbytery uses them in theological debates and evaluation of official and ecclesiastical courts. When there are disputes involving liturgical matters, doctrinal matters and practice of Christian life matters, part of the rationale for correct and establish our conciliar decisions will depend on these documents.
3. Our theological institutions should use them to measure the confessional loyalty of its teachers. Hiring and continuity of a teacher, which, inevitably, will be a trendsetter, should occur by examining the JURET and JET. The academic environment favors the study and analysis of different theological aspects, however the theological formation of our future pastors should be performed with confessional commitment by our seminars. Most students are candidates for the sacred ministry and should be evaluated by their belief commitments.
4. In official and leadership training courses, our documents need to be studied prescriptively. They will exercise the government in the local church and in the different conciliar spheres of our denomination. Before his ordination or appointment, they shall be examined by the Council and will profess knowledge, understanding and commitment to our standards of faith.
5. The Council has them like standard on doctrinal issues and receiving members. The unity of the church is given on collective commitment to the truth. The elders oversee the honest obedience of votes that members place in their examination and public faith profession.
6. Preachers quote them in their sermons, to illustrate or as part of the argument. The sermon is always doctrinaire in its essence; therefore, the public service is excellent place for proclamation, education, correction and comfort of its participants. 7. Study them in doctrinal study meetings, during the week. The pastor will may perform expository study sequenced, using the Westminster Standards. There are reviews of Faith Confession and Catechisms that enrich the understanding and its applicability to practical issues of Christian life.
8. Disciples’ makers must use them, constantly, for the preparation of studies. Be in discipleship for beginners or advanced, the learner needs become familiar with Christian faith, in its documentary expression, and be sure that it is not merely the opinion of one member, but the doctrinal legacy that wife, faithfully, the systematization of the Bible.
9. Sunday School’s teachers can use them to escape any doubt or controversy in class. If there was disagreement in some subject, teachers should close the matter, where possible, through our confessionality.
10. Small groups that meet in homes can use them as a study guide. The study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is a useful resource for the study groups that meet in homes. These more informal character meetings always receive visitors, whether converted or not, and the comments of the participants can’t create, in the development of the study, an opening for accepting the plurality of opinions as equally valid. The small group is not a small church within the church, where free thought is adopted regardless of the official doctrinal body.
11. Families can add their reading in family worship . The reading of Scripture , prayer and songs added to the study of the Westminster Standards will enrich the spiritual exercise that nurtures growth. Family worship provides fellowship, education and worship in the home. If you use our doctrinal directories, certainly will forge families with healthy beliefs . Thus, build strong families will result in a vigorous church.
12. The reading of statements and biblical texts contained therein is useful for daily devotional. The use of booklets for devotional purposes, while useful, may be accompanied by reading one or two questions of catechisms or paragraphs of the Confession of Faith. They are thoughts with dense biblical content that feed and prepare us to live daily in the presence of God.

Can you be a member of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil and not confessional? Councils, to examine the candidate to the profession of faith or members transfer process should be selective about our confessional identity. If the applicant refuses to subscribe to our system of doctrine, he should not be received as a member of the local church. So, before the exam, it is recommended that prospective members should be made disciples, join the catechumens’ class and read the Westminster Standards. The rush to welcome them as a local church member is harmful, because it is necessary to help them understand what we believe, to be true, when they sincerely do their public profession of faith, before the church, in solemn worship, and, above all, before true God, that demands our ‘yes’ meaning ‘yes’. Zeal should remain, in the examination of candidates for membership.

I recommend reading about the practice of confessional subscription, as adopted by the Presbyterian Church of Brazil:
1. Carl R. Trueman, O imperativo confessional (Brasília, Editora Monergismo).
2. David W. Hall, The practice of confessional subscription (Oak Ridge, The Covenant Foundation).
3. Morton H. Smith, The case for full subscription to Westminster Standards in the Presbyterian Church in America (Greenville, GPTS).
4. Ulysses Horta Simões, A subscrição confessional - necessidade, relevância e extensão (Belo Horizonte, Efrata Publicações e Distribuição).

[1] Philip Schaff recognizes, in Scripture, the following creeds in embryonic form: Exodus 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 6:4; John 1:50; Mathew 16:16; 28:19; John 6:68; 20:28; Acts 8:37; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 6:1-2. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom - with the history and critical notes (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2007), vol. 2, pp. 3-8.
[2] David W. Hall, Southern Presbyterians: the virtue of confessional relaxation?". In: Joseph A. Pipa Jr., org., Confessing our hope - Essays celebrating the life and ministry of Morton H. Smith (Taylors, Southern Presbyterian Press, 2004), p. 97.
[3] The importance of tradition is to preserve and pass on the truth. It should be a tool to communicate the teaching of the Word of God, and never part of it.
[4] Those who read in English can study, more fully, the Calvinist heritage confessions. If there is interest to know, James T. Dennison Jr. published a very extensive collection of reformed confessional documents since the sixteenth century until the seventeenth. See on James T. Dennison, Jr., ed., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries in English translation (Grand Rapids, Reformation Heritage Books), in 4 volumes. This manual is the most complete compilation of reformed documents available in English.

The original article [ ACESS IN THIS LINK ].
This arcicle was translated by Katherine Priscila Lessin. Thankyou my sister!

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