Jon Moffitt: Thank you for supporting our ministry. I’m going to go ahead and get us right into this so that we don’t waste the time that we have. Let’s talk about this massive shift from the evangelical system to a confessionally Reformed place of resting. How do we help the listener if they’re new to Confessional Theology, or even if they’ve been in it for a while? How do we help word this for people who are trying to help transition? It’s relevant for both those who are in confessional theology and those who are transitioning into it.
Justin Perdue: If I’m speaking to the person that is new to Confessional Theology, or maybe isn’t even in a confessional environment yet, at the risk of sounding kind of snarky and sarcastic, I would say to you that if you’re exhausted by the new movements that come every 18 months within evangelicalism, then come on over. The water is nice here. If you’re tired of being told that this is the new thing that you need to be about as a Christian, and you’re thinking, “I can’t keep up with this. Last year it was this and this year it’s this. It’s always something that needs to be my focus, and another thing that I need to be measuring myself against. I’m not good enough,” then come over to a confessional perspective where the message honestly has not changed for centuries and centuries and centuries.
I’m mindful of Ephesians 4 where Paul talks about maturity and not being blown around by every wind of doctrine. In a confessional environment, that confessional framework protects us from being blown around by every passing fad. We look at those things and the other things that just eat up the Christian blogosphere and we’re insulated from it. Sometimes we address a little bit of it on Theocast just to be able to speak to our listeners and where they are. But we, as pastors, don’t get wrapped up in a lot of that. This, for me, is freeing because pastoral ministry is hard enough for me anyway. I can’t imagine trying to be a pastor and dealing with every single new thing because just living the Christian life, trusting Christ, preaching Christ, and loving the saints is plenty to have on our plates. If Jesus tells us, “Come to me and I’ll give you rest,” it’s grounded in not only the fact that he is our peace and he has done everything we need, it’s also this deep and simple call to a simple kind of life. We don’t need to overcomplicate the matter, which happens all the time in the evangelical world. So I find Confessional Christianity to be a very refreshing, simple kind of life because frankly, life’s hard enough anyway. We don’t need to complicate it.
Jimmy Buehler: Here’s the other thing I would say to the person that’s going to make the transition from an evangelical context to a confessional context. One of the things you need to realize is that you are going to bring with you a whole trailer load of baggage from an evangelical context – and it is going to take a while.
There are still mental parts of myself in hidden corners of my heart that still want to grip to the evangelical way of life. What I mean by that is this: there are parts of me that still want to determine my own growth. They still want to see that my own quality of the Christian life is still contingent upon my quiet times, my personal prayer – which are not bad things; they’re very good things. However, those things need to be killed over the long haul. Often, when you make a jump to a confessional context, it’s similar to when somebody first becomes a Calvinist: they can become almost intolerable.
What I would say to the person that’s jumping over to a confessional context is to learn the air around you for a little bit, relax, and realize that you’re going to go through something that is almost like a withdrawal. You’re going to feel like you’re missing something or you’re not doing enough. What we’re saying is that is the point. It just looks a lot different than what you are used to.
Jon Moffitt: You hear us using the word confessional and you’re probably thinking why it is so different. We can’t just say evangelicalism is bad; we have to tell you why.
As human beings, we have this hunger. Over enough time, you get hungry and thirsty and you start craving for what your body needs. If you go long enough not having a healthy diet, your body is going to start really telling you something’s wrong. Then you experience something that’s healthy and your body says yes. When it comes down to the spiritual diet of a believer, you’ve been told this is the way you must live. According to Scripture, what we are saying is that the Bible is pushing you towards a diet that is not based upon self-improvement. The push of the confessions is that the way in which you live, the Christian life is different than anything you’ve ever experienced, and the only way I can describe it is that you are constantly told to feed yourself on Christ and him crucified; it is always done outside of yourself, apart from your actions.
I know that’s hard because people think there are things that they have to do as a response. As you are fed and nourished, you will naturally produce fruit; you don’t produce that fruit. This is why they call it the fruit of the Spirit – because it comes from the Source. Your entire world is turned upside down to where you were told to produce everything and look inside yourself on how to produce it. What Confessional Theology does, if you read the confessions, is that they will teach you that Scripture, by and large, is pushing you towards feeding on Christ and finding your sustenance by receiving Christ – not by you serving Christ.
Here’s an example: what historical Reformed confessionals will teach you is that the primary point of the Bible is the redemption of sinners; it is a rich story of redemption from beginning to end. It’s really easy to see this; just read the first three chapters of Genesis. God sets up a perfect world, and then Adam and Eve destroy that world. God’s response to Adam and Eve is to restore what they destroyed. It’s the promise of the Messiah who will come and make all things new from that moment on.
The Bible is a story. It’s a narrative. 3% of your Bible is instructions for what you need to do, 97% of your Bible is for you to look and trust on the promises of God, believe in Him, and find your joy and your hope believing His promises. That’s what Confessional Theology is; it teaches you how to read your Bible and live the Christian life in such a way that you find your sustenance on Christ and not what you do.
Justin Perdue: It’s really critical and freeing for us to understand what John was just talking about – that the food and nourishment of the Christian life is Christ. It’s Christ for us; it’s his atoning work for us, his satisfaction for our sins, his holiness, and his righteousness for us. That’s the lifeblood of the Christian life. It’s what sustains us in the Christian life. To use the illustration of even how our bodies work in this kind of physical life that we live right now, there are all kinds of things that we go about doing as human beings. We have to be fed in order to have the energy and the ability to do things. The Christian life is the same way: if we’re not fed the food of Christ all the time, we starve spiritually. We actually end up killing the whole thing before it even gets started; the train is derailed before it leaves the station if we’re only talking about what we need to do and the things that we need to be concerning ourselves with in terms of our duty, obligation, and our performance. If we’re not being fed real food, we’re never going to be able to do those things anyway.
The food of the Christian life is Christ. The focus of every service is to receive Christ in the word in the Lord’s Table, to sing of Christ in song, to pray in Christ’s name to the Father, and to bring our requests and confessions to Him and, and to be edified, built up, and sustained in the faith so that we might love neighbor and do good works. Confessional Theology holds a very Christ-centered perspective, and our duty and responsibility are only seen as the backdrop with Christ in the foreground.
We say these things all the time on Theocast, but it’s a paradigm shift that is very freeing and very life-giving for those of us who have walked from where we once were. We were disenchanted, we were struggling, and we were discouraged all the time. Now we still get discouraged and we still struggle, but in the midst of all that, we are being pointed to Christ and we’re pointing others to him as well.
Jimmy Buehler: In an evangelical context, one of the things that I would say is subjective realities feed objective realities: what I feel, how I process, what I’m going through necessarily means that this must be true about me. If I’m sinning, if I’m struggling, or if I’m doing something that I thought Christians don’t do, then it must mean something greater about myself as a Christian. In a confessional context, objective realities always inform subjective feelings. Martin Luther liked to say, “When I look at myself, I don’t understand how I can be saved. When I look at Christ, I don’t understand how I could not.” That’s a great summarization of what it means to live within a confessional context of the church.
My goal as a pastor is to push my people, not within themselves, but rather to pull them out of themselves – to take their eyes off of their context, off of their situation, off of their sin – and to place them on Christ. Over the course of a lifetime, week-to-week, it’s going to be difficult perhaps for me to see this drastic change. It may come, and praise the Lord if it does, but rather we want to keep our heads down and keep our eyes focused on Christ. Maybe every few years we look back and see how faithful God has been to us, and I want to push them out of themselves and onto these objective realities of you in Christ and him crucified and what he has done. At our church, we like to emphasize not what we do for Christ but rather what has been finished on our behalf in Christ. That is the key difference.
Jon Moffitt: Right before we do our corporate prayer of confession on Sundays, we say that we believe everyone is in equal need of grace, and that God does not look at someone say they have done well. You are either in need of grace or you are holy.
I found this helpful little quote from Spurgeon as a reference to the confessions. I think it’s a good explanation of what we’re trying to get at. He says this in reference to the 1689, “This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby you are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness . . . Cleave fast to the Word of God which is here mapped out for you.”
Evangelicals can look, by and large, if a church is Christian or a cult. They can tell by the name. If they go to the website and look at some of the ways it’s designed, they’ll know if it’s a cult or if it’s a Christian church. Then you have the statement of faith. If you guys noticed, the statement of faith in evangelicalism has gotten smaller and smaller to where you can put it on a 3×5 card now. The statement of faith basically is, “I believe in the Trinity and I believe Jesus is God.” That’s about it. There’s no structure.
When you show up, you have no idea what the pastor is going to give you. It could be his thoughts about marriage, parenting, or the government. Who knows? In Confessional Theology, you know what you’re going to get because it’s been mapped out for you: this is what we hold to, this is what we believe, and this is what we’re going to feed you, and you can go and read it. If you were to read it, it would probably take you two to three hours if you are a slow reader.
The point of it is that what’s great about the confessions is that they are constantly pointing you to Scripture so that you understand this is where we get this from. If you go to a website and they say the statement of faith, that’s their confession, I don’t know who wrote it. Most people steal it from each other. One of my favorite things to do is to look at a confession of faith, copy and then paste it in Google to see where they got it from, because they got theirs from somebody. It’s not very often someone writes their own.
Justin Perdue: You could read the 1689 in an hour to two. It’s 15,000 words and I think the average reading speed is 200 to 300 words a minute. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.
Jon Moffitt: The point of it is that it’s not this massive document.
Justin Perdue: This is just very unfiltered, just me to you: if you have struggled and wrestled with what you’ve experienced in the church, and you’re burned, jaded, discouraged, and you’re disenchanted, my word to that is there is another way. A lot of times what I’ve observed in many people, and we have a number of people like this in our church who are recovering from the wounds and have gone everywhere trying to find something real, I think the response sometimes is to look around at the church and think this is a joke. They think it is an absolute circus and none of it is authentic, and none of it is legit. Again, either this is whack or it didn’t work for me – or whatever it may be. You basically do the throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water thing. You burn the whole village down and you just leave it altogether. Then you go the route of who knows what. There’s a reason why there are things like the Bad Christian Podcast, for example, because we all identify with that because we’re not good Christians, the church is crazy, and the evangelical church is often stupid. I don’t know what to do here and I don’t feel like I can find people who resonate with me in my experience at all.
What we’re saying is, again, you’re not crazy and you’re not alone. Brother or sister, there is another way. You don’t need to abandon the faith, once for all, delivered to the saints. What you need to do is come into a context where we are clinging to that faith, and it’s about the objective realities of Christ and the gospel. We can live an honest life with each other, confessing sin, pointing each other to Jesus, and praying and striving together for God’s sanctifying work to be done in us. It’s not this facade, and it’s not the plastic people like what Jon referenced before. We’re not patting each other on the back because we’re sinning, we’re not celebrating sin. It’s not a competition about who is the most jacked up. We’re just acknowledging the fact that we’re sinners, we need Jesus, and we’re on our way to the Celestial City. So we pray for all of you that you can find a confessional context where you can live life this way.
Jon Moffitt: As we close this down, we want to encourage you with two things. First of all, if you’ve not downloaded our free book, Faith vs. Faithfulness, we go into confessionalism a bit more there. Secondly, we are going to warn you that not all churches that are confessional will hold to their confession. There are times when the church can sway and move from it. We’ve had this experience where Theocast listeners will go in and their experience is not what we’re talking about. So just a heads up.
If you are a wanting to know if there’s a confessional church in your area, we don’t have this resource yet. We’re praying that through donations, eventually we’ll be able to set up to help people identify what a good church is in their area. My only recommendation would be going to the Facebook group and put in your city there. People have been able to find churches there, and that might be one way for you to do it.
We thank you for supporting our ministry. We’ve got more and more coming your way. We’ve got a class coming your way on Covenant Theology. We’re working on producing it so stay tuned for that. We’re excited about a new format of being able to do that so as soon as it’s available, we’ll send that to you.
Our book should be available by now. Go get our book on assurance, and that’s a great way to share this theology with people. Buy multiple copies and hand them out. We hope that it’s a blessing to you. We’ll see you next week.