Wrong Word

August 30, 2007

The Baptist Press had an article today entitled "Confessions affirm truth, Mohler says." It covers recent comments by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's president Albert Mohler. He argued that confessions are important. The big problem, however, with his arguments is that he claimed to be talking about confessions but often was actually talking about creeds. Here is one passage that demonstrates this confusion:

Southern Seminary is a confessional institution, adhering to the Abstract of Principles, a statement of faith that Basil Manly, Jr., a founding faculty member, penned and the school adopted when it opened in 1859. Professors must sign the document, agreeing to teach "in accordance with and not contrary to" its doctrines.
If one must sign it then it is no longer a confession; it is a creed! Confessions are statements of beliefs that tell us what the people who adopted it believed at that time. Creeds, on the other hand, are statements that must also be adopted by other people at later times. Ironically, Mohler seemed to slip up a couple of times and talk about creeds. The article reported:
"This comes out of a tradition of confessional subscription, out of a creedal and confessional history of the church whereby God's people, particularly churches, have received the stewardship of biblical truth and have sought to articulate that truth, to perpetuate that truth, to make that truth a matter of common accountability and common faith.... It is done before a watching church by a teacher who says, 'These are the things that I believe. I take my stand upon these doctrines, defined and definite.'"

Confessions of faith, Mohler said, have been crucial throughout church history because they have helped Christians to distinguish orthodox doctrine from heresy. He pointed to examples such as the Nicene Creed that arose out of the Council of Nicaea in 325. The creed affirmed the orthodox expression of the deity of Christ against the threat of Arianism -- a heresy that argued Christ was merely a created being, that there was a time when He did not exist. The orthodox belief in Christ's deity as set forth in the Nicene Creed is central to the Gospel and the proclamation of it, Mohler said.
It seems odd that a creed is used as an example of why confessions are important. Apparently, confessions to Mohler are in essence the same as creeds. Of course, he cannot be forthright and claim to support creeds because many Baptists would (rightly) revolt at such a suggestion. Instead, he attempts to recast the word 'confession' so that it turns out to mean 'creed.'

The best response to Mohler's use of the word 'confession' is a line stated by Inigo Montoya in in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."