18 December 2007

The danger of confessions

by Dan Phillips

One of the great things about a good, Biblical confession of faith is that it underscores the unity of a body of Christian people, confessing the one Lord, one faith, with one mouth. It should reflect the fact that the Lord does not liken the church (if I may speak anachronistically) to a pool table, where individual balls roll around in myriad different directions at the same time, only occasionally bouncing off one another. Rather, He likens the church to a body, featuring both diversity and unity (1 Corinthians 12:12).

Having said that....

Reading through John in Greek I noticed something not obvious in modern English translations.
This man [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:2-3)
Nicodemus says "we know." Jesus replies, "Truly, truly I say to you," σοι (soi), the second person singular pronoun. Nic says "we"; Jesus says "thee." Jesus will not allow Nicodemus to hide amongst a crowd. He singles Nicodemus out, and deals with his soul, one on one.

Nor is this the only time that Jesus will in effect turn a "we" into "thee."
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." 70 Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil." 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:66-71)
Peter says "We have believed, and we have come to know." Jesus says, in effect, "Oh? One of that 'we' is a traitor, Peter. One member of the consensus from which you're drawing such comfort and strength is a devil. So what if your 'we' turns into 'me,' Peter? What then? Where will you stand, if you find yourself standing alone?"

So while I find much help, encouragement, and instruction in the great confessions, I have to remember: Satan may sift the body of which I am a part. I may find myself alone. Will I be able to say "I believe, and I have come to know"?

And when I stand before the throne, in one sense I surely will be alone. Then it won't be a question of what "we" believed, confessed, did, or were. The first person singular pronoun will predominate. I had better be able to say that
whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11)

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SolaMeanie said...

Or, as my wonderful Arkansan mother loves to say, "everyone has to take his own hide to market."

Love it. Great post.

P.S. I'd love to have the time to take New Testament Greek. Because right now, it's all Greek to me.

Oh, I need to get sent to my room without breakfast for that pun.

stratagem said...

Uh-oh. You've stomped on yet another Emerg*** sacred cow: That salvation, the Lord's Supper, etc. are as much about our relationships to each other and "commmunity", as they are about our relationship to the Godhead.


Johnny Dialectic said...

Great insight, Dan. Being part of a "community" isn't enough. The right ethnic heritage isn't enough. Even the right knowledge isn't enough.

YOU must be born again.

Hadassah said...

Great post. Funny, I just took a very similar point from Deut. 29:19.

An individual hiding out in the covenant community, blessing himself, telling himself he will have peace, even though he is following the desires of his own heart, instead of the commands of the LORD.

A very frightening reality.

SolaMeanie said...

Why, strategem...

How "un-missional" of you. I'm shocked.

donsands said...

Jesus surely says to us personally, "Who do you say that I am?"

Thanks for the good teaching.

"..who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Gal. 2:20

stratagem said...

meanie: I know, I am a real stinker. I'm not only un-missional in the Emerg*** definition, I'm also uncharitable (unwilling to be branded as narrow-minded without answering back), intolerant (I think some things are sins), and in favor of social injustice (I'm not a left-winger on every issue).

And those are my good points!

In the words of Alice Cooper, I even make my grandma sick!

Al said...

As a Presbyterian, and FV leaning one at that, I love the biblical idea of a covenant people all worshiping God together. But you have done a great service to Church by pointing out the ditch on the left-hand side of the road.

There is no body without bodies. There is no corporate AMEN without Mrs. Smith at the end of the pew.

al sends

Bill said...

Excellent post, as usual. you're right about the personal side of that verse going unnoticed in the English translation. I had never thought about it like that before. It always registered with my that Jesus was addressing the plural form of you (or in my Southern case - ya'll).
Thanks for the insight.

The Gospel is very personal indeed.

I am becoming addicted to this blog and SFPulpit...

Thank you all so much for your diligent defense of the Truth.

Your brother in Christ,

Tom Chantry said...

I've had the exact same thought with regard to liturgical worship. It's very possible to say, "Yes, I pray, just last week I read a wonderful prayer out of the bulletin along with 100 other folks." This is critically dangerous when it involves the commands of the gospel. Have you confessed your sins, or have you read aloud a generalized statement of confession. Do you confess with your mouth (your words expressing your conviction) that Jesus is Lord, or do you recite a creed with a bunch of other people.?

Tom Chantry said...

Sorry if that last was somewhat off topic - it didn't seem entirely so to me. Certainly confessions are of tremendous use (as are catechisms), but the danger exists of saying, "Of course my faith is orthodox; I'm a member of _ _ _ church - here's our confession." The question is, do you hold that confession.

Jesucristo rescato a Ernesto said...

Hi Dan, First of all, Gotta Love the Mariachi Graphic, it was great according to the article, because as you said, just like the Church has many different members with different Gifts that work for the benefit of the church, such as the Mariachi groups play different instruments and make that traditional music of ours (Mexicans) sound so great.

I love how Jesus turns our "hide in the crowd" attitude, which is something we use as an excuse a lot, especially those of us who grew up in church.

As i always say when sharing Christ with others, Jesus has no cousins, grand-sons , nephews, etc, He has Sons.

God Bless

Jesucristo rescato a Ernesto said...

As i always say when sharing Christ with others, Jesus has no cousins, grand-sons , nephews, etc, He has Sons.

sorry it should have been God has no cousins, grand-sons, nephews, etc, He has sons alone through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

Tom Chantry said...

God has no cousins, grand-sons, nephews, etc,

Ha! I just said last Sunday, specifically addressing the children in our church from the pulpit, "Your grandparents love you because they love your parents, but God is not anyone's grandfather; you must have Him as your father."

Kent Brandenburg said...

Good and helpful observation. Showing the importance of words, even letters, down to the person of the personal pronoun in stating doctrine.

Strong Tower said...

As a Sud Bautisto (?) attending an OPC church I have enjoyed beginning the liturgy with the Apostles' Creed...

I believe.... each says in unity....

It is true that in a flock there are many voices but each baabaa will give an account on that day for every idle bleat.

Josh said...

Recently I decided for our Sunday School class we would review our doctrine and church covenant

I was told - don't do it people will be bored

Praise God our Sunday School attendance doubled (could it be that when the Word of God is affirmed people are DRAWN to it?)

Since doing that our volunteerism has doubled and so has our baptisms

We are a small church so I am not trying to paint a megachurch success story - just saying that there is something inherently powerful about affirming doctrine

And I think the best part is that INDIVIDUALS are under intense conviction - not just hiding in the crowd

Richard said...

I enjoy the posts on the blog from time to time. Many are genuinely brilliant and insightful. While I do believe that people should respond in faith to the gospel individually, I have lived for a while on this earth (official old guy) and made a decision a couple of years ago to convert from being a conservative Baptist/Presbyterian (read GCC) to being a conservative Anglican. And the public confession of sin and the announcement of forgiveness, along with the clear public confession of what I believe together with the other worshippers have continued to encourage my faith and life with Christ.
Of my four children who were present regularly in all the services and programs of the local large church mentioned above, three lack much more of an understanding of Christian doctrine than that "Jesus is my savior" or that "To be a Christian, you just invite Jesus into your heart." I failed them as a father and my then church also failed them. It is not just the Nicene creed that they missed, but I think it might have been different with it.
We only get this one life. For those with younger families, consider the legacy that you will leave. Ask yourself, "What will my kids know when I am gone?"

Drew said...

Uh-oh. You've stomped on yet another Emerg*** sacred cow: That salvation, the Lord's Supper, etc. are as much about our relationships to each other and "commmunity", as they are about our relationship to the Godhead.

Emergents don't believe this? That's news to me.

Strong Tower said...


Are we transferring knowledge and not just platitudes? Good point and the point the post was making.

There is a danger, isn't there, in this season of Christmas? Just what do those songs mean? And like the song 'Amazing Grace,' repetition of confessions can evicerate them. I am encouraged though at the renewed interest I see in confessions and catechisms, simply because, for too long we have not discussed the bowels of meaning of the things we say we believe. Still, the caution is that we once did this kind of discipleship and what happened? Somewhere along the line something seems to go awry. We could look at the great universities established for the propagation of the faith and then their decline and ask the same question.

Therefore it is good to ask and caution people not to make the Word of God of no effect by emptying it of its eternal meaning. So this post lines up nicely with the preceding ones. We, that is the orthodox, carry the blame for the emergence of the Emergent by our lackadaisical attitudes which we somehow let creep in. One, two generations down the road, and our children no longer know the way home.

stratagem said...

Drew: Yes, you're right. I should have said that Emerg***s believe that salvation, the Lord's Supper etc are more about collective salvation than they are about individual salvation. Sorry.

Drew said...

This emergent (and all of the others I know) believe both.

Pedro said...


I agree with Ernesto. For us Mexicans it is a sweet reminder of the beautiful Mariachi music... I even have a CD from Marcos Witt for Christian music with Mariachis.

Reflecting on the personal accountability to God and Christ, it is hard and painful to even think that maybe one of our kids will not make it through no matter how hard we try.
God Reigns and His purpose will stand.

Romans 9:11-13
11Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger."[d] 13Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

stratagem said...

This emergent (and all of the others I know) believe both.

True of all the Emerg***s I know, too - no matter what the subject is.

TruthStands said...

Another danger of confessions and creeds is elevating them to the status of Scripture.

The other day I was reading a [reformed] blog discussion on whether Christmas should be celebrated and the primary source of authority was the Westminster Confession of Faith.

As Dan says, "a good, Biblical confession of faith ... underscores the unity of a body of Christian people." A confession should never be used in a discussion on theology unless its purpose is to point to historical congruity or incongruity. But using it as the authoritative source is completely out of place for non-Catholics.

Is it not?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

One of the great things about a good, Biblical confession of faith is that it underscores the unity of a body of Christian people, confessing the one Lord, one faith, with one mouth.

Some folks would argue against the notion that there is value in having a Biblical confession of faith.

For instance, another blogger writes: "This business of defining large numbers of people out of the faith by our favorite qualifiers is a nasty piece of hypocrisy we need to give up."

Could a Biblical confession of faith be a "favorite qualifier"? If so, then a Biblical confession of faith is a nasty piece of hypocrisy that Christians need to give up.

He goes on to write: "The problem for many people is their desire to create a church of certainty more than a church of Jesus."

P.S. I do not want to start a blog war between the Internet Monk and Team Pyro as the Internet Monk once falsely accused me of doing.

So please no personal attacks on I-monk. I just showcase I-monk's comment to provide an alternative argument or perspective to DJP's post.


chris said...

Excellent post, Dan, and a fantastic insight about the Greek.

I am a huge believer that there is much individual responsibility required by God on each of us. And, I believe that there is much growth done within the Body. I have been accused of being very individualistic with my faith, ignoring the value of corporate worship. What I appreciate about your post is that you affirm the need for and benefit of the collective creed without diminishing the personal responsibility of the individual to believe what is being said in that creed.

Stephen said...

Dan, did you also catch "gennao anothen" in the Greek? that's a BIG ONE!!! BTW, how did you get the Greek font to display like that? We have tried everything at our site' nothing has worked! Any help will be great! Oh, if you also know any Hebrew plugins that actually work, that would be great too.

Great post! Loved it...

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

The single biggest problem with reading Scripture in English is the complete lack of a singular and plural "you". That is why ever since I learned Greek and Hebrew I carry both Testaments with me so that I can clarify for the English. It never ceases to amaze me how the text changes when one examines the "you" usage of a given text.

DJP said...

Stephen, what worked best was to get BibleWorks 7 to do its exporting in Unicode, then copy and paste that into Blogger. It won't work right in IE6 or its spinoffs, but it works with IE7 or anything else I've tested.

Brian Roden said...

I don't read Greek or hebrew, but I do speak fluent Spanish (my wife is Mexican, and we work with a Spanish-language home missions church). I like doing my Bible reading in both English and Spanish. The separate forms of "you" in Spanish help show this same difference you pointed out form the Greek. And I've come across verses where the Spanish translation seemed much richer than the English.

DJP said...

Every language I know of distinguishes number — except English.

Theophilus said...

Scripture balances things beautifully:

Guarding against ego, the Lord's prayer begins "Our Father..." which sets us on equal footing before God.

Guarding against sloppy pseudo-belief, Christ holds us individually accountable: Luke 12:1 (whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge...)

As I recall, there was a certain Achan who tried to be anonymous in a crowd. (Joshua 7) He was not as anonymous as he had thought, and things did NOT go well for him.

As to bare acknowledgment of any orthodox position, without conforming to the Word, even the demons believe and tremble.

Stephen said...

Dan, thanks for the tip. Biblicalthought.com is powered by Wordpress. I think that's my problema. Recently, we have had to take snapshots of the text, and insert as images mid-sentence. It came out pretty good, you can see it here:


But I would rather have it show like Blogger allows.

Thanks for the great post. Keep 'em coming

Mark B. Hanson said...

Benjamin P. Glaser said 'The single biggest problem with reading Scripture in English is the complete lack of a singular and plural "you".'

Well, if you're from the South, you can use "y'all" as singular and "all y'all" as plural.

Richard said...

Just a note. When we used the King James Bible in the Baptist Church when I was a kid, we had the singular, thee, and the plural, you.
The English we spoke ignored this, of course. So as we rejoiced in the new comprehensible English texts in the 60's and beyond, we gained the more accurate meaning in most places, along with a more accurate underlying textual criticism, but we lost the distinctions in our Bibles of thee and you. ( I can still remember people saying how glad they were to get rid of the thee's and thou's) For us old timey guys, I suppose that we could dust off our Scofield Reference Bibles if we wanted to know which word was used in the absence of the ability to read the Greek text.

DJP said...

ASV still used it.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

LOL... Thanks for that Mark...

jbuck21 said...

Strong post - clear and insightful.

Thanks for your meditation on the text...I find that meditating on the words of Christ yields deeper and deeper views of His infinite wisdom. No one EVER spoke like Christ!

Kirby L. Wallace said...

Nicodemus says "we know." Jesus replies, "Truly, truly I say to you," σοι (soi), the second person singular pronoun. Nic says "we"; Jesus says "thee." Jesus will not allow Nicodemus to hide amongst a crowd. He singles Nicodemus out, and deals with his soul, one on one...

Oh, that ain't nothin'...

Check out this one:

What? You think THEY were greater sinners than YOU? I say, unless YOU repent, YOU shall likewise perish, ...just like THEY did!