We live in technologically sophisticated world. So, we naturally value the newest, the fastest, and the most efficient innovations of our age. When this fascination with the latest and greatest informs our spiritual lives, however, many Christians react against creeds and confessions written hundreds of years ago, questioning their relevance for our lives and churches today. But it is this very bent that should caution us from rejecting confessions out of hand as relics of the past. In fact, as the church moves forward in time by God’s grace, we would do well to measure our progress by the time-tested collective wisdom of those who have gone before us. Stan Reeves writes:
[A] confession…is…produced by many godly minds deliberating over a long period, and it has been further reviewed and accepted by a group of churches... A confession is a tried and true teaching tool. It lays out the faith in a clear, systematic way and shows the connections among doctrines. It also serves as a standard by which teaching in the church can be measured. (http://founders.org/1689/introduction/)
Perhaps, then, it could be argued that the church today is in as much need of the confessions’ tried and true teaching as it has ever been. As churches look to the future, subscription to a time-honored confession will aid them in many areas, not the least of these are the areas of prayer and preparedness.
Our church subscribes to the London Baptist Confession of 1689. Concerning worship and prayer the 1689 declares:
God requires all men to pray to Him, and to give thanks, this being one part of natural worship…. [I]t must be made in the name of God’s Son, it must be Spirit-aided, and it must accord with the will of God. It must also be reverent, humble, fervent and persevering, and linked with faith, love and understanding. (XXII.3)
When we think just for a moment about who God is in all his glory, majesty, sovereignty, and providence, the requirement of prayer should never cease to astound us. John Piper writes:
How astonishing that He ordains to fulfill His plans by being asked to do so by us. God loves to bless His people. But even more He loves to do it in answer to prayer. (Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, 53)
Are you astonished by prayer? Are you astonished by the God who calls us to pray? Does your heart leap for joy at the thought of our Sovereign God loving to accomplish all His perfect will in answer to your request to Him through prayer? Somewhere along the way a false dichotomy developed between the concern for biblical propositional truth and the passionate pursuit of a heartfelt relationship with the Lord through worship and prayer. Often people fall into the trap of thinking that to pursue God with the mind means necessarily eschewing an emotional response to God or the spiritually wonder-full. Or, on the other hand, some feel that a rational pursuit of God will somehow hinder true Spirit-led worship from the heart.
The confession helps us to keep both extreme tendencies in check. The biblically worshipful response to God is one that exhibits the Holy Spirit at work in sanctifying all our human faculties. The Bible reveals that we are “totally depraved” meaning that sin has touched every aspect of the human condition. When we are brought to life by the saving grace of God, the Holy Spirit breathes new life into all our human faculties to render love and worship to God. The confession reminds us of this very thing – it helps us to live in biblical balance. The confession reminds us that worship and prayer are not only to be “Spirit-aided” but also “must accord with the will of God” as revealed in Scripture. We are reminded that prayer must not only be “fervent” but also “persevering;” linked not only with “faith and love,” but also with “understanding.” We pray to God the way Jesus taught us to love God: with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We also pray in accordance with what God has already revealed with regard to his will. We pray the truths of the gospel such that they would be manifest in our lives, our attitudes, our desires and values, shaping our decisions and guiding our steps. So the confession helps us in prayer by charging us to maintain personal balance (human wholeness) and seek scriptural accuracy (human holiness).
What are we praying for? What do we ask God for as we look to the future? Before we pray for “Aunt Gertie’s sciatica” or “cousin Chuck to find a new car,” what is it that should stand out as the centerpiece of our prayer requests? Is it not for God’s glory to be reflected afresh among us? Is it not for the gospel to have a greater impact on us and those around us? In other words, is it not for revival? If we are indeed praying according to God’s will, then the request and longing for revival will figure prominently in our prayers. God desires that the gospel be at work powerfully transforming our own hearts, our churches, and our cities.
By revival I do not mean a hyper-emotional sensationalism or seeking after miracles and power encounters. I mean that the preaching of the gospel becomes “in season” (2 Tim. 4:2). By revival I mean a spiritual awakening to the holiness of God and people’s desperate need for his Savior, Jesus Christ. We always accompany the preaching of the gospel with deliberate prayer because “The promise of the making known of the gospel has not been made contingent upon any good use made by men of their native abilities.” (1689 Confession XX.3) We ask God to empower the preaching of the gospel because true revival does not depend on our skills but upon the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of people. And such prayer-immersed gospel preaching usually results in a greater passion among God’s people for prayer, the word, and mission and evangelism. A true revival should also result, therefore, in more church-planting. And when people do respond to the gospel, in a family, or a church, or even in an entire city, God’s prayer-immersed gospel proclaimers will be ready.
This is another way the confessions aid us. If we truly desire to see God revive our churches and cities let us declare our faith in God by getting ready to plant churches. Part of getting ready for a great influx of new believers first requires churches that are already standing on solid theological ground. Subscription to a confession identifies and strengthens a church theologically. Secondly, it means being prepared to train new believers, new elders, new church planters and missionaries with “tried and true teaching tools” laying out the faith “in a clear, systematic way.” The confessions act as a standard by which teaching for new believers and new churches can be measured. In this way the confessions serve to prepare us if, by his grace, God should choose to do an uncommon and extraordinary work of revival among us in answer to our prayers.
[This post was originally prepared for the Confessional Collective]