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Why Christians Need Confessions, Part 2

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

For this week’s weekly thought I wanted to give you a little bit of historical context about where and why we will be spending this time each week over the next few months discussing creeds and confessions and their importance.  In the last several months I have been reading articles from The Confessional Presbyterian Journal, Volume 8, 2012.  A lot of this volume has to do with Princeton Seminary in the early years and the various issues that took place there.  The topic was of interest to me as we spent a day in April going over to Princeton to learn a little bit  about the Revolutionary War and Presbyterian History.  There are a variety of stories one can learn from visiting Princeton (ask any of my family members about the original painting “Yankee Doodle” by Norman Rockwell that we saw.) 

In an article entitled 1823-1830: The Establishment Of Princeton’s Polemic by Rev. Allen Stanton (PCA) I first learned why Samuel Miller wrote his address on the Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions.  Back in 1821, John M. Duncan, a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, was approved to be on the board of directors for Princeton Seminary.  Duncan was known for his involvement with the Board of Foreign Missions, which at the time consisted of several different Presbyterian denominations.  In 1823 he subscribed to a formula of the confession and was admitted to the board of directors.

New to the board of directors, the seminary’s faculty invited him to speak to the students during the inaugural Spring Semester Lecture.  On May 17, 1824 Duncan presented a paper entitled, A Plea for Ministerial Liberty.  His Lecture on this paper began with an exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:16-17 which was not controversial.  His application, however, struck a nerve with the faculty of the Seminary.  In his application he spoke against the Standards (Westminster Standards) to which Princeton Seminary adhered.  Rev. Stanton in his article writes, “Duncan twisted the knife which he had most certainly plunged in the bosom of the Princetonians.”

Here we see a man who upon elevation to a prominent position in the overseeing of Princeton Seminary, a man who recently voiced his subscription to the confession of faith, now telling a group of students that confessional standards are a violation of ministerial liberty.  Two months later, Dr. Samuel Miller gave the address mentioned above.  Miller begins his address by giving seven reasons why we need creeds and confessions.  Then he moves on to discuss five objections to creeds and confessions followed by six points of conclusion.  My aim as we move through Millers lecture in the next several months is not to bore you with a lecture from 1824 but to simply take Miller’s points by listing a sentence or two and then discuss the idea behind what Miller was trying to communicate to his audience.  The subject is not a dry dead issue from the annals of history but vitally important to those who claim a confessional standard in the life of the Church today.

There are four types of people when it comes to creeds and confessions.  First, those who value the worth of them and attempt to adhere to them as a summary of Christian faith.  Second, those who object to them or even reject them.  Third, those who don’t seem to have an opinion one way or another.  Fourth, those who view creeds and confessions as equal to Scripture (there is good reason we call the Westminster Standards secondary standards).  I hope over the next several months if you are in groups two, three, or four that you are able to better see the proper value and importance of creeds and confessions in the life of the Church.

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