On the Owning of Confessions of Faith

(Note: This is a lightly revised version of an essay I posted on my old personal blog a couple of years ago. Most of the confessions referenced below can be found online via a simple Google search.)

Baptists have always been a confessional people. John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, the founders of the General Baptist movement, each wrote personal confessions of faith that provide us with a glimpse into their convictions and probably the convictions of their churches. Seven Particular Baptist Churches in London produced the First London Confession in 1644, and that was after the Particular Baptist leader John Spilsbury had already written a personal confession of faith. Both General and Particular Baptists would continue to write confessions of faith later in the 17th century and beyond, though the practice is somewhat out of favor among most contemporary British Baptists.

Baptists in America also adopted confessions of faith from an early time. A slightly revised version of the Second London Confession was adopted by the Philadelphia, Charleston, and Warren associations, respectively. The Baptists in the Sandy Creek Association opted to write their own confession, albeit about sixty years after their founding. The New Hampshire Confession became widely used during the second half of the nineteenth century and was revised and expanded into the Baptist Faith and Message in 1925. Besides these widely known confessions, thousands of churches, associations, institutions, and smaller denominations and associations wrote their own confessions of faith.

Confession writing and confession adopting has become a frequent occurrence in the SBC over the past few years. The convention voted to embrace a revised version of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000, and within a couple of years all of our denominational agencies had embraced that confession. Thousands of local churches and a number of state conventions and associations have also adopted the current BF&M. Other churches, associations, and state conventions have chosen to adopt or self-consciously reaffirm the 1963 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message because of theological differences between the two confessions.

Among Calvinistic Baptists, since at least the 1960s a number of churches in America (and in other places) have adopted the Second London Confession as their own. Within the SBC, many Calvinistic churches have embraced the New Hampshire Confession or the Abstract of Principles as their confession. Some Calvinistic Baptist churches that are skittish about Covenant Theology have adopted the First London Confession, claiming that the document is more definitively “Baptist” than the Second London Confession.

And let’s not forget that many Baptist churches of every theological stripe have chosen not to adopt an “established” confession of faith, choosing instead to write their own statement. Others have chosen to revise existing confessions to conform those documents with their particular church’s beliefs on debated matters like the terms of communion, eschatology, or the Lord’s Day.

We live in theologically confusing times, even within our various Baptist enclaves. Sometimes it is hard to know what a fellow Baptist believes, including potential pastors and other church staff. The phrase “I’m a Bible-believing Christian/Baptist” sounds pious, but communicates little in terms of content. The phrase “I’m a Southern Baptist” is not much more helpful, considering the variety of theological convictions present within the SBC tent. Phrases like “I’m a conservative” or “I’m a moderate” mean different things to different people because of the subjective nature of the labels, at least in some places. “I’m a historic Baptist” is used by Calvinists, Landmarkers, and the Baptist Identity guys (among others), and “I’m a traditional Baptist” is used by some conservatives and many moderates! Confusion reigns.

I think that every Baptist minister ought to “own” a particular confession of faith. If there is not an existing confession that you are comfortable with, then make some revisions to the one you like best or, if you prefer, write your own. The confession does not have to perfectly match your beliefs in every minute issue (unless you write it!), nor does it have to explain the totality of your beliefs. If it is an existing confession, it may even express some of your beliefs differently than you would express them in conversation. But owning a confession still marks a good starting point for understanding the basics of what you believe. And that is very helpful when you are candidating at a local church or applying to serve as a missionary or work for a denominational agency.

If you are currently studying for some type of vocational ministry, or if you believe it is possible you may be looking for a new ministry position in the near future, I would urge you to consider owning or writing a confession of faith. It can be as general or specific as you are comfortable with, but it needs to cover all the basic categories, including issues presently being debated in whatever context you find yourself (election, eschatology, the ordinances, spiritual gifts, etc.).

It will take time to read through confessions of faith and even more time to write one, should you opt for that approach. But the time spent will be worthwhile, and it could potentially save you quite a bit of trouble if the folks you wish to lead or the ministry for which you desire to work knows where you are coming from long before something controversial comes up in the pulpit, in the classroom, or on the mission field. So do something that is both ministerially prudent and profoundly Baptist by owning a confession of faith as your own.

Interviewing for a Church Position — Questions to Ask

Often I am asked about how one should conduct themselves in an interview for a ministry position. Usually the conversation is one way: the committee asks the questions and the prospective candidate responds. This is right and fine but also incomplete. A potential minister should also have questions he needs answers to as well. Such questions can help in discerning is this the place God would have me serve. Below is an extensive list of potential questions for the interview process. The list, though long, is not exhaustive. Further, not every question may need to be addressed for every ministry opportunity. I believe one cannot have too much information when it comes to choosing leaders in our churches. I believe this is true both for the church and the minster. Hopefully these questions can guide and aid in a fruitful conversation for both parties in this crucially important process.

  1. Do you have a church constitution/bylaws that I can see?
  2. Do you have a church budget I can review?
  3. Are you committed to reaching all people within your geographical area (regardless of race, social or cultural status)?
  4. Do you believe the pastor is called to lead the church? Does your church believe this also?
  5. Who decides who fills the pulpit?
  6. Who calls and hires staff? What is the relationship of the pastor and staff? Do you utilize/have a personnel committee? What is their function?
  7. What is the role of the deacons and their relationship to the pastor? Do your deacons rotate?
  8. To whom is the pastor accountable? The staff?
  9. For what reasons would you consider firing the pastor? A staff person? Has your church ever fired a pastor or staff person? If so, when and why?
  10. What were the tenures of your last pastors? Why did they leave?
  11. What is the committee structure of your church and how are they elected?
  12. What expectations do you have for the pastor’s wife and family? Staff and their spouse?
  13. Would you provide for me the names and telephone numbers of your last three pastors so that I can visit with them about their ministry here?
  14. What are the doctrinal essentials your church has for: a) the pastor; b) worship leaders; c) teachers; d) membership?
  15. May I share with you certain doctrinal standards and emphases of my theology/ministry?
  16. What is the present membership of the church? Is it in a pattern of growth or decline? Where do the members live in relation to the location of the church? What is the age balance of the membership? What is the educational level of the membership?
  17. Is there a clear and complete job description of all staff positions?
  18. What, if any, secretarial and other assistance will be at my disposal?
  19. Has the church been successful in meeting its yearly budget?
  20. What are the music/worship concepts of the church?
  21. Could the community be characterized as static, transient, growing or declining?
  22. Would the church be responsive to innovations in worship? Ministry? Programs?
  23. Does the church support the Cooperative Program? Other programs of mission outreach, both local and international?
  24. What is the position of the church on race relations, homosexuality, women as pastors/elders?
  25. What is the position of the church on inerrancy, baptism and communion?
  26. How effectively does the church minister to its youth? Senior adults? Families? Singles?
  27. What is the salary structure of your church, the pattern and policies on future salary increases and the tangible benefits such as hospitalization, disability, retirement, housing allowance and travel expenses? Is a house or housing allowance provided?
  28. What opportunities will there be for outside engagements? Continuing education?
  29. What commitment does the church have to long-range planning?
  30. May I see a video tape of recent services?
  31. Is there a church policy about staff members’ involvement in weddings, funerals, etc.?
  32. Is there an annual review or any standardized evaluation process of my work?
  33. What are the spiritual “barometer readings” of the church?
  34. What is the theological basis for this church’s existence?
  35. Do you have a Confessions of Faith?