Studying the Confession: Make Disciples Old

Our great creeds, catechisms and confessions are the very helps Protestant churches need to make disciples old in doctrine and duty.

A novel and disjointed schooling produces a novel and disjointed disciple. This is an unwanted success. If a disciple’s schooling is a jumble of disparate parts, the disciple does not fail to become a jumble himself, no less vulnerable to embracing contradictions and innovations than when he first began.

 

It is possible to make disciples that are just too new.

Case in point. In his book, The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012), Carl Trueman relays the story of a pastor who regularly declared his devotion to Scripture by dismissing creeds and confessions. With the Bible held high before his church, he thundered from the pulpit: “This is our only creed and our only confession.”

Ironically, explains Trueman, this local church held to enough mismatched doctrines that in its life and teaching it connected “to almost no other congregation in the history of the church.”

The disciples here were made so new they would likely not recognize as legitimate the worship and doctrine of the old Protestants who populated churches centuries before them.

A novel and disjointed schooling produces a novel and disjointed disciple. This is an unwanted success. If a disciple’s schooling is a jumble of disparate parts, the disciple does not fail to become a jumble himself, no less vulnerable to embracing contradictions and innovations than when he first began.

There is a better way. Our great creeds, catechisms and confessions are the very helps Protestant churches need to make disciples old in doctrine and duty. Such a syllabus gets the Christian moving, growing up and growing old in the faith well before they are old in years. This, of course, assumes maturity is the goal of discipleship not perpetual open-mindedness and adolescence: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 14:20).

Should a renewal of best practices come upon our churches, it will begin with those men appointed to make disciples. Pastors and elders must first be convinced in their own minds that making disciples old in the faith by using a confession is wise and good.

If we are not convinced ourselves, we will regard this as just another short-lived technique. We might try it even, but only because we are always trying something new. To start anything without conviction, even the best thing, will only bake obsolescence into the cake.

It is a common suspicion among Protestant teachers that using a confession for discipleship will devalue Scripture in the heart of a disciple. The first step toward being convinced otherwise is to understand that a good confession clearly places itself beneath Scripture.

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