When we were married, my wife and I chose to compose our own vows to say to each other, rather than using the traditional set of vows. Not that there’s anything wrong with the traditional vows. There’s a reason they have been used time and again. But there was something quite special in attempting to express the beauty and enormity of the promises encapsulated in those traditional vows with own words. These vows represented a ‘line in the sand’ in our relationship. Forsaking all others, we were committing to one another for better or worse. The act of writing them down was integral to helping us reflect on them in such a way that they became ingrained in the very fibre of our marriage.
GOD’S WORD WRITTEN
In the same way, our faith has a long history of writing things down. In fact, the Bible refers to itself as the Scriptures, which simply means ‘the writings’ and the Thirty-Nine Articles established by the Church of England wonderfully refer to the Bible as ‘God’s Word Written’. In His sovereign wisdom, God chose to communicate with the human race, by mysterious collaboration of the power of His Spirit and of human effort and creativity in the writing down of His Word (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). We see this in action early on in the Biblical narrative as God speaks and then writes down his words for man to read and remember (Ex. 32:16). Then, shortly thereafter, we see God collaborating with Moses to write His words (Ex. 34:1, 28).
WRITTEN ON OUR HEARTS
Beyond the fact that God’s Word was written for us, the act of writing holds great importance and symbolism for humanity within the Scriptures themselves. Each king of Israel was commanded by God (before Israel even had a king) to make a copy of the Law for himself and to have it approved by the Levitical priests (Deut. 17:18-20). In the writing and reading of that which he had written, the king was meant to learn to trust and fear the Lord and to obey Him. It’s clear from the text that the act of writing something down is meant for the purposes of learning and knowing so that we can obey.
However, true knowing is much more than just intellectual acceptance of rules and regulations. It includes understanding and doing, which are the evidence that a person has truly learnt something at a heart level. The prophet Jeremiah illustrates this beautifully when he prophecies that one-day God will in fact write His Law on the hearts of his people (Jer. 31:33) and the righteous requirement of the Law will be fulfilled in them as they walk, not by the flesh, but by His Spirit (Rom. 8:4)!
A PEN OF IRON WITH A DIAMOND POINT
There is another sense in which writing something down gives it a sense of finality. Once again, the prophet Jeremiah says that Judah’s sin is engraved on their heart by an iron pen with a diamond point (Jer. 17:1). It’s not something that can be erased; it is definite. The Lord also commands the prophet Isaiah to write down the prophecies concerning Israel “for the time to come as a witness forever” (Is. 30:8, emphasis added). Similarly, in the book of Revelation, regarding salvation, things are fairly black and white: either one’s name is written in the Book of Life, or it is not (Rev. 20:15). Thus, writing not only gives finality, but also accountability. What’s written down can be checked and verified. It makes one responsible for the things which have been written down. It’s a line in the sand.
THE STANDARD OF TRUTH
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul appears in multiple places to reference an authoritative summary of core doctrines. He uses phrases like: ‘the whole counsel of God’, ‘guard the good deposit’, and ‘the standard of teaching’ (Acts 20:27; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14; Rom. 6:17). Indeed, his own letters have preserved some of the early church’s creeds for us today (1 Cor. 15:3-5; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Tim. 3:16). It is likely, then, that the practice of composing creeds and confessions of faith within the church originated with the Apostles themselves.
For these reasons, many local churches today compose, or subscribe to, a written confessional statement, which is a summary of their present understanding of the doctrines of first importance relating to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s their ‘line in the sand’. A good confessional statement ought to communicate what a local church believes about God, the Bible, the Human Race, the Lord Jesus Christ, Salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and the Future.
THE CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT
At the end of the day, we believe the spoken word carries great power, but so too does the written word, particularly, in this case, as it pertains to the defining and refining of what it is we say we believe as a local church. Indeed, we would go so far as to say that until you’ve written it down, you can’t really know what it is you believe. And because what you believe remains undefined, you are liable to believe anything and everything.
Therefore, because we want the Gospel to be written on our hearts, to hold ourselves accountable for what we say we believe, the truth to be clear and unambiguous, and to guard the good deposit, we hold to a public, written confession of faith. It is our ‘line in the sand’ and you can read it here: City Church Wolverhampton’s Confessional Statement.