Confessional Praise

Creeds and confessions are not simply boundary markers but they arise out of a desire to praise God.

If true Christian believing and true Christian belonging are two sides of the same coin, inextricably joined together, then praise that expresses the content of belief is the means by which such belonging is given public expression; and this brings us back to creeds and confessions as being normative guides to Christian doctrine and also, in this context, to the content of Christian worship.

 

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9–10)

The confessing to which Paul refers here is a public act, and such public acts of confession serve a variety of purposes. There is confessing before the world, the action of witnessing to Christ before the pagan nations. Such is captured by the use of the term witnessing to refer to acts of personal evangelism. The Greek word for such witnessing, of course, lies behind the modern word martyr. Then there is the public and personal affirmation of truth within the church which marks out the true believer from the impostor. Thus, those who deny with their mouths that Jesus is Lord, who say Jesus is Lord but deny that God raised him from the dead, are not true members of Christ’s church, no matter how likeable or pious they might otherwise be. But there is also the further aspect of confession as praise. For Paul, doctrine and doxology are not separated: the truths of the gospel drive him again and again to praise. And, reading his letters, one is struck time after time by the fact that doctrinal statements are clearly uttered in a manner that expresses the sheer delight and joy Paul has in verbalizing such.

Philippians 2:6–11 provides a good example, where Paul, in pressing on his readers the need for humility, describes the mission of Christ using a form which is arguably that of a poem or hymn, and which culminates in the magnificent declaration that “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In ending in such a climactic way, this section of the letter is both descriptive, in that it points the reader toward the praise that such truths should evoke. It is also in itself a superb example of what it enjoins: theological confession as doxology.

To Philippians 2, we might also add 1 Timothy 3:14–16, where Paul is talking about wanting to visit Timothy and then breaks out into a hymn of praise, which also constitutes an outline of some key elements of his christology. In this brief passage, he makes a normative statement about God’s revelation, the role of the Spirit in Christ’s saving work, the witness of angels, the proclamation of the gospel, the resulting faith, and Christ’s ascension to glory in the space of a few brief lines; but this is more than just a set of doctrinal propositions—it is also an act of praise. There is no opposition or difference between doctrine and doxology here: the expression of praise is rooted in, constituted by, an expression of the theology. This is a vital point, and we do well to remember that our creeds and confessions are not simply boundary markers but also that they arise out of a desire to praise God, the content of which praise should be the same as that of said creeds and confessions.

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