What is Confessionalism?

From a recent Office Hours , OHS DGH defines what he means by the term “confessionalism”:

Well, first, it’s an odd word to use, “confessional”, because it suggests that it’s just about the confession or creeds, and Reformed creeds and confessions do teach about things that are the heart of confessionalism, namely the church, and worship. But “confessionalism” really stands for ecclesial, or churchly Reformed Christianity or Reformed Protestantism. Confessional Lutheranism stands for the same thing. Those who take the Reformed churches or the Lutheran churches seriously also take the creeds and confessions seriously, but to talk about confessionalism people think you’re just talking about doctrine, and well, you’re talking about doctrine of the church, you’re talking about doctrine of worship, you’re also talking about the practice of those things.

Part of the way I came to this was, in American history, cultural historians of the 19th century have actually used terms like Pietist and Liturgical, or Pietist and Confessional, to describe two different approaches to American politics, and the sort of [Whig? vague?], Evangelical consensus that was going on, people who dissented from it were Liturgical or Confessional, and those were some high-church types, Mercersburg, Anglicans, some Old School Presbyterians though, were in that group, as well as some German and Dutch Reformed. And so, I tried to adopt that language that political historians used, so it’s actually a political/historical concept, not necessarily a churchly one (even though you’ve done more with that in your own book, RRC).

So it’s really trying to think about Reformed Christianity apart from the approaches that we generally have, and the three approaches that are prominent — I’m drawing here upon Nick Wolterstorff… — we have a Doctrinalist Reformed Christianity, we have a Culturalist, and we have a Pietist, or Experiental. And none of those ways at looking at Reformed Christianity actually ever get close to the Church, it seems to me. They may all assume the church is there, but they don’t necessarily take the church seriously. … We have plenty of people who think they are Christians who aren’t members of churches, or whose membership in the church they wear very lightly, but it seems to me if the Church is the embodiment of, or the body of Christ, it seems to me we really do need to take the formal Church, the institutional church seriously, and that’s what I’m trying to do with “confessionalism”.

I liked this because it’s always unconsciously nettled me that “confessionalism” as a bare term, doesn’t seem to capture well the ecclesiological dimension of what we feel we’re about, as in this previous discussion.

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This entry was posted in Confessionalism, Ecclesiology, High church calvinism, Quotes, Reformed Confessionalism, Reformed piety, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to What is Confessionalism?

  1. Zrim says:

    In the interest of Reformed ecumenism, I’d like to motion for yet another category: philosophical. So that now we’d have the doctrinalist, the culturalist, the pietist, the liturgical (or confessional) and the philosophical.

    And from what I can tell, the two hybrids that knock heads most might be the doctrinal-liturgical and the cultural-philosophical.

  2. RubeRad says:

    Wait, now I’m confused again. Did you make up that new category just to explain your friction with PaulM?

  3. Zrim says:

    You say “make up” like it’s a bad thing and seem to imply my being dismissive or something. Even so, yes, I’m serious. I do think a philosophical outlook might be as different from a liturgical one as is a pietist or culturalist.

  4. RubeRad says:

    I’m just miffed that I’m finally coming to understand how/why “confessionalism” really means “high-ecclesiology”, and as I summit this peak, I find you hammering pitons into a new face for another ascent…

  5. "Michael Mann" says:

    “I’d like to motion for yet another category: philosophical.”

    Yup, Zrim has built a Paul-cage. He’ll probably be visiting in 3…2…1….

  6. Zrim says:

    Mr. Miami Vice, I just hope he realizes it’s in the spirit of Reformed ecumenism. But I’m putting in my mouth guard and cup just to be safe.

  7. Pingback: Was Van Til a Confessionalist? Is Anyone? « Aporetic Christianity

  8. After reading all this, I still don’t see why the term “confessionalism” was needed. If a “doctrinalist” has good doctrine, then he’ll have good ecclesiology, which presumably would “take…the institutional church seriously.”

  9. Zrim says:

    Joseph, you know what they say about assumptions. But if you want to know what purpose the term “confessionalism” serves one way is to distinguish the New Calvinists from the Old, as in the young/restless/Reformed crowd from Westminster Westers. The New might have all five doctrinal points, but there are more than five points. IOW, good eccleisology and sacramentology doesn’t necessarily flow from good soteriology.

    Read through some of these posts to see it.

  10. It seems like you’re inserting a layer of debate, about who fits into what categories, that is unnecessary. Why argue about whether the doctrinalists or the confessionalists are right? First you’ll have to explain what those are…and what a waste of time that is when you could address your beef directly (as far as I can see, you don’t think people take the Church seriously as an institution). Argue about ecclesiology directly then. Argue the roll of the confessions in ecclesiology and how the Reformed of whatever category are not adhering to what the Bible says (if the Bible does indeed say it).

    is this the argument?: Church discipline is required, therefore Church membership is required, therefore a definition of discipline-able actions/beliefs must be set forth, therefore confessions are required….and deviations from them are to be disciplined?

    And the confessionally reformed might go one step further? Anyone who is a pastor in a NAPARC church has signed onto a confession (3FU or WS) & a book of church order, and so so many are intentionally violating those confessions? Is it not the problem that they simply don’t believe everything in the confessions?

    Were does this confessionally reformed train want to take us (obviously it’s not even on the tracks yet and probably never will be — hence you’re in the “outhouse”)?

    Again, if ALL of your DOCTRINES are 100% correct, your eccelsiology will by necessary consequence be 100% correct (all high churchy and stuff). Am I missing something here?

  11. Zrim says:

    Joseph, maybe it’s just the hour, but I’m not entirely sure I’m following you here. But the point is simply that Jesus established a church out of which there is no hope for salvation. She is marked by the pure preaching of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them, and discipline for correcting faults (Belgic 29). Believers who would that God is their Father should cling to her as their Mother. She is governed by his officers who have bound themselves to the infallible authority of Scripture and the fallibile authority of the Reformed confessions, creeds and catechisms that are the superior expression of biblical and historical teaching on earth.

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