Confession and its benefits: Setting parameters that are good for everyone
As the constitution of the church, the creeds and confessions function to frame the general framework for how one ought to read and interpret the Bible, a framework which the church is convinced is derived from Scripture itself. But how does having this framework help us in the life of the church?
The main thing that we always need to remember is constitution is not about specific law. The creeds and confessions of faith are consensus documents expressing the doctrines that many Christians can agree on. Being consensus documents, that means they tend to omit idiosyncratic peculiarities of some theologians, and take no stand on minor points of doctrine that Christians can legitimately disagree with. Also, they might sometimes focus on what they think are the important issues of their times. As we read the creeds and confessions, we need to try to keep those in mind so that we do not mis-read the confessions.
The Creeds and Confessions, as constitution, obviously regulate and dictate the way the church teaches and preaches and operates. This strictness if you will means there are guidelines for preaching and teaching and ministering. That might sounds restrictive, but we should see as protection, just like laws against murder are not restrictive but are there to deter and punish murderers, and thus protect citizens. This protective quality is good for believers, because it provides some, albeit not foolproof, protection against false teachers who will seek to destroy their faith in Christ. It promotes stability and direction in the life of the church, which can focus more effort on instruction, discipling and evangelism instead of fighting doctrinal fires of controversy all year round (or worse).
A second benefit of confessions is that it protects everyone from doctrinal speculations and cultural expectations which may not be grounded in Scripture that some believe to be biblical. This is where the doctrine of Christian liberty comes in. No one, not even a pastor or an elder, can demand anyone in he congregation to do something not commanded in Scripture and not mandated in the Confessions. No one can demand another person in church whether they should or should not drink alcohol, whether they should or should not dye their hair, whether they should or should not send their children to public schools, and the list goes on.
On issues that are mentioned in some fashion in the Confessions, reading the confessions correctly also means resisting the impulse by some to take what certain parts of the confession regarding godliness a-contextually. The main example here is the issue of Sabbath keeping. The Westminster Standards for example seem to prohibit games on the Lord's Day and mandate keeping the whole day holy to the Lord. Many neo-puritans might come away from reading the Westminster Standards thinking that soccer or even a game of Monopoly cannot be played between friends and family for fun on Sundays. They read "all the day" and think 24 hours, or at least the time between one's awaking, and one's going to bed. These people deny these parts of the Westminster Standards as case law, and thus their failure to read the Confessions properly as constitution. Now, if that is their personal conviction on how the Sabbath is to be kept, good for them. But it is a travesty when they think their way is the only way to keep the Sabbath.
Holding on to the confessions thus is a very beneficial exercise for the church. It guides and protects believers from false teaching on the one hand, and guides and protects believers from unbiblical expectations on the other. Against the chaos of free, independent churches, there is direction, guidance and stability. Against the authoritarian demands from other church members, or even leaders, there is the liberty found in Christ. The Reformed Church because of its confessionalism, when practiced, is a stable and healthy church, and all believers should hasten to her and her benefits.