What is a confession?

Perhaps you’ve been frustrated from time to time in browsing through church websites wondering, “What does this church believe about ___(fill in your topic here)?” It takes a lot of time and work to find out what anyone believes in any detail these days! The ironic thing is that Christians want people to know and understand what they believe about ___. That is because we Christians believe that God works in us a desire to confess what we believe and proclaim it boldly. The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, had this to say about confessing our faith, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13). In fact the Bible urges Christians to be able to express and confess their faith: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

It’s no surprise then that from the earliest days of the Christian faith believers have sought to confess what they believe. Christians want to tell others the good news of Jesus in clear language so they may understand what God has done. From time to time throughout history Christians have found it advantageous to write down a summary or confession of their faith, so that believers and sceptics alike can read for themselves what Christians believe and stand for. These documents often became necessary when God’s Word came under attack from false teachers who sought to add, subtract, or even twist the Word of God for their own purposes. Written confessions of faith became rallying points for believers to stand united so they could give the reason for the hope they have.

Even though many of these written confessions are now centuries (and in some cases millennia) old, they are still relevant. Christians today can look back and see if they are in line with the beliefs and thoughts of the early church, or see if modern issues or objections have been raised before. They enable us to see how earlier generations dealt with struggles and issues of their times. Though all Christians claim to follow the Bible, confessions greatly assist us in seeing how they interpret the Bible. Today confessions can help us more quickly compare what we believe or what different churches believe about a given issue. Most importantly a confession gives a clear witness about Jesus Christ and how he saved us so that others might be saved too.

In the Lutheran Church there are nine historical confessions that Lutherans have adopted. For a list and description of written confessions that Lutherans believe make sure to read “What are the Lutheran Confessions?”.