What is the difference between a confessional and creedal church?


#1

In a couple of other threads I have looked at and posted in, people have mentioned Churches being confessional or creedal. What is the difference? Which denominations would be considered confessional, and which denominations would be considered creedal?


#2

The Catholic or Eastern Orthdox Churches are creedal; so, as I understand it, is the Anglican/Episcopal Church. These churches accept the historic Christian Creeds as binding definitions of Christian doctrines. Although the Anglicans have 39 Articles of Faith, these Articles are not strictly binding on Anglicans as a test of orthodox Anglican belief.

Lutherans, Presbyterians, some Reformed Churches are confessional: they have denominational confessions (the Augsburg Confession, the Westminster Confession) which at least in theory are binding on their members.

I only heard this distinction a few days ago in another thread so hopefully I have parsed it correctly. If not someone will correct me.


#3

How about Methodists and Baptists? Are they creedal or confessional?


#4

Contemporary Baptists would be neither, I think, though at one time they had something on the order of a Confession. Southern Baptists are rather strongly anti-creedal, in my experience. You need to realise that not all Protestant sects can be divided into ‘creedal’ or ‘confessional’ categories. I was raised in the Campbellite tradition (‘Christian Churches’, ‘Disciples of Christ’, ‘Churches of Christ’, etcetera), where the rule was “No creed but the Bible” and “any creed which is shorter than the Bible is unBiblical; any creed that is longer than the Bible is unBiblical; any creed that is different than the Bible is unBiblical; any creed which is the same as the Bible is superfluous”.

Although I am not a Roman Catholic I found it very refreshing as a teenager (some thirty-plus years ago mind you) when I got straightforward answers to doctrinal questions. When I asked my Sunday School teachers about the Trinity I was told that ‘we don’t use unBiblical words for Bible doctrines’. Instead I was directed to a litany of Bible verses that taught that there is one God, that the Father is God, that Jesus is God, that the Holy Ghost is God. But don’t call that formula a ‘Trinity’–that word isn’t in the Bible.

I’m sure they were trying to teach me to use the Bible to sift out theology for myself, but the fact is that a lot of things taught in Scripture are not neatly organised and clearly expressed for a novice Christian to readily apprehend. I ended up going to the public library to find books to help me out. When I encountered Catholic explanations for doctrines like the Trinity (in a Knights of Columbus book called “The Truth About Catholics”, as well as Sheed’s “Theology For Beginners” and the Baltimore Catechism), a whole of of Christian doctrine fell into place in a way that it didn’t in Sunday School. True story. Some Catholics, of course, have felt similarly liberated in some way by being brought for the first time face-to-face with God via Scripture in a Protestant setting. I’m way off-topic though . . . .

So far as the Methodists: I am not certain. I think they originally subscribed to the 39 Articles of the Church of England and then moved away even from that. I believe they do still recite the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. Someone may happen along who can flesh this out for you more.


#5

Methodists subscribe to the Articles. They also say both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.


#6

So would that make Methodists a combination of creedal and confessional?


#7

So far as I understand it, the Articles of Religion are NOT a ‘Confession’ in the way that the Westminster Confession or the Augsburg Confession are. So, no: the Methodists would NOT be a ‘Confessional Church’. And by the way: so far as I know, all ‘Confessional’ churches accept the Creeds, but not all ‘Creedal’ denominations accept any sort of ‘Confession’. So one can be EITHER a ‘Creedal’ or a ‘Confessional’ denomination, but one is never both simulataneously. And, as I noted earlier, one can also be a ‘non-Creedal’ denomination.


#8

This is a matter of definition. There are Anglicans and Methodists who would regard the Articles as confessions. Those of us who see Anglicanism and Methodism as subordinate to the authority of the historic Catholic Church are unwilling to treat them as such, and certainly the Anglican tradition (and Methodism as a derivative thereof) has not stressed confessions in the way the Lutherans and Reformed (defining Anglicanism here as non-Reformed, though in many respects it is historically part of the Reformed tradition) do. The Articles are briefer than other 16th-century doctrinal statements and reflected a less thorough process of doctrinal debate and consensus. Still, they can be treated as confessions and often have been.

Edwin


#9

Hi Edwin,
Thank you for clarifying that. It makes more sense to me. I am aware that at least in the Methodist Church, that some congregations use the Articles while others just consider them to be historically important.


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