I have been making the case that healthy Christian disciples hold firm beliefs with kindness and charitability toward others. We often equate firm, bounded beliefs with being close-minded, arrogant, and legalistic. At the same time, we often mistake loose, unbounded beliefs with kindness, winsomeness, and curiosity.
The argument I am building here is meant to cut across (or, in a way, diagonalize) these two simplistic notions. We are being kindest to others when we are clear about what we really believe. More than that, true kindness and charitability will only come when we have the greatest confidence in what we believe. Only then can I truly respect and consider what you believe, no matter how different it may be from me, without feeling threatened or fearful.
David Brooks recently wrote a great piece for the Atlantic where he argued that the reason our society has become so mean is because “[w]e inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how to treat others with kindness and consideration.” The loss of moral formation means we are no longer trained to hold up any set of ideals. Without this common formation, we cannot answer questions like, How do we keep our evolutionarily conferred egotism under control? How do you welcome a neighbor into your community? How do you disagree with someone constructively? How do we find purpose or meaning in life?
In other words, without firm beliefs concerning what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), we lose the ability to be truly kind and considerate toward our neighbors.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, a historic theological document of the Reformation, is a set of firm beliefs concerning what the Bible teaches across several major doctrines and topics. Confessionally Reformed Christians who follow this historic tradition have great reason to be those who can hold firm convictions with kindness and charitability. This time-tested Christian tradition is more than sufficient to create bonds of unity and train its followers to be trust-giving, best-believing followers of Jesus.
In my previous piece, I argued that the Confession conditions us not to react to others with fear. Instead, it trains us to trust and believe the best in others, whether they are Christian or not. Building on those thoughts, I will suggest below that confessional faith also deals with the fear we have for ourselves, which then allows us to be more charitable to varying beliefs of others. Following the terminology I’ve been using in this series, confessionalism gives us both a healthy bounded and centered faith.