Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association
The Sandy Creek confession is the shortest of the three documents. However, its brevity does not imply lack of doctrinal understanding by its authors. The succinctness of the confession, together with its late arrival, speaks to the reluctance of the Separate Baptists to be tied to uninspired documents. Though the Sandy Creek Association was constituted in 1758, it was fifty-eight years before these brethren got around to formally adopting their principles of faith. But form was never their strong point, as compared to substance. Their earliest associations were conducted without formal officers or even a business meeting, though they did keep records of the meetings. They considered the worship service too important to be imposed upon by a formal business session. In like manner, they asserted that Holy Scripture provided a substantial statement of their beliefs; consequently, they didn't place much value on Confessions of Faith as a form of expression of beliefs.
Their first attempt at a written confession reveals the validity of their assertion as to the sufficiency of scripture. The document is well organized and to the point. In ten short statements the Sandy Creek brethren express their belief in the essential points of the doctrines of grace. It is easily understood. One can well imagine the members and friends of the association using the document as a study guide.
Art. I. We believe that there is only one true and living God; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, equal in essence, power and glory; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.
Article one is a short statement of the singular identity of God as one true God and as a trinity Godhead. They ascribe equal power and glory to him in the trinity.
II. That Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, and only rule of faith and practice.
This article assigns divine inspiration as the authority of Holy Scripture in matters of faith and practice.
III. That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily place.
The Sandy Creek churches include a statement concerning the purity of Adam in creation and his depravity in transgression. They identify him as the federal head of sin in humanity. A brief statement of the nature of depraved man is included.
IV. We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.
Article four is a comprehensive statement of the doctrine of election. It connects election to justification, effectual calling and eternal preservation. The connectivity of these concepts eliminates any consideration of a double election, of the just and unjust.
V. We believe that there will be a resurrection from the dead, and a general or universal judgment, and that the happiness of the righteous and punishment of the wicked will be eternal.
Article five is a concise statement of the resurrection of the dead. It specifies that both the just and unjust will be raised from the dead. It notes equality of duration of the bliss of the just and the suffering of the wicked. It contains neither statement nor inference of a millennial reign.
VI. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful persons, who have obtained fellowship with each other, and have given themselves up to the Lord and one another; having agreed to keep up a godly discipline, according to the rules of the Gospel.
The church as the visible kingdom of God with men is the subject of Article six. It describes the community of the church as a local body of the faithful engaged in fellowship. It defines their spiritual and bodily commitment to God and one another. It states a principle of godly discipline in accordance with gospel instruction.
VII. That Jesus Christ is the great head of the church, and that the government thereof is with the body.
This article acknowledges Christ as the head of the Church. It also declares the authority of the church in self-government.
VIII. That baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances of the Lord, and to be continued by his church until his second coming.
Article eight defines baptism and the Lord's supper as ordinances in the church. It is interesting that this article contains an identical sentiment as is stated in Article fifteen of the Midland Confession concerning the continuance of the ordinances of the church until Christ's second coming.
IX. That true believers are the only fit subjects of baptism;, and that immersion is the only mode.
Article nine is a mildly polemic statement concerning believers baptism. Perhaps it is so worded because of the Separate Baptists sensitivity to the Puritan practice of pedobaptism. However, seeing this document was written sixty years after their forefather's last contact with Puritanism and because they made a distinction about "true believers" baptism, it is more likely they are protecting themselves against the errors they found in the Kehukee Association in 1775. Whatever the reason, it is a simple statement of the principle of believer's baptism and baptism by immersion.
X. That the church has no right to admit any but regular baptized church members to communion at the Lord's table.
This final article is a statement of the principle of a closed communion. Also, it specifically ties regular baptism to church membership. This implies the Sandy Creek churches practiced closed membership. By inserting the words "church members" the Sandy Creek brethren removed all doubt as to whom they considered to be baptized regularly. Regular baptized persons were members of orthodox Baptist Churches.
The Sandy Creek Principles of Faith, as a document, is a reasonable statement of the doctrines of grace. Its brevity does not allow detailed explanations. Neither does it confuse the reader. It is truly an outline. While refusing to be bound to written articles of faith nevertheless its authors understood they would be identified by this document. They were careful to pen a confession which identified their doctrine but left the reader some degree of liberty to define it. They recognized their need for a document indicating commonly held beliefs but were wise to realize that a comprehensive statement could cause confusion or even schism.
They did not fall into the trap of those who wrote confessions which are so comprehensive and detailed as to give the impression they are exhaustive in scope, making them binding creeds. Such detailed, uninspired works, when formally adopted, take on the appearance of divine inspiration, making them canonical creeds in the minds of their subscribers. The Sandy Creek brethren were aware of such snares and had no desire for interpretations and applications of men to supplant the authority of scripture. Evidently, they wrote a minimal declaration of their faith to avoid the temptation of elevating their statement of belief to the level of scriptural authority. Their Principles of Faith Confession was intended to identify, not to define, their beliefs. As such, it is well written and functional.
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