More Reformed Focus tracts are available online here.
I T IS a constant lament that biblical standards are loosely kept or even forsaken by Christian believers. Such a situation is not unique to the present day. Over the centuries the battle for truth has been fought, and although there have been triumphs, defeats have also abounded. Reformed churches have historically resorted to the use of Creeds and Confessions in all their contendings for Gospel truth.
What are Creeds and Confessions? At their simplest, they are statements of the Bible's great doctrines and a list of its leading precepts. We can further add this: they are summaries and presentations of Gospel truth. Creeds and Confessions have been formulated throughout the life of the Church. See for example, "Jesus is Lord;" cf. Matthew 16:16 and 1 Corinthians 12:3. Later generations produced the Apostles' Creed, the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds, through to the great Reformation and Protestant Confessions. This leads to an all-important question:
In other words, they are the means of testing a man's soundness in the
faith. As hinted at above, history teaches us that tests of orthodoxy
are a necessity. Heresies arose in Apostolic days. Great light and
truth, attended by signs and wonders, had broken out, yet it was vital
to "hold fast the form of sound words" (2 Timothy 1:13). If it mattered
then, how much more today. The Reformation saw a pouring forth of
Protestant Creeds and Confessions. Men clung to them, in some instances
to the death. Such were needed, then, in better days. Do we not require
them still in a time of terrible and unheard-of declension? How else
are we to "try the spirits whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1)?
As statements and summaries of the vital doctrines of the Bible, they
take on the role of a guardian or protector. To explain, let us use the
example of a farmer. He places cattle in a field and if he is
experienced, he will know that the animals will always find a way of
escaping, especially if they are sheep! This does not prevent him from
placing a fence around the field in order to keep the wayward creatures
in. Indeed, he makes the land as secure as possible. So too with Creeds
and Confessions. Sinful nature is prone to wander, yet a Creed can be
like a fence, helping to keep us in the 'field' of the Gospel.
The Apostle Paul describes the church as "the pillar and ground of the
truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). By this, we understand that God's Word has
been entrusted to us. We are to guard it carefully and give a clear
witness to all its precepts. In adopting a Creed, we formally and
openly declare our belief in Scripture and a clear demarcation is drawn
between the believing and the unbelieving.
The Scriptures command us to think, believe and speak the same things.
See for example, 1 Corinthians 1:10. How can this be achieved? Two
cannot walk together unless they be agreed and agreement cannot be
obtained unless there is a common acceptance of a statement of holy
Scripture. It is at this point that Creeds and Confessions are a great
This was especially true amongst the different Protestant denominations
of past years and still ought to be the case. Creeds are an honest
attempt to let others know what we believe. We say 'honest', because it
is honourable to be open with each other, especially when a believer
may consider joining with a company of God's people. Besides, they can
be a help in allowing Christians from different denominations to
understand and fellowship with one another, even if they do not always
agree on every point.
The reading of Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms has done much good
down the centuries. Modern believers who neglect them, do so to their
own detriment. A regular perusal of a Creed's contents will stimulate
study, inspire faith and keep the Reformed doctrines alive in
Following on closely from the above, Creeds can challenge, rebuke,
instruct and draw us closer to the Lord. Left to ourselves, we can grow
spiritually lax, but as the Apostle Peter tells us, we need stirring up
by being reminded of biblical truth (2 Peter 1:13). To this end, we
recommend the reading of the Westminster documents every year or two.
In this way, they will remain fresh in our hearts and minds.
In other words, in cases of serious discipline they can be employed as a standard by which to act and judge. By way of example, when a minister begins to teach heretical doctrines, Creeds and Confessions are there to hopefully recall him to better things. If this fails, then the same Creeds can be used to dismiss him from the sacred office. We are mindful that it depends upon the godliness of his fellow ministers and elders as to whether matters are administered correctly or not. All the same, the Creeds are essential to this whole process.
The present age is one of spiritual vagueness, subjectivity and the assumption of a form of godliness, "but denying the power thereof." Creeds and Confessions can be something of a help in delivering the Church from these evils. Yet Creeds have their detractors, even from within denominations which have historically required subscription to such documents. What are their objections? Let us consider some and endeavour to give answers to them:
Therefore, Scripture is all that we need. This objection proceeds from a mistaken assumption. No true believer has ever believed that his Creed is equal with, or even supersedes, Scripture. The compilers of the Westminster Confession of Faith could write concerning the books of the Bible: "All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life" (Chapter 1: section ii). Section iv adds: "The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God." Thus the supremacy and authority of holy Scripture over any other writings is asserted. Creeds then, are only human statements and summaries of faith. As such, they are not infallible, but standards which are subordinate to the Word of God.
This objection has
another mistaken assumption. It argues that the Bible is all we need.
To a great degree that is true, but in another sense it is not. God
gave permanent gifts to his Church of pastors and teachers. If the
Bible is all we need, why did God provide us with such standing
ministries? Preaching is necessary, because the Holy Spirit uses this
ordinance to grant understanding of the Word to the Church. Rejection
of Creeds must also mean a rejection of preaching, for both exist for
the same end. Lovers of Creeds do not esteem the Bible less, but
instead, love and honour it more. Centuries of Reformed history testify
Evidences of creeds do exist in the New Testament. See: Matthew 16: 16;
1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Timothy 6:12 & 13; 2 Timothy 1:13; 3:14 and
Matthew 28:19 & 20. The origins of the Apostles' Creed may be open
to conjecture. It is clear, however, that its roots were certainly
'Apostolic', for the churches of Tertullian's day (born c.140 A.D.)
accepted this as being so.
The Christian faith is simple, it is said, but Creeds fill it with
complexities. To this we can answer that the basic precepts of the
Gospel may be simple. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 lays the fundamentals before
us: Christ died for our sins; was buried; and rose again the third day.
If these were the whole contents of Christianity, then critics might
have a significant point in their favour; but the opposite is the case.
The Bible contains some things hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16) and
this has caused individuals and churches to founder spiritually and
fall into terrible error and heresy. If anything, Creeds help to
explain the Bible's teaching and keep us on an orthodox path. To have a
humble spirit and to regard Creeds and Confessions as teaching
documents is surely a significant mark of grace.
They hinder the development of further truth and light, and confine
freedom of thought. Such an objection depends upon the presuppositions
of the critic. If he believes that God has NOT confined his Word to the
books of the Old and New Testaments, then Creeds will be obnoxious to
him. If, however, he accepts the Bible's view of itself that it is
God's ONLY Word to man, then he will be glad of any statement and
summary of belief that strengthens faith. The doctrines of the Bible
are not changeable. They are derived from God's holy, inspired
Scriptures of Truth and, as such, are his final, sufficient and
unchangeable revelation to us. The problem is, man is forever changing,
especially in matters of doctrine and spirituality. On the contrary,
orthodox belief seeks to be settled and grounded in the Truth and will
use Creeds to maintain this. Indeed, faithful ministers will strive not
to preach anything original. Only those things found in the Bible and
summarised in the Creeds will fill their pulpit utterances. When a man
is about to enter the ministerial office, he ought to know what he
believes before he commits himself. He is not setting out to some
unknown destination and lost before he starts. Rather, he takes up
God's chart and compass and leads his people in the right way. Creeds
are an indispensable aid in accomplishing this.
It is not to be denied that certain individuals can use good things to
serve an evil cause, but that is not to make a good thing bad. Creeds
by their nature cannot cause discord. If anything, they are the means
of obtaining oneness and peace, for a company of God's people united
upon these principles will experience great harmony. Even so, the
opponents of Creeds may persist in their objection. What can we further
answer? Should Creeds seem to be the unlikely cause of division, they
are still not to be blamed. Christ made it clear that his coming would
not bring harmony, but division. See Luke 12:49-53. The Gospel always
brings about opposition and even violent persecution. Is it at fault?
Of course not! When a believer contends for the truth, as instructed by
Scripture, is he to be condemned? A thousand times NO! The fault lies
with those who resist the truth and will have none of it. Creeds, then,
are blameless. So also are those who defend their use. Although we are
to live at peace with all men, this will not always be possible because
of error and wickedness in their hearts.
They are dictatorial and have no right to tell us what to believe. This
objection makes a wrong assumption. Creeds are NOT dictatorial. No one
is compelled to accept them, therefore the conscience is not violated
in any way, or the rights of private judgment curtailed. Whenever a
group of believers choose to unite and walk together, they will sooner
or later agree upon a basis for this union. Every church must have one,
for it is impossible to function otherwise. Such an agreement and the
acceptance of this basis is voluntary. We repeat: no one is forced to
submit to it against his wishes. Therefore, this objection cannot
We understand more today, so they are not necessary. This objection
reveals conceit and also ignorance of history. To think that we know it
all is in fact to be blind to our true state. A survey of history will
tells us that our forefathers knew significantly more of divine truth
than we do today. Modern Christians should hang their heads in shame
for even thinking up such an objection.
To this we agree, but do we abandon all safeguards because of a past disappointing experience? A dog may escape from a garden, but it does not prevent us from constructing a secure fence around our property. This objection, however, is not wholly accurate. Creeds and Confessions have done much to maintain orthodoxy over hundreds of years. Who knows to what depths the churches could have sunk without them? It is significant, that since many believers have refused any or little subscription to Creeds, the Church and nation have gone into spiritual decline.
Are you ashamed of your Creed and Confession? In danger of letting it slip? Wanting a Creed-less (and spine-less) Christianity?
Do not be ashamed! Thank God that they arose in his providence. Gladly affirm your belief in and acceptance of them. Let the world and fellow believers know what we believe. Above all, let them be some of those means whereby we rededicate ourselves to the Lord and his service.