ARE CREEDS AND CONFESSIONS DIVISIVE?
THEY DIVIDE TRUTH FROM ERROR
THEY DIVIDE TRUE TEACHERS FROM FALSE TEACHERS
A Creed is not a revelation of divine truth; it is not a rule of faith
but it is a help in both. Creeds have no authority over conscience.
DR. DRAPER IS CORRECT
"No matter what they say, Baptists have got a creed - everyone's got a creed. We do believe something..."
HOW DO WE DISTINGUISH BETWEEN TRUTH AND ERROR
BY THOSE WHO CLAIM TO BELIEVE THE BIBLE??
In our last study we considered three reasons for the necessity and importance of Creeds and Confessions. in this study I want to continue by giving four more reasons why Creeds and Confessions are important and necessary.
Laying aside all Creeds naturally tends to make professing Christians indifferent to the study of Christian truths.
4. Another argument in favour of Creeds publicly adopted and maintained is that they are helpful in the study, of Christian doctrine. It is the general principle of the enemies of Creeds that all who profess to believe the Bible ought without further inquiry, to unite; to maintain ecclesiastical communion; and to live together in peace. But is it not manifest that the only way in which those who essentially differ from each other concerning the fundamental doctrines of the gospel can live together in perfectly harmonious ecclesiastical fellowship, is by becoming indifferent to truth; in other words, by becoming persuaded that modes of faith are of little or no practical importance to the Church, and are therefore not worth contending for; that clean and discriminating views of Christian doctrine are wholly Unnecessary and of little use in the formation of Christian character? But in proportion as professing Christians are indifferent to truth, will they not be apt to neglect the study of it? And if the study of it be generally neglected, will not gross and deplorable ignorance of it eventually and generally prevail? The fact is when men love gospel truth well enough to study it with care, they will soon learn to estimate its value; they will soon be disposed to "contend for it," against its enemies who are numerous in every age; and this will inevitably lead them to adopt and defend that "form of sound words" which they, think they find in the sacred Scriptures. On the other hand, let any man imbibe the notion that Creeds and Confessions are unscriptural, and of course unlawful, he will naturally and speedily pass to the conclusion that all contending for doctrines is useless and even criminal. From this the transition is easy to the abandonment of the study of doctrine, or at least the zealous and diligent study of it. Thus it is, that laying aside all Creeds naturally tends to make professing Christians indifferent to the study of Christian truth; comparatively uninterested in the attainment of religious knowledge; and finally, regardless, and of course, ignorant of "the faith once delivered to the saints."
It is by no means indeed, to be understood to assert that no heretics have ever been zealous in publishing and defending their corrupt opinions. The pages of ecclesiastical history abundantly show, that many of the advocates of error, 'both in ancient and modern times, have contended not only pertinaciously, but even fiercely for their peculiar doctrines. But my position is, that the enemies of all Creeds and Confessions usually assume a principle, which, if carried out to its legitimate consequences, would discourage all zeal in maintaining the peculiar doctrines of the gospel; that if all zeal in maintaining peculiar doctrines were laid aside, all ardour and diligence in studying them would be likely to be laid aside also; and that if this were the case, a state of things more unfriendly to the growth and prevalence of Christian knowledge could scarcely be imagined. Look at the loose, vague, undecisive character of the preaching heard in nine-tenths of the Unitarian, and other latitudinarian pulpits in the United States and, as I suppose, throughout Christendom. If the occupants of those pulpits had it for their distinct and main object to render their hearers indifferent about understanding, and, of course, indifferent about studying the fundamental doctrines of the gospel they could scarcely adopt a plan more directly calculated to attain their end than that which they actually pursue. Their incessant cry is, "matters of opinion are between God and a man's own conscience. No one else has a right to meddle with the.' Hence, in pursuance of this maxim they do indeed take care to meddle very little with the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel. We conjecture what their doctrinal opinions are, in general, not so much from what they say as from what they do not say. And the truth is, that if this character of preaching was to become universal, all discriminating views of gospel truth would in thirty years be banished from the church.
The Bible is, the only infallible rule of faith and manners (a precious all-important truth; which, properly understood, cannot be too often repeated).
If the friends of orthodoxy and piety really desire to cherish and maintain a love for the discriminating study of Christian doctrine; a taste. for religious knowledge; a spirit of zeal for the truth in opposition to that miserable indifference to articles of faith which is so replete with mischief to every Christian community in which it is found; then let them be careful to present and be diligent to keep before the eyes of one another, and the eye of the public, that "good confession" which they are commanded to "profess before many witnesses." if they fail to do this, if under the guise of adherence to that great Protestant maxim, that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and manners (a precious all-important truth; which, properly understood, cannot be too often repeated) they speak and act as if all 'who profess to receive the Bible were standing upon equally solid and safe ground, if, in a word, they consider it as unnecessary, and even criminal, to select from the mass of Scriptural truth and to defend as such, the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, then, nothing short of a miracle can prevent them from sinking into that coldness and sloth with respect to the study of doctrine, and finally into that deplorable "lack of knowledge' by which millions are constantly "destroyed.
Is it enough to simply affirm that I believe the Bible?
5. if is an argument of no small weight in favour of Creeds that the experience of all ages has found them indispensably necessary. Even in the days of the Apostles, when all their inspiration and all their miraculous powers were insufficient, to deter heretics from spreading their poison, men calling themselves Christians and professing to preach the religion of Christ, perverted His truth and brought "another gospel," which He had not taught. In this exigency how did the churches proceed? An inspired apostle directed them not to be content with a general profession of belief in the religion of Christ on the part of those who came to them as Christian teachers, but to examine and try them and to ascertain whether their teaching was agreeable to the "form of sound words' which they had been taught by him, and he adds with awful solemnity - "if any man bring any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Here war., in effect, an instance and that by Divine warrant, of employing a Creed as a test of orthodoxy, that is, men making a general profession of Christianity are expressly directed by an inspired apostle to be brought to the test in what sense they understood that gospel of which in general terms, they declared their reception, and how they explained its leading doctrines. It would seem indeed, that the Confession of Faith then required was very short and simple. This, the peculiar circumstances of the times and the no less peculiar administration of the Church, rendered entirely sufficient. Still, whether the Confession were long or short, whether it consisted of three articles or of thirty, the principle was the same.
In the second century, in the writings of Irenaeus and in the third in the writings. of Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Gregory Thaumaturgus, and Lucian the martyr, we find a number of Creeds and Confessions, more formally drawn out, more minute, and more extensive than those of earlier date. They were intended to bear testimony against the various forms of error which had arisen; and plainly show that as the arts and corruptions of heretics increased, the orthodox church found more attention to the adoption and maintenance of these formularies indispensably necessary,
In the fourth century, when the church was still more agitated by the prevalence of heresy, there was a still louder demand for accredited tests, by which the heretics were to be tried and detected. Of this demand there never was a more striking instance than in the Council- of Nice, when the heresy of Arius was under the consideration of that far-famed assembly. When the Council entered on the examination of the subject, it was found extremely difficult to obtain from Arius any satisfactory explanation of his views. He was not only as ready as the most orthodox divine present to profess that he believed the Bible, but he also declared himself willing to adopt as his own all the language of the Scriptures in detail, concerning the person and character of the blessed Redeemer. But when the members of the Council wished to ascertain in what sense he understood this language, he discovered a disposition to evade and equivocate and actually for a considerable time, baffled the attempts of the most ingenious of the orthodox to specify his errors and to bring them to light. He declared that he was perfectly willing to employ the popular language on the subject in a controversy and wished to have it believed that he differed very little from the body of the church. Accordingly the orthodox went over the various titles of Christ plainly expressive of Divinity, such as "God' "the true God" - the "express image of God," etc. - to every one of which Arius and his followers most readily subscribed - claiming a right however, to put their own construction on the Scriptural titles in question. After employing much time and ingenuity in vain, in endeavouring to drag this artful chief from his lurking places, and to obtain from him an explanation of his views, the Council found it would be impossible to accomplish their object as long as they permitted him to intrench himself behind a mare general profession of belief in the Bible. They therefore did what common sense as well as the word of God had taught the church to do in all preceding times and what alone can enable her to detect the artful advocate of error. They expressed in their own language what they supposed to be the doctrine of Scripture concerning the Divinity of the Saviour, in other words, they drew up a Confession of Faith on this subject, which they called upon Arius and his disciples to subscribe. This the heretics refused, and were thus virtually brought to the acknowledgment that they did not understand the Scriptures as the rest of the Council understood them, and of course, that the charge against them was correct.
The same course was taken by all the pious witnesses of the truth in the dark ages, when amidst the surrounding corruption and desolation, they found themselves called upon to bear "witness to the truth." They all professed their belief in the Bible, and their love to it, they constantly appealed to it as the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and they studied it with incomparably more veneration and diligence than any of the errorists around them. This all history plainly evinces. But at the same time they saw the futility of doing nothing mare than proclaim in general their adherence to the sacred volume. This would have been no distinction, and of course, no testimony at all. it would have beet nothing more than the bitterest enemies of the truth were proclaiming busily, and even 'clamorously every day. They therefore did what the friends of orthodoxy had been in the habit of doing from the earliest ages. They framed creeds from time to time as the exigencies of the Church demanded, by means of which they were enabled to bear their testimony for God; to vindicate His truth; and to transmit the memorials of their fidelity to distant generations. And finally, at the glorious reformation from Popery, by which the great Head of the Church may be said again to have "set his people free," and the memory of which shall never die, in drawing the line between "the precious and the vile," the friends of truth followed the same course. They with one accord formed their Creeds and Confessions, which served, at once as a plea for the truth and a barrier against heresy. And it is not, perhaps, too much to say, that the volume which contains the collections of these Creeds, is one of the most precious and imperishable monuments of the piety, wisdom, and zeal of the sixteenth century.
What, now is the inference from all this experience of the Church of God, so universal and so uniform? It cannot be misunderstood. It speaks volumes. When the friends of truth in all ages and situations, even those who were most tenacious of the rights of private judgment, and most happy in the enjoyment of Christian liberty have invariably found it necessary to resort to the adoption of Creeds, in order to ascertain for themselves, as a social body, and to comunicate to others for their benefit their sense of the holy Scriptures - we are naturally led to conclude not only that the resort is neither so "unreasonable" nor so "baneful" as many would persuade us to believe, but that there is really no other practicable method of maintaining unity and purity in the Church of Christ.
The most zealous opposers of Creeds have generally been latitudinarians and heretics. Men are seldom opposed to Creeds' until Creeds have become opposed to them.
6. A further. argument in favour of Creeds and Confession's may be drawn from the remarkable fact that their most zealous opposers have generally been latitudinarians and heretics. I do not say that the use of Creeds has never been opposed by individuals substantially orthodox, and even by orthodox churches, for it is believed that a few rare cases of this anomaly have occurred under the influence of strong prejudice or very peculiar circumstances. Yet, so far as I can recall, we have no example of it among the ancients. Such cases are the growth of very modern times. Nor, on the other hand is it my purpose to deny that heretics have sometimes been extremely zealous in forming and maintaining the most corrupt Creeds. For of this the early history of the Church abounds with examples and its later periods have not been wholly without them. But what I venture to assert is that as a general fact the most ardent and noisy opponents of Creeds have been those who held corrupt opinions, that none calling themselves Christians, have been so bitter in reviling them, in modern times, the friends of Unitarianism, Universalism, and those who were leaning toward that awful gulf; and that the most consistent and zealous - advocates of truth have been everywhere, and at all times, distinguished by their friendship to I such formularies. Nor has this been by any means a fortuitous occurrence, but precisely what might have been calculated, on principle, as likely to be realized it is an invariable characteristic of the orthodox that they lay great stress on the knowledge and reception of truth; that they consider it as necessary to holiness; that they deem an essential part of fidelity to their Master in heaven, to consist in contending for it and maintaining it in opposition to all the forms of error on the contrary it is almost as invariable a characteristic of modern heretics and more especially, of those who fall under the general denomination of Unitarians and Universalists that they profess lightly to esteem modes of faith; that they manifest a marked indifference to truth; that they for the most part maintain in so many words the innocence of error; and hence very naturally reprobate, and even vilify all faithful attempts to oppose heresy, and to separate heretics from the Church. From those then who have either far departed, or at least begun to depart, from "the faith once delivered to the saints," almost exclusively do we hear of the "oppression," and the "mischief" of Creeds and Confessions. And is it any wonder that those who maintain the innocence of error, should be unwilling to raise fences for keeping it out of the Church? Is it any wonder that the Arian, the Socinian, the Pelagian, and such as are verging toward those fatal errors should exceedingly dislike all the evangelical formularies which tend to make visible the line of distinction between the friends and the enemies of the Redeemer? No, "men" as has been often well observed, "men are seldom opposed to Creeds until Creeds have become apposed to them." That they should dislike and oppose them in these circumstances is just as natural as that a culprit arraigned before a civil court should equally dislike the law, its officer, and its sanction.
Accordingly if we look a little into the interior of Church history, especially within the last century, we shall find these remarks often and strikingly exemplified. We shall find, with few exceptions, that whenever a group of men began to slide with respect to orthodoxy, they generally attempted to break, if not to conceal, their fall by declaiming against Creeds and Confessions. They have seldom failed indeed, to protest in the beginning, that they had no objections to the doctrines themselves of the Confession which they had subscribed, but to the principle of subscribing to Confessions at all. Soon, however was the melancholy fact gradually unfolded, that disaffection to the doctrines which they once appeared to love had more influence in directing their course than even trey themselves imagined, and that they were receding further and further from the 'good way" in which they formerly seemed to rejoice. Truly that cause is of a most suspicious character to which latitudinarians and heretics, at least in modern times, almost as a matter of course, yield their support and which they defend with a zeal in general, strictly proportioned to their hatred of orthodoxy!
The opposers of Creeds ALL have a Creed.
7. The only further argument in support of Creeds on which I shall dwell is that their most zealous opposers do themselves virtually employ them in all ecclesiastical proceedings. The favorite maxim with the opposers of Creeds, that all who acknowledge the Bible ought without hesitation to be received, not only to Christian, but also to ministerial communion, is invariably abandoned by those who urge it, the moment a case turns up which really brings it to the test. Did any one ever hear of a Unitarian congregation engaging as their pastor a preacher of Calvinism, knowing him to be such? But why not on the principle adopted, or at least professed, by Unitarians? The Calvinist surely comes with his Bible in his hand and professes to believe it as cordially as they. Why is not that enough? Yet we know that, in fact, it is not enough for these advocates of unbounded liberality. Before they will consent to receive him as their spiritual guide, they must be explicitly informed how he interprets the Bible, in other words, what is his particular Creed; whether it is substantially the same with their own or not, and if they are not satisfied that this is the case, all other professions and protestations will be in vain. He will be inexorably rejected. Here then, we have in all its extent, the principle of demanding subscription to a Creed, and a principle carried out into practice as rigorously as ever it was by the most high-toned advocate of orthodoxy.
A general profession of belief in the Bible is altogether
insufficient, either as a bond of union, or as a fence
against the inroads of error.
We have seen before that the friends of truth in all ages, have found in their sad experience that a general profession of belief in the Bible was altogether insufficient, either as a bond of union or as a fence against the inroads of error. And here we find the warmest advocates of a contrary doctrine, and with a contrary language in their mouths, when they come to act, pursuing precisely the same course with the friends of Creeds with only this difference, that the Creed which they apply as a test, instead of being a written and tangible document, is hidden in the bosoms of those who expound and employ it, and of course, may be applied in the most capricious as well as tyrannical manner without appeal; and further that while they really act upon this principle, they disavow it and would persuade the world that they proceed upon an entirely different plan.
Can there be a more conclusive fact than this? The enemies of Creeds themselves cannot get along a day without them. It is in vain to say that in their case no Creed is imposed, but that all is voluntary and left entirely to the choice of the parties concerned. It will be seen hereafter that the same may be with equal truth asserted, in all those cases of subscription to articles, for which I contend, without any exception. No less vain is it to say again that in their case the articles insisted on are few and simple and by no means so liable to exception as the long and detailed Creeds which some churches have adopted. it is the principle of subscription to Creeds which is now under consideration. If the lawfulness and even the necessity of acting upon this principle can be established our cause is gained. The extent to which we ought to go in multiplying articles is a secondary question, the answer to which must depend on the exigencies of the church framing the Creed. Now the adversaries of Creeds, while they totally reject the expediency and even the lawfulness of the general principle, yet show that they cannot proceed a step without adopting. it in practice. This is enough. Their conduct is sounder than their reasoning. And no wonder. Their conduct is dictated by good sense and practical experience imposed upon them by the evident necessity of the case, while their reasoning is a theory derived, as I must believe, from a source far less enlightened and less safe.
Several other arguments might be urged in favor of written Creeds but we shall stop with just seven. It was easy to show that Confessions of Faith, judiciously drawn and solemnly adopted by particular churches, are not only invaluable as bonds of union and fences against error, but that they also serve an important purpose as accredited manuals of Christian doctrine well fitted for the instruction of those private members of churches who have neither leisure nor habits of thinking sufficiently close to draw from the sacred writings themselves a consistent system of truth. It is of incalculable use to the individual who has but little time for reading and but little acquaintance with books to be furnished with a clear and well arranged compend of doctrine, which he is authorized to regard, not as the work of a single, enlightened and pious divine, but as drawn out and adopted by the collected wisdom of the Church to which he belongs. There is often a satisfaction to plain, unsophisticated minds not to be described in going over such a compend, article by article, examining the proofs adduced from the word of God in support of each, and "searching the Scriptures daily to see whether the things which it teaches are so or not."
It might also be further shown that sound and Scriptural Confessions of Faith are of great value for transmitting to posterity a knowledge of what is done by the Church at particular times in behalf of the truth. Every such Confession that is formed or adopted by the followers of Christ in one age is a precious legacy transmitted to their children and to all that may come after them in a succeeding age, not only bearing their testimony in support of the true doctrine of Jesus Christ, but also pouring more or less light on those doctrines for the instruction of all to whom that testimony may come.
In our next study we will examine some of the principal .objections which have been made against Creeds by their adversaries.
DANGERS OF CREEDS AND CONFESSIONS
One of the dangers of Creeds and Confessions is using them to bind the conscience. They must never be used to bind the conscience. They can only bind the conscience so far as they are biblical, and they bind only those who voluntarily subscribe to them.
Another danger is allowing Creeds to usurp the place of authority. We do not worship the Creeds. The Bible is our final authority and standard, and it alone. By it we must prove all things. We must not exalt the Creeds above, or equal to the Bible. Creeds are the products of men. However, the respected Creeds are the products of many holy, competent, and seasoned men. The Creeds have proved a safeguard for Christians. They are not independent assertions of truth. They are derived from, and subordinate to, the Bible as the only source and standard of Christian authority.
The Creeds themselves warn against the danger of Creeds. "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men as such are in anything contrary to His word or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith and absolute and blind obedience is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also." (Philadelphia Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, part 2).
BEST WAY TO DEFEND CREEDS AND CONFESSIONS
The best way to defend Creeds and Confessions is to draw to them the quickened attention of an open mind of sincere ministers and Christians. Let them read and study profoundly let them be exposed to the most minute and sifting examination let every proposition be severely tested by the Word of God and the strictest laws of reasoning. Whatever cannot endure such investigation, let it be cast aside as tried in the balance and found wanting. This is only consistent with the Confessions own frank admission, that, "all synods and councils, since the apostles' times, many have erred; therefore, they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both." But, of that I have no fear let the Creeds and Confessions no longer be exposed to assaults or rude ignorance, but examined in all their parts.
IS AN INERRANT BIBLE SUFFICIENT?
It is important to have an inerrant Bible, but what good is an inerrant Bible if we do not know what it teaches or how to apply it to every day practice. Many heretics and cults believe the Bible. However, it is their interpretation as to what the Bible teaches that has led them to their cultic and heretical views. This is why the Creeds and Confessions came into existence. The Creeds and Confessions were born out of controversy as to what the. Bible teaches.
The Scriptures are from God, but the understanding of them belongs to the part of man. To the best of their ability, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, men must interpret each particular part of Scripture separately, and then combine all that the Scriptures teach upon every subject into a consistent whole, and then adjust their teaching upon different subjects in mutual consistency as parts of a harmonious system. When you do this, you have a Creed or Confession of Faith founded on Scripture alone.
Behind every Creed and Confession is Pilate's question -- "What is truth?" What is the truth of God? The Confessions seek to answer that question assuming the truth is in the Bible and by appealing to the Bible as the only authoritative source of truth.
When you ask a man the question -- "What do you understand the Bible to teach?" if he answers you with a series of texts, he would be telling you nothing, unless at the same time, he would state what he understands those texts to mean. When he proceeds to say what he believes these texts to mean, he is giving you his Creed and Confession of Faith.
It may sound quite pious to say, "I have no Creed but Christ, and
no text book but the Bible," but which Christ are you talking about? There are a
thousand Christs on the religious market, but they are not all the "Christ" of
the Bible. Likewise, with the statement, "The Bible is my text book." Most
religious cults would make the same claim. Therefore, some one must say what the
"text book" teaches or means, and how it applies to faith and practice.
Many Baptists are not aware that historically, Baptists have always had Creeds and Confessions and presently all do have a Creed and Confession of Faith. To verify this fact I recommend "Baptist Confession of Faith", written by William L. Lumpkin, and published by Judson Press.
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