A Case For Creeds, Catechisms and Confessions of Faith
Creeds and Confessions of faith used to seem strange to me. I grew up Pentecostal. I heard the old mantra: “No creed but the Bible,” more times than you can shake a stick at.
My study of Church history has led me to see the vital importance of creeds, catechisms and confessions of faith. The most famous creeds and doctrinal statements all came out of times of great theological turmoil. The church was forced to clarify her beliefs in a standardized form that could be used to judge anything taught by anyone.
I anticipate someone saying, “Isn’t the Bible sufficient?” To which I answer, “Of course it is!” A creed, confession or catechism is not an addition to anything the Bible teaches. They are simply tools which cut to the chase and get at what we mean when we say we believe the Bible.
The Roman Catholic Church falsely teaches that regeneration is effected by the sacrament of baptism. She also falsely teaches that salvation is not by justification alone. She professes to believe the Bible. Arminians teach decisional regeneration. They also teach that salvation is maintained by works. They claim to believe the Bible. Reformed theology rightly teaches that salvation is by faith alone, without any reference to works; that indeed, the faith itself is a gift of God.
One purpose of creeds, catechisms and confessions of faith should be obvious. They serve as a basis for Christian unity. So much is made of unity these days, but so little is made of the basis of that unity. N.T. Wright has just proclaimed that schism is never justifiable. I beg to differ. I will not be fellowshipping with anyone who corrupts the Gospel the way that he does. Christian unity is not some amorphous good feeling that we foist upon ourselves. It is attained by agreement over doctrine. I can’t stand the tired old refrain: “doctrine divides.” My cheap and obvious answer to that is: Duh! It’s supposed to divide! How else to we at least take a stab at maintaining some modicum of doctrinal purity?
The greatest use and service creeds, catechisms and confessions of faith provide is in the instruction of the Church. They are a tool for training new converts and children in the faith. They protect the purity of the church’s teaching by saying in effect, “This is what we believe the Bible teaches.” As long as everyone adheres, there is perfect unity.
Getting back to the old “No creed but the Bible” line. People who advocate this overlook two important facts.
1. That itself is a creed! Where in Scripture is the line, “No creed but the Bible.” That statement is a man-made statement which exists outside of Scripture and is professed and believed.
2. It is unspeakably arrogant. The holder to the “No creed but the Bible” creed is saying. “I am perfectly happy ignoring the collective wisdom of God’s people and substituting my own unassisted wisdom in its place.” If you won’t listen to the collective wisdom of the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Confession of Faith, why should I trust you?
The simple fact is the choice is not between the Bible and a creed, as creed repudiators often assert. The choice is between the tried and proven wisdom of God’s people as formulated in times of great trial and upheaval and the creed hater’s own private judgment and unguided wisdom.
Furthermore, what tool does the creed and confession hater use for training new believers? How does he train his children? Without a standard and structured formula that has the unified consent of God’s people as a thoroughly biblical representation of what they believe, he is left to his own whims. There just is no good reason for not using the great instructional tools our forefathers fought to give us.