I have recently read two books by the late Samuel Miller, one on Infant Baptism and the other on the importance of Creeds and Confessions. Inspired by the latter, we are going to begin a series of posts addressing the importance of creeds and confessions of faith. This series of posts will begin by delineating the importance of creeds and confessions. We will then attempt to respond to several of the key objections urged against the use of creeds and confessions. Finally, we will conclude by looking at some of the practical ramifications of the arguments we have made and the objections we have refuted. Right at the outset, I wish to acknowledge how indebted I am to Miller’s lecture which was published in 1821.
Perhaps to start with what we should do is define what we mean by a creed, or confession of faith. Simply put, a creed or a confession is a presentation in human language of the great doctrines which are believed by its framers to be taught in the Scriptures. These are drawn out in regular order for the purpose of determining how far those who wish to unite in church fellowship are really agreed in the fundamental principles of Christianity. It should be obvious from that statement that we do not claim creeds or confessions to be the law of the house of God, but rather summaries extracted from the Scriptures of the great and principal doctrines of the Gospel.
To this end, I would like to submit a number of arguments for the importance of the use of both creeds and confessions of faith.
1. Without a creed explicitly adopted it is impossible to show how the ministers and members of any particular church, and more especially, of a large denomination of Christians, can maintain unity among themselves.
It appears to me to be impossible to overstate the importance of this point. As Samuel Miller points out, if every Christian were a mere insulated individual who acted for himself alone, no creed would be necessary for his advancement in knowledge or holiness. He could simply sit down with his Bible, open it, and read it, and have everything needed for his own edification. But the case is far different in fact. The church is a society. The church is a body. No matter how extended it is, it is one body in Christ and all who are members of it are members of one another. Scripture commands members of that church to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. They are also commanded to stand fast in one spirit with one mind. We are further commanded to all speak the same thing and be of one accord and of one mind. If the unity of the Spirit is as important as Scripture says he is, one must then ask, “How can two walk together unless they be agreed?” Is it really possible to have unity amongst a body of believers composed of Calvinists, Arminians, Pelagians, Arians and Modalists? How could such a body pray? How could such a body preach and attend the sacraments together with such disparate views of every essential doctrine of the Christian faith?
Directly linked to this is the 2nd issue, namely: How is a church to avoid the guilt of harboring and countenancing heresy? We all know it is not sufficient to make everyone say, or accept it when everyone says, “I believe in the Bible.” The real question is not whether you believe in the Bible, but rather - what do you believe the Bible to be teaching when you say you believe it. There is no question but that there are countless people who call themselves Christians and profess to take the Bible as their guide, who hold opinions on key doctrines as far as the east is from the west from other people who equally call themselves Christians and equally profess to take the Bible as their guide. This is precisely what a creed or Confession of faith enables the church and the denomination to do.