Monday, June 24, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Objections Answered, Part 1

We will now look at the principal objections which are advanced by the adversaries of creeds and confessions.

1. The first objection which is generally advanced against the use of creeds or confessions as a test of orthodoxy is that it is superseding the Bible and making a human composition a standard of faith.

Of all of the objections against the use of creeds or confessions this one is the most specious of all. When this objection is fully unpacked it usually runs like this: “The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. It is complete and it needs no human addition. It is understandable and therefore needs no human explanation. Why then subscribe ourselves or call others to subscribe to any other creeds than this plain, inspired, and perfect declaration of truth? Doesn't the use of a creed or confession as a test of orthodoxy insult the Scriptures as a virtual declaration that it is not infallible or sufficient?” As I said at the beginning of this paragraph, this objection is the most specious of all objections urged against creeds and confessions.

The whole argument is founded on a false assumption. No Protestant has ever professed to regard his creed as of equal authority with the Scriptures, and certainly not of paramount authority. The creeds themselves reject this principle and so do all the defenses of creeds that had ever been written. We've already urged several times that all that the creed professes to be is an epitome, or summary of what the Scriptures teach. Because it professes to be deduced from the Scriptures, it refers to the Scriptures for all of its authority. Therefore when one subscribes to the creed or confession he is not dishonoring the Bible, he is rather paying public homage to it. By subscribing to that creed or confession, he is declaring how he understands the Bible, and what doctrines he considers the Bible to contain.

Let me summarize what I'm saying. Socinians profess to believe the Bible, but understand it to be teaching the mere humanity of Christ. Arians profess to believe the Bible, but understand it to be teaching that Christ is a mere creature, albeit the most exalted of creatures. Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians profess to believe the Bible, but interpret it in such a way as to denigrate the grace of God and magnify human nature. I profess to believe the Bible, and I believe with all my heart that it is the infallible word of God, the only perfect rule of faith and practice, and the only ultimate test of all controversies. And I believe it to teach the total depravity of human nature, the Deity of Christ, the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ, and regeneration and sanctification by the Holy Spirit. I profess these to be the fundamental principles of the plan of salvation. Now I ask: What is there in all these statements that is dishonoring to the Bible? What have I said to denigrate its ultimate authority? Haven’t I simply stated what I believe to be revealed in that Word? Documents such as the 3 Forms of Unity, the Westminster Standards, and the 39 Articles of the Church of England are chock-full of Scripture. Every sentence of every paragraph of every article reveals their dependence and subservience to the Bible.

As a subset of this argument it may be asked what right has any man, or church to interpose their authority to deal out the sense of Scripture for others. Is this not an improper assumption over the minds of our fellow men? I would argue that this reasoning proves too much, and therefore proves nothing. If we admitted the force this logic then all preaching of the gospel would be presumptuous, because preaching always consists in explaining and enforcing the meaning of Scripture – in the words of the preacher himself! This line of reasoning carried to its logical conclusion would force us to say that no minister of the gospel should do anything but simply read the very words of Scripture from the pulpit in the original languages. All translations of the Bible are the words which uninspired men have chosen to express the sense of the original words. So if we admit the objection that no man is at liberty to teach the revealed truth of Scripture in a way which undertakes to assert the sense of Scripture over the minds of others, then we must say that no man is at liberty to speak in the pulpit except he read the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Greek text of the New Testament. This is the logical and legitimate consequence of that erroneous argument.

In short, this whole line of argumentation is nothing but a red herring. It sets up a false premise, which it attacks, and then declares it has won the day. It is a sad day for your cause when the best you can do in your favor is to misrepresent your opponents and their positions.

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