Thursday, June 27, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Objections Answered, Part 2

2. The 2nd objection frequently made against creeds and confessions is that they interfere with the rights of conscience and lead to oppression and tyranny.

Again, this is a very specious argument. Fleshed out, the argument looks like this: “What right has any church to impose a creed on me and dictate to me what I must believe? Such an attempt is tyranny, and submission to it is tantamount to surrendering the right of private judgment.”

Advocates of this objection need a history lesson. This objection would only have ground if creeds or confessions were imposed by the civil government with stiff penalties for any who did not agree. But such a case does not, and cannot exist in the free world. The objection is illegitimate in reasoning and false in fact. We are not talking about living under sharia law.

If a body of professing Christians has the right to associate and extract their own creed from the Scriptures, and to agree upon the principles by which others may join them, isn’t it also equally manifest that they have the same right to refuse admittance to those with whom they believe they cannot be in agreement?

Turning the situation around and viewing it from the other end will show exactly what I mean. Suppose a person comes to this body of Christians and demands admittance into their association while openly and vehemently declaiming against the doctrines they profess to embrace, and openly refusing to be governed by the rules they have agreed to adopt. What answer would they apt to give this person? They would say, “You are being unreasonable. Ours is a voluntary communion and one designed for our mutual spiritual benefit. We didn’t ask you to join us, and therefore you have no right to force yourself into our body. You have the whole wide world before you: go where you want. We cannot receive you unless you’re willing to walk with us upon our own principles.” Is this unreasonable? Is this tyrannical? Any reasonable person would deem this to be the proper response. Would anyone think this man had common sense if he were to claim that that he had been persecuted or injured? Of course not. This church, if they were compelled to receive him, would cease to be free themselves and would become his slaves.

The point is clear in the case of a ministerial candidate offering his services to the church. If they were to present to him a copy of their creed and confession, along with their form of government and worship, which they had unanimously adopted, and asked him whether he could subscribe to these or not, where is the so-called oppression and tyranny? They have not judged his status before God. They have not judged the reality of his profession of faith. They have imposed no ecclesiastical censure. He has not been injured or persecuted in any way. Aren’t the rights of conscience reciprocal? If they have the freedom of conscience to join together based on mutually agreed-upon principles of belief, why must they surrender this right of conscience for the sake of opponents of their views who wish to join their number? It is sheer insanity to charge them with oppression and tyranny. It is in fact the applicant who is the tyrant. If the members of the church or denomination have no right to agree upon the principles by which they will associate, and to refuse membership to those who are hostile to their principles, there is an end to all liberty. They have become slaves to the dictates of their enemies!

Someone might respond that the church is not actually a voluntary association, but a community instituted by Christ and that its laws are given by Him as its Head and Lord. The rulers of the church are in fact only stewards who must conform themselves and all that they do to His will. This is all true. The church cannot properly be regarded as a mere voluntary association in the same way that other societies may be viewed. The church is the property of Christ. His will is the basis of its establishment. And, of course, no one can be admitted or excluded from the church except upon the principles of His own Word. But none of this alters the reasoning of our foregoing argument. The union of Christians in the church state must still be a voluntary act. If it were not so, it would not be a moral act at all. If the union is voluntary then those who form it must be supposed to have a right to follow their own convictions as to what the Lord has revealed respecting the laws of their union. If they can't judge in this matter, who can? Has Christ, as Head of the Church, prescribed any qualifications as necessary for private membership or admission to the ministerial office of His church? If so, what are they? What degree of departure from purity of faith and practice is enough to exclude a man from membership or ministry? To whom has Christ committed the task of applying this law in any particular case? Does this task belong to the church as a body of believers voluntarily associating with each other on the basis of agreed-upon principles” Or, does it belong to applicants and/or those who refuse to subscribe because of dissenting views? Obviously, the church has no right to require assent to anti-scriptural principles. But freedom of conscience, and indeed liberty in any form, is destroyed and banished from the face of the earth if the voluntary associations of men must surrender their guiding principles to those who wish to join while adhering to contrary principles. This argument is false because it's insane. It charges the wrong side with tyranny. It is not the church who is guilty of oppression and tyranny; it is the dissident applicant who is the tyrant. He demands that the entire association of believers reject and repudiate their right to conscience so that he may practice his, when in fact he can go down the street and easily find groups who substantially agree with him. There is no other purpose in joining a group with whom you disagree except to limit and curtail their freedom and right of conscience.

Since Christ has authorized and commanded His church to excommunicate those who are heretical and immoral, as well as those who preach “another gospel,” then it is certainly clear that when the church acts upon this authority she is doing no one any injury. If the church excludes a private member from her communion or deposes a minister from office in the regular exercise of scriptural church discipline, she deprives neither of any natural right. She is only practically saying, “You can no longer be a minister or member with us in a way that is consistent with our views of either obedience to Christ or Christian edification. You can go be happy and helpful in any other way and in any other place. But we must take away the authority and privileges that we once gave you, because if you continue to exercise these, it will be subversive to the very principles we have solemnly pledged to support.” Is this unreasonable language? Is it oppressive and tyrannical? Would it be more just and more favorable to the rights of conscience if the individual could retain his place as a minister in this church contrary to their wishes and in subversion of their faith?

When a church uses a creed or confession in the way that we have described, as a bond of unity or barrier against heresy, in conformity to what they believe to be the will Christ, they are in reality - in the most enlightened way, and on the largest scale - maintaining the rights of conscience. If the church were to surrender their testimony to the truth, and to surrender their own comfort, peace, and edification for the sake of complying with the unreasonable demands of a corrupt individual, they would be subjecting themselves to a state of the worst kind of slavery. When the rights, interests, and happiness of the many are subjected to the dictation of one, this is the essence of tyranny.

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