Thursday, July 4, 2013

Creeds and Confessions, Objections Answered, Part 4

4. Another objection brought against creeds and confessions is that they have largely failed to answer the purpose professed to be intended by them.

It is no secret that there are churches, and by churches I mean denominations, that are creedal and confessional, but whose current doctrine and practice, is in direct opposition to their stated confessions. Take for example the Church of England. For nearly 300 years she had a set of Articles that were decidedly Calvinistic. All of the candidates for her ministry were required to subscribe to these. But for about 200 years now Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism have polluted this important branch of the Reformed Church. In more recent times, nearly every form of heresy and aberrant doctrine has appeared in her communion. The same can be said for the Church of Scotland, who has a ministry far from being unanimous in loving and honoring her public standards. Now, if creeds have not produced the benefit intended by them, even in the most favorable cases, why bother with them at all?

This objection proceeds on the principle that a remedy which does not accomplish everything is worth nothing. Because creeds haven't completely banished dissension and discord in the churches which have adopted them, therefore they have been of no use. Is this sound reasoning? Does it concur with common sense? The Constitution of the United States has not completely defended our country from political animosity and strife. Is it therefore useless? Is it therefore worthless?

The proponents of this objection will contend that creeds are unnecessary because the Bible is amply sufficient for all purposes as a test of truth. My cheap answer to this statement is, “Has the Bible banished dissension and discord from the church?” No one would ever pretend that it has. Yet why not? It is certainly not on account of any error or defect in the Bible, but on account of the perverseness of depraved man, who in spite of all the provisions of infinite wisdom constantly wars against the peace of the world.

But in fact the case is actually the opposite. And history proves the practical influence of creeds. The Calvinistic 39 Articles of the Church of England kept her doctrinally pure to a remarkable degree for a very long time. During the reign of James I, very few opponents of Calvinism dared to publicly air their opinions, and those who did were either severely disciplined, or they kept their opinions to themselves. The inroads of error were indeed blocked by the Church's faithful adherence to the 39 Articles. It was not until years after the Synod of Dordt, through the influence of Archbishop Laud, that Arminianism was gradually and secretly brought in. In the process of this change the faithful application of the 39 Articles as a test of orthodoxy and admission to the ministry, was discontinued. The Articles still continued to be subscribed, but the spirit of administration under them was no longer the same. Hence the church became predominantly Arminian. In short, the creed of the Church of England, i.e., The 39 Articles, operated as an effective bond of union and barrier against heresy as long as it was faithfully applied in the manner for which it was originally designed. When it was no longer used the way it was supposed to be, it ceased to produce the desired effect. Why should anyone be surprised by this? That's like questioning the effective of a medicine that you didn't take. It's not the aspirin's fault that you still have a headache if you have refused to take it.


  1. I would go even further with your example of the Church of England. When you mention Archbishop Laud, you should remember that he was a political appointee. he did not rise to his position through the organs of the church. James I was still fairly orthodox, due to his training prior to his accession to the throne. However, his son and grandsons turned from that faith to mere political expediency. In fact, his grandson, James II, was Catholic. It was that political interference that changed the Church of England from a confessional Reformed and Evangelical church to a latitudinarian organ of the state.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Chris. You are definitely correct, and I appreciate the extra historical information.

    My point is primarily that any creed or confession of faith (such as the 39 Articles) only serves its purpose when it is actually implemented. Once the church quits using it, for whatever reason, political or theological, the confession no longer protects the church from error as it was intended to do.


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