In Defense of Creeds and Confessions

Text: Rom. 6:8; 1Tim. 6:12-13; Heb. 4:14; 10:23

Introduction:  Embedded in our text is the critically important expression “We believe”. The Latin NT has CREDIMUS (first person plural of CREDO) from which we derive our English word creed. What is a creed? What is a confession? Do we need them? Is there any scriptural warrant for having creeds and confessions? People may not like it (even some Christians), but Christianity per se has always been a CREEDAL religion in that it has always been theological. It is identified as having certain set beliefs or doctrines. These doctrines give it its distinctive character and apart from these doctrines it simply does not exist. “Christianity minus intelligible doctrine,” wrote the late Gordon Clark, “is simply unintelligible doctrine minus Christianity.”[1] More recently in a devastating critique of what goes by the name “The Emergent Church” D. A. Carson has stated, “We need to think a bit more about creeds. Christian creeds are affirmations of what Christians believe to be true. But it is important to recognize that, without exception, creeds came into being, in very large measure, in the cauldron of controversy. As Gerald Bray states, “Almost every phrase in the creeds came into being because somebody had questioned some aspect of the Christian faith which then had to be reaffirmed for the benefit of the church as a whole.” This is important, because most emerging leaders, as far as I can see, affirm at least then Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Thus they are affirming truths born out of controversy, where some people were judged right in the light of Scripture and others wrong in the light of Scripture. Questions of truth, of faithfulness to Scripture, of being right and wrong intersect in the creeds.”[2] The Reformed Faith has always put a premium on the importance of creeds and confessions as a way of protecting the church.[3] J. Gresham Machen complained that in his day there were ministers who make a mockery of their ordination vows when they say they affirm the Westminster Confession of Faith—but they resort to language games (i.e. dishonesty) by claiming that they find the confession “useful” or “symbolic of a tradition,” or “a changing expression of the church’s position at a given time”, but not necessarily true.[4] This message constitutes a brief excursus on the expression “We believe”.

I.          What is a Creed or Confession of Faith?:  Simply put, a creed is an exhibition of those great doctrines which are alleged to be taught in the Bible. Creeds and confessions are not, in the Protestant tradition, viewed as having the same authority as Scripture.[5] They only profess to be summaries, which have been drawn from the Scriptures.

II.         The Scriptural Basis for Creeds and Confessions:  The early church, notes J.N.D. Kelly, “was from the start a believing, confessing, preaching church. Nothing could be more artificial or more improbable than the contrast so frequently drawn between the Church of the first century, with its pure religion of the Spirit and its almost complete absence of organization, and the nascent Catholic Church, with all its institutional appurtenances, of the late second century.”[6] The language of the New Testament is explicitly confessional.

A.        Homologia:  Is the standard word used in the New Testament to express what is believed or affirmed. The literal meaning of the word is “to speak the same.” It involves making public what is known to oneself so that all may know—a declaration of one’s faith is thus expressed and can be seen in texts like Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8 and especially Rom. 10:9-10; Philippians 2:11; I Tim. 6:12, 13 and Heb. 3:1, 4:14, 10:23 (compare Acts 23:8). In I John 2:23, 4:2, 3 and 15, the confession centers on the Lord Jesus Christ. This confession is not a commitment to some vague ideal. It is confession and faith regarding the person and work of the crucified, risen and glorified Lord (Acts 2:36). This confession provides the basis for a confessional document. The faith that is confessed must have content. This HOMOLOGIA came to represent the agreement or consensus in which the Christian community was united. It referred to that core of essential conviction and belief to which Christians subscribed and openly testified. “The HOMOLOGIA was the admission and acknowledgment of the individual’s loyalty to Jesus Christ, and as such, represented a personal testimony of his faith.”[7]

B.        The Faith We Confess (Heb. 4:14):  The exhortation is to hold fast to our confession. The verb KRATOMEN means to cling to with resolve. There is an active sense of determination, one that is like that expressed by Ruth to Naomi (Ruth 1:14-18). The word for confession, HOMOLOGIA, as noted above, already appeared (3:1). It is used in the book of Hebrews of some outward acknowledgment of our allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.[8]

C.        The Hope We Confess (Heb. 10:23):  As in Hebrews 4:14, the writer is exhorting his readers to hold unswervingly to their confession. You will note that in 10:21 the exhortation is to draw near to God. This presupposes a very explicit understanding of the character of God and why it is that sinners can approach such a God. Why the change from the faith we confess to the hope we confess? “The content of this confession is the expectation that Christ will fulfill all the promises He has made and that all those who profess hope, a virtue he has emphasized throughout his epistle (3:6; 6:11; 19; 7:19; 10:23). Hope relies on faith and looks to the future.”[9]

III.        Why Are Creeds and Confessions Necessary?:  You will often hear someone say, “I have no creed but the Bible!” That may sound pious, but it is really not—what is indirectly implied by that statement is this: “I have no creed, but the Bible … as I interpret it.” Everybody has a creed. Some are written and can therefore be examined and compared with Scripture, while others are unwritten but serve to bind people nonetheless to a particular interpretation of the Bible (i.e. the Jehovah Witnesses are bound by the interpretation of Charles Taze Russell).

A.        Creeds are Needed to Maintain Doctrinal Integrity:  They serve as a depository or a guardian and a witness to the truth, and this is commended in Scripture (Philippians 2:16; II Timothy 1:13; Jude 3).

B.        Creeds are Needed as a Witness to the World:  A creed reveals to those outside the faith what a body of believers’ holds. It identifies them (I Tim. 3:14-16).  In a world where many (strong emphasis here) are claiming the Bible as the basis for their beliefs (groups ranging all the way from King James only fanatics to New Age mystics) it is essential that a Church have a confessing standard whereby it may identify itself from such heterodoxical groups.

C.        Creeds are Needed to Preserve the Unity of the Church:  Creeds are often apologetic and polemic in nature, indeed this is necessary. Error is to be exposed and refuted, and creeds serve this noble purpose, but creeds also serve to unite like-minded believers (II Timothy 2:14-19).

Conclusion:  We are living in a day in which creeds and confessions are held in low esteem by many professing Christians. This is most regrettable. In an age in which truth, in any context, is always viewed as relative, Christians need to affirm (another word for confess) their faith clearly and precisely so that all may see and know what true orthodox Christianity really is. Increasingly, Evangelicals choose the churches they attend not because of any specific doctrinal concerns, but because of the smorgasbord of programs offered to meet “felt needs.” What really matters is how I feel and what I experience. Since theology or doctrine does not make me feel good, then I will find a church that caters to my need to feel good. This is, I submit, symptomatic of a very large number of people who flock to the various mega-churches today. But it is also dangerous. It is dangerous because it is impossible to live the Christian life in the absence of Christian truth. Confessional statements like the Westminster Confession of Faith are summary statements of what God has told us in His Word.[10] Any confession, however, must do more than simply serve as a badge of theological identity. We are told in Romans 10:10 that personal confession of faith in Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation. We are as noted exhorted to “hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14) and to “hold unswervingly to the hope we confess.” Dorothy Sayers, renown English writer, friend of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and a very perceptive Christian, wrote with her characteristic forcefulness, “The one thing I am here to say to you is this: that it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is virtually necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as vaguely idealistic aspirations of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting and complex doctrine steeped in drastic and uncompromising realism.”[11]

References:

 


[1] Gordon H. Clark, In Defense of Theology (Mott Media, 1984), p. 119.

 

[2] D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with The Emergent Church (Zondervan, 2005), p. 150. In a footnote Carson further   points out “Since this is true of all creeds, it is hard to see why so many of the emerging church leaders are so suspicious of Reformation creeds. These, too, were born in controversy. If they are to be questioned, it cannot be because they say certain things are right and others are wrong (and therefore offend the sensibilities of hard post-moderns), because the same charge could be leveled against the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The only appropriate response, for those with a higher view of the authority of Scripture than of the creeds, is to try to evaluate, as humbly and accurately as we can, how faithfully any creed reflects Scripture.”

 

[3] Samuel Miller (1769-1850), one of the founding faculty members of Princeton Theological Seminary captured the importance of this in his book Doctrinal Integrity: The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions and Adherence to Our Doctrinal Standards (rpt. Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1989).

 

[4] J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings ed. D. G. Hart (P&R, 2004), p. 463.

 

[5] Brian McLaren, one of the leading voices in the Emergent Church affirms the importance of the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed and “that Scripture itself remains above creeds and that the Holy Spirit may use Scripture to tweak our creedal understandings and emphasis from time to time” cf. his A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004), p. 28. But given McLaren’s adoption of a post-modern epistemology (the denial of absolute truth claims for example, he declares that biblical fidelity is not tied in some ways to questions of truth, p. 165). D. A. Carson rightly asks, “But why is Scripture given this unique status? Is it simply because more Christians acknowledge the authority of Scripture than the authority of this or that creed? Why cannot I hear any emerging leader saying that Scripture is more authoritative precisely because it is God-revealed and true, and that creeds must be tested (and, if necessary, revised) by Scripture, and not vice versa, for precisely this reason?” op. cit., p. 94. McLaren’s appeal for “a generous orthodoxy” is a smoke screen for his own hetrodoxical views. He denies the existence of Satan, eternal punishment, salvation exclusively through Christ, he explicitly rejects any notion of penal substitutionary atonement, he rejects the inerrancy of Scripture, he affirms evolution, and is ambivalent as to whether or not homosexual behavior and abortion are morally wrong. Yet he calls himself an evangelical, and Time magazine’s February 7, 2005 issue listed him as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals inAmerica.

 

[6] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (Longmans, 1950), p. 7.

 

[7] V. H. Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Eerdmans, 1963), p. 145. He writes elsewhere the word “confession” denotes, not only testimony regarding one’s personal conviction regarding Christ, but also served as a test of orthodoxy, (p. 18).

 

[8] Faith is often discussed theologically with the Latin expression FIDES QUA and FIDES QUAE. The first refers to the act of believing or confession (as in Heb. 11). The second is used of the content of faith. “ ‘For Christian believers this content consists both of God’s revelation in creation, incarnation, and inscripturation and of what men and women of God in confessional obedience (and disobedience) have done with this revelation.’ This content of faith is often called FIDES QUAE’—articles of faith’ (Jude 3).” Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Eerdmans, 1992), p.105.

 

[9] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Hebrews (Baker, 1984), p. 289.

 

[10] This theme is handsomely developed by R. Scott Clark in his article “The Importance of Being More than Earnest” in Modern Reformation (Sept./Oct. 1996), pp. 10-12.

 

[11] Dorothy Sayers Creed or Chaos? (Methuen, 1947), p. 28.

 

The Prayer of the Lord

by Dr. R.C. Sproul

What is the Lords Prayer? In The Prayer of the Lord, Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, Jesus intent was to give His disciples a model prayer, an example to follow, one that would teach them transferable principles for conversation with God. In short, Christ gave the Lords Prayer to teach His disciples about prayer, and Dr. Sproul, in his trademark fashion, brings out many of the truths Christ intended for His followers to learn.

Readers will learn how not to pray, then will be led into a deeper understanding of such topics as the fatherhood of God, the kingdom of God, the will of God, the nature of sin and forgiveness, the dangers of temptation, and the cunning of Satan. The final chapter includes questions and answers on various aspects of prayer not covered elsewhere in the book, and the appendix addresses the difficult question of the relationship of Gods sovereignty and prayer. The Prayer of the Lord is an eye-opening journey, one that reveals new vistas in familiar terrain.

Click here to read a sample chapter.

Endorsements:

“Here is a very special book on prayer. It will not leave you overwhelmed with failure and crushed into giving prayer yet another tryas many books and sermons on prayer do. Instead, it will lead you gently by the handas Jesus did when He taught the disciples the prayer on which these pages are based. It will draw you into a sense of the privilege of prayer, stimulate new desires to pray, even leave you with a sense of the delights of prayer. These pages have an atmosphere of light and are permeated by a sense of freshness and joy. Happy indeed is the theologian who can stimulate prayer. And happy are we that R. C. Sproul has become such a theologian. The Prayer of the Lord isquite simply a spiritual treat.”
– Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary

“I love listening to R. C. Sproul teach, and this book sounds just like himpenetrating truths strikingly illustrated. His good quotations and pastoral wisdom make him as easy to read as he is delightful to listen to (and the short chapters help!). Sproul clearly explains the Scriptures with sentences that are simple and accurate. He knows enough to say important things concisely and clearlytruths about the kingdom, the fatherhood of God, history, and, of course, prayer. Theres even a helpful questionand- answer section at the end. This little book now takes its place with the classics on prayer.”
– Dr. Mark Dever Senior pastor Capitol Hill Baptist Church Washington, D.C.

“Gospel-driven disciple-making in the church has historically made full use of the Apostles Creed, the Law of God, and the Lords Prayer. Now through this marvelous and insightful exposition of the Lords Prayer, R. C. has provided disciple-making Christians and churches an excellent and useful instrument to direct and fulfill the hearts desire of every believer who would cry out, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.'”
– Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III Pastor/teacher Briarwood Presbyterian Church Birmingham, Alabama

“Dr. R. C. Sproul was my first theology teacher. As a new Christian, I learned a ton of theology, philosophy, and church history while listening to the Renewing Your Mind radio broadcast. Now, in The Prayer of the Lord, Dr. Sproul brings his considerable theological, philosophical, and historical gifts and resources to bear on the vital subject of prayer. A subject of such great importance deserves a teacher of such great skill. In addition to all the other things Dr. Sproul has taught me, it is a privilege to have him guide me through our Saviors priorities in prayer. Read this short book and have a pattern for a life of prayer unfolded before you.”
– Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile Senior pastor First Baptist Church Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

“R. C. Sproul has an amazing gift for explaining difficult truths in pithy, memorable, and easy-to-grasp ways. He is the ideal teacher for a study of the Lords Prayer, because the prayer itself is a profound lesson on a difficult subject, given by Jesus to His disciples in an amazing economy of words. You will be greatly blessed and edified by this book.”
– Dr. John MacArthur Pastor/teacher Grace Community Church Sun Valley, California

Hardback; 144 pages

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