Drawing Near to the Lord

"No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me" (John 6:44-45)

Location: Charlotttesville, Virginia, United States

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Subtle Dangers of Creeds

By Mark Larson

For centuries, people, claiming to be Christians, have seen the need to write creeds to serve as guides in religion. Thousands of creeds have been established by men all over the world. Creeds have been around for so long, in fact, that many are convinced that there is nothing wrong with having them. To call for the rejection of creeds in religion is viewed by many as unrealistic thinking and an insult to our “Christian heritage.”

Although not as popular as they used to be, the use of creeds and confessions of faith is still practiced by many religious groups today. Creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, The Baptist Faith and Message, Statement of Fundamental Truths (Assemblies of God), The New Catholic Catechism, and The Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian), to name just a few, are still important documents to churches today.

Despite the general acceptance in the religious world, creeds are in fact dangerous to follow in religion. Though creeds are often written by those with good intentions, the end result is in fact disastrous as we shall soon discover in our study.

What Is a Creed?

A creed, sometimes called a confession or rule of faith, is an authoritative statement in a precise written form, though sometimes verbal, that formally and publicly declares the beliefs and doctrines of a religious group or individual. We should keep in mind that people often regard certain writings or sayings of men as if they were creeds, even though they are not “officially” declared to be. This is demonstrated when they regard their teaching as having authority in religion and thus necessary to follow for their salvation.

Why Do Churches Establish Creeds?

More and more religious groups are rejecting the notion that there is an absolute standard of right and wrong (e.g., moral relativism, any interpretation of Scripture will do, unity in diversity, etc.). Doing “good” and sincerity of heart is all that matters instead of standing for the truth, for correct or sound doctrine. Such people frown on condemning others for some perceived error or false doctrine. To them, youth programs and entertaining music matters a whole lot more than what is taught! However, for many others having standards is important and to establish those standards, people have turned to creeds.

To Clearly Define Their Beliefs or “The Truth”: What exactly do we stand for? To answer this question, many religious groups see the need for creeds to help clarify their beliefs. Creeds, it is claimed, help prevent confusion and keep people loyal to “the truth.” Creeds are often used as a measurement or standard for “correct doctrine.” Thus, all people, whether “clergy” or “laity,” will be better able to recognize error or false doctrine. For example, the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) was written, in part, to combat the errors of the deity of Christ (i.e., Arianism).

To Explain the Meaning of the Scriptures: Many today make no distinction between the expounding of Scripture in preaching and the establishment of creeds. The claim is that a creed is merely one of the ways the church can use to explain the meaning of the Bible to her members. Many assert that most of the Bible is hard to understand and therefore we need creeds, written by “qualified men,” to explain the meaning of the Scriptures to us. The Presbyterian denomination, for example, relies upon the Westminster Confession of Faith, a doctrine based on the teachings of John Calvin, to explain matters such as justification, sanctification, worship, predestination, God’s providence, free will, the role of Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc. The belief is that the Westminster Assembly consisted of “learned, godly and judicious Divines” who were “preeminently qualified” to explain the true meaning of the Scriptures for the people. What qualifications were those may we ask?

To Confess Their Faith: Creeds are used by churches as a means of declaring their beliefs not only to themselves, but to the world. To justify the use of creeds, it is claimed that creeds is just one of the ways to confess your faith and evangelize the world, similar to preaching or teaching. Those who are unwilling to write creeds are sometimes accused of being afraid, even ashamed of what they believe in! Sadly, some brethren have unwittingly taken this dare on and as a result, established a “Church of Christ” creed!

To Distinguish Themselves from Others: Creeds have been especially important to denominational churches. Creeds are used to maintain a sense of identity, to define what denomination they are that sets them apart from all others. To be a Lutheran, one would rely on Luther’s Catechism, including the Augsburg Confession. To be a Methodist, one would rely on the Book of Discipline, and so on. Creeds have indeed been very effective to separate one group from another, serving as a wedge that has prevented unity among all. Instead of helping people be God’s special people, man-made creeds have been used as divisive instruments, teaching people how others are wrong and how they are right!

To Establish an Official Consensus: Creeds are often written with the goal to establish a consensus or general agreement in what is believed by all the members of the religious group. Creeds are thought to be essential to maintaining strong unity and group solidarity as a congregation or a denomination. The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, for example, have what they call the “Three Forms of Unity” (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordrecht) to summarize their beliefs, a means toward greater unity among all. “Ministerial alliances” drafting unity proposals for congregations to commit themselves to, is another case when a creed is used as the way to unite churches.

Why Do People Follow the Creeds?

They Fail to Study the Bible Themselves: Most people do not study the Scriptures for themselves and depend on others to do their studying for them. (e.g., “Let me check with my pastor.” “What does the preacher think?”). It is no wonder then why people readily follow creeds. Many rely on “educated” men from centuries ago (e.g., Eusebius, Augustine, Calvin) and “learned” men of today who have gotten their degrees at theological seminary or Bible college. Sadly, many believe that in depth Bible study is mainly for “the clergy” (theologians, pastors, preachers) and not required by “the laity.”

Most people in “Christendom” are simply not noble-minded (Acts 17:11), meaning they do not examine the Scriptures for themselves. Yet, Bible study is a requirement of God, a responsibility every Christian should take seriously (2 Tim. 2:15). God has promised us that we can understand the Scriptures and that’s a promise not just for the “scholarly elite”! (Eph. 3:4; 1 Tim. 2:3-4).

They Want Quick Answers to Tough Questions: The apostle Peter made reference to Paul’s writings, which he referred to as Scripture, and said “in which are some things hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). Indeed, some things in Scripture are hard to understand (though not impossible). The book of Romans is harder to understand than the book of James, for example. Certain Bible subjects require more study and patience (e.g., Predestination, the Holy Spirit, “hard” sayings of Jesus, prophecy, etc.). Unfortunately, most people are unwilling to put forth the effort and search the Scriptures for the answers.

The convenient answers creeds provide can be especially attractive to the ignorant or nonstudious. Too often, creeds do not encourage individual Bible study, but undermine its importance. Sadly, creeds are frequently viewed as “the final word” or the official answer to be respected and followed by all.

They Put Their Trust in Men, not God: Consider the example mentioned earlier, how people (mainly Presbyterians) believe that the Westminster Assembly (who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith) consisted of “learned, godly and judicious Divines” who were “preeminently qualified” to explain the meaning of the Scriptures. What qualifications were those we want to know? – That they were “ordained” by the Church? – That they went to the “right schools”? The truth is there is no authority from the Scriptures or God-given right for anyone to establish a creed for a congregation! While church leaders suppose they are helping to “assure a purity of confession,” they actually do an injustice and great harm to the people. Instead of building stronger faith in God, an unhealthy trust and dependency in men’s writings is created in the hearts of individuals. Rather than encourage people to be proactive students of the Bible, people become followers of men. When people put their faith in the sayings of men and do not hold them accountable to the Scriptures, their faith will, in time, be overthrown! (e.g., 2 Tim 2:16-18). In contrast, saving faith will come from putting our trusting in God and His word alone: “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” (Ps. 118:8). “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Thy precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy word. I have not turned aside from Thine ordinances, for Thou Thyself hast taught me” (Ps 119:99-102, NASB; cf. John 6:44-45; Rom. 10:17).

All people should beware of glorying in or trusting in the writings of men. From creeds, to commentaries, to “brotherhood” magazines, church web sites, and the sermons of “well-known” preachers, there is temptation to put our trust in the sayings of men and not do our own careful study of God’s word. When that happens, our loyalty to the Lord is substituted for loyalty to men and in effect, we follow “creeds” instead of God!

The Obvious Weaknesses of Creeds

Not Inspired: First of all, creeds are not inspired of God or “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Thus, they cannot represent God’s will perfectly. No matter how “scholarly” the formers of the creed are and how well intentioned they may be, the creed drafted will inevitably have flaws or inaccuracies. This leads to revision after revision after revision. In contrast, God’s word never needs to be updated, but is everlasting, universally applicable to every generation (1 Pet. 1:23-25).

Grossly Insufficient: Secondly, creeds will always lack the ability to meet our spiritual needs. Creeds cannot provide sufficient instruction for our faith and salvation. A creed will either provide too much (thus, adding to the word of God) or provide too little. Only the Scriptures can provide the wisdom we need “that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). There is a false confidence that creeds provide. Many mistakenly believe that by following creeds, they can be complete spiritually and have no worries. Yet, only by following the word of God can we have such assurance. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17, NKJV).

Creeds Do not Build Genuine Faith: Thirdly, without knowledge of the Scriptures, people will lack saving faith. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge...” (Hosea 4:6). The goal of creeds is to establish genuine faith in people’s hearts, yet instead it leads to shallow faith and empty religion. Creeds diminish the individual’s personal responsibility to study and develop his own convictions of the truth based on his knowledge of God’s word. Creeds effectively take away the necessary struggle for truth. Why work to search the Scriptures yourself when a creed provides all “the answers”? A creed is a “short-cut” to faith that is not true faith at all!

An examination of the creeds of men reveals the shameless, utter failure of men to provide book, chapter, and verse from the Bible for the declarations or confessions that are made. Without the backing of Scripture, such creeds are as weak as water, lacking any spiritual value. Even when true, biblical principles can be found in a creed, it still cannot provide for us what the word of God ultimately can: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17).

Creeds Promote Division: Finally, creeds cannot achieve the unity that Jesus prayed for.
“Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:17-21, NASB). True unity among Jesus’ disciples is based on the truth, the word of God. To eliminate division and be “in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10), God’s word must be the sole standard for what we believe and practice in religion. Could a religious debate be settled by confessional statements or creeds? Of course not! Creeds have no authority and do not prove anything. To effectively settle our differences and attain true unity, we must open our Bibles and put away the creeds, confessions, and writings of men.

The Bible Is the Authority, not Creeds

It is amazing how quickly the creeds of men can become a standard of authority in religion in the minds and hearts of the people. Creeds effectively add to God’s word which has grave or severe consequences (Rev. 22:18-19). Instead of looking to the Bible as the sole guide for what to believe and practice in religion, a creed written by men becomes “the mission statement” and source of inspiration for all. As a result, the word of God is made void in the hearts and lives of the people (e.g., Mat. 15:1-9).

Creeds of men do not have divine authority. Even “the classical orthodox creeds” written by the so called “church fathers” from centuries ago do not possess divine authority. Such are mere words of men. Only the writings of the apostles and prophets, the Scriptures, can reveal the actual will of God (Eph. 3:3-5).

On Judgment Day, the word of God, not creeds written by men, will be the standard by which we will be judged: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). No creed can adequately prepare us for the Judgment. Only the word of Christ can fully prepare us for the Judgment in which we will be able to stand with confidence.

What’s the Difference Between Creeds and Preaching?

Many claim that a creed is nothing more than a form of preaching or teaching (Eph. 4). That to banish creeds, we would also have to stop the mouths of preachers and teachers and limit what we say to the mere reading of Scripture without comments of any kind. Yet, in actuality, is preaching the same as creeds? Absolutely not!

Remember, a creed is an authoritative written statement that formally declares what a religious group believes. It is used as the means to establish a consensus on what all have agreed the truth to be. It is viewed as having authority, the official and final word (at least for now) on what God’s will is. In contrast, when a preacher delivers a sermon or when a teacher teaches a class, such is not the final word (“edged in stone”) that all has agreed to and committed to following. Every member, including the preacher, will continue to grow in the knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). Each one has a responsibility to search the Scriptures for the truth and hold every teacher accountable (Acts 17:11). While unity among all is the goal, it is a process that is continual or ongoing (Eph. 4:13). To publish an official “church of Christ” list of confessions (i.e., creeds) that we all agree to is foolhardy and contrary to the way unity is achieved and improved among God’s people.

No doubt, preachers must speak with authority, giving “book, chapter, and verse” in the instruction they give to others. What they speak must be confined or limited to what the Scriptures reveal, giving no place to personal opinion. What is taught must be governed by God’s word. “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God...” (1 Peter 4:11, NKJV). Yet, no preacher or teacher in any way, shape, or form is a “creed-maker”!

Let Us Follow the Bible Only and Be Christians Only!

To be a Christian only, man-made creeds and “confessions of faith” must be put away and the Bible alone followed. That is the only way to be a disciple of Christ and avoid being a follower of men (1 Cor. 1:10-13). By following the Bible only, to what church will we belong? The same church we read about in the New Testament, the church of Christ. All who have obeyed the gospel as penitent believers in Christ are members of the Lord’s body, the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, 41 & 47). As Christians, let us continually honor the name of Christ by doing all things by His authority (Col. 3:17), by the standard of His word (John 12:48). Let us “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3), not for the creeds of men, to demonstrate our faithfulness to the Lord.


Blogger Keith Davis said...

The really sad part is that though what you call "denominational churches" have written creeds, at least they are willing to write down what they teach as doctrine. In the church of Christ that I grew up in, there were unwritten creeds or laws that were not based upon scripture.

Here are a few that I grew up with:
1. Women were not allowed to wear pants to the worship assembly, though God looks not on the outward appearance, but on the heart.

2. People were not allowed in some of the area churches to eat in the building, though that was clearly a misunderstanding of "have you not houses to eat in?"

3. Sunday night services were manditory and if you missed you were lost. Biblically the Christians met each day.

4. House church was forbidden though the Bible church met in homes all of the time.

5. Communion must be taken every Sunday when the scriptures declare (according to the Greek) that they did so on Saturday night and Acts 20:7 could have possibly just been a regular meal.

6. Worship was dictated. No show of emotion was allowed, i.e. saying amen, clapping, etc. when the scripture clearly says tha men "should pray everywhere, lifting holy hands." I wonder if it's ok to stand and sing. Is it more sacred to lift our bodies and not our hands?

7. The name "church of Christ" was and is still insisted upon, while the scriptures use various names for a descriptions of the people of God.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I agree that written creeds that contradict scripture are wrong and should be avoided, but I also think that the unwritten creeds that I grew up with should also be done away with.

6:27 PM  

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