As a first year seminary student I recall my initial studies of Reformed creeds and confessions. I was mesmerized by their theological accuracy, pastoral leaning, and the historical background that characterized them. As much as I was in awe of them, there were fellow classmates who were critical and unimpressed by them. The main charge some of these students held could be captured in the mantra, “no creed but Scripture.” In other words, if the Word of God is to be held in the highest esteem (which it should), then there should not be any subscription to any other written document. Though I think that the intent of the dissension was noble, it missed the mark and exposed a misunderstanding of creeds.
1. I do not think any of the authors of our creeds desired that their document be held in the same esteem as Scripture. Instead, they wanted to assist people in apprehending the essential truths of the Christian faith. In fact, as with the case of the Belgic Confession, some of the creeds were penned at a time of great persecution. Thus, having these statements of faith served to encourage the saints in extremely difficult times.
2. Creeds are supposed to reflect Scripture. I sometimes refer to creeds as the Bible’s “cliff notes.” That may or may not be a good analogy, but the idea is that creeds systematically summarize biblical truths. The Bible can be quite intimidating for some to read. There are scores of books, hundreds of chapters, and thousands of verses. Having summaries are helpful in understanding the vastness of Scripture’s teachings. That, of course, does not imply that we should neglect the reading of Scripture and only read creeds because of their ease.
3. Everyone has a creed. When we are engaged in conversation with others concerning the gospel, we do not begin reading at Genesis 1:1 and not stop until we reach Revelation 22:21. As soon as we begin to summarize aspects of the gospel in our evangelism, we are speaking in a creedal manner.
4. Creeds hold preachers accountable. Doctrine and theology are extremely important. Galatians and Titus are all about addressing false teaching. It should bring a congregation great comfort to know that a pastor is being held accountable by a statement of faith. Personally, I would never place myself in a church setting that did not ascribe to creeds and confessions.
This is the first of many future posts on the topic of creeds and confessions. For further reading I would like to commend The Creedal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). It is an excellent scholarly work.