Over a decade ago, I remember passing by a church named something along the lines of, ‘Bible Believers Church.’ My friend, who was with me, found the name offensive. I asked why? He answered, “All Christians believe the Bible, not just the people in this church.” My friend’s offence was probably unjustifiable, but his words have never left me.
To say ‘I believe the Bible’, is not enough. One must believe the Bible correctly
We Do Believe The Bible
Of course, all who claim to be Christian must to some degree be Bible believing. After all, that is where the content of the Christian faith comes from. Yet, when a Jehovah’s Witness makes the claim to be “Bible believing,” I should hope that an Evangelical would not agree. Thus it follows, that not all who make the claim to be Christians believe the genuine Christian faith.
To say “I believe the Bible” then, is not enough. One must believe the Bible correctly. This is but one of the ways that creeds help us.
What Are Creeds and Confessions?
The word “creed” comes from the Latin credo meaning, “I believe.” Historically, the Church has not been content simply to say, “I believe the Bible.” She also desires to fill that statement with content about what the Bible teaches. As Phillip Schaff writes, “Faith, like all strong conviction, has a desire to utter itself before others.” Creeds declare openly what we believe the Bible teaches.
Creeds declare openly what we believe the Bible teaches
Confessions are more detailed documents explaining what a church or denomination believes and holds to as its doctrinal standards (such as the Westminster Confession of Faith). In addition to these, we have catechisms. These are teaching tools that indoctrinate through questions and answers (for example the Heidelberg Catechism or more recently the New City Catechism).
Isn’t The Bible Enough?
Many ask: why have creeds? Isn’t the Bible enough? Of course the Bible is enough. But only if… If what? If we all had perfect knowledge of it. Only if we had no need to be taught or to teach any other.
But this is not the case.
We need to make statements of belief because we need to transmit the truth of Christian faith from one generation to another. It is impossible to do so by simply asking each generation to read the Bible and decide what it means. There is a way in which the Bible is to be interpreted: the Bible interprets itself. Yet this does not happen in a vacuum. It happens within the community of the Church. The Church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Creeds are non-inspired words that seek to faithfully convey the teaching of the inspired word
Creedal Formulations In The Early Church
From the New Testament period we encounter Paul charging Timothy to, “Follow the pattern [or form] of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13). Thus, from the earliest times (the apostolic period), there appear to have been creedal formulations.
We must bear in mind that creeds are non-inspired words that seek to faithfully convey the teaching of the inspired word. They do not replace the Bible. They are faithful expressions of what the Church has believed about the Bible from its inception.
Everybody Has a Creed…
In his introduction to The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman relates a story of a pastor. This pastor “had a habit of standing in the pulpit, seizing his Bible in his right hand, raising it above his head, and pointing to it with his left. ‘This,’ he declared in a booming voice, ‘is our only creed and our only confession.’ Ironically, the church was marked by teaching that included the five points of Calvinism, dispensationalism, and a form of polity that reflected in broad terms its origins as a Plymouth Brethren assembly.”
You have a creed. You cannot escape it
I read that and thought, “That man was me!” For I was somewhat close to him in identity. Also, I was raised in that particular branch of Christianity. I remember as a young Christian trying to defend my faith to those to whom I witnessed, especially Muslims. There was a need for me to get my “Christology” right in order to be a good witness. As I searched the internet I realised that everything I read in some way went back to the ancient creeds.
… Even If It’s Not Written Down
My thoughts were, “Yes… that makes sense… I agree with that.” Some of these things I’d heard before, even in my church. But within my church there was no clear statement of it in any document that we could look at. We had creeds. We had systems with which we interpreted the Bible. But we didn’t have them on paper.
If It’s On Paper, It Can Be Scrutinised
Thus, Trueman rightly identifies a major issue. Christians are, “divided between those who have public creeds and confessions that are written down and exist as public documents, subject to public scrutiny, evaluation, and critique, and those who have private creeds and confessions that are often impoverished, unwritten, and thus not open to public scrutiny, not susceptible to evaluation and, crucially and ironically, not, therefore, subject to testing by Scripture to see whether they are true.”
The question is whether you have a creed that has been tried and tested, in keeping with the historic Christian faith
There is no such thing as, “No creed but the Bible.” To say such a thing is to declare a creed: “I believe in no creed but the Bible.” This is a self-refuting statement.
Or Are You The Sole Validator Of Your Creed?
If you are a Christian, you have made the most basic Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). This requires you to at least be able to identify which “Jesus” you are speaking of, and what you mean by calling him “Lord.” How you answer that question is your creed.
You have a creed. You cannot escape it. The question is, whether you have an unwritten creed of which you are the ultimate validator, or whether you have a creed that has been tried and tested, in keeping with the historic Christian faith.
Why Reinvent The Wheel?
There is one final point I would like you to consider. These documents of the Church have a precision and beauty that I cannot match. And I invite you to consider if you can match the following:
- The theological beauty of the Nicene Creed: “I believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds [God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”
- The precision of the Chalcedonian definition on Christ’s two natures. He is, “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably.”
- The punchy accuracy of the Westminster Shorter Catechism on justification (Q33): “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”
- The loving consideration of the Westminster Confession on the matter of God’s hard providence designed for our good (5.5): “The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption, and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.”
- The devotional splendour found in the last question of the Heidelberg Catechism (Q129): “What does that little word ‘Amen’ express? Answer. ‘Amen’ means: This shall truly and surely be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.”
When a person says they believe the Bible, there must be content added to that statement. What content would you add? The creeds of the church have been used from the earliest times, tried and tested. May we embrace what the Church for 2000 years has confessed when we say, “I believe…”