It is becoming more popular in our culture to be down on organized religion of any sort. The idea of being told that there are absolute truths in Scripture is unsettling to many in our post-Christian world. This ideology is even felt in our own rural community. Many want to flee from any form of confessional or creedal faith in the name of religious piety. This is unfortunate and ultimately impossible.
Creeds are as old as Scripture itself. Israel was a creedal community (). The Shemah in was the foundation of Israelite society. It was to be a daily confession of who God is and what He has done. The New Testament saints were also a creedal community (; ; , etc.). To attempt to separate from creedal confession would be an attempt to stray from the pattern of the New Testament.
However, it must be understood that such a proposition is, in reality, impossible. The very core of Christianity is that of creedal confession. We confess that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life (), died on the cross for the sins of many (; ), and rose from the grave victorious (; ). We not only believe this, but we confess this with our mouth () and we confess it with conviction.
Attempts have been made to mitigate the role of creeds and confessions. They are often accompanied by a pithy, seemingly pious statement of rising above the fray of confessional disagreement. There is value in considering a few of them in this space:
No Creed but Christ!
This is a profoundly healthy and righteous statement. However, it cannot be viewed as a statement to separate from confessional creeds. It is itself a creed. Beyond that, this creed raises more questions than it answers. Which Christ? The Mormon Christ? The Muslim Christ? The Hindu Christ? The Evangelical Christ? This question must be answered and these answers form the foundation of a creed.
This creed is often phrased so as to suggest that one not worry about doctrine and theology but Just love Jesus. Once more this is a failure to recognize that when we approach Jesus we do not get to decide who He is based on our own wants and desires. Scripture dictates that. Surely the Muslim and the Christian cannot worship Christ together, because they define His nature and character in radically different ways.
Christ is most assuredly the foundation of any creed that we develop. But this statement alone is woefully over-simplified. It is not only necessary, but exceedingly helpful to articulate who Christ is and what we believe about Him.
Where Scripture Speaks We Speak. Where Scripture is Silent We are Silent.
Once more we find a positional statement that is very helpful and true, but cannot stand on its own. It too raises more questions than it answers. What is Scripture? What do we believe about the Bible? Is it inerrant? Is it absolutely authoritative? Even once we have answered those questions we are forced to answer questions of content; What does the Bible say? To what issues does it speak? Where is the Bible silent?
The Bible is our final authority. Yes. Without question. We confess that. We also confess that it speaks to particular areas of life and that it is silent with regard to several non-essential issues. It is necessary that a congregation articulate those points for reasons that will be addressed in a moment.
In Essentials, Unity. In Non-Essentials, Liberty. In All Things, Love.
Finally, we come to Augustine. Augustine was an amazing defender of the truth of God’s sovereignty and elective purposes. The church today owes much to such a strong early church father. With regard to this quote it is important to understand that Augustine was not speaking against confessions or creeds. Far from it. He was instrumental in developing many creeds and confessions. He made this statement as a guide for the development and implementation of such creeds.
To hold to this statement as an anti-creedal confession (pun intended) would put one in a serious intellectual quandary. Much like the previous failed attempts to step away from creeds this will also lead to more questions. What is essential? What is non-essential? At what point does doctrine trump unity and vice versa? How much liberty should be given?
Upon answering these questions you will have developed a creed. You will have for yourself a confession of faith or a statement of affirmations and denials. Don’t cringe. This is healthy for your soul and your congregation. Let me expand on that briefly:
1. It is healthy for your soul
You need to know what you believe. A confession statement can help you to articulate what you believe in a way that you were previously unable. The confession does not tell you what to believe, but it does tell you what the people of the church believe. This allows you to make a decision regarding where you worship based on doctrinal conviction rather than frivolous reasons.
2. It is healthy for the Church Family
By stating what we believe as a church we prevent much future doctrinal conflict. For example: As a faith family we deny the merits of infant baptism and baptismal regeneration. Anyone confessing an adherence to those errors will be confronted in love prior to any consideration of covenant membership. As a means of protecting the unity of the flock, they will not be accepted as members while confessing those beliefs.
That may sound harsh in an age of “tolerance” and “acceptance” but we are a congregation of conviction, not convenience. If we truly believe these to be Gospel issues, how could we simply ignore them so that we could add another name to our role? (A quick caveat: To be clear, we are talking about membership and its privileges here. We are not talking about simple church attendance. The Mormon, the Jehovah’s Witness, and the one that believes in baptismal regeneration are more than welcome to attend and learn the truth.)
Creeds and confessions do not divide (At least they should not.). They are a source for unity among a body of believers. After all, we as Christians come together because of what we believe. Shouldn’t we be careful to articulate what it is we believe and why we come together? If we don’t we run the risk of being reduced to a social gathering with no power or authority in life or culture.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (ESV)
The Greatest Commandment
6:1 “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
10 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15 for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
16 “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. 17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers 19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.
20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’ (ESV)
6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (ESV)
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (ESV)
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (ESV)
45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (ESV)
[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.]
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
9 [[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. (ESV)
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (ESV)
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (ESV)