Have you ever examined contemporary Christianity with its watered down doctrine, embracing of unbiblical doctrine, it’s love affair with Israel, man centered worship and its individualism (the list can go on and on)? It’s not a pretty picture. Much of today’s Christianity can be traced to all sorts of problems but one, a very big one in my opinion, that I wish to point out is the abandonment of the historic creeds, confessions and catechisms. Not just the abandonment of them either but the outright rejection and detestation of them. The attitude of “deeds not creeds” has wrecked much havoc in the Church. It’s very tragic since this neglect of core biblical truths is precisely what the authors of the creeds, confessions and catechisms were trying to prevent.
The authors never intended these summaries of the Christian faith were to replace or supplant the Holy Scriptures but, to summarize what they teach on given subjects. They stood firmly on Sola Scriptura (the belief that the Bible is our sole authority for all faith and practice) while rejecting Solo Scriptura (the idea of the Bible and nothing else). It was a safeguard against the individualism and erroneous views that we all can come up with, when we read the Bible apart from other believers (see Harold Camping for an example). One may well object, “but they are the teaching of what men think the Bible says!” Fair enough. The answer to that is the creeds, confessions and catechisms were written by groups of men and tested. They collectively got together and compiled these writings. They relied upon others and what they taught about doctrines of the Bible all the way back to the Scriptures. In other words the Bible was their absolute foundation and other men helped guide their understanding of biblical truths.
One can and should test these historic summaries of the faith in light of Scripture. That is what these godly men desired-Sola Scriptura! Let’s just take one example. What is one of the most common asked questions from man concerning his existence? “Why do I exist?” Well, the Westminster Shorter Catechism deals precisely with that issue in it’s first question: Q. 1: What is the chief end of man?” A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” You can find this truth in passages like 1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 11:36, Ps. 73:25-30 and Ecc. 12:13. Yet, just ask that very same question to Christians today and watch all the different and, sometimes, silly answers. I once had a conversation with an associate pastor (with strong Emergent tendencies) and asked him this very question. He stumbled and stammered around for an unbiblical answer (he came up with something like “community”). When I quoted the Westminster Shorter Catechism without telling him so, he responded “that’s from John Piper!” He was ignorant of the Westminster Catechism and because Dr. Piper has strongly taught on this, this person thought that it was something Piper made up and because he thought Piper was “vile,” he rejected it. But you see the authors of the Westminster Catechism (and the Creeds and Confessions) were trying to avoid this type of ignorance to very basic questions that only Christians have the answers to. While at the same time making it as simple as possible for new converts and our children to understand biblical teachings.
Let’s take another example. Let us look at justification (to be declared righteous before God). Ask any believer (or even pastors), walking out of a church service, what justification is and observe the blank and confused looks. With justification being an absolutely essential and vital doctrine (without justification all you have is damnation ) to Christianity, there should be no reason for such confusion and ignorance on the part of those professing to being justified. The Heidelberg Catechism (my favorite) not only safeguards against any false teaching of it but beautifully explains it: Twenty-Third Lord’s Day- Question 60. “How art thou righteous before God?” Answer. “Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me that I have grossly transgressed all the commands of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin; yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ hath accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.” I don’t know if it can be explained any better! Why is there so much false teaching and ignorance on this issue? Largely because the creeds, confessions and catechisms have been ignored and rejected. Not only is the Bible clear on this matter but it has been explained to us. So there is no reason for such deceit and confusion in the body of Christ.
The use of these teachings are inferior and subordinate to the Bible. Make no mistake about that. But they are of such great aid and value that they cannot and should not be ignored. They are not much different from local church doctrinal statements. They are not much different (perhaps even better) than your pastor’s preaching on topical subjects. We would be wise to use them. Again, one reason why I believe the Church is askew in its dctrine, is because of the rejection of them (among many other things). People say, “No creeds but Christ!” To which I respond with- “but what Christ?” The Emergent Christ? The Prosperity Christ? The Jehovas Witness Christ? The Mormon Christ? Which one? The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, chapter eight, teaches us which one: “The Son of God, the second person in the Holy Trinity, being very and eternal God, the brightness of the Father’s glory, of one substance and equal with him who made the world, who upholdeth and governeth all things he hath made, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit coming down upon her: and the power of the Most High overshadowing her; and so was made of a woman of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham and David according to the Scriptures; so that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion; which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man…This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, which that he might discharge he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.” Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,