Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sola Scriptura, Creeds, Confessions and Tradition: The importance of Creeds and Confession

In conservative churches, especially Reformed churches, Creeds and Confessions play an important role in the life of the church. This has been the case since the days of the early church through the various church councils and synods, and the Confession of faith and Apologies of the faith written by people such as Justin Martyr. This continued on into the Middle Ages and onto the the Reformation whereby the Christian churches define and defend the Faith and various other denominational distinctives through the use of various Creeds and Confessions, which helped in keeping heretics out, and in uniting the body of believers in the common biblical truths they adhere to.

Creeds and Confessions have been historically seen as important, due to their nature of demarcating the boundaries of the faith which are used to seperate believers from unbelievers, and Christians of one doctrinal persuasion from those of another. For the former case, creeds and confessions become necessary since heretics often twist the words of Scripture to mean what it does not mean. As obedience to her Lord, the leaders of the Church need to protect the flock from the teachings of these wolves (Acts 20:29-31; 1 Tim. 6:3-4; Tit. 1:11, 13) and thus the creeds and confession were needed. An example of such a case where just 'citing the Bible' was insufficient is Arianism, where the eternal sonship of deity of Christ was denied by Arius and his followers. This teaching is implicitly derived from Scripture where for example it talked about Jesus being the Alpha and Omega, but the exact words nor phrases teaching it could not be found in the Bible, and the heretics exploit that in an attempt to destroy the Faith. Only the council of Nicea and the adoption of its creed (slightly different from the famous Nicene Creed), followed by years of struggle before it was fully implemented, remove that toxin from most of the visible Church.

With regards to the latter case, creeds and confessions are used to put forward the doctrinal distinctives of a group of Christians (i.e. believers only baptism versus infant baptism) which the group thinks is the most biblical. This is due to the fact that some issues in Scripture are not as clear cut as the essentials of the Christian faith are, and thus a certain degree of differences of opinions would emerge. Definitely, both groups strive to be biblical, and their convictions would thus be put forward in their particular creed or confession that they wrote up and/or believe in, as both sides strive to be biblical in their doctrines and convictions.

During the Reformation, the Protestant churches broke away from the apostate Roman Catholic church, in a move that causes much conflict in Europe. As the Roman church embraced heresy in the form of transubstantiation and salvation by faith and works, not forgetting the infamous indulgences and purgatory, God raised up His prophets and preachers who thundered forth the Word of God and broke the power of the Roman church over His people. The conflict was fought mainly on the doctrinal area since both claimed to be faithful to Christ, and it is in this climate that many of the famous Protestant creeds and confessions were written. Creeds and confessions like the Ausberg Confession, the Heiderberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the 39 Articles of the Church of England and the Second Helvitic Confession were written. The Westminster Confession, Shorter and Larger Catechism, the Canons of the Synod of Dordt, the second London Baptist Confession of faith soon followed. All of these were written to combat heresy and to lay out the doctrines of which the godly framers in prayer believe to be the Truth found within the pages of Scripture.

Of course, sadly, this godly heritage has been neglected by most Evangelicals today, to their detriment, in the spirit of anti-intellectualism which has caused a disaster within the churches, as churches are forced to either allow heretics in which destroy them, or to re-invent the wheel which creates a lot of heartaches in those who have to endure the destructiveness of heresies within the church before they are finally purged. The importance of creeds and confessions thus cannot be denigrated.

That said, I would now like to go on to the main topic, which move towards the other extreme and to which we shall look at now.

[to be continued]

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