Friday, April 27, 2007

Sola Scriptura, Creeds, Confessions and Tradition

Through the ages of time, it is the practice of almost all Evangelical churches to teach and catechize their children in the faith, as one generation passes the Faith down to the other. Due to the importance of doctrine, and the fact that the creeds and confessions clearly demarcate the Faith and doctrinal distinctives of the particualr church/ denomination, they were and still are emphasized as being of importance for the health of the church. Over time, such creeds and confessions, and even the lithurgy, become traditions in the church, as evidence of how church ought to be 'done'. Furthremore, due to their effectiveness, heresy by and large was kept away from the church, and thus the original intent of the creeds and confessions slowly was forgotten, or at least only remembered in an abstract sense. When controversy finally hits the church, or when contact with other Christians or non-Christians challenges the 'status quo', the tendency to fall back on the creeds and confessions or other traditions is very high. It is to this phenomenon that we now turn to.

First of all, I would like to mention that there is nothing wrong in turning to the creeds and confessions. However, we must realize that they were written to express the truths which at least the framers believe are found within the pages of Scripture. Therefore, when settling doctrinal controversy, turning to the creeds and confessions should be an aid and not an authority. The creeds and confessions quote Scripture to substantiate their points, and we should use Scripture also to substantiate our points. Of course, whether any particular point in any creed or confession can be substantiated by the verses quoted is besides the point here. For the time being, it is conceded that the creeds and confessions are in fact absolutely 100% biblical. Even then, does that mean that they are our final authority, that we just quote them as per Scripture? This is the very present danger that conservatives need to seriously take note of.

If Sola Scriptura is correct, which I have shown it is, and we know that this principle was recovered in the great 16th century Protestant Reformation and enshrined in the various creeds and confessions that we hold so dear, shouldn't we be consistent and uphold that even in our churches? Even if any particular creed or confession is 100% biblically and absolutely true, should we not treat it as having secondary authority, inasmuch as conforms to the Word of God, which have primary authority? What then must we make of the phenomenon that elevates creeds and confessions, holy as they are biblical, to a status approaching the Word of God, other than 'idolatria de confessio' — the idolatry of creeds? Granted, they have been very useful, and will continue to be useful in its proposed function, but that does not give anyone a right to place them on par with Scripture in any meaningful fashion. While defending the faith or even discussing doctrine, Scripture should therefore be used as our primary authority, NOT the creeds or confessions or any 'book of church order' etc (they can be used as secondary authority though). Any doctrinal instruction that therefore goes only to the creeds and confession, instead of using that as secondary sources, thus goes against the very grain of Sola Scriptura and is in fact a violation of the Reformed creeds which they teach from.

Now, it is to be said that many Protestant and Reformed churches do not in fact elevates their creeds and confessions even on par with Scripture, but practically some of them at least seem to do so. Since Scripture should be our final authority, and not the creeds and confessions, clinging on to the creeds and confessions while ignoring biblical evidence to the contary would definitely be one practical example of the idolatry of creeds. We must always keep in mind the fact that the creeds and confessions were written by Man. Though they are filled with the Spirit, that doesn't mean that whatever they wrote are definitely 100% correct or that they have all the answers to all the possible questions of the faith. The Lutheran, Reformed and Presbyterians, together with the Angelican and Methodists affirm the practice of Infant Baptism, while the Baptists deny it, and all of these groups have their own statements of faith proping up their beliefs which they all believe is correct according to Scripture. Definitely, both groups cannot be correct; one group must be wrong and the other correct. Within the groups affirming Infant Baptism, there is a difference between the Anglican understanding as compared to the Reformed and Presbyterian understanding, and the same logic applies. Thus, it can be seen that creeds and confessions may not be totally correct, and to suppose they do is practically elevating them above what they were written for. All creeds and confessions must therefore always be held and examined in the light of Scripture to see whether what they say conforms to the Word of God. The Reformation motto Reformata et semper reformanda — 'Reformed and always reforming', should always be our call as children of the Reformation. Somehow, the conservative churches tend towards Reformata, non reformanda — 'Reformed, not reforming', where we just look back at the glorious days of the Reformation and thus live in the past.

This of course holds true also for the practice and lithurgy of the church. We should not just say that we are doing this because things have always been done a particular way, which is dead traditionalism. Rather, we should first know why things are done in a particular way; whether they are biblical or just a temporal or cultural application of a biblical principle. If biblical, they should NOT be changed. If they are just temporal or cultural applications of a biblical principal, we should see whether the times warrant a change in how we apply this principal. Of course, if the practice/ lithurgy is extra-biblical, we are free to alter it within Scriptural boundaries or remove it altogether (especially if they impinge on the regulative principle of worship).

With this, it is my hope that we conservatives recover for ourselves the essence of Sola Scriptura and apply them consistently. May we not follow the Roman church into elevation of our traditions (councils, creeds, confession, lithurgy etc.) on par or even above Scripture, whether in word or in deed. May we be willing to examine our own traditions, and not elevate the creeds and confessions of the church to such a high standing that they practically obscure the Scriptures.


Spiritual Israel said...

I hope you will continue with this discussion. You have touched a subject which is close to my heart.

Spiritual Israel said...

I would like to direct you to an article.

Spiritual Israel said...

What do you think of this phrase, "No creeds but Christ"?

ddd said...

Eh..., check out my pervious article on Sola Scriptura where I have addressed this before. It is found at .

Jenson said...

Hi Daniel,

Interesting thoughts. 2 questions:

1) How long have you been involved with confessional churches?

2) Do you know the life and vigour of a confessional church?

ddd said...

Hello Jenson,

1) eh... not counting the time with Met Tab, about 1 and half year.

2) you mean like in Met Tab?

Anyway, this does not prove anything. The principle of Sola Scriptura above the traditions and creeds of the church holds true regardless of whether the church is confessional or not, and regardless of my personal experience. If the only way anyone knows how to defend any particular doctrinal position or church practice is to go back to the creeds, then they are not following the principle of Sola Scriptura, period. Same with all arguments like 'It has always been done this way', 'Godly Christians have always done it that way' etc.

Anyway, I thought that as someone who has a more elevated view of the Anabaptists, you should be very open to this view. After all, it is a historical fact that credobaptism is, to say the least, not prevalent in the pre-reformation churches and churches during the era of the early Church fathers.