Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Value of Creeds

While Protestants hold the authority of Creeds as subordinate to Scripture, they find creeds useful.
Confessions, in due subordination to the Bible, are of great value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice. In the form of Catechisms they are of especial use in the instruction of children, and facilitate a solid and substantial religious education, in distinction from spasmodic and superficial excitement. The first object of creeds was to distinguish the Church from the world, from Jews and heathen, afterwards orthodoxy from heresy, and finally denomination from denomination. In all these respects they are still valuable and indispensable in the present order of things. Every well-regulated society, secular or religious, needs an organization and constitution, and can not prosper without discipline. Catechisms, liturgies, hymn-books are creeds also as far as they embody doctrine.

There has been much controversy about the degree of the binding force of creeds, and the quia or quatenus in the form of subscription. The whole authority and use of symbolical books has been opposed and denied, especially by Socinians, Quakers, Unitarians, and Rationalists. It is objected that they obstruct the free interpretation of the Bible and the progress of theology; that they interfere with the liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment; that they engender hypocrisy, intolerance, and bigotry; that they produce division and distraction; that they perpetuate religious animosity and the curse of sectarianism; that, by the law of reaction, they produce dogmatic indifferentism, skepticism, and infidelity; that the symbololatry of the Lutheran and Calvinistic State Churches in the seventeenth century is responsible for the apostasy of the eighteenth. The objections have some force in those State Churches which allow no liberty for dissenting organizations, or when the creeds are virtually put above the Scriptures instead of being subordinated to them. But the creeds, as such, are no more responsible for abuses than the Scriptures themselves, of which they profess to be merely a summary or an exposition. Experience teaches that those sects which reject all creeds are as much under the authority of a traditional system or of certain favorite writers, and as much exposed to controversy, division, and change, as churches with formal creeds. Neither creed nor no-creed can be an absolute protection of the purity of faith and practice. The best churches have declined or degenerated; and corrupt churches may be revived and regenerated by the Spirit of God, and the Word of God, which abides forever. (The Creeds of Christendom, Philip Schaff)

The same abuse of Creeds and over reaction to them that Schaff notes in the Socianian, Quakers, Unitarians, and Rationalists, is the same sort of reaction that we see in later liberalism and today in modern forms of Emergent Theology. The church is at heart a body of people that confess certain things to be true. Confession is an act of worship, of calling on our Lord affirming our trust.

Indeed, those today who reject creeds are as much under tradition and the influence of men, as those who hold to a creed. Note for example, Schaff argues that those without creeds are subject to the same divisions and decline, and here we might thing of recent events within the Emerging/Emergent community. Our point here is not to harp on them but to point out that value of Creeds. Those who detract from them can often find the same sorts of weaknesses within their own community and so their detractions are hardly as solid.

No doubt many today have had bad experiences with rigid 'fundamentalism' which has indeed departed from its historic roots. Yet bad experiences does not invalidate the importance of fundamentalism. Rigid and badly applied credalism does not invalidate the value of Creeds.

When the debate is over the meaning of Scripture itself, we certainly defend the doctrine based on what the Word of God says but we often must right a summation so that we can both guard (a negative action for those who are outside truth) and lead in affirming confession (a positive action for those worship within the Church).

It is never enough to merely say our confession is "the Bible alone is my confession". While we certainly must never confess and believe things that are above or contrary to Scripture, when the debate is over the meaning of Scripture we need a clear exposition and summary of what Scripture teaches. Two people can equally hold to the Bible as their confession and believe doctrines that are different to the core. Such proclamation of unity on the surface are no true unity. A creed says: "the Bible teaches this not that"--which is precisely the distinction we need when facing unbelief and false beliefs.

In short, there is value a value to Protestants in Creeds.

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