Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so
that you do not forget the things your eyes have
seen or let them slip from your heart as long as
you live. Teach them to your children and to their
children after them.
The Future Generation
God is concerned about the future generations. Psalm 78:1-6 says:
O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old Ė what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. (NIV)
Psalm 145:4 similarly says: "One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts" (KJV).
One of the best teaching tools available in a reforming situation is the use of creeds, confessions and catechisms. Unfortunately, the use of these teaching tools has been lost in all-too many churches. Yet it is vitally important that we recover the use of our historical confessional statements. Reformation will not come if we do not know who we are and where we have come from. To this end, in my view, every reforming pastor should have on his shelf and in his church library a copy of Timothy and Denise Georgeís collection of Baptist confessions of faith, covenants and catechisms.
Definition Of Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms
It is often said that Baptists are not creedal people, that we have no creed but the Bible. This simply is not true. Baptists have often utilized confessions of faith, beginning with the General Baptistsí Short Confession of Faith in Twenty Articles (1609) and the Particular Baptistsí London Confession of 1644 and continuing to the Southern Baptist Conventionís Baptist Faith and Message, recently amended in 1998.
We had better have some agreement as to the definitions of a "creed" and "confession." The word "creed" comes from the Latin word credo, and it simply means "I believe." Thus, when we say we believe certain things about Bible truth, we are saying we have a creed. A "confession of faith" is simply a declaration of those things believed by us. More specifically, it is a declaration of the manner in which a person, a number of people, or a church understands the truth revealed in the Bible. A "catechism" is a statement of faith presented in the form of questions and answers, in a way that even children can understand.
It is important to have an inerrant Bible, but what good is an inerrant Bible if we do not know what it teaches or how to apply it to everyday practice? Many heretics and cults believe the Bible. However, it is their interpretation as to what the Bible teaches that has led them to their cultic and heretical views. Creeds and confessions come into existence to combat error. Invariably, they are born of controversy concerning what the Bible teaches in some respect. The Scriptures are from God, but the understanding of them belongs to the part of man. To the best of their ability, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, men must interpret each particular part of Scripture separately, and then combine all that the Scriptures teach upon every subject into a consistent whole, and then adjust their teaching upon different subjects in mutual consistency as parts of a harmonious system. When you do this, you have a creed or confession of faith founded on Scripture alone.
Behind every creed and confession is Pilate's question, "What is truth?" What is the truth of God? The Confessions seek to answer that question assuming the truth is in the Bible and by appealing to the Bible as the only authoritative source of truth. When you ask a man the question, "What do you understand the Bible to teach?" and he answers you with a series of texts, he would be telling you nothing, unless at the same time he would state what he understands those texts to mean. When he proceeds to say what he believes these texts to mean he is giving you his creed and confession of faith. It may sound quite pious to say, "I have no creed but Christ, and no textbook but the Bible," but which Christ are you talking about? There are a thousand Christs on the religious market, but they are not all the Christ of the Bible. It is likewise with the statement "The Bible is my textbook." Most religious crackpots or cultists would make the same claim. Therefore, someone must articulate what the "textbook" teaches or means, and how it applies to faith and practice. This is why the great creeds came on the historic scene. The Westminster Confession of Faith and the First and Second London Baptist Confessions of Faith refute the heresies of Arianism, Socinianism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Universalism, Arminianism and Antinomianism without even mentioning them by name.
A creed or confession of faith is not the voice of divine truth, but the echo of that voice from men who have heard the utterance of divine truth, men who have felt the power of divine truth, and who have answered the call of divine truth.
Do Baptists Have Creeds Or Confessions?
It is evident that every Baptist must have a creed because every Baptist has a statement of belief. Nevertheless, let me answer this question more specifically from Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopedia, p. 293:
"Every thinking man has a Creed about polities, religion, and the best manner of conducting the business with which he is most familiar. It may not be printed, it may not be communicated in words except in special cases, but it surely exists in all intelligent minds. And if the reader can remember a denomination without an avowed Confession of Faith, he will find that in that community there is an understood creed just as real, and as well known by those familiar with its people and its teachings, as if everyone of its members carried a printed copy of it in his hand. Baptists have always gloried in the fact that the Bible was their creed, and at the same time, for centuries they have had published Confessions of Faith."
Many Baptists are not aware that historically, Baptists have always had creeds and confessions, and presently, all do have a creed and confession of faith. One of the best known (and one of the most biblical) Baptist confessions of faith is the London Confession of 1689, which was an improvement and enlargement of two previous Baptist Confessions of 1644 and 1646. This confession of faith was in turn slightly modified by early American Baptists to become the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. The Philadelphia Association adopted it in 1744. Southern Baptists have their roots in this association. The mother of both of these confessions is the best known of all confessions, the Westminster Confession. The major differences between the Westminster Confession and the Baptist Confession of 1689 are on the subjects of baptism, the Lord's Supper and church government.
While the Baptist Confession of 1689 is the preferable teaching tool, for congregations in the beginning stages of reform, you can even use the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message to teach doctrine to your congregation. Get your people to think about statements like the following:
Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God (Article III, Man).
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of Godís grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace (Article IV, Salvation).
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end (Article V, Godís Purpose of Grace).
Using these statements, ask your people things like:
What does it mean to say that only Godís grace brings man into fellowship with him?
Whose work is regeneration Ė Godís or manís?
What is the place of repentance in salvation, and what position does the confessional statement take on the so-called "Lordship salvation" controversy?
Which comes first, election or justification?
By using a trusted document like the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message to frame issues in this fashion and to get your people thinking theologically, you can then take them to Scripture to teach them what the Bible says about the doctrines of grace. Once a core group is convinced, you can introduce them to the fuller treatment of these doctrines in the older confessions.
C. H. Spurgeon On Confessions
In 1855, the "prince of preachers" had been the minister of the New Park Street Chapel, London, only a few months when he determined to strengthen the doctrinal foundations of his own and other churches by reissuing the 1689 Baptist Confession.
In doing so, Spurgeon gave some practical words of advice to his church as to the right use of confessions. His words continue to be relevant for us. "This little volume" he wrote, "is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby you are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of the Scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them. Be not ashamed of your faith; remember it is the ancient gospel of martyrs, confessors, reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. Let your lives adorn your faith; let your example adorn your Creed. Above all, live in Christ Jesus, and walk in Him, giving credence to no teaching but that which is manifestly approved of Him, and owned by the Holy Spirit. Cleave fast to the Word of God which is here mapped out for you."
Creeds, Confessions And The Bible
To those who say, "Creeds and confessions are just the works of men," we find ourselves in hearty agreement with their statement. This does not nullify the point, however. If men will not be aided by the doctrine elaborated and defined by the respected creeds and confessions, they must make up their own creed by their own unaided wisdom.
Charles Hodge says:
The real question is not, as often pretended, between the Word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God's people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds.
As we would have anticipated, it is a matter of fact that the Church has advanced very gradually in this work of the accurate interpretation of Scripture and definition of the great doctrines, which compose the system of truth it reveals. The attention of the Church has been specially directed to the study of one doctrine in one age, and of another doctrine in another age. And as she has thus gradually advanced in the clear discrimination of gospel truth, she has at different periods set down an accurate statement of the results of her new attainments in a Creed or Confession of Faith, for the purpose of preservation and popular instruction. In the meantime, heretics spring up on all occasions, who pervert the Scriptures, who exaggerate certain aspects of the truth and deny others equally essential, and thus in effect turn the truth of God into a lie. The Church is forced, therefore, on the great principle of self-preservation, to form such accurate definitions of every particular doctrine misrepresented as shall include the whole truth and exclude all error; and to make such comprehensive exhibitions of the system of revealed truth as a whole that no one part shall be either unduly diminished or exaggerated, but the true proportion of the whole be preserved. At the same time, provision must be made for ecclesiastical discipline, and to secure the real cooperation of those who profess to work together in the same cause; so that public teachers in the same communion may not contradict one another, and the one pull down what the other is striving to build up. Formularies must also be prepared, representing as far as possible the common consent, and clothed with public authority, for the instruction of the members of the Church, and especially of the children.
Creeds and confessions, therefore, have been found necessary in all ages and branches of the Church, and, when not abused, have been useful for the following purposes: (1) To mark, disseminate, and preserve the attainments made in the knowledge of Christian truth by any branch of the Church in any crisis of its development. (2) To discriminate the truth from the glosses of false teachers, and to present it in its integrity and true proportions. (3) To act as the basis of ecclesiastical fellowship among those so nearly agreed as to be able to labor together in harmony. (4) To be used as instruments in the great work of popular instruction.
The Value And Necessity Of A Confession
Confessions and creeds form a bond and union among those who hold the same views. Cannot every true Baptist and every true Christian say:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.
I believe Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost
and was born of the virgin Mary.
I believe that Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate.
I believe Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross.
I believe Jesus Christ was dead and buried.
I believe Jesus Christ rose again from the dead.
I believe Jesus Christ ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
I believe Jesus Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.
Is there a true Baptist that is not willing to say, "I believe these truths because they are clearly taught in the Bible?" Well, if you can say, "I believe these statements," then you are a creedal person, unless words and definitions mean nothing to you.
By this creed, Unitarians, Liberals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and all cults exclude themselves from such a bond. The late Walter Martin, a Southern Baptist, who taught at Simon Greenleaf School of Law and was an authority on cults, defined a cult as, "A religion centered around a man who has his own interpretation of the Bible." It should not, therefore, seem strange that usually it is latitudinarians and heretics that object to the historic creeds and confessions.
Creeds are neither inspired nor authoritative. They are not, in and of themselves, an absolute certainty of truth. Instead, they depict with absolute certainty what certain individuals believe the Scriptures teach. This does not infringe upon liberty of conscience. One of the reasons for the religious confusion and divisions in Christendom today is there is no creed to bind Christians together.
Thus, creeds are necessary to clearly set out what the Bible teaches on a given subject. Confessions, similarly, are useful in propagating and preserving biblical knowledge gained by our fathers. The essence of Christian duty is to be a witness and a propagator of God's truth. This requires a public definition of the exact identity of that to which the Christian is a witness. When we give testimony we express our creed in words. Peter's creed was, "I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
The Bible is full of short or mini-creeds. Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3 and Philippians 2:11 all confess Jesus is Lord. Creeds are absolutely necessary to define our beliefs.
All the heresies that the Westminster and London Confessions refute reappear in the history of the Church under different names and dress. Because of the same depraved nature in man, and the sameness of the human mind, there is a perpetual recurring tendency to reproduce old error. Hence, creeds are necessary to expose false teaching and teachers. Confessions furnish a fixed standard by which to test or judge them.
Creeds furnish an objective standard to teach, promote, and preserve God's truth in the earth. As witnesses of God's truth we must state to the world what that truth is. Confessions and creeds are a method of bringing the whole Bible to bear on specific subjects.
Dangers Of Creeds And Confessions.
We would be remiss if we did not mention some of the dangers of creeds and confessions.
One of the chief dangers of creeds and confessions is using them to bind the conscience. One reason why some Baptists have traditionally shied away from the term "creed," is that denominational creeds were historically used by others to force their particular beliefs upon Baptists. Creeds must never be used to bind the conscience. Creeds can only bind the conscience so far as they are biblical, and, they bind only those who voluntarily subscribe to them.
Another danger is allowing creeds to usurp the place of authority that belongs to the Bible. We do not worship the creeds. The Bible alone is our final authority and standard. By it we must prove all things. We must not exalt our creeds above the Bible or treat them as equal to the Bible. Creeds are the products of men. However, the respected creeds are the products of many holy, competent, and seasoned men. These creeds have proved a safeguard for Christians. They are not independent assertions of truth. They are derived from, and subordinate to, the Bible as the only source and standard of Christian authority.
In fact, the creeds and confessions themselves warn against the dangers of creeds. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith declares in Chapter 21, part 2:
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and season also."
Beware Of Those Who Knock The Tried And Proven Creeds
Beware of those who knock the historic creeds. Who are they?
Those who know nothing of their history, purpose, value, or their biblical substance.
Heretics. All heretics speak against the creeds. (Notice we did not say everyone who speaks against the creeds is a heretic.)
Liberals who do not believe the Bible. They have no use for creeds that define objectively the doctrines of the Bible.
Those who want to promote their own creed.
Baptists have always gloried that the Bible was their creed and at the same time, for centuries, they have published confessions of faith.