01 January 2015

What about Historic Creeds?

Creeds are helpful as guides both to the past and to the issues which we must wrestle with when approaching Scripture. We cannot divorce ourselves from history and those that try to do so prove not only their ignorance but their pride.

We're not suggesting that a perfect Church can be created in this age prior to the return of Christ. Yet, we also believe the greatest threat to the Church is not secularism or even the world that can kill the body, but false teaching which destroys the soul and the Church at large.

The Holy Spirit has certainly worked within the larger framework of what we call The Church, even though that body has largely been in error and apostasy throughout its history. Most of Church History is in reality the history of the False Church. What adds to the confusion is that the Truth is often inside and buried within the False Church.

Creeds and Confessions are guides for us. They are maps through the past and the realm of ideas and many contain a great deal of truth. There are problems though. One is the tendency to try and systematize and synthesize the truth and put it into forms (statements) that we can grasp and order in our minds. What happens is we tend to restrict what the Bible says and we don't realize how much we are affected by the thought-norms of whatever era we happen to live in.

Don't misunderstand. We're not suggesting the Scriptures are somehow subjective or open to interpretations tied to our 21st century American context. But what we are suggesting is that framers of past confessions have fallen into that error. While their times may seem better than ours and in some cases were, there's no 'pure' time in the past when everyone was thinking rightly and thus their cultural judgments were always valid.

Some argue that we presently are not living in a Confessional age, an age of writing confessions. We need to look to the past. While we can appreciate the sentiment, it's better to utilize past confessions in a limited fashion, and not view them as representing a moment of purity or a golden age. In addition we need not worry about writing new ones.

While doctrine must be championed, when it is used as a way to separate institutions or denominations then to borrow a trite phrase it does indeed divide. But at that point the divisions are often unnecessary and are instead about the power of those running the institution.

Some people are anti-doctrine for the wrong reasons. Others abuse doctrine and use it as a way to exclude people from power and control. Both of these extremes ought to be avoided.

If we must utilize a creed, something simple and basic like the Apostle's Creed is probably a good place to start. Many will argue such a creed is too inclusive and doesn't say enough and yet it can be countered... Can we really boil Scripture down to twenty or thirty articles of faith adequate to explain the truths of the Kingdom?

At best Confessions are starting points, maps and guides to the past and to the issues. Many Christians today who ignore Church history are in a process of continually reinventing the wheel. Many issues they're wrestling with have been addressed in the past and they would be better served to pause and look back.

Sadly, many conservative Confessional churches treat their documents as chains and fences. Consequently, though they seem largely unable to see it, they end up falling into a perilous trap. They end up treating their confessional documents as Scripture itself. They will deny this and it's understandable why but if you've spent any time among them, it's not too hard to see.

This is the error we hope to avoid. We don't believe 'forms' such as Confessions are what keep the Church together. The Holy Spirit binds the Church one to another and forges unity. If the Holy Spirit isn't working in that body then even if you bind people together by oaths to a confession or by commitment to a building... it won't hold.

Like it or not every person and every group subscribes to a creed or confession. We all believe something and we all draw lines even if we haven't thought very deeply about these points or elaborated upon them. And yet, if we turn to Scripture rather than a Confessional document, the congregation and hopefully the larger Church will be better served. And certainly the discussion can at the very least be divorced from the curse of denominational politics. What we need is Biblical wisdom, charity and the Holy Spirit to help us maintain unity.