Should Christians sign up to a statement of faith?
It is common practice for many Christian companies to have a form of words setting out their doctrinal position. Such creeds may be written or unwritten, but in all cases the point is that the adherents are expected to believe what has been formulated. Some of the statements are good, and were produced by pious individuals with honourable motives. Indeed, their very godliness may be used to enforce the acceptability of the creed. It is indisputable, however, that all creeds are the work of man. That fact alone ought to settle the matter.
Where in Scripture are we asked to believe what man has said? We are not. The unvarying demand of Scripture is for man to believe God. The first mention of belief in the Bible is that Abraham “believed Jehovah; and he reckoned it to him [as] righteousness” (Gen. 15: 6). Again and again we read the words “Thus saith Jehovah” (Exod. 7: 17) and “Hear the word of Jehovah” (Is. 1: 10), until at last we find that God has “spoken to us in [the person of the] Son” (Heb. 1: 2). God has spoken and man is to believe Him. The record of that speaking is contained in the Bible, for the Bible is the Word of God, and God expects us to believe what He has said in that book. He never asks us to believe a creed.
A creed undermines the Bible by selecting certain facets of the truth that are perceived to be important—the inference being that the rest of the truth does not matter as much. In essence, it is man sitting in judgement upon God, and determining what is essential in His Word and what is not. Scripture needs to be taken as a whole—we may well believe the elements of ‘essential truth’ set out in a creed, but this will not do for God. He expects us to believe the Bible in its entirety for it is all the Word of God.
The selective nature of a creed generally means that any Scriptures quoted take the form of so–called ‘proof texts’ in which a given Scripture appears to uphold a particular doctrinal stance. Why appears? Because proof texts do not necessarily prove anything. It is comparatively easy to find chapter and verse to uphold a wide variety of positions—even quite erroneous ones—but the Word of God is one whole and needs to be taken as such. One group of Christians may have its collection of proof texts, while another has another set arrayed in opposition—but both are guilty of not “cutting in a straight line the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2: 15). Proof texts should be seen for what they are, and their limitations understood—they are simply part of the body of evidence that Scripture supplies us with. As before, Scripture needs to be taken as a whole.
If the selective character of a creed is bad, then it is even worse when Christians are called upon to believe inferences and deductions from the Scriptures, particularly where these are the badge of a school of opinion. There are a number of difficult and deep things in the Word that souls should be allowed to come to see for themselves and in their own time, rather than being forced upon them as being a paramount feature of the “faith once delivered” (Jude v3). Many an individual has signed up to a creed he scarcely understood—indeed some have signed up to things they did not understand at all, nor had any interest in understanding! The proof of this is seen in the speed with which doctrines are abandoned and adopted as one party is exchanged for another. We are expected to believe only what God has actually said—He never requires us to sign up to the inferences and deductions of men, however gifted or godly. That creeds are said to be based upon what God has said is irrelevant—we are called upon to believe the truth, not something based upon the truth. Where is the truth found? “Thy word is truth” (John 17: 17, my emphasis).
Sadly, many seem to view the truth as inherently obscure—is it not easier, they say, to grasp the simple truths set out in a creed than risk becoming confused by studying the Bible? But can man really improve upon what God has said? The apostles spoke “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2: 13). Human wisdom can never improve on what is taught by the Spirit. His words are the best words. Indeed, if we feel the need to use expressions that are not found in the Word then we may be sure that we have left the place of absolute certainty and have substituted man’s word for God’s. Theological ‘clarifications’ are generally anything but, and many a so–called ‘simple’ believer has advanced far into the understanding of the Word without such ‘helps’.
What we need to know about those seeking our fellowship is not what particular creed or form of words they are prepared to subscribe to, but whether they believe all that God has said in His Word.