Sola Scriptura, Creeds, and Confessions

From Wittenberg to Geneva to London, the Reformers stressed the centrality and authority of Holy Scripture.  They argued from Scripture that Scripture alone is God’s necessary Word to us for our salvation and for living the Christian life.  However, the Reformers also stressed the need for and importance of creeds and confessions.  In other words, the slogan “Sola Scriptura” does not imply that Christians have no need for creeds or confessions.  Lutheran scholars Robert Kolb and Charles Arand explain it this way:

“All Christians have recognized that sinful  minds and emotions misinterpret the Word of the Lord and twist it to their own devices.  So all Christians always have some summary of God’s Word to help guide public teaching and the congregation’s public confession of faith.  Scripture is indeed a primary authority for most Christians, but all Christians have secondary authorities alongside or directly under it.  Early in the church’s history the practice of identifying the church through a statement of faith, a creed, flourished.

There are, to be sure, fellowships within the larger body of Christ that claim to have no creed but the Bible.  Yet such groups automatically reject certain interpretations of Scripture and guide their people without discussion or contemplation to a specific construal of individual biblical passages.

Whether formally codified and recognized or only informally put to use (and thus often in more arbitrary fashion), these secondary authorities assist believers in formulating their understanding of the biblical message and provide a vehicle for public confession of the faith and regulation of the church’s life and teaching.

“…By the end of the sixteenth century, the majority of German Lutherans had settled on the ‘Book of Concord’ as their standard for public confession, their ‘symbol,’ in the sense of the Greek word used by the ancient church for ‘creed.’  They called its documents [ ‘the Lutheran confessions’ because Philip Melanchthon had named his Lutheran creed, prepared in Augsburg as an explanation of Lutheran reform and a statement of Lutheran adherence to the universal tradition of the church, a ‘confession.’”

Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), p169-170.

shane l ems

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