I recently heard an evangelical praise and worship song that had the following lines in it: “Lord you’ve caused the blind to see / We have blinded them again / With our man-made laws and creeds….” Aside from the fact that “see” doesn’t rhyme with “creeds,” there’s a major problem here. The song clearly claims that creeds blind Christians. In around seven seconds this song throws out some of the major moments and documents in church history: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, not to mention the Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, and Baptist confessions (among others). There are many – myself included – who can explain how creeds and confessions have been a great help in Christian thought and life. No Christian mindful of solid theology and church history should ever say that creeds blind Christians.
This makes me think of one major thesis in Carl Trueman’s new book, The Creedal Imperative: all Christians have creeds. He argues well that no Christian or church simply believes the Bible. In other words, no Christian, when asked what they believe, is going to start reading Genesis 1:1 and end at the last verse of Revelation. Every church and Christian will give a summary of what they believe when asked. That is essentially their creed or confession. Even the song mentioned above is a creed of some sorts, as one friend reminded me.
Trueman tells the story of a man who once told him that he had “no creed but the Bible.” He then writes, “What he [this man] really should have said was: I have a creed but I am not going to write it down, so you cannot critique it; and I am going to identify my creed so closely with the Bible that I am not going to be able to critique it either” (p. 160).
“There are numerous obvious ironies here, not least that last point. It is probably this person objected to creeds on the grounds that they represent a man-made framework which was imposed upon the Bible by the church and thus distorted how the Bible was read. In fact, by refusing to acknowledge even the existence of his own framework, he removed any possibility of assessing that framework in the light of Scripture. Thus, he invested more absolute authority in his private creed and his tradition than even the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox, who at least have the decency to put their confessional standards into the public domain.”
“The standard evangelical objection to creeds and confessions is simply not sustainable in the light of its own self-referential incoherence, the Bible’s own teaching, and the history of the church. I argued in an earlier chapter that creeds and confessions actually fulfill a vital role in the function that Paul makes an imperative for the church and her leadership, that of the stable transmission of the gospel from one generation to another. Thus, if you take the Bible seriously, you will either have a creed or confession or something that fulfills the same basic role, such as a statement of faith.”
“Here, I want to make the point that those who repudiate such ideas are being unintentionally disingenuous: they still have their creed or confession; they just will not write it down and allow you to look at it and scrutinize it in the light of Scripture. They are in a sense more authoritarian than the papacy” (p. 160-161).”
Again, I highly recommend this book to our readers: Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative. It’ll really help you understand the beauty, necessity, and importance of creeds and confessions. They will not blind you, but aid you in understanding the great truths of Scripture.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)