A Call to Remember the Blessing of Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms
and to return to their use in our churches and homes.
There are nearly constant reminders of the lack of doctrinal knowledge (as well as a Biblical worldview) within contemporary Christianity. The recent past brings several examples into sharp relief:
A popular preacher seemed to state in a recent sermon that because he is in covenant with God almighty, he can declare that he (the preacher) is God almighty. At this point, his congregation cheers. Even if (as I hope) this was a case of misspeaking, why would any congregation cheer such a troubling statement?
The United Methodist Church is working through an impending split, born out of a liberal denominational drift over several decades. This split demonstrates that many congregants aren't sure if remaining faithful to the Scriptures is what honors God.
This very week, at the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Nashville, there was a debate over the wording of a proposed resolution. The wording stated, "Resolved, that we will not permit our personal, social, theological, or political interests to supersede the urgency of evangelism and distract us from the task of the gospel's advancement through the whole world." A messenger made a motion that the wording be altered to distinguish that we should not let secondary matters of theology supersede, noting the importance of primary theological matters.The leadership opposed any such amending, and it was voted down by the messengers at large. This means that the final wording values evangelistic cooperation above being united on theological truth.
In an online discussion of the troubling developments which occurred in Nashville, one person equated the state of messenger confusion to that which should be expected of a people who were not catechized in the truth. Is this a fair statement? Does it help to explain the trend in mainline denominations toward theological self-destruction? Does it also help us to understand why preachers like Steven Furtick, Joel Osteen, Bill Johnson, and Kenneth Copeland can preach weekly, without seeing the congregation simply get up and walk out? I believe that the answer is yes!
The church's knowledge of doctrine and Scriptures is, perhaps, at the lowest point since the Reformation. As a result, people are not sure what the Bible teaches or what they are supposed to believe. We are not simply speaking of matters of theology such as soteriology or hamartiology (though these are of the utmost importance), but even of basic worldview questions. The mainstream church is increasingly confused about what constitutes sin, life, marriage, sex, and salvation. These are fundamental questions about which our forebearers turned to the Scriptures for answers. Now, we seem to be assured by many leaders that God doesn't speak as clearly as He once did.
This is a proposition that faithful churches must reject...and reject vocally. Why? Because it isn't true. It is not God's word that has failed to stand, but our hearing and understanding of it. We live in an age of sermonettes instead of sermons, popular Christian books instead of reading the Bible, and storytelling in place of catechism, creeds, and confessions. While I am not against contemporary music, it is telling that we are replacing the doctrinal truths of the great old hymns with the new song of the month- songs which are here today, gone tomorrow, and often emphasize emotion over doctrine. Given all of this, it is little wonder that the church is so frail in doctrine. So, we come to the question: what is the way forward? I believe that it is by turning back...turning back to the preaching of Biblical sermons, the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and to the use of creeds, confessions, and catechisms.
Why the 3 C's?
So, why specifically do we need these 3 C's (Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms)? Simply put, the church has testified for 2,000 years that such tools are useful for the growth of believers, as well as for their safety. Scholars tell us that the earliest Christian creeds may well be found in the Scriptures of the New Testament. One of the most famous examples is Paul's statement in I Corinthians 15:3-7 which is seen as his inspired use of an even earlier creed.
When the early church was battling heresies related to the doctrine of God, they chose to record and present the truth in creeds. One example is the Nicene Creed. Birthed out of the decisions of the Council of Nicaea, this creed defended the theological truth from the danger of Arianism. It, along with the Apostle's Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, form a trio of important early creeds that unite all Christians. Again, the early history of the church testifies to the urgent need for such trustworthy documents.
Again, these creeds accomplished 3 important tasks:
They grew (and continue to grow) believers in the knowledge of what is true.
They united (and continue to unite) the church around that truth.
They protected (and continue to protect) believers from falling into lies and heresies by providing them a base of truth on which to stand.
The 3 C's and the Reformation
The 3 C's were not simply a staple of the early church, they were also of great importance during the time of the Protestant reformation. The reformers led a people long denied the truth of Scripture; for this reason, they emphasized the centrality of the word of God and a focus on the 3 C's as a way of learning and preserving the truths of the Bible. Martin Luther wrote a catechism that he believed was among his most important and enduring works. Likewise, in a letter to Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of England, Calvin wrote: "The church of God will never preserve itself without a catechism." These reformers felt strongly that the people of God must ever stay in the truths of Scripture. Such a commitment should involve personal study in the Word of God, the hearing of sound preaching, and the study of good creeds, confessions, and catechisms.
Certainly, the next few hundred years demonstrated such a commitment amongst the churches. Confessions and Catechisms emerged from every area of the Reformation. Catechisms were written in Heidelberg and London. Confessions of Faith were written by the Dutch Reformed, the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Anglicans. These confessions are still in use today by some churches. Others have drifted from their confessional moorings through disuse or disinterest. The results have spoken for themselves. The generations that followed the Reformation are among the most impressive years of theological growth in church history; our modern story of de-emphasizing preaching, the Scriptures, and the 3 C's reveals quite a different result.
Baptists and the 3 C's
Nowhere has this loss been more felt than among Baptists. We were a people built on the importance of confessions and catechisms, yet who turned away from our own history in favor of catch-phrasing. Even within my own lifetime, I remember hearing that, as Baptists, we are not a creedal or confessional people. Nothing could be further from the truth. From our earliest days, Baptists wrote confessions and catechisms, often adapting that which Godly men had earlier said. The Baptist Confession owes a debt to the Savoy Declaration, which itself owes a debt to the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is telling that whenever Baptists entered a new area, one of the first actions they undertook was to unite around a newly adapted confession (Philadelphia Confession, Charleston Confession, etc.). So, the 3 C's play a major role in Baptist history, regardless of what some might say.
Sidebar- I must admit that I am confused by such opposition when most Baptist churches have a statement of beliefs that they expect their members to confirm; these are, after all, confessions of faith. Also, creed comes from the Latin "credo" simply meaning "I believe".
Bringing This Home
It is with all of this in mind that I ask our church to consider our own use of the 3 C's. We currently use The Puritan Catechism as a part of our Lord's Day Worship; it is my prayer that we would use these tools in our homes as well. To support this suggestion, a blog post will be offered weekly, working through the historic creeds and confessions of the church. Through this blog, we will consider what each statement is telling us and why, as faithful Christians we need to hear, know, and stand upon these truths. It is my sincere hope and prayer that this will help us to see the important work which has been handed down to us, by God's grace, by our forebearers.
It is my prayer that this endeavor will grow us in our knowledge of the historic doctrines of the church. It is equally my prayer that it would protect us from the ever-increasing false teachings of this world. Finally, I pray that we will increase in gratitude toward God for His faithfulness to us.
The plan is to spend considerable time working through the following:
The Apostle's Creed
The Nicene Creed
The Athanasian Creed
The London Baptist Confession of Faith
An Orthodox Catechism (a Baptist Adaptation of the Heidelberg Catechism)
A Puritan Catechism
And others if time and congregational interest warrants it.
These statements encapsulate the beliefs that our Baptist forefathers have handed down to us. Their faithful labor in the word calls upon us to study these classic works. The state of the modern church confirms our need for such an endeavor. It my sincere prayer that you will join me weekly in this journey as we learn to move forward from those who came before us.
Join me next Friday as we begin to look at the Apostle's Creed.