OPEN: Years ago I supply preached for a small country church that had about 35 in attendance. They weren’t part of our brotherhood, but they liked me and asked me to consider becoming their preacher. At the time I was candidating for another church, but that church hadn’t yet made up their minds to hire me. So, I told the little country church that if the 1st church didn’t hire me, I liked them really well and was more than willing to consider working with them.
Since this small country church wasn’t part our brotherhood I asked to look at their by-laws to make sure there wasn’t anything I had to consider before actually saying "yes" to them. They handed me a document roughly 10 pages in length and I took it home to read it over. They by-laws seemed fairly normal (essentially what ours might look like) until I got to the back pages.
I swear to you, the last 2/3rds of their constitution consisted of their church’s doctrine. Coming from the Church of Christ, I’d never seen anything like it.
Now, granted, most of it was fairly common Bible doctrine - things that we’d have no problems with. But there was just enough within this statement of theology that I felt was questionable and hard to justify. So when I met with their leadership the next week I told them if I came to work for them there would a few things I’d want to change in their constitution’s doctrinal statements.
“Oh no” one of the sighed, “the last 3 preachers have wanted to change our doctrine.”
And I could see why, it was so intricate and exhaustive, nobody could agree with all of it. But I tried to reassure them that the change I wanted to make was very simple…and nobody would ever see a need to change it ever again. My suggestion was very straightforward… I wanted them to scrap the entire section on doctrine and replace it with one statement:
“Where the Bible speaks, we will speak and where the Bible is silent, we will be silent”
Then they were silent for a moment or two. At last one of them said “We can live with that.”
APPLY: What that church had was a “Creed”. It was a doctrinal statement of what others had to believe in order to belong to their congregation.
Down thru the ages many churches have employed…
· Creeds (short pithy documents describing their group’s beliefs)
· Confessions (longer descriptions of those beliefs, usually in book form)
· Catechisms (series of questions designed to teach new members their beliefs)
By contrast, our brotherhood has been traditionally opposed to Creeds, confessions and catechisms. In their place we have “mottos” such as
· “Where the Bible speaks we speak, where the Bible is silent, we’re silent”
· “We’re not the only Christians, but we intend to be Christians only”
· And - of course – the motto we’re discussing this morning: “No Creed but Christ, no Book but the Bible, and No Law but Love”
Many within our brotherhood have explained their frustration with Creeds by saying that:
“If a Creed says less than the Bible does… it says too little. AND if it says more than what the Bible says… it says too much.”
Until I began preparing for this morning’s sermon, I had never examined this issue in any depth. But in my preparation, I did a fair amount of research on line about Creeds and such - not just from our brotherhood’s point of view, but also from the denomination’s that embraced these tools.
In the course of my research I found many of these.
Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, The Augsburg Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort; the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, the Shorter Catechism, the 39 Articles of Faith, and so on.
Defenders of creeds, confessions and catechisms say these documents accomplish several things:
· First – they believe that Creeds protect the church against heresy.
The reasoning is: If we ALL know what we believe, we’ll know false teaching when we see it. In fact, creeds came into being to begin with: to combat the heresies the church has faced over the ages.
· Secondly – they maintained that Creeds helped define what their congregation or denomination believed.
“Creed” comes from the Latin “credo,” which means “I believe.”
By this definition, our church mottos could justifiably be called “creeds”.
And our church (as well as others) also have “statements of faith” that we put on the back of our bulletins, and on our websites. These also could reasonably be called “creeds”.
So… if creeds have served to protect the church over the ages, and if our “statements of faith” and our mottos could be reasonably called “creeds” why would our brotherhood be so anti-creedal in our teachings.
Well… there’s a few problems with Creeds.
Our 1st problem is this:
Creeds, confessions and catechisms generally go one step further than we feel comfortable going.
Why? Because most church creeds, confessions etc. are hard and fast rules. They are declarations of what you MUST believe before you can belong to a particular church. And, they are often given power and authority (by those groups) that is equal to Scripture in the minds of their followers.
In essence: creedal statements ARE the authority.
By contrast: our mottos attempt to point us to our ultimate authorities... Jesus and Scripture.
ILLUS: As I was sharing the sermon with Brad (our Youth minister) a couple of days ago, he said “You know, I’ve noticed that myself.”
It seems that over the years of his ministry here, he’s had opportunity to interact with the youth ministers of denominational congregations in town. He told me that sometimes they would talk together about different topics out (for example, salvation) and often the denominational youth leaders would respond to a question by citing their church creed. Brad would ask them where the Bible said this or that, and they often couldn’t tell him. They didn’t know the Bible very well, but they knew their creed and that was sufficient for them.
Too often denominational churches treat their creeds, confessions, and catechisms as if they had equal value as Scripture.
BUT they’re not Scripture. They may be doctrinally sound, Biblically based… but a creed is not God’s Word. It is merely a commentary on God’s Word.
So, you may ask “Jeff, what’s so bad about that? Why would you complain about a commentary (such as creeds) being so highly regarded?”
Well, because that’s the same trap the Jews fell into in the days of Jesus.
Those Jews also got into the habit of accepting men’s teachings about Scripture as being equal to Scripture. It was so rampant that Jesus condemned them for it. In Matthew 15:9 Jesus said
“… in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
This kind of thinking became so engrained into the Jewish psyche that - to this day – the Jewish people have the Law of Moses… then they have a commentary on the Law… and then they have a commentary on the commentary of the Law.
Each of those commentaries are given the same weight, power and authority as the Law of Moses itself. They are studiously examined because their Rabbis believe that God’s voice comes as much thru the commentaries as thru the Law which God gave to Moses on top of Mount Sinai.
Colossians 2:8 warns us to “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on HUMAN tradition...”
In other words: Don’t get into the habit of accepting human tradition.
That was what Jesus was condemning. And that’s the 1st problem with Creeds… they lead us in that direction – the direction of accepting men’s traditions as having equal weight with Scripture.
2ndly – Creeds give the false impression that they can protect us against heresy.
I was impressed with the statement of a denominational preacher I read who was trying to defend creeds. He declared that Creeds were intended to protect the church against heresy, but then he said:
“I must hasten to say that written creeds and confessions are certainly no guarantee of continued orthodoxy. Our own denomination was born out of a denomination that abandoned its fidelity to its own written standards. There is no guarantee that merely having written standards will preserve us from theological error. But, it seems to me, not having written standards is far more likely to lead to theological error.” (a preacher on sermoncentral.com which I will not name)
Let me repeat that preacher’s last statement. It seemed to him that “not having written standards” was “far more likely to lead to theological error.”
My problem with that preacher’s reasoning is that he’d unwittingly declared that he didn’t believe the Bible was sufficient to do the job he’d transferred to his creed. But that’s just not so.
TURN WITH ME TO 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Did you catch that? Scripture is “God breathed”.
By contrast (however sound they may seem to be and however Biblically based they are) creeds, confessions and catechisms are not "God breathed". They are not inspired. They have value as commentaries on what people have seen to be true from Scripture, but they have no strength in themselves.
By contrast, Scripture is designed by God to protect us and strengthen us. It…
· Teaches us good doctrine
· Rebukes us when we’re not living right
· Corrects us when we’re off the track
· And trains us in righteousness so that we can be equipped to serve God.
How does it do that???
In Isaiah 55:10-11 God declared: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Scripture has power because God gave it that power. Whenever we read His Word, God promises it will do something forceful in our lives.
Hebrews 4:12 goes even further by telling us “… the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
ILLUS: One preacher noted that it’s not the student that examines Scripture… it is the Scripture that examines the student. (Bonhoffer)
The words of the Bible have power to probe our very inner thoughts because God has wants His Words to work on us and change us. That’s why personal Bible study is so important. That’s why being at church every week is so critical. We need to constantly expose ourselves to God’s life-changing WORDS.
But Creeds don’t have that power.
If a person can’t be protected by the teachings that are found in the Bible…
If they will not be changed by the words of Scripture…
If God’s Word can’t serve to teach, rebuke, correct and train them…
No creed is ever going to get the job done.
No confession or catechism will ever fill the gap.
It’s the Bible or nothing.
A 3rd problem with creeds, and confessions, and things of that nature is that they are changeable.
ILLUS: Someone has noted that “The Ten Commandments were written on stone, not in metal, clay, or mud which can be melted, shaped or molded. None of the commandments - like the tablets on which they were carved - are malleable. Each can be broken, but not altered.” (Timothy P. Buchanan Christian Standard 9/2/01)
The problem with the creeds created by men is that they are malleable. Men can alter them at will. They can even vote on them.
ILLUS: I once asked a denominational preacher to explain his church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit (which I found difficult to find Biblical backing for). He told me he could do better than that… he’d give me their “book of doctrine” (their creedal book) that could explain that doctrine.
I thanked him and told him I’d get it back to him the next week.
“Ah, no, that’s ok”, He said. I could keep it because they had a new one coming out before long. And then he said “we vote on our doctrine every two years”.
It was all I could do to keep my chin from hitting the table.
THEY VOTED on their doctrine.
I’m sorry, you don’t get to vote on that stuff.
ILLUS: When Moses bro’t the 10 commandments down from the mountain God didn’t submit them to the Israelites for a vote.
The concept is patently absurd.
And yet, that is the very nature of creeds. They were arrived at by vote and they can be altered by vote.
Our last problem with Creeds is that they are inherently divisive.
Every denomination has their OWN creed.
And their creedal statement serves to distinguish that group and their doctrine from all other denominations and groups.
ILLUS: A church historian by the name of Philip Schaff wrote a book entitled “The Creeds of Christendom” In his book he wrote: “the first object of creeds was to distinguish the Church from the world, from Jews and heathen,
afterwards orthodoxy from heresy
and finally denomination from denomination.”
Creeds serve to distinguish and divide denomination from denomination.
Now, compare that present purpose of creeds with Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John.
John 17:20-21 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus’ stated purpose was to make His church ONE. But creeds contradict that objective.
ILLUS: When our brotherhood got started a couple hundred years ago, it was made up of people who’d come out of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist traditions. They were all frustrated by the divisiveness they saw in Christendom, and ONE of the underlying reasons for that divisiveness (as they saw it) was the use of Creeds by their denominations and others.
It has been the repeated message of the churches of Christ/ Christian Churches that if you removed the creeds, confessions and catechisms from churches they’d have no choice but to return to Scripture - sole source of authority. It would remove the “distinctiveness” of their denominational heritage and encourage their people to seek to be distinctive only in Christ and only based on His Word.
ILLUS: Our Hispanic minister just told me this weekend of having conversations with the preacher from a Hispanic speaking congregation who was leaving their denominational moorings. They wanted to simply be “Christians Only”. Rafael told him, “Hey, let me tell you about some of things we believe.” And he began telling this other preacher about the value of returning to simple Biblical concepts. The message still has power and value.
SO let me revue… the problem with Creeds is that…
· They are often given authority equal with God’s Word… but they’re not God’s word… they are merely commentaries composed by men.
· They don’t have the power to protect us from heresy… only Scripture can do that
· Creeds are changeable – created by men, they can be changed by men.
· And lastly if we try to rely upon Creeds, they only serve to divide Christ’s church
So, our brotherhood has always clung to the motto:
“No Creed but Christ, no Book but the Bible, and No Law but Love”
But what does that mean?
It means that – in order to belong to this church – you don’t need to go thru a long list of questions to determine your doctrinal purity. Our only creed is Christ. The only thing you need to know is Jesus to start out.
Colossians 2:6-7 says
“… just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live IN HIM, rooted and built up IN HIM, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
Colossians 2:9-10 goes on to say “For IN CHRIST all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness IN CHRIST, who is the head over every power and authority.”
Our job – before you come to Christ – was to teach you to know Jesus and our only source of the information to that should have been The Bible. AND everything we did in bringing you into Christ had to point to Christ.
Colossians 2:11-12 says that when you BECAME a child of Jesus “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, (in other words, Jesus doesn’t remove skin from your body… but SIN from your heart) having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”
When you’re buried in the waters of baptism, you are identifying with Christ’s death burial and resurrection. And tho’ another Christian may physically raise you out of the water you are actually raised up from being dead in your sins, by your faith in the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead.
At that point, you’re a Christian
At that point, you are a part of the church – you member of Christ’s body.
And from that point on, it was the job of the preacher and the Elders, Sunday School teachers,
and older members of the congregation to train you on good doctrine.
We’re to train you in what to believe, and how to live as a member of Christ’s family.
And our sole source of information on what you should believe and you should live… BIBLE.
Thus, our creed is Christ – He’s all you need to know to belong here
Our only book is the Bible – That is the ONLY source of our information
And our Law in the church is Love – because that is the Law Jesus has given us.
Without Christ – no creed has any value
Without Scripture – there is no way to know anything about Jesus
And without Love – there is no way that any creed or doctrine will please our Savior.