One of the reasons there is such a lack of appreciation for Confessions and Creeds within the church today, is that there is such a widespread underappreciation for biblical doctrine in general. Especially within contemporary American evangelicalism, doctrine is viewed as irrelevant and divisive. American Christians find no problem with defining their own theology because they have a very low view of theology and of its function in the church. It is true, Americans are eternal pragmatists, “never mind theory, show me what works.” We are not interested in propositions, we want what’s practical, and theology is just not practical. At best, the average American Christian sees theology as no more than a set of ancient, outdated propositions believed by the founders of his particular denomination. About as relevant as a history lesson on ancient Babylonian mythology.
Treasures of the Faith
Far from being irrelevant and outdated, the theology expressed in our historic confessions and creeds are treasures of immense value. They are symbols of God’s eternal truths, passed down to us after hundreds of years of struggle and effort by the church, as she sought to understand and make known God’s revelation. Christianity is about truth, truth which has to do with great eternal mysteries. God has revealed that truth in scripture and it is the task of the church to interpret, understand and expound that truth. The historic confessions and creeds of the church are the results of the churches efforts at understanding that truth. In his work Creeds of Christendom, Philip Schaff has stated about creeds, that “they are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible.” A. A. Hodge echoes the same sentiment in his Outlines of Theology when he states concerning the church, “And as she has gradually advanced in the clear discrimination of gospel truth, she has at different periods set down an accurate statement of the results of her new attainments in a creed, or Confession of Faith.”
Therefore, to neglect or cast aside the creeds and confessions of the historic Christian faith, is to show contempt for the biblical truths entrusted to the church by God.
And when we understand what these confessions actually are, it becomes apparent that to cast them aside for our own private theological insight is the height of arrogance. Again, A. A. Hodge makes this very humbling point, “The real question between the church and the impugners of human creeds, is not, as the latter often pretend, between the word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God’s people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the individual objector.”
So, why do confessions matter?
They matter because they embody hundreds of years of serious and critical thought on the part of the collective body of God’s people concerning the great mysteries of God revealed in scripture. These mysteries have been entrusted to us (1Cor. 4:1). We are to guard them (1Tim. 6:20); take heed to them (1Tim. 4:16); uphold them (1Tim. 3:15) and teach them (2 Tim. 2:2). In the creeds and confessions, we have a carefully crafted and well-tested statement of these truths. We don’t have to rely on our own inadequate abilities in dealing with such weighty matters, God has providentially guided His people through the centuries in hammering out reliable statements and interpretations of His truth. Let us not neglect such a tremendous help and treasure.