Monday, March 19, 2007

A Good Creed Seldom goes Unpunished (Condensed)

What I am reading today over at Reformation 21...

A Good Creed Seldom goes Unpunished

By Carl Trueman

I have a sneaking suspicion that the cry of `No creed but the Bible!’ has often meant rather `I have my creed, but I’m not going to tell you what it is so that you can’t know what it is and thus cannot criticize it or me for holding it.’


I certainly regard scripture as uniquely authoritative and divinely inspired; but I also appreciate the help which the insights of others over the centuries gives me into scripture’s meaning and application; I also delight to identify myself with Christians through the ages who have worshipped the same God; and in this context I place a special premium on creeds and confessions for two very important reasons. First, the church is more than just a collection of individuals; it is the community of those united to Christ and the community of the Word and sacraments, and as such has a special place in God’s redemptive plan. Thus, I take much more seriously the consensus declarations of the church (problematic as that now is, given the diversity of denominations) than the individual statements of particular theologians.

Second, the consensus nature of creeds and confessions is particularly attractive and important. The fact that most creeds and confessions were formulated partly in response to political pressure is often seen as bad thing, but I am not so sure that such is inevitably the case. Each year as I teach in the councils of Nicea, Constantinople and Chalcedon, students express concern at the sleazy political chicanery that lies in the background to these events; yet the fact that a creed is formulated in such situations does not make its teaching of necessity less biblically coherent, any more than my total depravity inevitably undermines my occasional attempts to preach God’s word; and, on the positive side, it does mean that such creeds are no more exclusive than they have to be. Yes, they clearly rule out of bounds particular positions; but they are designed to keep as many on board as possible, and this ecumenicity of theological and ecclesiastical intention was arguably reinforced on many occasions by political expediency.


In short, I regard creeds as important because they are documents approved by the church, or at least by particular churches, and thus have more status than the writings of any individual Christian; they generally represent in intention a desire to reflect consensus among Christians; their negative, boundary-setting thrust means that they leave room for discussion, disagreement and thoughtful theologizing, albeit within churchly limits; and they essentially focus on the real core doctrines. In sum, I might say that they give those of us who adhere to them a place to stand both doctrinally and historically, and thus to lay our views open for appropriate public scrutiny and challenge.


The church must never compromise the unique authority of the Bible, must always focus on the basic essentials which cross time and space, but must also speak thoughtfully, to the here and now. Historic creeds and contemporary declarations thus both have their part to play in making the church’s voice a relevant voice.

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