The Real Protestant Position on the All-Sufficient Bible
In our first article in this series we learned that Jesus Christ is an All-Sufficient Savior. In last month's TRUTH we studied with you a lesson, pointing out that the Bible claims to be an All- Sufficient Book. We then observed that the Catholics deny the all-sufficiency of the Bible by maintaining that something more than the Bible is needed: namely, tradition and the living voice of the church. The Jews deny the all-sufficiency of the Bible in an inverse way, denying that all of the Bible is needed. They would have us discard the New Testament. Then quotations were presented from Martin Luther, Chillingworth, Alexander Campbell, and from the creeds of the Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists to show that theoretically the Protestants believe in an all- sufficient Bible. The purpose of this article is to show that the statements made in those quotations from Protestants do not represent the real Protestant position.
In almost every Protestant church there is a formal set of rules in addition to the Bible that is binding upon the membership of that denomination. These rules are known by various names in different denominations. Some call these rules simply their "Creed." Others call them by the terms "Manual," "Confession of Faith," and "Discipline." In many denominations the so-called "lay members" often do not know that such a creed even exists. Gospel preachers frequently make a mistake in quoting from some creed book without telling the hearers to whom the creed book belongs. The preacher assumes the denominationalists know something about their own creed. And they, knowing not they even have a creed, assurne he is talking about someone else. So that the lesson the preacher would impress is lost. But in virtually every Protestant denominational church there are rules other than the Bible binding on the membership, the violation of which excludes them from communion debars from membership. Some Protestants are bound by teachings of John Calvin, some by the doctrines of Zwingle, and others by the dogmas of Martin Luther. Some are bound by the actions taken at Geneva; others by those decisions rendered at Westminster, Augsburg or Zurich.
To be consistent with the quotations cited in last month's article that assert faith in the all-sufficient of the Bible these Protestants must give up their creeds. One consistently cannot believe in an all-sufficient Bible, and at the same time be bound by rules other than those found in the Bible. Either the Protestant principles must be sacrificed (and they must cease to affirm faith in the all-sufficiency of the Bible) or the Protestant creeds must go. One can give up the creeds and retain all the wisdom, truth, precepts, promises, hopes, enjoyments, instructions and consolations which God provides us. By giving up their creeds, the Protestants would lose only their inconsistency.
The Protestant reformation was begun on two basic tenets: (1) The all-sufficiency of the Bible, and (2) The right to study the Bible for ourselves, and not be bound by someone else's interpretation of it. But if the right of private study of the Bible is really our right, then Protestant creeds are wrong in restricting it. If the right of private judgment is not actually a right, then Luther, Calvin, Zwingle, etc., were wrong in breaking away from the Catholic church. The Protestants have only changed masers. The Catholics are bound by a Pope. The Protestants are now bound by many paper "Popes" called "Creeds." Catholics can think for themselves, so long as they are careful to think in harmony with Catholic teaching. (Witness Senator John Kennedy who recently attempted to state his belief that one's duty in political office is the highest duty one could hold. The Catholic officials were quick to tell him he was wrong, and that his first allegiance was to the Catholic Church.) The Protestant is in the same predicament as the Catholic. The Protestant can think for himself so long as he is careful to think in harmony with the creed. This statement is proved by the various heresy trials that are held, in which one is declared to he either guilty or not guilty, depending on whether he has taught contrarily to, or consistently with the "Confession of Faith" or some other creed.
THE DEFENSE MADE FOR CREEDS - These creeds are here. Those who are yoked with them therefore must try to make some sort of defense for their existence. Below are some of the arguments made in defense of the creeds.
1. "The creeds are not really binding on us." This argument is usually made by some member of the denomination that really does not know what he is talking about. Some churches may be more lax than others in enforcing adherence to the creed. But all attempt to some degree to see that their creed is respected by those in the denomination. Many denominations ask prospective members if they will agree to abide by the rules set forth in the creed. Too, most denominations have their preachers pass some kind of examination (either written or oral) sufficient to show that they are orthodox (i.e., that their preaching will be compatible with the creed) before giving them a license to preach. If there is ever any question about the teaching of the preachers, they will be given a "hearing" in which they will be questioned as to whether their teaching is in harmony with the creed. The license of many Protestant preachers has been taken away from them because their teaching is not in harmony with the creed. Further, if the creed does not bind, what does it do anyway?
2. "They contain the 'Juice and marrow' of the Scriptures." This implies that God profitably could have given us His Word in a more condensed form. Obviously no such condensation of the Bible as these creeds purport to be was drawn up by the apostles in New Testament times else it scrupulously would have been guarded and preserved for us. I ask, "Did the Holy Spirit hinder competent men, such as the apostles, from drawing up creeds that the work might be left to incompetent men?" This sufficiently should indicate that God did not intend for His Word to be tampered with by man, whether the tampering consists of condensing or swelling the Biblical volume.
3. "The creeds are in harmony with the Scripture, or at least they do not contradict the Scriptures." This is not enough to justify their existence. If the creeds do not constitute some improvement over the Scriptures, there is really no reason for their existence. If they contain more than the Bible contains, they contain too much. If they contain less than the Bible contains, they contain too little. If they contain only what the Bible contains, there is no need for them. If they are either worse than the Bible or merely are no better than the Bible, there is no reason for creeds' existence. Therefore the creed-makers must think they have improved upon the Bible, the work of God, in some ways. Do those of you who subscribe to these creeds actually think man has improved God's work?
4. "The creeds are drawn up by the most intelligent men in our church." For this reason, many are reluctant to differ with the content of their creed. If one admits that the best men in their respective Churches wrote the creeds, still they are to be condemned. Are you willing to be guided in religion by what any man has written? Though the authors of the creeds may be the best men available, even they will not claim to be perfect guides. Uninspired men are blind leaders, "and if the blind guide the blind, both shall fall into a pit" (Matt. 15:14).
5. "Creeds are necessary as standards by which orthodoxy may be maintained." Surely God must have known this if it is true. And if it were true, then God would have provided us with an inspired creed in addition to the Bible. Man has no more fathomed God's Word than he has God's creation. The scientists formulate no creed, crystallizing the present status of knowledge of the universe in an effort to keep out scientific heresy. This would prevent in any further study, or at least would make any further study pointless. In like manner, the binding of creeds crystallizes the status of knowledge of the Bible, and binds the conclusions of the creed-writers upon all men until the creed is revised.
CHARGES TO BE MADE AGAINST CREED-WRITING - There are many of us who are simply New Testament Christians, and are therefore neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jew. We refuse to be bound by anything more or less than the Word of God. We have no creed book other than the Bible. We believe we have good reasons for not submitting to any creed. Following are some of those reasons.
1. "The existence of any creed insults God." The making of a creed implies that the makers of the creed thought it was needed. If a creed is needed, either (1) God did not know what kind of a revelation man needed (which insults the Omniscience of God), or (2) God knew what kind of revelation man needed, but he could not provide it (which insults the Omnipotence of God), or (3) God knew what kind of revelation man needed and could have granted his need, but would not do so (which insults the Goodness of God). So the existence of any creed insults either the Wisdom of God, or the Power of God, or the Goodness of God.
2. "Creeds often give a false view of the Faith." If the men who wrote the creeds had perfect knowledge, there still would be no need of a creed. But these men are not perfect in their knowledge. Their imperfections are therefore inserted into the creeds and bound upon those for whom the creeds are written. Creeds present speculations on metaphysics, on the divine nature, on the human mind, the origin of evil. and freedom as though these speculations were divine truth. Thus New Testament Christianity is often misrepresented because some charge the Bible with fale positions taken in a creed.
3. "Creeds are mainly the off-spring of extreme views." Most of the creeds were born in controversy. In revolt against what one thinks to be an extreme, one often goes to the opposite extreme. These extremes are then written into the creed. The doctrine of salvation by faith only that made its way into most Protestant creeds got there as an effort to counteract an opposite extreme of salvation by meritorious works. The Bible teaches salvation by faith, but not by faith only (James 2:24), and salvation by works, but not by works only.
4. "Creeds make an unprejudiced study of the Scriptures virtually impossible." One subscribes to the creed when he becomes a member of the denomination. In Catholicism one is obligated never to question the decrees passed on to him. In Protestantism, one is excluded from the denomination if he differs with the accepted creed. "Having once taken the step, we all know the difficulty in the way of formal retraction. Men have an instinctive dread of being called inconsistent. And with most men consistency means never to change" (J. S. Lamar, The Organon of Scripture, pg. 165).
5. "An All-Sufficient Bible allows no place for creeds of any kind." The faith was once for all delivered (Jude 3). No other set of rules should be bound upon us. Therefore there is no place today for creeds. There also is no place for so-called latter day revelations, such as The Book of Mormon, Science and Health With a Key to the Scriptures, or the alleged inspired Adventist' or Jehovah Witness' publications. An All-Sufficient revelation also precludes the need for "Inspired preachers," as some claim to be in our day. An All-Sufficient Bible, just like in All-Sufficient Savior, will share its place with no other. Christ will be either Lord of all, or not Lord at all. We must likewise accept all of the Bible and nothing more than the Bible, or none of the Bible.
The Catholic, Jew and Protestant all either explicitly or implicitly deny the All-Sufficiency of the Bible. The New Testament Christian, believing an infinite God to be the Bible's Author, believes it to be All-Sufficient and alone Sufficient.
( Next month we will present a study on "All-Sufficiency in Worship" to be followed by some studies on "All-Sufficient Church" - C.W.)
Truth Magazine IV:5, p. 9-11