By Robert F. Turner
First, what has been done? (1) A list of 28 questions was sent to 19 or more men, inlcuding men they believed to be sound. This was more than a simple investigation of prospective preachers whose soundness they had reason to doubt. (2) The questions were accompanied by a letter stating, “This will confirm and demonstrate to the brethren here that every single man with whom this church has fellowship continues to walk `in the old paths’ of divine revelation. . .” That says “fellowship” may hinge on these questions, as they identify those who “walk in the old paths of divine revelation. . .” a big order indeed for 28 questions. Moreoever, (3) the letter says, “men who are drifting would resent and would refuse to answer these simple questions.” That anticipates and impugns the motives of all who would take no part in this process.
I do not believe whoever wrote the 28 questions in-tended to write a creed. I believe the senders made an honest mistake, not understanding the essence of a creed, nor recognizing the serious con-sequences. But regardless of good intentions, the elements of a creed are present in what was done. Big oaks from little acorns grow. If a few objective articles could have been published on the essence of creedalism, with no fmger pointing, I believe this thing could have been put to rest with little harm done. But my efforts along this line were hindered. Now I can only pray this “study” will help brethren to recognize and stop creedal developments.
“Creed” is from the Latin credo (meaning “I believe”). Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary says it is “a brief, authoritative doctrinal formual, intended to define at certain points what is held by a congregation, a synod, or a church to be true and essential, and exclude what is held to be false belief” (look up “orthodox”).
Philip Schaff (Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 1: 4), says, “A creed may cover the whole ground of Christian doctrine and practice, or contain only such points as are deemed fundamental and sufficient, or as have been disputed. It may be declarative, or interrogative in form” (like a list of questions that check for orthodoxy).
In the Campbell-Rice Debate on Creeds (773, 778), Rice names two chief purposes. (1) “A creed is intended to be a public declaration of the great doctrines and truths which we, as a body, understand the Bible to teach. It is not a substitute for the Bible, nor a addition to it. (2) “It is a standard of ministerial qualifications, as well as of the qualifications of other church officers” (his emphasis). He further states, “The Presbyterians have deemed it wise to draw up an outline of the doctrines and truths they understand the Scriptures to teach, and to require all who seek the office of the ministry at their hands, to state distinctly whether they so understand them.” Does that sound vaguely familiar?
A List of Questions or A Creed?
Last year, the elders of the West Columbia, Texas cinuccl sent out a questionnaire to those whom it was supporting and inviting tur meetings to find out what they believed on a number of issues. their moti’i we to err sure that the men were teaching the truth, lest they should be unintentionally supporting someone who was teaching false doctrine. There were 28 questions asked, covering a broad range of subjects, ranging from divorce and remarriage to fellowship, and how matters of human judgment (the covering, weddings and funerals in church buildings, etc.) were handled. Most of those who received the questionnaire responded to the questions and many even commended the elders for their efforts to oversee their work However, two men out of twenty-one objected to the questions and charged that, however well intentioned. the elders had taken the first steps toward formulating a written creed, This exchange is designed to examine this issue: Has a church written a human creed when it sends out a list of questions to those it considers for support or to invite for a meeting?” Although brother Turner did not receive the questions from the West Columbia church, he affirms that it is a creed and brother Halbrook denies, defending the actions of the West Columbia church where he preaches. Neither side wishes to impugn the motives or intentions of the other in this discussion.
Brother Turner initially sent me an article about the subject. Because I had been invited to hold a meeting at West Columbia, I was familiar with the questions and recognized the situation to which he was responding. I hesitated to publish the material. In the meantime, l received another article on the subject from another point of view which I also hesitated to publish. W hen brother Turner contacted me about publishing his article, I suggested publishing the two side by side without additional comment. After reading the other article, we agreed that something better could be arranged. At this point, I contacted brother Halbrook to ask him to defend the practice of the church at West Columbia. Hence, the following arrangement was agreed upon by both brother Halbrook and brother Turner.
Today many think of creeds as synonymous with false doctrines. Most of man’s work does contain error, but a man written list of “I believes,” while not all truth, could be all true and still be a creed. Error is not an essential characteristic of creeds. Note!
I believe in God the Father Almighty and in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the virgin Mary; crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Ghost, the holy church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting.
This so-called Apostles’ Creed, thought to be the first man-made creed in “Christianity,” was inserted in a letter from Marcellus of Ancyra, about 341, “with a view to prove his orthodoxy” (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 2:48). When men of our day set up a document to test for orthodoxy they should expect those who know the history of creeds to question it. Even when true, it is more or less than the whole truth, and promotes man-made standards.
Lard’s Quarterly (Vol. 1, p. 600 published an article on creeds saying, “Aside even from any thing a human creed may contain, we condemn it per se.” And again, “The degrees of approximation to truth are not the point. The thing itself is an apostasy.” In Christian Baptist (Vol. 2:44), A. Campbell says, “I object to all human creeds as terms of communion (fellowship, rt). (1) They say, in effect, `the form of sound words’ (N.T. alone) is not well adapted to our needs. (2) They are designed to exclude the evil and receive the good; but good men will not subscribe for sake of place or office in any church, while evil men who want place or office will subscribe whether they believe or not. (3) They are a source of division.” In Vol. 4, p. 177, he says, “I contend for one divine and infallible creed, and you argue for a human and fallible one along with it, or for the `principle’ of having two creeds.”
I also believe and am confident that I know the truth. I will, and must teach others what “I believe.” But I must insist they look to God for their standard, and not to my beliefs. I have no doubt the senders of the “28” will agree to that statement. But what they did violates its principle an honest mistake that begs correction.
In a different field, yet condemning inner circle comparisons and urging all to look outside themselves to God’s “rule,” Paul put it clearly. “We dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they, measuring them-selves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure toreach even unto you” (2 Cor. 10:12-13).
The “28 questions” are a fixed identical unit, sent alike to all being tested. This can not be justified by Acts 20:28-32, because Paul, for that job, commended them to the “word of (God’s) grace” (v. 32), not by 1 Peter 3:15, for our “reason for hope” is found in the whole truth, not in the “28.” There is no justification in 1 Peter 5:1-4, for feeding the flock requires pointing them to “the Chief Shepherd” whose message is in divine form (the N.T.), not in a specialized unit like the “28.” We do not “try the spirits” by the “28,” but by the words of inspired messengers (1 Jn. 4:6). The “28” is inadequate for guarding against “transgression” (2 Jn. 9-11), for John made the whole “doctrine of Christ” the standard.
Did not Jesus, Peter, and other disciples reply to specific questions asked of them (Jn. 4:9; Acts 11:1-3; Matt. 16:13)? Yes, specific situations provoked appropriate questions, and were answered in the light of truth (Matt. 22:230. But where were either soundness or error tested by a fixed unit of questions? If any elders have reason to believe a prospective teacher is in error, they should question him specifically; not send him the “28” to be used as a testing stone. That is where creedal elements come in. We need not be surprised if the “28” are used by other churches . . . and the creedal concept spreads. Brethren, this is a dangerous course.
The converting of God’s words into thoughts in man’s mind is called “interpretation”; and the words of the “28” must also be “interpreted” in this case without the advantage of inspired words to study. The reader must assume he knows the writers use of “preaching … the church,” how the kingdom figure is “synonymous” with church (I assume like “flock,” “army,” etc.), and like interpretive problems. I believe I know who wrote the “28,” can be charitable, and believe my answers would be accepted. But had I been sent this “test” I would not have signed it not because of its content, but because of its creedal tendencies. Now here is the contrariety of such matters. Agree to the content and I am “in.” Question its tendencies (dare to write such an article as this) and according to some I am egotistical, hiding my convictions, afraid of questions, and so, on and on. I do not approve of such tactics from either side.
I welcome brother Halbrook’s efforts to defend the use of the “28,” and sincerely hope he will do just that. The “28” is certainly not personally oriented. My contacts and correspondence with Ron have been congenial and mutually respectful; and I expect his work and mine to be objective and free from impugning motives. I have stayed in the home of one elder who signed the letter accompanying the “28,” and regard him highly. I do not believe either Ron or his elders intended to write a creed, or purposefully used creedal characteristics. We are both interested in pointing all to God’s perfect message, and to this end invite your prayerful attention.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 11, p. 16-17
June 2, 1994