By Cecil Willis
There are many different religious organizations in existence in our country this day. A multitude of differences separate and divide these religious groups. Yet they have one thing in common. They each have a creed. The English word “creed” comes from the Latin “credo,” which means “I believe.” Strictly speaking, a “creed” would only be what one believes. The dictionary defines “creed” as being “a brief, authoritative formula of religious belief.” The Church of Christ has a creed, but it is very unlike the creeds of denominationalism. Its creed, that which we believe, is the New Testament. It has no other creed. But almost without exception, religious organizations founded by men have a man-written creed.
During the time that I have been preaching I have continually run into this difficulty: most of the people in denominational churches are not even aware of the fact that their church has a man-made creed. And this creed is, as the dictionary said, “a brief, authoritative formula of religious belief.” It is considered to be authoritative in these different churches. Different denominations call their creeds by different names. Some will speak of a “Discipline,” some of their “Confession of Faith,” others will speak of their “Rule of Faith and Practice,” some have a “Manual.” But just about every denominational church that I have encountered has a man-made creed of some kind. If you are a member of a denominational church, let me suggest that you get hold of a copy of the creed of your church. I have copies of the “Creeds” of most of the more prominent churches. You will be surprised to find some of the things taught in your creed.
In order to be admitted to many denominational churches, one has first to confess allegiance to the creed. He has to promise to abide by the decrees of the creed-writing council. Remember, these creeds purport to be an authoritative statement of religious faith for that particular denomination. If you do not believe what is authoritatively stated in your creed book, the church to which the creed belongs is no proper place for you. But even more than that, if the church to which you belong has a man-made creed, you are not in the right church. The church of the Lord has a divinely written creed-book, the New Testament. Churches of Christ do not have man-made creeds.
Objections to Creeds
There are certain very weighty objections that are to be made against the practice of creed-making. These objections are applicable to any specific creed written by man. (1) First, let us point out that it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps (Jer. 10:23). Had man been able to write his own creed book, there would have been no need for God to reveal His revelation. Solomon gave us a very timely warning on this point when he said, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; But the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). Isaiah, the prophet, reiterated this same truth in this language: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8,9). The best that you can say about your creed is that it is written by the best men in your church. But observe the difference. Your creed is written by men; that which I believe, my creed, is written by God, through inspired writers. Regardless of how good men may be, they yet are unable to improve upon what God has already said to us. The apostle Paul pointed out the futility of trusting in men in 1 Cor. 1. “For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe …. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:18-21,25). That which is often mere foolishness in the sight of man is great wisdom with God. And that which is often wisdom in the views of men is mere foolishness with God. A group of men whom the world deems to be wise may write a creed that “seems right unto a man,” but the ends thereof are the ways of death. The best you can say of these creeds is that they contain the combined wisdom of a group of fallible men. And this is not enough to guide you from earth to heaven.
(2) A second reason why men should not be engaged in the nefarious business of creed-writing is because it impeaches the wisdom of God. Why do men need to write a creed? Is it because God did not do a good enough job when he wrote the New Testament? Did He omit things that the creed-writing committee can prove should have been inserted into His revelation? Every time a meeting is held with the intention of writing a creed for a group professing to be followers of Christ, God is slurred. Was God not wise enough to give us an adequate revelation?
(3) And if one does not impeach the wisdom of God, but should still insist that a conclave of men needs to write a creed by which they shall be guided in their religious life if God’s wisdom is not impeached, His goodness must be. If God could give us an adequate revelation, and did not, why did He not? Was it because He was not good enough? Did He purposely clothe His revelation in such ambiguous language that it remained for the creed-makers to make plain for the first time what God meant?
(4) The practice of writing creeds censures the revelation of the Spirit. It says that the Bible is inadequate. There were no such creeds in the New Testament era. There were no “Church Manuals,” or “Disciplines,” or “Confessions of Faith” in the New Testament period. None of these creed-books is older than the denomination for which it speaks authoritatively. And none of these denominations can be traced back more than a very few hundred years. How did the New Testament Church get along without these creeds? The simple truth is that they got along quite well with the revelation of the Spirit, which is recorded in the New Testament. It contains all that you could ever want or need. Human creeds slander the Bible by insinuating that it is inadequate.
But if the New Testament makes anything plain, it is that it is all-sufficient. To say that the New Testament is all-sufficient is to say that it is equal to the end proposed. Now it is true that the New Testament does not tell one how to operate a man-made church, for it was never proposed for that purpose. It was intended to tell one how to enter, and live in the Lord’s church in such a way as to go to heaven when he dies. Paul said, “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16,17). The Bible is complete, perfect. It does not need supplementation from any group of men. It is God’s revelation just as God gave it, and man had’better leave it like it is. Peter said, “seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3). The Bible grants all things that pertain to life and godliness. My friends, if I know my heart like I think I do, that is all that I am interested in. The message in the Scriptures is adequate to save. What more does one need? What more should one want? James said, “Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). If God’s word does what it says it does, then the creeds of men are not needed. If the Scriptures are adequate for our salvation, what more could a creed-writing committee give us? Yet nearly every denomination has undertaken to write its own creed.
(5) A fifth objection to the creeds of men is this: if they should contain more or less than the Bible, they are to be rejected, and if they contain only the Bible, they are unnecessary. If I were to ask a member of a denominational church which creed I should accept, I am sure he would tell me to accept the one that is nearest like the Bible. The Bible tells us “if any man shall add unto them (prophecies of this book), God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18,19). One must neither add to nor take from the words of the Bible. If a creed contains mote than the Bible, it contains too much, and is therefore to be rejected. But if a creed contains less than the Bible, it contains too little, and therefore must be rejected. But suppose a group of men were able to construct a creed that contains no more or no less than the Bible, what would be its additional value. It would be unnecessary. If it says only what the Bible says, why not accept the inspired word of God rather than the product of men? There is no reason that can be given that is sufficient to justify the efforts of the creed-makers.
Arguments Favoring Creeds
While there really has never been a valid reason given for the writing of creeds, there have been several attempts made to justify the writing of them. (1) Probably the most frequently stated reason for the writing of creeds is that they are plainer than the Bible. They can reduce to fewer statements the word of God. However, one can have much more difficulty understanding what the creeds say than understanding what the Bible says. And they are not as simple as these men would have us believe. For example once I saw a book advertisement concerning a ten-volume series of books by Herman Hoeksema that had just been completed on the Heidelberg Catechism, the Reformed Confession of 1563. To assert that the creeds written by men are plainer than the Bible inspired of God, is to cast reflection either upon the power or the goodness of God. The Bible claims that it is a book that can be understood by men. Either it is, or it makes a false claim. Jesus said, “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (Jn. 7:17).
(2) The second reason given for the writing of creeds is an absurdity. We are told that the creeds are necessary to unity. I wonder if the New Testament church never had any unity before the writing of the creeds. In fact, my friends, I know of nothing that has caused more division than the creeds and councils of men. If we can never achieve unity until creeds are written, the New Testament is defective. There are now, perhaps, a few hundred creeds and catechisms in existence, and yet we are a long way from having unity. Actually, every new creed gives birth to a new religious sect. This seems to be a pretty poor way to create unity. In John 17 we find a record of one of our Lord’s prayers. When praying for the disciples, He said, “Neither for these (apostles) only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (Jno. 17:20,21). The unity of the disciples depends upon the words of the apostles, not upon the dictates of the creed-writers.
The church of Christ is of divine, not human origin. No man started it. Christ was its builder. It is not of recent origin. One has to go back to 33 A.D. to find its beginning. It was started on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Being divine in its beginning, it likewise has a divine charter. Its rule of faith and practice was not drawn up by a group of uninspired wise men. Rather, its guide-book, the Bible, was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. They spoke not from themselves, but spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21), not in words which man’s wisdom taught, but which the Spirit taught, combining spiritual thoughts with the spirit given words (1 Cor. 2:13). This is our only creed. And any deviation from it must be protested and halted. We must speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.
Truth Magazine XIX: 55, pp. 867-870
December 4, 1975