By Roland Worth, Jr.
When William Barclay wrote his discussion of The Apostles’ Creed for Everyman (Harper & Row, Publishers, New York: 1967), he attempted a rationale for the existence of creeds. He came up with three arguments: “1. A creed is essential to define the faith, The Christian must be able to state what he believes . . . The Christian must be able to say: `Here I stand’ 2. A creed is necessary to provide a norm, standard and touchstone . . . 3: A creed is necessary to provide the material of Christian teaching and preaching” (pages 14-15).
In his discussion he omits to prove two important things: First, he makes no attempt to reconcile the Bible’s claim to being a complete revelation of God’s will with his claim that creeds are needed. But if the Bible is a total revelation then there is absolutely no need for a creed: To use Barclays own words, it allows the Christian “to state what he believes,” it provides the Christian “a norm, standard and touchstone” and “provides the material of Christian teaching and preaching.” In short, if the Bible reveals all of God’s will, then it serves the very purposes creeds are set up for and makes them unnecessary.
Such a revelation is claimed by scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Jude 3; 2 Peter 1:3). A creed can not contain all of God’s will without reproducing verbatim the New Testament. When it contains something different from the Divine will, it hoists skyward the treasonous flag of rebellion against the Divine will. When it contains less than the full Divine will it imposes upon its adherents a judgment as to which of God’s teachings are the most important; does any man really believe that he is smart enough to do that?
Second, Where did God give any denomination or, officials the right to draw up an uninspired creedal statement to bind on others? Mankind can do anything (take a look at Adam in the Bible!), but just because man can do something does not in the least prove that he should act that way or that, if he does, God will approve it. Paul “thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” in short, to .persecute the church (Acts 26:9). No one would deny that Paul could persecute the, church–that it was within his ability-but everyone would deny that he should have. The same is true of creeds. Whenever man acts without Divine authority in religion, he; ends up getting himself into trouble (cf. Leviticus 10:1-3). When the Pharisees acted without Divine authority, what they did bore the label. “tradition.” Since creeds are also without Divine sanction, they must be considered just as much “tradition” as that invented by the Pharisees. Is that good company to walk in?
Although not presented as an argument for creeds, on the very last page of his book he does finally summon up the desire to prove that the early Christians at least set the example of having creeds, “The Church had a creed long before it had the Apostles” Creed. It was very short and very sufficient. It was the uncompromising statement Jesus Christ is Lord (Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11)” (page 384).
Several things are wrong with this argument: (1) The words that he cites are not a creed. No mention is made of the resurrection, of baptism, or of the many other things that creed makers regard as essential to a creed. How then can we regard it as a creed? (2) By admitting that it was “very sufficient” he is unknowingly admitting that all modern creeds are unnecessary. Whence cometh the need for the “Apostles’ Creed” and the other inventions of men? (3) The New Testament writings referred to were produced by inspiration; this is not true of creeds. Divinely imparted knowledge has ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-10), hence the gift essential to writing Divinely endorsed creeds has vanished: Only inspired men would be able to write one with the absolute assurance that they were 100 % correct.
Barclay’s arguments sound good, but only to those ignorant of just how complete a revelation we have in the Bible.
Truth Magazine XIX: 44, pp. 701-702
September 18, 1975