By Ron Halbrook
“No creed but Christ” is the message of the Bible from beginning to end. Christ, and Christ alone, is the Savior promised to all the world as the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:3). He is the great Prophet whom God would send as the culmination of all prophets before him to “speak . . . all that I shall command him” (Deut. 18:18-19). God promised to raise up his Son as “an ensign of the people,” around which all men must rally in order to receive the saving “knowledge of the Lord” (Isa. 11:9-10). There can be no creed but Christ because there is no savior but Christ, no king but Christ, no high priest but Christ, and no lawgiver but Christ.
Jesus Taught “No Creed But Christ”
Jesus taught his disciples “no creed but Christ.” Peter made that very confession when he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ then promised to build his church upon the truth of that creed and promised to rule over this new “kingdom of heaven” by revealing the truth from heaven through his Apostles (Matt. 16:16-19). In the Great Commission, the resurrected Lord sent his Apostles to preach the gospel to all nations. That meant preaching the necessity of a comprehensive, total, obedient faith in Christ and his every word “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Jesus required total commitment to this proposition, “No creed but Christ.” He taught that all the creeds, commandments, and churches of men must be “rooted up” so that the Word of God can reign supreme over the souls of men. When some of his own disciples complained that such preaching was offensive to people who embraced the creeds of men, Jesus said to ignore the criticisms of the offended and let them follow their blind teachers to destruction if they will not hear the truth (Matt. 15:8-14).
John’s account of the gospel is built around the theme “no creed but Christ,” because it is written “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name” (Jn. 20:30-31). Jesus promised “everlasting life” to all who truly believe in the “only begotten Son of God,” but he made it clear that this true faith requires that men be “born of water and of the Spirit” in order to “enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5,16). Jesus taught, “I am the living bread,” and that men must eat of that bread by accepting all that he taught. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” Some of his own disciples found this teaching offensive “and walked no more with him.” Jesus asked his Apostles whether they too would turn away, but Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou halt the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ” (Jn. 6:51, 63-69). “No creed but Christ” means that we recognize the words of Jesus Christ, and his teaching alone, to be spiritual and life-giving. When Christ is our creed, his every word is our creed!
Confessing “No Creed But Christ”
“No creed but Christ” requires an open, vocal confession of Jesus Christ and immersion in water “for the remission of sins.” When the Apostles proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, there was no variation in these requirements, but they were binding upon “every one of you” in every case of conversion (Acts 2:36-38). Preaching Christ in Samaria meant refuting the claims of a false teacher named Simon. Not only were many of his followers converted to “the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ,” but also “Simon himself believed . . . and … was baptized” (Acts 8:5-13). Later, on a lonely road, Philip preached Christ to an Ethiopian man who soon expressed his desire to be baptized. “And Philip said, If thou believed with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Upon this confession of Christ, Philip immersed the Ethiopian in water (Acts 8:26-40).
When Paul preached the gospel, he too taught that men must “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus” and be “baptized into Jesus Christ” in order to be saved by the blood of Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; 6:3-4). “No creed but Christ” means “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). In reality, the confession of this creed means that we will submit ourselves to the teaching of Christ on all matters, including every aspect of daily life (business relations, marriage and family life, speech, dress, recreation, etc.) and every aspect of the identity of his church (its name, doctrine, worship, work, organization, discipline, etc.).
The Rise of Human Creeds
The creed of early Christians was nothing more or less than faith in Jesus Christ and his word as absolute and final in all things. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles warned against the coming gradual departures from that creed as men would usurp the place of God as lawgiver in his kingdom (2 Thess. 2:3-4). Specific departures included doctrines of men “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats” (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Later, the “office of a bishop” was transformed from the work of several qualified men in each local church to a clerical position of power usurped by one man in each of the larger city churches. Local bishops in the Bible were required to be married men with experience in raising children, but the new bishop was forbidden to marry (1 Tim. 3:1-5).
During A.D. 100-300 the false doctrine of apostolic succession arose, claiming that “the bishop” stood in the position of an Apostle of Jesus Christ. “The bishop” functioned as an autocrat or monarch in his domain, exercising powers not authorized by the New Testament. The rise of “the bishop” with its concept of apostolic succession was “the vehicle” for collecting and formulating the supposed oral traditions of the Apostles as the “rule of faith” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church in 8 Vols., II:525).
“The role of the bishop as a bond of unity in the church was reinforced by the development of a creed” (E. E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, 1964, p. 126). Under the leadership of its bishop, “each of the leading churches framed its creed” and later councils of bishops framed universal creeds as the living faith of the church in the living, oral tradition of the Apostles, which was considered consistent with the teaching of Scripture (Schaff, pp. 525-533, seep. 529). For instance, the Apostles’ Creed of A.D. 340 has twelve articles, each of which was thought to have come from the oral teaching of each of the twelve Apostles, each Apostle providing an article. There were several creeds by this same name, all claiming to be authoritative.
In an effort to forge a larger unity, Emperor Constantine called a council of the bishops to Nicaea in 325 and they wrote the Nicene Creed. In the continuing development of Catholicism, other creeds followed. Beginning in the 1500s the denominations which resulted from the Protestant Reformation wrote new creeds, but claimed they had secondary rather than equal authority with the Scriptures. The claim that human writings bear any such authority is the essence of the creedal spirit.
Human creeds embody human traditions as standards of authority in religion, such as the Decrees of the Council of Trent in Roman Catholicism, the Westminster Confession and Catechism in Presbyterianism, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Episcopalianism, the Augsburg Confession of Lutheranism, the Articles of Religion of Methodism, and such like. As Moses Lard noted, “A creed is the organic law of the party which depends upon it for its existence,” which implies that the Word of God is not a sufficient rule of faith and practice (“Human Creeds as Tests of Truth Make Void the Word of God,” Lard’s Quarterly, 1863, I:60-84, see p. 76).
Restoring “No Creed But Christ”
“No creed but Christ” means that the faith and practice of the church of Christ is already found in the New Testament, which makes void any other standard of authority in religion. Human creeds are necessary to sustain the identity of human names, doctrines, and practices which cannot be identified in the New Testament. In the early 1800s, men weary of denominational error and strife began to forsake every human creed and to return to “no creed but Christ.”
Alexander Campbell agreed with a Presbyterian preacher who said that human creeds were necessary to the existence of denominations, but he denied that the New Testament authorizes human creeds or denominations.
The word of the apostles shall be the only creed, formula, and directory of faith, worship, and Christian practice, when the ancient order of things is restored. . . . The constitution and law of the primitive church shall be the constitution and law of the restored church (The Christian Baptist, 1827, II:216-225).
In a debate with N. L. Rice, Campbell affirmed, “Human creeds, as bonds of union and communion, are necessarily heretical and schismatical,” arguing, “The primitive Christians had one, and but one faith, written out for them by apostles and prophets: we have it in one volume, usually called the New Testament” (Campbell-Rice Debate, pp. 759-912, see p. 759). When Campbell was opposed for opposing denominational error and creeds, he responded,
I opposed not one item of the Christian religion…. I do oppose, and will, by the grace of God, oppose, not only almost, but altogether, everything received as the Christian religion, not found in the New Testament, to the utmost of my ability and opportunity, at the risk of everything (The Christian Baptist, I:98-100, see p. 99).
The restoration of New Testament Christianity requires a return to the plea, “No creed but Christ.”
I have preached “no creed but Christ” for over thirty years in opposition to Catholicism, denominationalism, and sectarianism of every kind, identifying the creeds and those who uphold them. Is that same kind of preaching needed today? Professed gospel preachers such as Bill Love in The Core Gospel and C. Leonard Allen in The Cruciform Church argue that such preaching obscures the cross of Christ. I have read articles advising against preaching on “The Sin of Denominationalism,” lest we offend people. One evangelist recently advised a young man who wants to preach not to identify false teachers and religions in sermons, and especially not to preach like Larry Hafley because he identifies the denominations along with their creeds and doctrines by name. Such preaching is said to be “outdated.” The timeless preaching of Jesus and his Apostles named false teachers, creeds, and sects (Matt. 15:1-14; 16:6-12; 2 Tim. 2:16-18).
The only time some preachers cry out against “creeds” is when they protest plain, pointed gospel preaching which exposes religious error because they regard such preaching as creedal, legalistic, Pharisaical, narrow-minded traditionalism. Olan Hicks says we need to “stop being creed makers,” in a context where he means we need to stop opposing the apostasy of instrumental music, church sup-port of human institutions, and his error on divorce and remarriage (News and Notes, January 1994, p. 3). Such are the plaintiff cries of error for toleration, for compromise, and for relief from exposure. Those who truly oppose the doctrines, commandments, and creeds of men will be unmoved by such cries.
Now and always, we must continue to preach with great plainness of speech, “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible!”
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 12, p. 8-9
June 16, 1994