Creeds and Confessions: Why We Need Them and How I Came to Think So…

By Dominic Silla

             If you would have approached me two years ago and said that I would one day be a seminary student I would have told you that you were insane. For me, an easy going, book loving, Calvary Chapel attending, pre-law student I had my heart set on law school. Even from high school I had desired to attend law school, to become a big name lawyer and one day argue cases before the Supreme Court. My time studying at Stockton College only compounded this desire within me. I actually even enjoyed reading law opinions (Scalia and Rehnquist were always my favorite). So what changed? What made me decide to exchange my desire for a lawyers’ briefcase for a pulpit?

Briefly put, my heart was not in law any longer. In addition to my studies at college I was also attending Christian fellowship meetings in the TRLC (shameless plug, Stockton Christian Fellowship is awesome!), learning apologetics and basic defense of the faith (to the satisfaction of the lawyer within me!) and delving deeper into Scripture then I had ever done before. All of this made my heart skip within me when I learned something new and before I knew it…my heart was simply no longer into preparing for law school. This left me almost half-way through my senior year at college with no plans as to where to go after graduation. But wouldn’t you know it, one day one of my friends blurted out, “Why not go to Seminary?”….”HAHA….no” was my initial response. Needless to say, God had other plans.

So I began preliminary research, what seminary’s there were, which ones were closest to my family, which ones were more correct in their doctrine (as I saw things) and which ones were simply just a complete no way. After about a month of research and asking around my mind finally settled on Westminster Theological Seminary, a beautiful choice if I may say so. It had all the things on my short list. Small, close to home, pretty conservative in its doctrine, and in a pretty nice area. I had not however done much research into why they believed what they believed. When I arrived for orientation my fellow students were a buzz talking about things like “The Westminster Confession” the “Canons of Dort” and the “Belgic Confessions”, things I had never heard of before. I had jumped headfirst, it seemed, right into the heart of Reformed Christianity with no parachute.

Coming from several years of attending many a Calvary Chapel, my confession was Christ and my creed was Scripture[1]. When we gathered together on Sundays or Wednesday nights we studied Scripture. In my mind, we were right believing Christians amidst a world of people who had needlessly weighed down the faith with unnecessary additions. So you can imagine my shock when one of the first things I am required to read for school was Chapter 7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Not to mention that in my search for a local Calvary Chapel I stumbled upon Calvary OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), a simple misunderstanding of an internet search for a local Calvary Chapel. Singing hymns and reading the “Apostles Creed” or the “Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed” on Sunday mornings was a true culture shock. It was my “we aren’t in Kansas any more Toto” moment.

But something strange happened; I began to read the confessions. Which ones? All of them! I misunderstood the syllabus for one of my classes (Prolegomena to Theology), and instead of reading only the part assigned, I “accidentally” read straight through to Westminster Confession and Catechisms that evening. And I loved what I found. Here, right in my hands, were the very principles of my faith, laid out in ink on paper. These words were not, so far as I could tell, additions to the faith but core Christian doctrines, backed up by the bottom 80% of the page being filled with the relevant Scripture passages to confirm what that chapter of the confession was saying. The Calvary Chapel boy inside me jumped with joy to see that.

The more I began to learn in my studies at the seminary, especially about the history of the confessions, and what I could pick up in conversation, the more I began to see more and more why these confessions were so important and relevant to Christianity. Of course I did not agree with everything, but at least I had the ability to parse through the basics in a systematic way. But so far, this only brings me to why I like them, it does not answer the question, why do we need them. So lets ask the question outright, why do we as Christians need Confessions of our faith?

When one studies Christian history, one is studying in some fashion Christian creeds. My mind drifts as my first port of call right to Scripture. Would you believe it? Scripture itself within itself has creeds. The two that come to mind are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 and again in Philippians 2:6-11. These passages contain the earliest of the creeds of the Christian Church, sayings that all Christians everywhere agree on. As one moves forward in time we see other early creeds, like the Rule of Faith of Irenaeus[2]. But we come to the big one in 325 A.D…the Council of Nicaea

Nicaea was called in response to the heresy of Arianism, the idea that the Son of God, Christ Jesus, was made by the Father as an intermediary. The saying went “there was a time when the Son was not”[3] and it was in response to the upheaval that was occurring that Emperor Constantine called a general council of the Church. The result of the Council of Nicaea was a creed, later solidified at the Council of Constantinople (381), and found in its final form in the West at the Third Council of Toledo (589), resulted in today what Christians call the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. This Creed has been a foundation for Christian Orthodoxy for the better part of 1600 years and is recited in liturgies across the Christian world, including in the Sunday proceedings at my own Church on communion Sunday, once a month. The unifying power of this creed has changed the face of Christianity, and for the better I think.

The Reformed confessions have had the same effect upon the Protestant denominations as the early Creeds had upon the early church. A great unifying effect to the churches who adopted them and a clear understanding of the doctrines one believes as a Christian has been present because of the creeds and confessions. As a Reformed Christian when someone tells me that they are a Christian, to investigate their claim, if I so choose to do so, I can ask simple questions and I can derive these questions right from the confessions and creeds. “So you say you are a Christian, who is God, how are we saved, what is the chief end of man, what do you believe in reference to Scripture? The creeds gives me the definitions needed on paper to understand and refute error and the Confessions allow me to go right back to Scripture in doing so. Why is God Trinity? How are we as Christian justified before God? The Confession, almost as an index, allows me to jump straight to where I need to be.

Something that Christ promised us is that there would be wolves in a sheep’s clothing who would come to distort and try to drag away our brothers and sister in the faith. Those thieves would come not by entering the gate but they would enter by some other way to steal and destroy. I think the Creeds and Confessions of our faith go a long way in helping us to ward off heresy, like Arianism, Jehovah’s Witnesses (the modern equivalent), Unitarian theology which Scripture itself repudiates, subordinationism in any form (again leading back to Arianism), and many other heretical thoughts and theologies that may otherwise attempt to find root in our faith. Heretics and simply people who believe wrong ideas, use and appeal to Scripture just as right believing Christians do. The Confessions and Creeds help us form coherence in Scripture gathered in one place. They allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and rebut false strands within Christendom. They serve as a measuring rod and as a balance to the doctrines and ideas that arise and are a useful tool to dispense such novel ideas that might show themselves from time to time. The confessions and creeds help us to be watchful and guard the right doctrines of our precious faith.

So it is with joy that I quote from the Westminster Confession of Faith in the 33rd Chapter part III: “As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity:[6] so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen.”

Be on guard my fellow believers, and look to the creeds an confessions to find a strong root to our faith leading right back to the source, Scripture, the Word of God itself.

Footnotes:

[1] I want to point out here, my words are not meant to be taken as a disparaging comment against Calvary Chapel. I find that Calvary Chapel teaches, for the most part, the truth of Scripture and have what I find many churches lacking, a love of the Word of God and a serious understanding of how precious and important it is to our faith. I find CC’s to be some of the most faithful Bible believing Churches out there and pray for their continued ministry to this lost and broken world.

[2] http://www.christian-history.org/irenaeus-rule-of-faith.html

[3] The attribution to Arius himself is shoddy at best but this simple quote gets the point of his theology across.

 

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4 comments

  1. […] Finally, this past month, I have been teaching through the Westminster Shorter Catechism and it has been such a refreshing, relaxing, and educational part of my schedule. Being Covenantaly reformed, as in subscribing to the creeds and confessions of the Church, it makes sense to actually look at them and read them and understand how they get to the points they make Scripturally. I would encourage any brother or sister in Christ to pick up the Westminster Confession, or even the London Baptist Confession.[1] Knowing your Bible is great and all Christians should study it, but having a systematic document to direct your theological convictions is also helpful and encouraging. See my own short article here on the topic. You can find it here! […]

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