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Intro: 1 Timothy 4:1-3 – Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
Apostasy has always been a threat to the unity and loyalty of God’s people. The apostle Paul warned Timothy of this danger several times. Later in 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul called on Timothy to “Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge — 21 by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith.”
How do we defend the church (ourselves) from apostasy? How do we guard the trust? What is the proper response to false teaching?
I. Creeds as a Response to doctrinal error: Historically speaking, one way Christendom (those who claimed to follow Christ) have responded to unorthodox teaching and controversy among Christians is through the development of creeds. Many concluded that what was needed when differing teaching emerged was to write up a list of positions or core beliefs and publish it to be used as a standard of judgment on others. Those who do not hold to the published position are considered to be heretics and are cut off and marked.
A. The intent of the creed: The word creed is from the Latin credo, meaning, “I believe.” There is nothing wrong with making a statement of what we believe. It is necessary to take a stand for truth (confession). We may agree with what is stated in a published creed. But a creed is designed to go beyond simply stating a belief. It is an authoritative statement of a position to which others are expected to assent.
1. Those who wrote creeds were not just attempting to write their opinions. They believed they were teaching essential truth.
2. The appearance creeds can be traced to the compilation of what is often called the apostles creed, first mentioned in an ancient letter around 390 A.D. It is often claimed that the text of the apostle’s creed was formulated through the work of the 12 apostles themselves, but there is no evidence that supports this claim. Considered by many to be a pre-baptismal confession. I believe…
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
3. Creeds have punctuated the history of Christian religion;
• The Nicene Creed of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 – Is Jesus divine?
• The Chalcedonian Creed was adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 in Asia Minor. The dual nature of Jesus.
• The Athanasian Creed focused on Trinitarian doctrine. It is the first creed in which the equality of the three persons of the Trinity is explicitly stated and differs from the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds in the inclusion of anathemas, or condemnations of those who disagree with the Creed.
II. The Problem with Creeds: If a creed is simply a statement of what we believe, what is wrong with that? We all do this from time to time. Are we making a creed every time we write an article? Are we making a creed when we oppose error? Does something become a creed because others agree with it? What are the real problems?
A. First, creeds are designed to define and safeguard a fellowship of something greater than any local church. They stake out the boundaries of fellowship on a broad, universal scale. Where is the authority for the church or any group of men to draw the lines of fellowship for a brotherhood of believers? A creed implies that those who do not agree with the creed are to be considered apostate and unworthy of fellowship universally.
1. Fellowship in a local church is the responsibility of a local church as it follows the scriptures. On the universal level, fellowship is in the hands of God. A creed, by its very nature, removes this fellowship from God’s hands and imposes an orthodoxy over a brotherhood so that all can know who is sound and who is not. “With the development of heretical teaching, however, there was a natural tendency to use the creeds as a test of catholic orthodoxy” (Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, p. 147). The word “catholic” means “universal.” Creed-makers will not say that they are trying to force lines of fellowship or issue orthodoxy for a universal brotherhood, but this is exactly the effect.
B. The creed is superimposed on Scripture. Creed-makers violate the principle that the Bible is clear and sufficient, particularly on the boundaries of fellowship; they need a statement telling everyone else where those boundaries are. 2 Tim 3:16-17 – All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. Jude 3 – …contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. 2 Peter 1:3 – … His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,
- The preacher, Ben Franklin, wrote, “No man of intelligence will affirm, in plain terms, that the Bible is not sufficient for the government of the saints; or that man – uninspired man – can make a creed that will serve a better purpose than the Bible. Still such affirmations are implied in every attempt made by uninspired men to make a creed.”
C. The creed assumes a position of authority that is unwarranted. What gives any group of men on a broad scale (whether it is through a paper, college, or any other organized effort) a right to issue a statement to define fellowship in God’s church? Alexander Campbell argued that creeds are not merely human documents “because they are the production of human effort, but because they are also the offspring of human authority…no man can produce any precept or divine warrant for their manufacture. No apostle, prophet, or evangelist gave any authority to any church, community, or council, to furnish such a document”(Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 763).
D. A creed is an instrument of division, not unity. While the creed is designed to unite and prevent apostacy, it actually causes division. Creeds cause parties of men lining up behind the document, and then defending it as if they are defending scripture. The many confessions of faith that emerged from the reformation movement testifies to this effect. Which brings us to the next point…
E. Creeds historically demand revision and elaboration. As various interpretations emerge It became “difficult to stop the process of elaboration, and the need to clarify the document. This tends to enhance the power of the church to properly interpret the scriptures. The process becomes never-ending and self-defeating. There will always be “one more thing” to add to the list of acceptable positions. See the list…
F. A Creed stifles Bible study. By putting a demand on the members of a group to accept the creed, a creed by its nature, strangles any attempts to further study the scriptures. It is designed to be a final answer, and is recorded as such for all to see.
1. We come to together to study the scriptures to become mature to a full-grown man (Eph. 4:12-13) Anything that would effectively end open study is dangerous and wrong. Every generation must go through the process of developing their own faith based on scripture. We are not allowed to simply tell them what they are supposed to believe based on our faith and our discoveries.
2. We must always recheck our own beliefs, no matter how firmly we believe our positions are correct. Our original studies could have been flawed and there are truths we may have missed. How sure were the Pharisees of their Messianic expectations?
3. Our primary allegiance must not be to a group, a brotherhood, or a set of distinguishing beliefs. Our allegiance must be to the truth regardless of the consequences or how others respond to us, negatively or positively. (1 Pet. 4:11 – “speak the very oracles of God”.) By using a human document to line people up on sides, one is forced to trust that everything said in that document is without error, including any expressed opinions. Some will fall in line with the document because it appears so authoritative and confident, but they will not check out and verify for themselves everything taught therein. This is a dangerous situation indeed. It applies not only to official creeds or confessions of faith, but also to brotherhood papers or positions taken by preachers.
Conclusion: The problem with creeds is not opposition to error; nor the statement of what one believes. One can agree with what is contained in the creed (e.g., the Nicene Creed and the Deity of Christ). But the issue with a creed is that it oversteps the line of teaching and authority altogether, and steps upon the hands of God. God alone defines the parameters of fellowship. He alone has universal authority to tell us what we are to believe and practice.
If a creed is a document that defines what I believe, then this is my creed.. (hold up the bible) I dare not believe or practice anything less or more that what is here.
Doy Moyer states this… “A creed is a sectarian trap. If not careful, Christians may fall prey to the allurement of a document, aside from the Bible, that carries the weight of a respected body of men, and seeks to impose their will and orthodoxy on others. Instead, constant reaffirmation of the all-sufficiency of Scripture is needed. Each Christian must study for himself, and rest his confidence in the word of God.