THERE is some difference between creeds and confessions of faith. Creed, from the Latin credo, is a brief statement of a few of the cardinal and undisputed doctrines of the gospel, such as the Apostles' Creed; while confessions of faith are more elaborate, including theological expositions, and are intended as a standard in public teaching. A creed or confession of faith may represent the cardinal doctrines of a separate denomination, or it may represent the faith of the church universal. The Westminster Confession represents the faith of the Presbyterian Church, while the Apostles' Creed represents the faith of the church universal. Whatever objections may be raised against confessions of faith, they stand as the "crystalline reflex of thought of the church, the expression of her vital faith, and the pulse of her spiritual life."

Creeds and confessions of faith are not, as some affirm, the cause of differences of opinion, but the result. Creeds do not make sects, but sects make creeds. The objection is not well taken, because it puts the "cause for the effect, and the effect for the cause." The truth as taught by Jesus Christ is for the most part in concrete form, and can hardly fail to engage the attention of thoughtful men, and to draw out in definite form a summary of all the cardinal doctrines taught by him. The study of the great creeds and confessions of Christendom, as they rise before us during the ages past, is but the "study of theology in its highest historical development in its reflex settlement

after the great agitations of Christian thought had run their course.' They are simply statements of what men believe to be the fundamental doctrines taught in the Holy Scriptures. Written creeds and confessions are sometimes called symbols or symbolical books- "an abstract or compendium of faith or doctrine-a summary of the articles of religion."1

What is known as the "Apostles' Creed" is the most ancient form of creeds. There are fragments of creeds to be met with in the early records of the church, but they are only fragments. Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Gregory, and Lucian each collected and presented some remnants of creeds, but by whom they were written and to what extent used in the church we are not informed. Concerning the so-called Apostles' Creed, there is no reliable evidence that it was formulated by the apostles themselves. Indeed the evidence is that it was not. In one form and another it existed in the church soon after the time of the apostles, but no two forms were exactly alike. This fact, without any further proof, is evidence that it was not drawn up by the apostles. This creed in its present form cannot be traced beyond the fifth century. Dr. Schaff says that "the Apostles' Creed itself is a gradual growth of three or four centuries, and was not completed until the time of Jerome and Augustine." By whom it was first formulated we are not informed; neither do we know at what time, only that it was soon after the days of the apostles. The confession of Peter found in Matthew 16: 16, and the baptismal formula found in Matthew 28: 19, would seem to be the basis of the so-called Apostles' Creed.

The Nicene or Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed received, with slight exceptions, its final and present form from the ecumenical council held at Constantinople, A.D. 381. This creed was developed from an earlier creed, and grew out of a conflict of opinion concerning the dignity and character of Christ. It is similar in many respects to the Apostles' Creed, only it is more ecumenical. Dr. Hodge says of this creed that "in its present form it is

1 Webster.

the creed of the whole Christian church." By this, he means the fundamental doctrines set forth in this creed. The Athanasian Creed is the next monument of doctrinal truth we find in the early church. It has been attributed to Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. While it contains much of the doctrine held and taught by him, especially concerning the Trinity, it is nevertheless very evident that the creed was not composed by him. Athanasius died in 373, while the creed was the product of the fifth century.

These three creeds were all that obtained prior to the Reformation. There were formulas and fragments of creeds from and after the second century, but none were received or accepted by the church general except the three above named. From the eighth to the fifteenth century but little was done in the way of formulating or revising creeds. Theology was not wholly neglected, but continued to be cultivated, especially during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. There was not, however, any great freedom of inquiry manifest, but a disposition to "work upon the doctrinal data already adopted and authorized by the church." When the Reformation came, which was an "outburst of new life in the church," new confessions of faith were formulated. Not that any

new truths were discovered, but a flood of new light fell upon old truths. The first confession of faith after the Reformation set in was prepared by Melanchthon, in consultation with Luther. This is known as the Augsburg Confession, which was ratified at the Diet of Augsburg, A.D. 1530. "This," says Dr. Schaff, “struck the keynote to other evangelical confessions, and strengthened the cause of the Reformation everywhere." The leaders in the Reformation were forced, on the principle of self-preservation, to state clearly and distinctly the fundamental doctrines of Christianity in such form as to "include all truth and exclude error."

Objections have been urged against all written creeds and confessions, on the ground that they produce heresies and schism, and are made to take the place of the Holy Scriptures. This objection is not well taken, and cannot

be sustained. The fact is that every Protestant denomination that claims to be Christian reveres the Bible as the only infallible guide, and believes that it, and it alone, contains the only true way of salvation. "The correct idea of a creed," says Dr. Ralston, "is, not that it is intended as a substitute for God's Book, or something superior, or even equal to it, but merely that it is a brief and plain abstract, or summary, of the most important doctrines and duties which the denomination setting them forth believe to be plainly taught in the Holy Scriptures."

Those who oppose all written creeds and insist upon taking the Bible alone as the creed, seem not to be aware of the fact that it is not after all the Bible alone, but the Bible as they interpret it. What is that but their creed — no matter whether it is written or not? Whatever they may say to the contrary, the fact remains that they are not governed by the Bible alone, but by the Bible as they interpret it; "and this interpretation, however it may be arrived at and settled, as agreed to, is, de facto, their creed."

The Bible does not in any one place give a summary of all cardinal doctrines of Christianity; but they are scattered up and down in the Holy Scriptures, and a compendious view of these fundamental truths must be helpful, not only to inform the mind, but also to set forth in distinct articles the particular views held by each denomination. "They act as a basis of ecclesiastical fellowship among those so nearly agreed as to be able to labor together in harmony." The consciences of men are not bound by creeds and confessions, only so far as they are scriptural, and then only by their voluntarily subscribing to them. It should never be overlooked that "a church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation." Any denomination that arrogates to itself the right to exclude from its fellowship those whom Christ has received, presumes to dictate to him the conditions upon which he should save souls.

The arts and sciences, for the most part, have been reduced to a system, and there is no good reason why the

science of our holy Christianity, which is above every other science, should not be reduced to a system. This is one of the purposes of written creeds and confessionsa form of words in which articles of belief are comprehended.

As to creeds and confessions being schismatical, the very opposite is true. Schisms and heresies have been settled by creeds and confessions. The Apostles' Creed, adopted at an early day in the history of the church, has done more to promote unity in the Christian church than all that has been said and done by those who have opposed written creeds and confessions. The Arian heresy was largely suppressed by the adoption of the Nicene Creed in the fourth century. By an addition to that creed the heresy of Macedonius concerning the proper divinity of the Holy Ghost was set aside. Other heresies were eliminated by other additions to the creed. Dr. Ralston makes the following summary: "At Nice the creed was made to assert the proper divinity of Christ; at Constantinople, that of the Holy Ghost; at Ephesus, that the divine and human nature of Christ are united in one person; and at Chalcedon, that both natures remain distinct, and that the humanity is not lost nor absorbed in the divinity."

Thus were these great and fundamental doctrines established in the Christian church at an early day, and have done much in saving the church from schisms and heresies. Fourteen hundred years have come and gone since these great central doctrines of Christianity were established by the Christian fathers, and to-day they are as firmly believed by the great body of Protestants as they were at the time of their adoption. Whatever harm (if any) has come from creeds and confessions has been the result of abuse rather than their proper use. The experience and observation of good men in the ages past teach not only the utility, but the necessity, of written creeds and confessions. The objector who teaches sacred things, if he is honest, will teach what he believes, and will thereby set up some standard of doctrine, and that is his creed. There is not, and cannot be, a Christian organization without a written or oral creed. "Every

« VorigeDoorgaan »