Why Christians Need Confessions, Part 10
In his address Miller lists five main objections to Creeds and Confessions and then he gives a response to those objections. In this weekly thought I am going to summarize the objections and the response given.
First Objection: Forming a Creed, and requiring subscription to it as a religious test, is superseding the Bible, and making a human composition instead of the Bible a standard of faith.
No Protestant considers a Creed equal or superior to the Scriptures. The Bible is our rule of faith and practice. A Creed is merely a summary of what Scripture teaches. A person in subscribing to a Creed is simply saying, “Here is how I understand the Bible.” In other words, “This is what I believe Scripture teaches.” The fact that men can misinterpret Scripture and look at it in opposite ways shows the necessity of Creeds and Confessions.
Second Objection: They interfere with the rights of conscience, and naturally lead to oppression.
As far as I know there are no Churches that require people to be members of them or that require subscription to Creeds and Confessions. Membership in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is voluntary. A person takes our five membership vows of their own will, not under duress or coercion. Church officers (Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders, and Deacons) voluntarily take a vow that they receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church. No one is forced to become a Church officer, but neither should anyone presume to be an officer in this denomination if they do not believe the Westminster Standards accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible.
Third Objection: It is unfriendly to free inquiry.
The idea behind this objection is that this is unfair to a man who once subscribes to a Creed and then continues to learn and grow. He then somehow gets to the point where he no longer believes all that is in the Creed. Rather than this be an objection, this again shows the importance of Creeds and Confessions. This is where we all have to be honest with what we believe. There are some standards to Christianity. Sometimes disagreements are brothers disagreeing with matters of opinion. At other times differing thoughts could be heresy. Just like no one is forced to join any Church or denomination, no one is forced to stay bound to a group of Christians whom they disagree with doctrinally.
Fourth Objection: They have altogether failed to answer the purpose professed to be intended by them.
This person would say, because Creeds and Confessions have not completely banished dissension and discord within the Churches that have adopted them, therefore they are of no use. The Bible itself does not, in and of itself, banish dissension and discord from the Church. It is the sinfulness of man that causes discord and dissension, not the Creed or Confession.
Fifth and final Objection: Creeds have not only failed, but have produced the opposite evils, to generate discord and strife.
In those Churches which have esteemed and regarded Creeds and Confessions, they have seen great union and peace. It is usually the lack of a faithful regard to such Confessions which has led to division and strife in the Church of Christ. Such was the case at the beginning of our denomination. When Church officers begin to disregard the Confession of the Church, or pick and choose which parts to adhere to, then unity becomes impossible.
(from Samuel Miller, The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions; an 1824 address to the students of Princeton Seminary.)