Today we actually get into the heart of Samuel Miller’s 1824 Lecture, The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions. While I would encourage you to read it if you have the interest and have the time, for the sake of these weekly thoughts I merely want to list a main point that Miller made in his address and then give some thoughts and context.
Why do Christians need creeds and confessions? 1. Without a Creed explicitly adopted, it is not easy to see how the ministers and members of any particular church and more especially a large denomination of Christians, can maintain unity among themselves. (Miller)
The fact that God has organized his people to be involved in Churches demands that we have creeds whereby we find agreement. It is not enough for a person to say, “I believe in the Bible,” or “I believe in Jesus.” For then we must ask the questions, “What do you believe about the Bible?” and “What do you believe about Jesus?” Many people today can say, “I believe the Bible is God’s Word,” but they do not believe it is authoritative or infallible or inerrant. Many who claim to follow Christ today take Scripture as a smorgasbord and pick and choose what parts they want to believe and obey. Even those who belong to cults, which deny the basic tenets of Christianity, can say they believe in Christ. It is not the Christ of the Bible in whom they believe. If you get Jesus wrong, you get everything wrong.
Creeds are necessary for Christian unity. Scripture reminds us that we are “one body in Christ,” and “we are members of one another.” We could easily say the Bible is our standard. However, as we look around, we know there are many different Bible believing Churches and Denominations who all claim the Bible as their standard and yet doctrinally are miles apart in faith and practice.
“How can any walk together unless they be agreed? Can a body of worshippers, composed of Calvinists, Arminians, Pelagians, Arians, and Socinians, all pray, and preach, and commune together profitably and comfortably, each retaining the sentiments, feelings, and language appropriate to his denomination? This would be indeed to make the house of God a miserable Babel.” (Miller)
Miller states that no church can be secure in peace or unity without some test of truth, explicitly agreed upon and adopted by her; something publicly known, as a bond of union. A Church, in order to maintain “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and love,” must have a Creed. This is why all officers (Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders, and Deacons) in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church take the following vow, “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?”
We have adopted the Westminster Standards as our confessional standards to promote the purity, the peace and the unity of the Church. This is what we believe to be a summary of what the Bible teaches about matters of faith and life. These confessional standards are not equal to Scripture, nor do they cover every topic that Scripture speaks of. However, they do provide a foundation of faith that Christians can agree on so that the Church is unified. They are also a quick and easy tool to point others to when asked, “What does your Church believe?” or “What does your Church teach?” We are a Confessional, Reformed, Presbyterian, Church that receives and adopts the Westminster Standards as our Creed. To an evangelical world that often adopts a “live and let live” attitude toward faith, life, and doctrine; we may stand out from much of evangelicalism. We may even have to explain what we mean by Confessional, Reformed and Presbyterian. But it is easy to share the foundational and unifying doctrine of the Church when you and I can point someone to the Westminster Confession of Faith and say, “Here is what my Church believes about the Bible (chapter 1), or God (chapter 2), or justification (chapter 11), etc.” May we praise God that creeds serve to unify the body of Christ.