All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all, (2Pe 3:16): yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them, (Psa 119:105; Psa 119:130).The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter One
What this means is that the things in Scripture that are necessary to be known for salvation are plain but there are other points that are not so plain.
To be clear, there are people who do not have the capacity to understand any part of Scripture because they do not have the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14) but they are not the concern of this post.
Anyway, I like the picture above because confessions and creeds keep people, especially laypeople who read the Bible on their own, Christians who sit under poor teaching, and those who are not discipled, from inadvertently veering off into heresy.
Granted, they are not inspired therefore not ultimately authoritative but they have significant value.
“Historically speaking, they are the final crystallization of the elements of evangelical religion, after the conflicts of sixteen hundred years; scientifically speaking, they are the richest and most precise and best-guarded statement ever penned of all that enters into evangelical religion and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world; and religiously speaking, they are a notable monument of spiritual religion”B. B. Warfield on the Westminster Standards
There are pastors and those who consider themselves theologians however, that don’t have as high a view of the confessions and creeds as I do because, ironically…
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly, (2Pe 1:21-22; Act 15:15-16).WCF Chapter One
I said their view is ironic because the very standards they claim Christians should not be so reliant on say exactly the same thing they are saying about interpretation almost word for word.
Further, diminishing the confessions and creeds, stating that they are deficient in some respect, or saying a better practice is relying on one’s own exegesis is dangerous. However well meaning they may be I don’t think there are many things in Christendom worse than someone with a “just me and my Bible” teaching or learning philosophy. I, personally, would not even allow such a person to teach a Sunday School class.
OK, a pastor telling every pastor everywhere that they should never use a Greek word in a sermon unless they speak Greek fluently is worse but, I digress.
Also, I would hate to have to defend the position that the theologians that penned works that have stood up to scrutiny for over 375 years were not guided by the Spirit and did not interpret Scripture as accurately as I can. Where, I would ask a person who throws shade on the confessions and creeds, does your theology differ from, say WCF?
Is exegesis better now? Has theology changed? Why are you right and the WCF wrong?
I am reminded of a conversation I had a while back with a Christian anarchist whose constant refrain was that I need to “let go of my traditions” so I could embrace his conclusions which, I think, is how cults get people to believe then fully embrace the unbelievable.
Whenever I have heard that I need to let go of my traditions over the years it has been from someone who is teaching false doctrine, it never fails. Here is an example from the Christian Left.
Certainly there are religions that claim to be Christian that rely more heavily on tradition than what the Bible clearly teaches, I would never argue against that. But when someone tells a reformed Christian to question, set aside, or disregard their traditions, what they really mean is that they believe they have achieved some higher state of enlightenment than widely respected church fathers and that at least some of their doctrine is bad.
So, are the confessions and creeds divinely inspired and infallible? No, absolutely not. But, here’s the thing, nothing except for the Bible itself is. Not one single sermon, commentary, web page, book, Facebook post, podcast…is.
But knowing the confessions and creeds will serve you well and do exactly what the picture describes.