Confessions and formalized creeds have been an edifying edition to the Christian faith. Since the beginning of the New Covenant (and even further back since the dawn of teaching), mankind has formalized and rehearsed many sayings, creeds, idioms, and other phrases that have refreshed our minds about a how we ought to think or understand life. Within Christendom, there are certain flavors of creeds and confessions that we Reformed folks hold to very dearly. Assuming that you understand which confessions exist, I seek to make my point quickly. If you have never read a creed, confession, or catechism, I highly suggest you do some research and learn from them.
Having said all that, there is an authoritative flaw in our Reformed circles. I call it he Sixth Sola: Confession Alone. It is this idea that if it is not a part of your confession, it cannot (or in some cases should not) be taught or even considered as biblical. Or, practically speaking, although we do not verbally admit this, when we are discussing Scripture with someone, and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is “X confession says…” when making their case, it is making the confession the ultimate authority in the conversation (unless they are just using the confession as a springboard to talk about Scripture). I am aware that this last statement may have ruffled more feathers than the first, but understand what I am actually saying and do not misinterpret my words. If your first or final authoritative response in any discussion about theology or what the Bible teaches concerning what you believe and why is “the confession says” you have turned a guidepost into a destination.
Most, if not all, creeds, confession, and catechisms are reactive. That is, they are written and formed based off of some other creed or confession that is in opposition, and those forming it wish to distinguish themselves for the opposing party. It can be in response to false teaching (or perceived false teaching), or it can be simply trying to make a stand about a certain belief within a specific community that affirms X belief(s). As I already said, this is not inherently wrong. These are great ways to find out where your stand in your faith. i would argue that it is impossible to say anything without it being “creedle” in some way. But if you do not study the Scriptures and seek to understand why you believe what you believe, and whether or not you think you can agree with these confessions, you are placing the cart before horse. The confessions can point you in a specific direction (guidepost), but they are not the final authority (destination). Our first response in any discussion should be Sola Scriptura, not Sola Confessio (Latin check). Yet, time after time, when I dive into the Scriptures with particular pastors, preachers, and believers who ascribe heavily to confessions and creeds, whenever there are any disagreements or whenever I make my points from Scripture, I am faced with “but the Confession says…” How can this be within a Reformed world whose foundational mindset is supposed to be Scripture Alone?
There can be many reasons why one authoritatively appeals to the a confession more than Scripture. But I think I have narrowed them down to two main roots: Traditionalism and laziness. There is nothing wrong with tradition. Every denomination and person has them. It is when that tradition begins to have authority over Scripture that we have a huge problem. Some people find great joy in holding to the long standing tradition that some of our creeds and confessions teach. Nothing wrong with that if you understand what you believe and why. But it seems that this is not the case with many. By proxy, if you are a traditionalist in this area, you will quote the confession better than you can quote Scripture because you are relying on the confession to approve yourself before God (or men). Unless for whatever reason you don’t have any access to Scripture, or in some way you are only able to memorize Scripture by categorizing them via the confession, there should be no reason why you cannot study for yourself what the Bible teaches within the pages that the confessions are pointing to. Which brings me to my next point.
I find that it is easier to quote a saying, phrase, creed, etc., in place of actually making a verbal argument concerning what you actually believe and why. Nothing wrong with summarizing what you believe, or repeating a summarization of something you would affirm. But If I believe that the reason why man exists is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, why? Because the confession says so? Or because the Scripture quoted in the confessions says so? Have I looked at the listed Scriptures? Have I taken the time to study and reform my thinking in light of the Scriptures that a confession teaches? Will I be courageous to practice Semper Reformanda if I discover some nuance in the Scriptures? Or will I be taking the confession at face value because my community of believers/churches do? Or because the men before me were theological giants who were totally incapable of error even in the minutia? Laziness is what causes us to use the confessions as they were not meant to be used. These are guideposts, not destinations.
Notice, I am not challenging the confessions. Nor am I exhorting anyone to cast away the didactic luxury that they bring to our lives. I am challenging how we think concerning them. We all have a tendency to elevate anything good over God. That is evident in Scripture and in our daily lives. If we find ourselves running to the confessions and creeds as our primary authoritative source for understanding and assurance of our faith in Christ, and we can quote and explain a confession easier than we can explain Scripture and the gospel, we must immediately eject ourselves from the seat of traditionalism and laziness, and we must diligently seek God through the Scriptures for our assurance and understanding. This doesn’t mean we cannot use the confessions to help us in this direction. But once again, where does your affection, affirmation, and assurance of your faith lie? In Scripture Alone, or in the Confession Alone? Is it because the confession says so that you believe X, Y, Z, or is it because you have studied and affirmed that the Scriptures teach it?
One last time, I am not bashing any confession, or the use of them in discussion. But I am standing against any form of authoritative proclamation or behavior that insists that the confession is the first and final say so in any biblical discussion and practice. If your “go-to” argument and assurance of your belief is “the confession says,” you’ve lost all credibility. And if the confession is your main source for approving yourself before God, your credibility may not be the only thing that is lost.
-Until we go home