No Creed but Christ, is the caption of a communication appearing in De Wachter (of the Christian Reformed Churches of North America) for October 8. In his communication the correspondent rises to the defense of the above slogan. Now the saying No Creed but Christ cannot possibly be defended. The conception from which it springs is thoroughly wrong. It may not be amiss to briefly show this, especially not in view of the circumstance that the saying seems to be a favored one with so many Christian people.
The Christian creeds are definite and formal declarations on the part of the church of what she believes to be the truth contained in God’s Word. The creed represents an activity that consists in apprehending, through the study of the Scriptures, the truth contained therein, in entering the truth with the mind in order that it may be understood, and in properly expressing what the truth is believed to be. It is this activity that has produced the great creeds of Christendom. Now in declaring what she believed to be the truth, the church sometimes found herself under the necessity of employing terms and phrases that are not found in Holy Writ. One illustration. The Christian creed declares that “God is only one, the one single Essence, in which are three persons, really, truly and eternally distinct, according to their incommunicable properties; . . . .” This phraseology is not literally found in Scripture. If the church in composing her creeds would do nothing more than cite Scripture, that is, reproduce Scripture as to the form of its words, she could not so express what she holds to be the truth as to expose the lie of the false teachers. Consider that such teachers also profess to believe the Scriptures. Hence, what is assailed and denied is not the Scriptures as to the form of their language, but the thought or truth of which this language, according to the conviction of the church, is the vehicle. The Church therefore in expressing definitely and precisely what it believed to be the truth, has found it necessary to avail itself of terms and phrases not literally contained in Holy Writ.
If the creeds of Christendom is meant to be nothing else that a written declaration of what is held to be the truth of God’s Word, if the action of which the Christian creed is representative is one consisting in God’s believing people searching the Scriptures for the truth contained therein, and thinking their way into the truth in order to qualify themselves to set it forth in language so clear and definite that the lie of the false teacher may be exposed, how can there be any objection to the creed ? Must not the Scriptures be searched and the truth be thought into that it may be expressed in proper language? What a strange cry—this cry: no creed. How can God’s believing people turn away from the creed, if the doctrine of which it is the expression, is, according to their firm conviction, the truth of God’s Word? With the creed declaring that Christ is true and eternal God, of one essence with the Father and the Holy Ghost, what believer could turn away from the creed? To repudiate the creed would be to deny what is held to be the truth.
Someone will say, “I have the Bible. It is in the Christ of the Bible in whom I believe. The Unitarian, too, says, I believe in the God and Christ of the Bible. Yet, he nevertheless maintains that the doctrine of the trinity of the Godhead well suited the dark ages which it helped to produce. He labels this doctrine Trinitarian nonsense, taught by gray-haired professors in theological seminaries. According to his doctrine, God is a solitary person and being, from eternity unrevealed and unknown, and Christ a mere man. On what grounds could a Christian brotherhood eject from its midst a person with such a conception of God? On the ground that he denied the God and Christ of the Bible? Indeed. But in order to show this, and to sustain the charge, such a brotherhood would have to avail itself of the terms and phrases of the Nicene creed, according to which God is a being one in essence, yet distinguished in three persons.
The advice contained in the cry No Creed but Christ is plainly this: “Turn from your creed to Scripture. Here search for your Christ. Here you see Him as He is; for the Bible is God’s infallible word. Not so the creed.” Let us examine this advice. To search the Bible for Christ is to search the Bible for the truth concerning Christ. This search or study having been completed, the searcher would then necessarily have to declare what he believed to be the truth of God’s word concerning Christ. This declaration would be his private creed. So we see what he who turns from the fallible creed of the church to the infallible Bible, ends up in doing. He ends up, and this of necessity, in placing in the room of the creed, which he rejected, his own private creed. And what has been gained? Nothing at all. For that private creed is fallible, as truly fallible as the creed of the church that was rejected. It must be this, as it, too, as well as the creed that was set aside, was made by a fallible man. And if this individual were truly a believer, if in turning away from the creed of the church he was not moved by a hatred of the truth, his private creed as to its content would be identical to the content of the creed which he imagined he had forsaken.
Any and every declaration on the part of the believer that sets forth the fruitage of his study of God’s Word is necessarily a creed. It is this as it sets forth what he believes to be the truth of God’s Word. Thus every sermon is, rightly considered a creed. Therefore they who object to the creed, should in order to be consistent, demand of their pastor that, when in his pulpit, he do nothing more than read to them God’s Word. They should not require of him that he explain the word to them. For such an explanation would be his creed. It is evident that the cry “No creed but Christ” is absurd. The term creed stands for truth, thus for the content of saving faith. If, therefore there need be no creed, faith need have no content. If there need be no creed, there need be no knowledge of Christ and of God for salvation, and the Scriptures can be dispensed with. Even the pastor, when in the pulpit, would do nothing but read to his hearers from the Bible, he would also then be coming to them with his creed, if he understood and believed what he was reading. So, to say, No Creed, is to say, No Scriptures. Thus in the final instance, it is to say, No Christ.
Creeds, it is said, make division in the church. This is not true of the great creeds of Christendom. For in these creeds is expressed what all God’s believing people, without exception, hold to be the truth of God’s Word. The apostle’s creed declares that God is the Father, the Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth; that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son. . . .” They who deny this, are called antichrists in Scripture. The aforesaid creeds make division not between God’s believing people but between the church and the world, believers and unbelievers.
But now it is true that God’s people have their doctrinal differences. There are various persuasions among them, such as Reformed and Lutheran and Baptist, not to mention others. Should believing people forget their differences and unite on the basis of the great creeds—creeds in which is expressed what all believers hold to be the truth? Then the church universal would be presenting to the world a united front. Then God’s people, it is said, would be one. But would they? True oneness is not to be achieved through believing people ignoring doctrinal differences. Doctrinal differences arise as result of someone thinking and believing wrongly. Hence, real unity is achieved only when those who err are made to see the light and come to the light. In other words, God’s people are one only to the extent that they all consciously abide in Christ. The divisions in the church are not representative of an ideal state. Christ’s will is that His people be one. And it is the solemn duty of every believer to work for unity not through his renouncing what he holds to be the truth but through His making sure whether what he holds to be truth is truth, and secondly through his assailing false beliefs and doctrines in order that those ensnared by the lie may be won for the truth. The truth is a source of comfort to God’s people only to that extent that it is unmixed with error.
The great creeds of Christendom are the church’s priceless possession. As long as these creeds are held in honor, the church is safe. Satan realizes this only too well. To him, therefore, the creeds of the church are dreaded compositions. He knows that would he gain men for his lies, he must first detach them from the creeds of the church. So he derides the creed. He pits the creeds against Scripture and Christ and tells men that either shall have to be relinquished. And under the pretense of leading men back to the Scripture and to Christ, he leads them into ibis lies and to perdition.
The creeds of Christendom may be called storehouses of truth mined through the ages from the word of God by the Christian church. They are the depositaries of the fruits of centuries of labor done by the Christian Church. It is these creeds that are making it possible for the church at the present time to be preaching on the great truths contained in Scripture as she does. Supposing that the minister of the Gospel enters upon his ministerial career, a total stranger to the teachings of the creeds of the church; that, so far as be was concerned, these creeds did not exist. Then he would be no further into the truth than was the church at the time of the death of the last apostle. But through the centuries the Spirit has been leading the church farther and farther into the truth. And what the church apprehended, she was also empowered to express in adequate language, to bring into being her creeds. And these creeds, being what they are, immediately lead into the truth as far as the church was led through the ages.
The creeds, however, may not be placed in the room of Holy Writ. We once read upon a certain church bulletin the following, “Do we appreciate what our fathers have done in giving us answers to those important questions (the questions contained in our Heidelberg Catechism) in such a simple and condensed statement that it is easily understood, and we do not have to look up all the Scripture references and formulate our own answers.” The statement, “We do not have to look up all the scriptural references” leaves a strange impression. The meaning seems to be that, since we have the Catechism, we can do without Scripture, that thus the Catechism has been given us as a substitute for the Bible. Fact is that the scriptural references must indeed be looked up not only but studied with care. Everyone must make sure that what is expressed in the creed is what must be believed to be the truth of God’s Word.