What do you believe about God? What do you believe about the Scriptures? or about Christ? It is vitally important to know what you believe, and why you believe it. There are so many forms of “Christianity” in the world today that those who claim to believe the Christian teachings are forced to define which “Christian” teachings they believe. From the outset, it is important to note that there is only one true Christian church, but there are many that call themselves “Christian,” and yet, they might believe something radically different. The important question is this,
How do we know which group is right and which is wrong?
It is important to understand that, there are many things that Christians disagree on that are not vital doctrines of the faith, and there are some doctrines on which we cannot disagree. Some have described it this way, there are three levels of doctrine: the first level is a must, these would be the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Such as, what Christians believe about the Bible, what the Bible teaches about Christ, the Holy Spirit, Salvation, the Virgin Birth…these are all first-level doctrines. What you believe about these doctrines or teachings must line up with what is revealed in God’s Word. This is what we would call “orthodoxy” or “correct belief and practices.” You cannot be beyond the pale of orthodoxy and still consider yourself a true Christian! Second level doctrines such as mode and meaning of baptism (Orthodox Presbyterian or Baptist), or women serving as pastors or deacons, are issues that create significant division (congregations or denominations), but disagreeing over these issues would not be a denial of the faith. Third level issues such as, what people believe about the end-times, are disagreements that are not worth dividing over. Two people can disagree about certain aspects of end-time teaching and still fellowship with one another in the same local church.
The question that I asked above, “How do we know who is right and who is wrong?”, is not being asked about second or third level issues, but first level, primary doctrines of the Christian faith. How do we know if someone is “orthodox?” The obvious answer to that question is that we go to the Word of God, we go to the Bible. It is said of the Bereans that they searched the Scriptures daily to see if the things Paul was saying was true, and the preacher Timothy is commanded by Paul to be wise in the Scriptures and to study them carefully. The Word of God is our primary source material when it comes to determining orthodoxy, or right teaching. It is important to remember that! It is also important to remember that the Christian church has been around for over two thousand years, and all Christians today are connected to that 2000 year history. We are not the first generation of Christians, we are not the first to search the Scriptures for answers. Many who have gone before us have done so, and many have left their findings to benefit us in our Christian walk..
This is where creeds and confessions come in. They show us how Christians have interacted with the Word of God for the past 2,000 years. So what are “creeds” and “confessions?” A confession is what you might call “a manual of Christian doctrine.” They are usually written in essay format and divided into chapters, each chapter dealing with a different aspect of Christian teaching. Some of the major confessions would be the Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian), the London Baptist Confession of Faith, the Augsburg Confession, the Belgic Confession, etc. Unlike a confession, which is written in essay format, a Creed is simply a summary of the key doctrines of the faith. The most famous creed is probably the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Creeds and Confessions are vital to understanding the history of the church because it shows us one steady stream of Bible interpretation over the past 2,000 years. Now, it is important to know that not all creeds and confessions are created equal. To be valid, they must be based solely upon the Scriptures and they must not be held above the Scriptures. It is also important to note that, we might not agree with everything that is recorded in a confession, (example: Baptist disagreements with the Westminster Confession) but that doesn’t mean that we should throw it out altogether.
Creeds and Confessions are important for three reasons:
They show us the understanding of the true church through the centuries
They organize Christian teaching for us in an easy to reference format
They strengthen our faith
Over the next few weeks, we will be examining a few of the key creeds and confessions of the Christian Faith. I hope that you will be encouraged to read these and use them in your walk with Christ.
Pastor Jacob Smith
Creed - from the Latin Credo, which means “to believe in or trust in.” A formal statement of religious beliefs.
Confession - a manual of Christian doctrine, written in essay format, divided into chapters, with Scripture references.