Sunday, November 01, 2009

Protecting Ourselves

Just off the back of yesterday's thought...

Churches put together creeds and confessions of faith to protect themselves. It's right that they should do that, absolutely right. These summaries of the truth, often forged in the struggle against serious error, can help to keep us thinking and believing right.

But I wonder if they don't sometimes end up protecting us against... God?

When my favourite confession, or favourite formulation of a particular doctrine, is questioned on Biblical grounds, how do I react? Am I open to hearing God's voice in Scripture, or has my doctrinal construct shut up my ears?

I guess sometimes we need to take some risks - let our guard down and try to hear afresh what God is saying, rather than the (important!) second-hand version that we have in our confessions. If God really speaks, is this a risk at all?


  1. Daniel,

    Is it not the case that alternative position being offered is in fact a "second-hand" version? It would, after all, be an interpretation of the text, and not just a repetition of the words of the Bible. And surely the confessional statement and the alternative position are both claiming to be a right interpretation of what Scripture says.

    I'm not against carefully examining confessional statements to see if they are biblically waranted. If they are out of line with Scripture then of course we should revise them.

  2. Yes, absolutely - and probably the best use of the classic confessions is to warn us against a naive enthusiasm for every new 'insight' that comes along. I guess it's just a question of attitude: do we view the confessions as, in principle, subject to alteration? Do we take proposed alternatives seriously?

    Ultimately, I guess, do we allow the alternative interpretation to drive us back to Scripture, or do we combat it by quoting our confessions?

  3. I think a lot would depend on the specific details of each proposal. Alongside the confession (behind it and after it too) is the track record of exegesis that informed the confessional position. This is really what needs to be overturned.

    With a document like the WCF, of course, historically there have been revisions.

  4. Anonymous5:41 pm

    Of course, the creeds themselves are only supposed to be authoritative in the sense that they bear witness to what Scripture itself says. Wayne Grudem wrote an article in JETS a while back about "Descendit ad inferna" in the creed (JETS 34/1:103-113) subtitled "A Plea for Following Scripture Rather Than The Apostles' Creed" which is an example of a valid biblical challenge to a creed. So I think it's good to be able to challenge the creeds if there are biblical grounds for doing so.

    If you look also at Athanasius' Defence of the Nicene Creed, he submits that it is appropriate for the council to have used a nonscriptural word "homoousious" in their creed because it "gathers up the sense of scripture". So I guess that if you pressed him, Athanasius would say that a creed can be challenged if its language does not "gather up the sense of scripture". So this would be an ancient example of it being possible to do that kind of thing (and of the priority of the authority of the Bible over that of the Ecumenical Creeds).

  5. Martin: I basically agree, although I'd probably want to give slightly less weight to past exegesis. (It would still weigh heavily in the equation, mind you). After all, all the exegesis that has been done still isn't Scripture.

    And Phil: I just a few weeks ago decided I might believe in the descent into hell... But I still leave it out when I make the church recite the creed... Yes, I think following Scripture rather than the Creed is a good idea if conflict can be shown to exist!

  6. Hello,
    I agree with you.
    I'm not sure if someone has said this or not, but I think it's important to remember that when we "take risks" and go out on a limb in questioning the creeds (etc) we are doing just that - taking a position that is different from what people have believed lots in the past. Being open about the fact that we are actually questioning and taking a risk is a helpful thing to say to others to avoid confusion.

  7. Daniel,

    Do you, pardon the pun, have a confession to make? Is there something you'd like to see revised?

  8. Good point, Mr Perkins. Quite right.

    Martin: good question! Always worth knowing someone's motivation when they start off down roads like this. There are, of course, numerous confessions in the world, and many of them I'd like to change either a little or a lot. But if we were to take, say, the 1689 Confession, there would only be minor details (Sabbath springs to mind) and perhaps matters of emphasis.

    So no, no ulterior motive at the moment. Just a desire to make sure that sola scriptura doesn't become a mere formality amongst us.