The Usefulness of Creeds & Confessions

Creed Fossil

Is there a place for creeds & confessions in 21st century Christianity?

Some might say that they are little more than ancient relics of a bygone era that have gone the way of the dinosaur. Many in the church today treat them much like a museum piece – they might be interesting to look at once in a while, but they have no abiding significance or usefulness in the modern (or postmodern) age in which we live.

In some circles, creeds and confessions are not just neglected, but openly disparaged. “Deeds not creeds” and “no creed but Christ” are the rallying cries of the day in many churches.  Ironically, those same slogans themselves actually are creeds, even if unbiblical, unhelpful, and downright nonsensical ones at that. So in a sense we all have creeds – we all believe something.  As Carl Trueman notes,

 . . .even those churches and Christians who repudiate the whole notion of creeds and confessions will yet tend to operate with an implicit creed. (The Creedal Imperative, p.15)

Judging by the widespread ignorance and disuse of even the most basic ecumenical creeds (i.e. the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds), it seems that the consensus in many evangelical churches is that such things are now obsolete (or possibly just off-putting). But we neglect the ancient creeds and Reformed confessions to our own detriment.

So what purposes do creeds & confessions serve in the life of the church and in the lives of believers in Jesus Christ?  More than you might think.  Here are just a few:

  1. Creeds & confessions help to foster unity in the church (and even between churches). They remind us of the essentials or non-negotiables of the Christian faith, the things that we as believers in Christ by definition believe together.
  2. Creeds & confessions serve to protect the church from false teaching and heresy.  They provide a helpful litmus test of sorts for the regular preaching and teaching of the church.
  3. Creeds & confessions also provide a means of keeping the ministers of the church accountable or answerable for their teaching. (See #2 above.)
  4. Creeds & confessions help to pass on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith from one generation to the next.
  5. Creeds & confessions are very helpful teaching tools – they help us to know what we believe. Many believers today are simply unsure or unclear about what they believe (or even what they should believe). Creeds and confessions give us a clear outline of the basics of the faith. This is yet another reason to incorporate them into the public worship of the church on the Lord’s day.
  6. Creeds & confessions not only help us to know what we believe (see #5 above), but also help us to articulate (or clearly state) what we believe as well.  Creeds put the words of faith in their mouths – “I believe . . . .”
  7. Creeds & confessions connect us to the common faith that we share with our brothers & sisters of earlier centuries and cultures. In so doing they can do us the invaluable service of preventing us from the all-too-common mistake of chronological snobbery (for lack of a better term). We sometimes think that the sun rises and sets with us, or that we are somehow smarter or more advanced than our brethren from generations past. The ancient creeds and Reformed confessions remind us that “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3, ESV) did not start with us.

There are no doubt many other benefits to using the historic creeds & confessions of the Christian faith. If you think of some others that are not on the above list, feel free to submit your suggestions in the comments section below.

For a very helpful book on the subject of creeds, check out The Creedal Imperative, by Carl Trueman.  If you are not yet convinced of the vital importance of creeds and confessions (and even the biblical mandate for them!) get this book!

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For a short volume containing many of the ecumenical creeds & Reformed confessions, click here: http://www.wtsbooks.com/ecumenical-creeds-and-reformed-confessions-faith-alive-9780930265342

Creeds

For a copy of the Westminster Standards (containing the Westminster Confession of Faith, and both the Larger & Shorter Catechisms), click here: http://www.wtsbooks.com/westminster-standards-gcp-9780934688567

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Posted in Creeds, Systematic Theology, The Christian Life, The Church | 2 Comments

Spurgeon on Atheism

charles-spurgeon

“He who looks up to the firmament and then writes himself down an atheist, brands himself at the same moment as an idiot or a liar.”

These are the words of Charles Spurgeon in commenting on Psalm 19:1, which says,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (ESV)

Creation itself, especially the heavens and the firmament (the vastness of space with the sun, moon, and stars) – basically the things that are above and beyond us – says something. In the words of Psalm 19:1 it declares something – the glory of God!

The verses that follow (Psalm 19:2-6) make it clear to us the this declaration of the glory of God is abundant (“day unto day pours out speech” – v.3), universal in its reach (“Their voice goes out through all the earth – v.4), and it requires no translator, as it has no language barrier (“There is no speech, nor are their words, whose voice is not heard” – v.3). The declaration or testimony of creation is loud and clear to all who see it.  And that testimony is not to its own glory, but to that of its Creator, God.

So anyone who looks up at the firmament (or sky) and then still calls himself an atheist is (to use Spurgeon’s phrase) branding himself as an idiot or a liar. We all know better, regardless of what we profess to believe (or disbelieve). That is how abundant and clear the testimony of creation is to the glory of its Creator. To use Paul’s words in Romans 1:20, it renders atheists (of both the philosophical and practical variety) “without excuse.”

Posted in Apologetics, Charles Spurgeon, Creation, Genesis, Notable Quotes, Psalms | 1 Comment

The Most Important Organization in the World

RYM

Ever take a look at your life and wish that you could be involved in something big? Something really important? That you  have helped to make a real difference?  Ronald Reagan once said,

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. The Marines don’t have that problem.

The Marines might not have that problem, but neither does anyone who is a member of the Christian church – no matter how small, unimpressive, or insignificant by the world’s standards.

People often speak of “megachurches” (usually meaning that they are very, very large), as if they are somehow much more important than those much smaller churches (micro-churches?). But here’s the thing - every true Christian church (which is defined simply as a church where the Scriptures are truly taught/the gospel is truly preached, the sacraments  of baptism & the Lord’s Supper are rightly administered, and church discipline is faithfully exercised) is a mega-church.  Why? Because that is where you will really find the Lord Jesus Christ at work. The church is what the Lord Jesus Christ Himself promised to build and defend. That is where Jesus truly changes lives, families, communities, and the world.

In his book, Renewing Your Mind (which is all about the Apostles’ Creed), R.C. Sproul writes,

The church is the most important organization in the world. It is the target of every demonic, hostile attack in the universe. Jesus personally guaranteed that the gates of hell will never prevail against the church. He made no guarantee that the gates of hell would not be unleashed against it, however. (p.184)

Do you want to be a part of something big? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and are a member of a local church, then you already are a part of something big!  You are a part of the most important organization in the world! Yes, even that small, unimpressive, all-too-ordinary one down the street.

So join in the worship, work, and witness of the family of God! It doesn’t get any bigger than that!

Posted in Books & Other Resources, Notable Quotes, R.C. Sproul, The Apostles' Creed, The Christian Life, The Church, The Marks of the Church | 4 Comments

The Urgency of the Gospel

Hourglass

Many of us are tempted to procrastinate when it comes to dealing with certain problems in our daily lives.  We often procrastinate knowing full well that ignoring problems and hoping that they will go away often just serves to make them even worse. Who among us can honestly say that we haven’t been there and done that a time or two?

But when it comes to eternity, procrastination can be devastating. The time that we each have in this life to settle where, how, and with whom we will spend eternity is really quite limited. Time flies, as the saying goes.  It is with good reason that the Psalmist writes,

So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, ESV)

In asking the Lord to teach us to number our days” (emphasis mine) the Psalmist shows us that numbering our days does not come naturally to us. We always seem to assume that tomorrow is somehow guaranteed to us. It is not, at least not in this life.

In his commentary in the book of Acts, Derek Thomas writes,

“Souls are lost by reason of procrastination. Awakened consciences that fail to make good their resolve to find peace with God discover that before they realize it, they have fallen even deeper into the mire of sin. Thinking that they can turn to God “at any time,” they discover that they are unable to do so.” (p.673)

He is speaking there of the example of the Roman Governor Felix in Acts chapter 24. Felix was very familiar with Christianity. In v.22 Luke writes that Felix had “a rather accurate knowledge of the Way.” Not only had he heard the gospel explained to him on numerous occasions (v.26), but he had heard it from no less  a preacher than the Apostle Paul himself!  Paul spoke to him about “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (v.25). Paul did not beat around the bush.

What did Felix do with that knowledge? What was his response to the gospel of Christ? He procrastinated; he simply put it off.  As far as we know, he never repented & turned to Christ by faith.  While he was “alarmed” (v.25) by Paul’s mention of the judgment to come, he wasn’t “alarmed” enough to actually turn from his sin and turn to Christ by faith. Rather, he turned from hearing the gospel at all, telling Paul, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (v.26).

In other words, not now – maybe later.  He just assumed that he could put it off until later. He assumed that he would always have an “opportunity” (v.26) to hear the gospel and believe later, whenever he got around to it. How many today are of a very similar mindset?

Maybe that even describes you?

It is not without reason that the Scripture says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV).  As  the writer of Hebrews (quoting Psalm 95) warns us, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8, ESV). Did you catch that? To “hear his voice” in the gospel of Christ and to reject it or put it off is to harden your heart. In other words, procrastination is not a neutral posture. Indecision about Jesus Christ is itself a decision, and it has consequences.

As the example of Felix serves to demonstrate, hearing the gospel is not enough. Hearing it numerous times is not enough. Being familiar with the faith is not enough. Even being alarmed at the thought of the judgment to come is not enough if it does not lead to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.

If you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, turn to Him by faith while there is yet time.  Today, if you hear His voice in the gospel, do not harden your heart by indecision and procrastination. Come to Him and have life that is abundant (John 10:10) and eternal (John 17:3). As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21,

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Don’t just fear the coming judgment -be delivered from it by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Be reconciled to God in Him!

Posted in Acts, Books & Other Resources, Evangelism, Hebrews, Notable Quotes, Psalms, The Gospel | Leave a comment

A 3-Word Summary of the Gospel

Packer

If you were to attempt to summarize the gospel in as few words as possible, how would you do it?  How would you boil it down to its most basic essence? How many words would you need?

J.I. Packer says that he can name that tune in just three (3) notes. In his book, Knowing God, Packer offers a three-word summary of the central message of the New Testament:

“[W]ere I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” (p.214)

Adoption through propitiation. In Christ believers are not only justified and accounted righteous in the sight of God, but also adopted into the family of God (!). And how is that made possible? Through Christ’s work of propitiation, whereby He took the wrath of God that we deserve for our sins upon Himself on the Cross.

Sinners are made children of God because of the death of the Son of God on their behalf! What an amazing truth!  That is the amazing grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Posted in Adoption, Books & Other Resources, J.I. Packer, Notable Quotes, Propitiation, The Gospel | Leave a comment

The Heart of the Gospel

Heart of Gospel

In his classic book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer includes a chapter entitled “The Heart of the Gospel.”  And what is that chapter all about? Propitiation.

Propitiation (according to Packer) is the heart of the gospel; it is central to the gospel. And yet that word is strangely absent from the vocabulary of far too many believers.  Worse yet, the vital doctrine that it entails is often absent in the preaching and teaching of the church.  No doubt the former is largely the result of the latter.

Concerning the vital doctrine of propitiation, Packer writes,

Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity? In the faith of the New Testament it is central. The love of God, the taking of human form by the Son, the meaning of the cross, Christ’s heavenly intercession, the way of salvation – all are to explained in terms of it, . . .and any explanation from which the thought of propitiation is missing will be incomplete, and indeed actually misleading, by New Testament standards. (p.181)

He even goes so far as to say that “a gospel without propitiation at its heart is another gospel than that which Paul preached” (p.182).

What, then, is propitiation?  What does the word mean? The New Bible Dictionary (Third Edition, IVP, 1996) defines it as “the removal of wrath by the offering of a gift” (p.975). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Book House, 1984) offers a better definition of the biblical use of this word as “The turning away of wrath by an offering” (p.888).

The Biblical use of the word expresses the idea that on the Cross Jesus Christ took the wrath of God for the sins of His people upon Himself – that God’s wrath for our sin was poured out upon Him in our place. It is the same idea expressed (even if the word itself is absent) in Isaiah 53:5 where Isaiah says that upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.” 

Perhaps the key use of the Word in the New Testament is found in Romans chapter 3, where Paul writes,

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25a, ESV, emphasis mine)

God put forth his own Son “as a propitiation by His blood.” The death of Jesus Christ turned away the wrath of God from His people.  We who were “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) are redeemed, forgiven, reconciled and even adopted as children of God in Jesus Christ because of His death in our place, taking the wrath of God for our sins upon Himself!

No wonder Packer holds this great truth to be central to the Christian faith! It really is at the heart of the gospel. The gospel just isn’t the gospel without the truth of propitiation.

Posted in Books & Other Resources, J.I. Packer, Notable Quotes, Propitiation, Systematic Theology, The Cross, The Gospel | Leave a comment

Book Review: Finding Faithful Elders And Deacons

Thabiti M. Anyabwile

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways!

First, it is thoroughly biblical from start to finish.  Anyabwile firmly grounds everything he says in Scripture.  His treatment of the qualifications of both deacons and elders (in that order) largely consists of a verse-by-verse or even phrase-by-phrase exegesis of 1 Timothy chapters 3-4.

Second, this book is short and to the point.  There is no filler or wasted space.  He gets right to the point and stays on point in each chapter.

Third, both church officer & laity alike will benefit from this book.  As a pastor, I not only found this book to be useful in clarifying my understanding of the nature and work of the offices of elder & deacon, but also found it to be more than a little edifying & encouraging as well.  Church members who want to be more well-informed in their nomination & election of church officers will also find it immensely helpful.

Another thing that I greatly appreciated was that Anyabwile did not just focus on the qualifications of elders or pastors (part 2 of the book), but also dedicated the entire third section of the book to the work that they are called to do.  Again, this section would be good for pastor/elder & laity alike.  We often have unbiblical notions or expectations about what our pastors and ruling elders are called to do,  and this can cause much confusion and unnecessary difficulty in the church.

There is much more that could be said, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend this book.  I will almost certainly be referring to it (and re-reading it!) in the future.  And I hope that I am not alone in that regard.

Posted in 1 Timothy, Book Reviews, Books & Other Resources, Elders, Ministry, The Church | 1 Comment