No Creed, but the Bible?

By Colton Corter

We Baptists are known for many things. Sadly, confessions of faith are not one of those things. Baptists were confessional historically but these old documents have seemed to have fallen on rough times. It is hard for us more confessional types to convince our brothers that a statement of faith is good and even necessary. “We don’t have any creed but Bible,” many will say. Let’s take some time to affirm what is good in that statement and then turn to what is misguided about it.

A Sufficient Word

The Bible is the sufficient Word of God. Along with the authority, clarity and necessity of Scripture, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is one of those things the believer should come to understand about the Bible. These doctrines have been recognized by all faithful men throughout church history. Even more, the Bible itself affirms all four of these attributes of Scripture. We should labor the have the same view of Scripture that Jesus had. So we should ask, “What does it mean for Scripture to be sufficient?”

The sufficiency of Scripture refers to the “enoughness” of Scripture. Kevin DeYoung (albeit a Presbyterian) gives the best definition for sufficiency that I have seen. He writes in his book, Taking God at His Word, that the Bible being sufficient means that “Scripture is clear enough to make us responsible for carrying out and our present responsibilities to God.” This is a doctrine that few of us would repudiate on paper. However, no doctrine has been undermined more in modern day Southern Baptist Life. We may say the Scriptures are enough while at the same time reserving our greatest confidence and efforts in our programmatic efforts. The Bible, we may say, is sufficient; however, if you really want to see people saved then you had better have good music. Evangelicalism has fallen in love with other lovers. We have decided to try and do “God’s work” without leaning on God’s Word.

Sufficient for What?

Just what has the Bible promised to be sufficient for? Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15-16 that the Scriptures are profitable for four things: teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. It should be pointed out that if these things do not cover the goal of your local assembly then it might be a sign that your mission and vision for you church has been skewed by lesser goals. The four things mentioned by Paul are really two pairs. Teaching has to do with doctrinal exhortation, what someone should believe. Reproof, then, is the tearing down of that which is false doctrine. Correction deals with correcting moral practices and so then training in righteousness is more about what the believer should put on more so than being about what the Christian should denounce. Paul finishes by saying that the man of God may be perfect by simply knowing the word. “Perfect” in this instance means completeness and maturity.

So the Word of God is enough for us to know who God is and how we are to live in light of this. It is necessary now to take the argument of sufficiency up one level. The main reason we believe in a sufficient Word is because we believe in a sufficient Christ.

A Sufficient Christ

Redemption and revelation are tied together. Whenever God acts savingingly, he always interprets those acts for Himself. We are not left to grope about what God has done to redeem a lost people for Himself for His glory alone. Hebrews 1 begins with a statement about how God has spoken to His people in the past. The text reads:

[1] Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, [2] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. [3] He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, [4] having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
(Hebrews 1:1-4 ESV)

The time frame of redemptive history is being contrasted here. It is important to note that God has not changed but the way He has communicated to us has changed. God spoke through prophets, a burning bush or even a donkey. But that time has been contrasted with “in these last days.” This is not “the last days” like we have come to think of them. Rather, the author of Hebrews is speaking of the period of time in between the two comings of Jesus. In this period, God has spoken finally through His Son. We see here the tie binding redemption and revelation. Christ has accomplished a once for all redemption for all of those who will come to put their faith in Christ. He has made purification for sin and then he sat down. The divine session is proof that our salvation has been accomplished in the gospel. Christ rose from the dead and sits in the presence of God the Father, proving that His sacrifice has been acceptable by God the Father. His name has been given the highest honor (v.4). It is finished indeed.

Since redemption is complete, revelation is complete. We are not waiting for God to say anything else. This does not mean that God is altogether silent, however. God speaks today. He simply does not speak anything new. If you are claiming to hear something from God that is extra-biblical, with all due respect, you are mistaken. God does so form our minds and affections that were led by the Spirit to obedience in our lives. But he does not give us a little whisper. Jesus does not “call us.” He has spoken to us in Christ. Everything we need to know God and enjoy Him in a life of gospel-driven obedience is found in the Bible. This fact should free us and not lead us to despair. God has promised that His Word is enough and that His goals for the heralding of that Word will be accomplished in His sovereign goodness (Isa. 55:11).

What Do Confessions Have to do with Anything?

I am jealous to maintain what our non-confessional brothers say they are eager to maintain. That is why we have explored what the Bible says about Scripture’s sufficiency. But we must see that creeds and confessions are not a rejection of Scripture’s sufficiency but rather serve to preserve it. First we must establish that we all have creeds and confessions. Every one, even now, is operating under a working understanding about what the Bible says. When anyone asks you a pointed theological question you will without fail answer in some words that may not appear directly in your KJV Bible. This is necessary and good. We have to realize that we all do this. So it is a misnomer to claim to only have the Bible as your creed and confession.

Tradition is good when held in its right place. Many Baptists are weary of one type of tradition but are quite at home with another. “Tradition” seems too established, almost too Catholic. Best case scenario, they sound too Reformed or Calvinistic. But then we will see Baptist churches run by committees with certain evangelistic methods that are nowhere to be found in the Bible. An alter call is only a tradition. When we have a conversation about tradition we must understand that we all have tradition. The real question depends on whether or not our tradition has its root in the Bible or not.

Good creeds and confessions will be the first to say they are not inerrant. They only claim to be faithful summaries of biblical doctrine. Take the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It asks, “What is the chief end of man.” The answer given is: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” What a beautiful summary of our great end in life. Life is all about knowing God and enjoying Him for the purpose of showing His intrinsic worth and value. Now, there is no passage in the Bible that states that exact wording. However, it would be foolish to say it is not the very heartbeat of the Bible. This confession serves, then, to give helpful summaries of biblical doctrine so that we can know the God of the Bible better. Most confessions have scriptural proofs of each section.

Used in the correct way, tradition is extremely helpful. Our churches would be much healthier if we knew anything of church history. Tradition helps us to see how good brothers from the past have dealt with problems in the church. There is nothing new under the sun, good or bad. Every heretical teaching of today has been addressed, at least at the root of the matter, in church history. Creeds and confessions also establish guardrails for us. If we find ourselves outside of traditional orthodoxy, it is probably we who are wrong and not them. Creeds and confessions help to make sure we maintain the purity of the gospel. The truth of the Bible is firm and is not subject to change. We bank our lives on these sure doctrines. When we find ourselves outside of the bounds found in good confessions, we are probably needing to return to the biblical faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

Creeds and confessions help. Explore some. They are our own heritage as Baptists. Check out some of the ones found in our sites bio. Pursue right knowledge of God for your joy and God’s glory.


 

Colton Corter is a student at SBTS. You can follow him on Twitter @coltonMcorter

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