Church Creeds: The fuel of religious division

In a historical trial in Waterloo, Iowa in 1951, the will of one who had left large sums of money to Christian charities was contested. In it, three Protestant clergymen were asked: "What is a Christian?" They responded by defining a Christian as one who believes in the Apostles Creed, the Holy Trinity, in God, the Divinity of Christ, and who subscribes to a confession of faith. Notice this definition denies to those refusing to accept the Apostles Creed and a denominational confession the name Christian. By it neither Peter nor Paul would qualify as a follower of Jesus, since such creeds were unknown in the First Century.

In the decades following the death of John, the last living apostle, the early Church faced a difficult problem. False doctrines such as Gnosticism and Monticism plagued the body of Christ. Some even denied the deity of Jesus. To cope with the situation a simple confession of faith was devised to distinguish the Orthodox Christian from the heretic. It was sometimes called the rule of faith. And many years later, after alterations, it was known as the Apostles Creed, although it was not written by the apostles. This first human creed subscribed to by Christians was followed through the centuries by many other confessions of faith. The word creed is derived from the Latin credo meaning I believe. In a sense, what one believes is his creed. However, the term has come to designate the authoritative statement of the teachings of a religious body. It is not merely ones personal convictions, but represents the official position of the church to which a member must subscribe if one is to remain in the good graces of that body.

Most of us can agree with the truths expressed in the Apostles Creed. Some may wonder how anyone could legitimately object to it as a confession of the church. The problem is not that the Apostles Creed is erroneous, but that it is a human expression placed on par with the divine revelation of the Bible. Human writings are not wrong because they are human, but they become wrong when they presume to speak for God. If the teachings of the Apostles Creed are not controversial, such can not be said for the hundreds of creeds of Christendom which have followed it. Creeds, catechisms, and confessions to faith are usually written to insure that future generations adhere to the religious beliefs laid down. Unfortunately, creeds often contradict one another. When they do, some of them at least perpetrate religious error. They also become a major source of disunity. If two people accept contradictory confessions, there is no way that they can get together unless one or both abandon their creed. For example, if one, creed teaches that a man is saved by works and another affirms that he is saved by faith, the problem can only be resolved by forgetting about both creeds and going directly to the source of revelation, the Bible. Even more unfortunately, the religious disunity which creeds help to perpetuate often causes seekers of truth to abandon their quest in utter despair.

God has revealed his will for us in his Holy Book, the Bible. This is not man's interpretation of God's will, as is true of creeds, but it is God's will itself. In seeking to determine what is pleasing to our Maker, therefore, let us abandon human confessions of faith and remember the admonition of the apostle Peter, "If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God". I Peter 4:11.

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