Thursday, 1 March 2007

We confess that we confess

As if it were not enough that Carl Trueman regularly gives us his humour, he now asks us to humour him. While acknowledging that we all like to imagine that we hold some Biblical ground between two extremes, CRT really thinks that he does that in this case. Creeds & confessions. Good, bad, or pointless? (Hm, most of them have many points, but we'll leave the humour.) "A good creed seldom goes unpunished." The UCCF Doctrinal Basis is criticised as divisive by those who don't seem to grasp that any unity we have comes from the gospel. Independent churches can often criticise the Westminster (or 1689, given their church polity) on the basis that it isn't a sufficient safeguard, so we might as well just have a little statement of faith & add to it when necessary. Others say the Bible is our only creed. So what of creeds & confessions?

1 comment:

Caleb W said...

I'm all for creeds and confessions in principle, but there are a couple of issues with the UCCF DB that people have raised that I agree with.

Firstly, it doesn't specifically mention God's love (though it does his wrath). Now the love of God is something I want to confess, to proclaim loud and clear! So I wish that was explicitly in there.

Secondly, while I agree with the intent of the clause on the authority of the Bible, I think it's badly phrased in a way that is potentially idolatorous of the Bible - God is the supreme authority, not the Bible, but the Bible bears God's supreme authority.

The other question I'd have of it is whether it's always put to the right use. For example, I'm not sure that I'd make it a cast-iron rule that all speakers at a CU should be in agreement with every point - I think CU members should expect to, and be encouraged to, weigh critically everything that is said; to be receptive to new ideas but to treat what is presented as a stimulus for thought rather than something to be just accepted. So there may be room for a speaker in CU who the CU doesn't necessarily agree with, in order to engage with what they have to say. A creed can become an excuse to avoid critical thinking - if someone can or can't sign the dotted line they're "sound" or "unsound" and can be accepted or rejected uncritically. But I don't think that's a reason to reject creeds or confessions, merely to make sure we put them to the right use.

Another abuse is seeing Christian fellowship purely as theologically based, rather than also relationally based. If we have genuinely placed our faith in God, then we share a relationship whether or not one of us is mistaken in various ways. This doesn't mean our beliefs are irrelevant, or that theology plays no part in how we relate or the nature of our fellowship. If one of us is in error, then our fellowship, our unity, is damaged - but not destroyed, and for the sake of our unity as fellow-redeemed people, we should not normally cut ourselves off from one another, but keep on relating to one another, and loving one another, particularly by seeking to restore one another to the truth. The danger of creeds is using them to create a "us" and "them" that destroys the love that should exist between believers.

Again, that doesn't mean that we should reject creeds, but make sure that the content matches their purpose. A statement of orthodox belief is different from a statement of what someone needs to believe to be a Christian, for example, and a statement of what leaders ought to believe may well require a higher standard of knowledge and orthodoxy than general members of a church or other Christian body. I'm not entirely sure that the UCCF DB's purpose and intended useage is entirely clear, which can lead to misuse.