Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms

Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

  • Isaiah 8:20-22

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

  • Revelation 22:18-21

“In the first three centuries, the church found itself in a hostile environment. On the one hand, it grappled with the challenge of relating the language of the gospel, developed in a Hebraic and Jewish-Christian context, to a Graeco-Roman world. On the other hand, it was threatened not only by persecution, but also by ideas that were in conflict with the biblical witness.
In A.D. 312, Constantine won control of the Roman Empire in the battle of Milvian Bridge. Attributing his victory to the intervention of Jesus Christ, he elevated Christianity to favored status in the empire. “One God, one Lord, one faith, one church, one empire, one emperor” became his motto. …
To counter a widening rift within the church, Constantine convened a council in Nicaea in A.D. 325. A creed reflecting the position of Alexander and Athanasius was written and signed by a majority of the bishops. Nevertheless, the two parties continued to battle each other. In 381, a second council met in Constantinople. It adopted a revised and expanded form of the A.D. 325 creed, now known as the Nicene Creed.

  • The Book of Confessions (PCUSA)

I am planning on devoting my Wednesday evening posts as a Vespers form of Worship.  It may take a couple of weeks to work out the details, but the bulk of these posts will be Catechism questions with Biblical proofs from Spurgeon’s Catechism, the Shorter Catechism, and possibly on occasion the Larger Catechism.  In other words, the Scriptures, the question and answer, a very short discussion, maybe an imbedded hymn, and a prayer.

What gave me the idea was a memory of a Vespers service that I attended when working for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) volunteering to help with Hurricane Katrina Relief in Gautier, Mississippi.  The Gautier (pronounced Go-Shay) Presbyterian Church had a dinner prepared for all the volunteers on Wednesday of that week.  That gave us a break from having to prepare food for ourselves at the campsite.  After the dinner was a vespers service.  The pastor basically gave a series of testimonies about how the efforts of PDA, and God’s Grace, had positively affected people’s lives.

But the reading for the vespers service was from the Heidelberg Catechism.  The Scripture was the proofs that established the answers for the questions.  In the Book of Confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism has questions grouped into 52 groups with the notation of “Lord’s Day” and then the number.  In other words, the Heidelberg Catechism has been used as a focus of the basic concepts of what we believe and designed to be part of a worship service weekly, completing the catechism in a year.

Do the creeds or catechisms add to the canon of Scripture?  No.  They take Scripture and put it into an easy-to-understand format.  So, those churches that use such creeds and catechisms are not adding things to Scripture, they are taking an exposition of Scripture in a different form that may be easier to understand.  This still only applies to head knowledge.  Salvation requires that our very lives be changed, not just learning some creeds or some answers to questions.

In the quote from the Book of Confessions above, it explains how the Nicene Creed was created.  Not quoted is a paragraph about a church bishop who was stating that God the Father created the Son, Jesus, before the beginning of time.  This was causing a split within the church.  Emperor Constantine set up the council that created the Nicene Creed.  It is the most ecumenical of the creeds as it is used by Roman Catholics, most Protestant denominations, and the Eastern Orthodox.

I memorized the Nicene Creed at one time, but it escapes my memory as it is rarely quoted in the churches that I have attended.  In our present church, we always recite the Apostles’ Creed when we have communion.  I do not know why only then.  When I was growing up, we said the Apostles’ Creed every Sunday.  While at church now, I have noticed almost everyone in church reading it from the bulletin, but I close my eyes and recite it from memory.

My first introduction to the Shorter Catechism was when I joined the church at twelve years old.  We read the questions and answers with our teacher, and we discussed them.  Then at fourteen years old, I had moved to another town, joined Boy Scouts, and I was enrolled in a God and Country award program.  We memorized the entire Shorter Catechism and the Nicene Creed, with most of us already having memorized the Apostles’ Creed.  We studied the Confessions of the church and the other catechisms.  There were a few more things that we had to know before getting the God and Country award.

A note on the Larger Catechism:  Some of the questions and answers are inferred from Scripture, logically taking the Scriptures and connecting the dots.  The Shorter Catechism basically quotes Scripture.  For that reason, I may skip questions from the Larger Catechism, or show them without discussion since there is no specific Scripture that supports some of them.

What struck me forty years later at the vespers service in Gautier, Mississippi is that we had been studying the Heidelberg Catechism in a Thursday Night Bible Study at our church.  Of those who went on the mission trip, my wife and I and two others were the only ones who went to that study, but covering those questions that night meant something extra to us.

But all this being said, we should be aware that there will be many who claim to have new oracles from the Lord.  Many will claim to be the Messiah.  The only way to know for sure, just as we know that the creeds and catechisms do not add to the Scriptures, is to know the Scriptures ourselves.  Nothing can take the place of Bible reading and prayer.

Will there be prophets today?  There can be, but they will illuminate and explain how the Scriptures, God’s inspired Word of God, applies in our troubled times.  If they add something, they are false prophets.  The prophet can say that the end is near, but if he adds “next Thursday” you must ask where he got that specific date when Jesus admitted that only the Father knew.  And when next Friday comes along, you know that the prophet was lying, probably about everything, not just the date.

That is why I can take the older of the confessions and use them as a guide, but nothing to replace Scripture.  The Book of Confessions of the PCUSA has the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and several statements of confessions of faith.  These are, for the most part, lengthy expansions upon the creeds.  I find the latest confessions to be incomplete, confusing, and totally unnecessary.  I appreciate the Theological Declaration of the Barmen.  That was written by German Christian churches to clearly state what they believed so that people would not be swept away by the “German Christianity” movement of the Nazi party, which had little to nothing to do with Christianity.  If you are Presbyterian, you might wish to read the confessions of your branch of the church.  If you are an elder, you will be required to use them as a “guide.”

That is part of the reason that I am an elder, but not a ruling elder, as I take exception here or there, especially the latest changes.  God does not change, why change a confession of faith?  Yes, the Book of Confessions has a couple of historical pages to explain why the new confessions were “necessary,” but in some cases, it seems the words are an eloquent explanation of why you put lipstick on the pig.  The Church is under constant attack, and often from within.  The only way to see if some new idea is Biblical is to know the Bible.

In the end, there is the Bible.  We must know the Bible to know whether a confession, creed, or the answer to a catechism question is correct or not.  The Bible is God-breathed.  The other stuff is simply explanation.  And the Bible points to Jesus Christ.  Salvation is through Christ Alone by faith, but how can you have faith without knowing the One in whom you have faith?

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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