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Sermons & Study Guides

Confessionalism and the Need for Creeds Pt. 1 - (Creeds and Sola Scriptura)

James Dodson

Confessionalism and the Need for Creeds.

(Creeds and Sola Scriptura)

To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them. (Isa. 8:20)

Question.—What ought we to think of the doctrine of sola Scriptura with reference to creeds? Answer.—The principle of sola Scriptura is the formal principle of the Protestant reformation.  It is a Latin term, in the ablative case, which indicates that it is adjectival  modifier  of  a  verb—in  this  case  the  verb  is judge.    It  describes  the motion  something  (i.e.,  judgment)  moves.   Sola  Scriptura  is  the  claim  that Scripture  is  the  alone  infallible  rule  of  faith  and  life—it’s  the  only  infallible authority.  This was made against the contending claims of the Papistical faction which sought to add two additional formal principles of faith—i.e., sources of infallible authority: 1. The Magisterium.  This is that ecclesiastical authority which lays down, or makes a deposit of, the authentical teaching of the Church.  This is not merely the Church that cannot err by faith, but the Church that cannot err by reason of an infallible formal principle that is not Scripture. 2. Tradition.    This  is  another  formal  principle  of  infallible  authority  that  is transmitted from generation to generation, usually requiring the assistance of an Apostolical succession of bishops. Against these  views, sola  Scriptura asserts a single formal principle—Sacred Scripture.    The  authority  of  Scripture  is  not  dependent  upon  the  authority  of either  the  Church  or  some  Apostolic  succession.    Rather,  as  Calvin  notes, “[W]hen the Church receives it [i.e., Scripture], and seals it with her suffrage, she does not authenticate a thing otherwise dubious or controvertible; but, knowing it  to  be  the  truth  of  her  God,  performs  a  duty  of  piety,  by  treating  it  with immediate veneration.” (Inst. I.7.ii.) Yet, we must acknowledge the supernatural character of the Church, which exists only by means of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 12:3.  This is the Church which cannot err by faith, John 10:4, 5.  All believers are born again by this incorruptibleseed, the Word of God, 1 Pet. 1:23.  But the representative Church is possessed of no such formal principle and participates in this supernatural character of the Church because and inasmuch as (quia et quatenus) its disciplinary decisions are taken in a real spirit of submission to Scripture, Acts 15:28. Scripture is, then, the regula regulans, the rule ruling.  Scripture is the alone infallible  norm  and  rule  of  faith  and  life,  2  Tim.  3:15-17.   This,  however, presupposes  that  Scripture  must  have  the  rule  over  matters  of  faith  and  its practice, Matt. 22:29. 
Creeds, and confessions, are regula  regulata, rules ruled.  Their authority is derivative  and,  therefore,  subordinate  to  Scripture,  Luke  10:26.    Rather  than possessing the formal principle of faith and life to the Church, they contain the material principle of faith and life held forth by the Church, 1 Tim. 3:15.  They contain the doctrine embraced by a particular Church and are, therefore, binding upon all that wish to live in fellowship with that Church, 1 Cor. 1:10.  Though, in a formal sense, there are no dogmas in Scripture, 2 Tim. 1:13; yet, in a materialsense all true doctrine is found therein, Acts 16:4; John 5:46. Creeds, and confessions, as regula regulata, when displaying a proper regard to  their  formal  principle  are  themselves  to  be  allowed  as  material  principles possessed of derivative authority, Heb. 10:23. Creeds, and confessions, are necessary since the Fall, 1 Cor. 2:14; to bear a proper  witness  to  the  truth  of  Scripture,  Rom.  10:9-11.    Scripture  possesses  a priority of authority, being the infallible Word of God, John 10:35; but creeds, and confessions, possess a priority of pedagogy, being the material principles of the Church’s witness, or testimony, 1 Cor. 14:19. Nonetheless, though they differ as to what is proper to each, the law, as well as the testimony, of the LORD, are to share a common inspired teaching, Ps. 19:7.  The law does this by an immediate infallible claim of authority, Jos. 1:8; whereas the testimonies are mediate and dependent, 2 Tim. 3:14. Because creeds, and confessions, when framed with due reference and respect to the Word of God, share a common inspired teaching, they are to be received as authoritative instruction, Matt. 18:19, 20.  Mediate and derived authority is, in fact, yet authority, Matt. 8:9; and, in matters of religion, this principle of authority extends  itself  into  all  things  necessary  to  governing,  Col.  4:17;  including  the matter of attaching an authoritative sense to Scriptures themselves, Tit. 2:15. The same Spirit that inspired the Scriptures, 2 Pet. 1:21; works in believers to declare the genuine sense of those Scriptures, 1 Cor. 2:13.  The Scriptures and their  genuine  sense  are  not  to  be  considered  two  different  things  but  the instruction of the Spirit is chiefly to be studied, Neh. 9:20; Matt. 13:52. Sola Scriptura is, therefore, not a principle which excludes any other authority, or even any other authority in matters of religion, but a formal principle which asserts that there is only one source of infallible authority in the Church in all matters of faith and life.