Confessionalism and the Need for Creeds
(Creeds and the Perspicuity of the Bible)
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30, 31)
Question.—What is meant by the perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture?
Answer.—The doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures relates to its clarity in matters necessary to salvation, Ps. 119:105, 130. Protestants affirm that, in these matters of faith, Scripture can be understood by believers without the help of either tradition or ecclesiastical authority, 2 Pet. 1:20, 21. It should be noted that this perspicuity does not apply to:
1. Unbelievers. The fact is the Scriptures remain obscure to those who are simply unbelievers, John 5:46; and to those who are unrenewed by the Spirit of God, 2 Cor. 4:3.
2. Mysteries or obscurities recorded in Scripture. This clarity does not respect those things which Scripture itself often characterizes as obscure, or difficult, to the comprehension, 1 Cor. 15:51; 2 Cor. 12:3.
3. Matters that are not strictly matters of faith but are, perhaps, of an explanatory nature. For example, the mystery of the Trinity is plainly declared as a fact, Matt. 28:19; but there is no explanation of how. Of these kinds of things, Peter makes mention, when he warns Christians about certain things said by Paul, 2 Pet. 3:16.
4. All Scripture. Things essential to salvation do not appear everywhere in all of Scripture, but where they are, there is a clarity, Ps. 19:8.
5. The exclusion of those means necessary for interpretation. The doctrine of perspicuity does not intend to exclude those things necessary such as: 1.) Illumination of the Spirit, 1 Cor. 2:9-11. Yet, it is required that Christ open the minds (νοῦς) of his disciples so that they can understand the Scriptures, Luke 24:45. This differs from man to man, Rom. 12:3. 2.) Attention of the mind, which when lacking allows the truth to slip away, Matt. 13:22, 23; Neh. 8:3. 3.) Prayer and watchfulness, without which there is no expectation of the Spirit working sound interpretation, Eph. 6:18. 4.) The voice and ministry of the church, Neh. 8:8; Ps. 73:16, 17, 22.
We are assured that those mandates of Scripture are not only easily understood, but fulfilled, Deut. 30:11. But, as Paul explains, this is by faith, Rom. 10:8.
Question.—What is the purpose of creeds if the Scriptures are clear?
Answer.—Given that perspicuity does not apply to every passage of Scripture, or to every person alike, creeds assume an important part of the church’s task of bearing witness to the truth of the Word of God, 1 Tim. 3:15, 16.
First, to unbelievers and those who are outside the household of faith, the voice and ministry of the church calls them into the closest proximity to the truth, or genuine sense, of the Word of God, 1 Cor. 1:21-25. Creeds, too, present the genuine sense of Scripture, that of the Spirit of God speaking in the Word, Acts 15:15, 16; to a blinded world, Acts 2:27, 31, 32. It is one purpose of the church’s testimony, including her creeds, to bring men to that ministerial understanding of the Word that is, by the working of the Spirit, used to bring men to the material understanding of the Word, John 4:39-42.
Second, creeds summarize the Scriptures for us to the end that the Scriptures might be interpreted by the church in a confessional manner, 1 Cor. 15:1-4. The church learned to form creeds to this purpose in imitation of the apostolic teaching, cf. Prov. 8:22 with John 1:1-3.
Third, because, as noted, the Spirit is not given to every man in the same measure, even those renewed by the Spirit of God differ in light and understanding, 1 Cor. 14:29-31. Creeds serve to bring us into an agreement in the one true interpretation of the Word of God, Acts 4:32; Rom. 15:6.
Fourth, creeds become the medium of instruction, or education, of one generation to the next, in preserving, transmitting and communicating to future ages the one true faith of the church, 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2. The Spirit working in the true church, in her written declarations presents truth in a form designed to strengthen Zion, Acts 16:4, 5. It is the obligation of the true church to send forth the true interpretation to future generations, Ps. 78:1-8.
Fifth, besides those matters of faith clearly set forth, which are unalterable doctrines, creeds may present fuller explanations and clarifications by way of good and necessary consequence, which are also matters of faith, 2 Tim. 3:16, 17. These things all have the force to bind men’s consciences, Jas. 4:12.
Sixth, additionally, there are matters touching the ordering of the government and discipline of the church which are regulated by light of nature, Christian prudence and the general rules of the Word, 1 Cor. 14:26, 40. These matters, too, may and ought be included in the church’s confession by reason of inherent authority to order her affairs, Col. 2:5; Tit. 1:5; even concerning matters of a temporary situation, Acts 15:28, 29.
Question.—Why are creeds the necessary outcome of this doctrine of perspicuity?
Answer.—The whole spirit of the Word of Christ, the one chief work of the Holy Ghost, and the most serious responsibility and deepest joy of those who confess Christ, is to bear witness to the truth as it is in Jesus, Eph. 4:21. Confession of the truth is the proof that the church possesses the Holy Spirit, John 16:13. It is the office of the Spirit to bring to remembrance, John 14:26; which He does in the context of the true church, Rev. 2:7. The outcome is that, in all matters of faith, those in whom the Spirit is working must find joint profession of faith, 1 Cor. 1:10. This profession is one which joins to matters of faith matters of order, Ps. 85:10.