Chalk it up to the subject matter of the Reformation, but I felt like I couldn’t fit all my Monday morning quarterbacking in one installment. So here’s part 1, and part 2 is on the way. Today I wanted to talk a little bit about tradition’s role in the life of a believer, and the second installment I wanted to give a few statements about the necessity God’s initiative in salvation.
“Deeds not Creeds” is an old motto that has some popularity today. In some circles, there is a desire to be ‘Biblical’, and by that they mean no one should have a statement of faith since the Bible is all you need. (I was told once by my mailman, who came from this perspective, that going to seminary was a waste!) So the fact that our church uses the Westminster Confession, Larger and Shorter catechisms (i.e. our ‘tradition’) as the basic statement of our theology is a problem to that sort of philosophy. Is reciting the Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed going against being ‘Scripture alone’? Is this really just Roman Catholicism? I think not.
First of all, creeds and confessions are properly put under the authority of Scripture, not equal to it. In other words, if there is an apparent contradiction, Scripture takes precedence. Creeds and confessions are not made independently of Scripture or overlaid on top of Scripture, but are aimed at summarizing and systematizing Scripture (at least the good ones are!).
Second, it is helpful to the further spread of the Gospel that every generation of Christians doesn’t have to rehash the basics like the doctrine of the Trinity or the nature of Christ’s divinity. It is true that about every year some Christian writer comes out with a book or blog post about ‘revisiting _____ doctrine’, overturning some basic of the faith in favor of a new view. CS Lewis would call this, ‘chronological snobbery’ to think that after 2,000 years of church history, some blogger today has a better handle on say the nature of God. Tradition doesn’t trump all, but there are many great helps and insights from these summaries of Scripture with polished sentences that have stood the test of time.
Third, creeds and confessions spell out for the world clearly what we stand for as a church, and keeps us accountable to the Word. And furthermore, confessions, catechisms, and creeds can be very pastoral. For example, one of my personal favorites: Westminster Shorter Catechism #87: What is repentance unto life? A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience. Saying your sorry is not enough: repentance means sorry, grief, turning to the Gospel, AND striving to change. This helps me to parent my kids better; it helps me to assess my own repentance.
Far from being a hindrance to being biblical, creeds, confessions and catechisms—or our tradition—ought to be making us plunge more deeply into the word as we read along with the voices of the past the eternal Word which contains our hope in Christ.