Do the Creeds Really Matter?
Do the creeds really matter?
Of course they do. Reformed theology has always held to a balanced view of the value and importance of church history and historical theology. Unlike Rome and eastern Orthodoxy we deny that tradition is a second source of infallible information, or even that church history can give us an infallible understanding of biblical revelation. Contra the Anabaptists, however, we affirm the great import of the wisdom of our fathers. To turn aside from what the church has always taught is fraught with danger. We affirm that God purifies His church in space and time, and that especially the ecumenical creeds can provide for us guidelines for what constitutes orthodoxy.
Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. Even the most ardent defender of the doctrine must confess that the Bible is not crystal clear on the matter. Does that mean, therefore, that we can take it or leave it, nuance it or deny it? Of course not. When the church in history affirms that God is three in person and one in essence, the key issue isn’t whether you are smart enough to come up with another perspective that has some level of plausibility. The issue is whether you are willing to humble yourself before the church, before the bar of history. Are you willing to say, “The church has always affirmed this. The church has always not only denied but condemned the contrary. The church certainly may err. What, though, is the likelihood that I have found wisdom that the church missed from the beginning? If the church has always condemned my position as heresy, how likely is it that they have always been wrong, while I alone am right? “
The creeds are the voice of our fathers. Of course our fathers were not sinless, nor inerrant. But are we more likely to find blessing by honoring them, or by spitting on their graves? Our problem in the contemporary church is that we think we are smarter, more earnest, more missional, more compassionate, more godly than our fathers before us. They got hung up on such petty little things, theological minutia. We, on the other hand, have received a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of broad-mindedness, the Spirit of inclusivity, the Spirit of tolerance.
We have indeed received an outpouring of this spirit. I fear, however, that this spirit did not descend on us from on high, but ascended from the depths to confuse and weaken us. Our fathers in the church gave us a precious inheritance in the creeds. They placed boundary markers around orthodoxy, to keep us from wandering off. Fools that we are, we think ourselves too clever to need such markers, and so move the ancient boundaries. We value not orthodoxy, but effectiveness. We value not honoring the dead, but seducing the living. And any man who can do that well, well, we can obviously learn a great deal from him.
The church’s very first creed was its most basic- Christ is Lord. As Lord, He commands that we honor our fathers, that it would go well for us in the land He has given us. Our fathers taught us God is one in essence and three in person. We honor God as we honor them.