Thinking it through

Confessions then and now: Do we need creeds and confessions?

Confessions then and now: Do we need creeds and confessions?
Stephen Rees
Stephen Rees Stephen Rees is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Stockport.
08 March, 2023 14 min read
Confessions of Faith – summaries of Christian teaching adopted by a church or group of churches as an official statement of what they believe.

We tend to use the phrase confessions if they’re long statements of twenty, thirty, forty, pages. We tend to use the word creeds if they’re short statements, just a page or two. But the two terms really mean the same thing: summaries of what we confess and believe. And we can also include catechisms: summaries where the doctrines are set in question and answer form.

Here are two quotes. One of them is from a well-known Bible-teacher, Dr G. Campbell Morgan (1863–1945). He wrote this:

No man who is living in true fellowship with God will consent to be mastered mentally by any creed that ever yet was prepared for him. The proportion in which a man knows the high life of fellowship with God, is the proportion in which he knows that no creed his brother may write for him, no creed he may write for himself, can be final. No man or company of men, no Church living in true fellowship with God will consent that its policy be stereotyped…

Evidently, Dr Morgan had little respect for creeds and confessions.

Here’s my second quotation. This is Benjamin Warfield, another great evangelical Bible teacher who lived through almost the same period as Campbell Morgan. His dates are 1851 to 1921. This is what he wrote:

He who wishes to grow strong in his religious life, let him, I say, next to the Bible, feed himself on the great Creeds of the Church. There is a force of religious inspiration in them which you will seek in vain elsewhere. And this for good reasons. First, because it is ever true that it is by the truth that sanctification is wrought. And next, because the truth is set forth in these Creeds with a clearness and richness with which it is set forth nowhere else.

He calls them the compressed and weighted utterances of the Christian heart’ and goes on to say that the great creeds and confessions ‘have in them more food for your spiritual life – are “more directly, richly and evangelically devotional” – than any other book, apart from the Bible, in existence...’ The Reformed creeds, he goes on to say, are charged with blessing to those who will read and meditate on their rich deposit of religious truth...’

For Campbell Morgan the ‘high life of fellowship with God’ is incompatible with submission to creeds and confessions. For Benjamin Warfield the great creeds and confessions are the richest and most powerful devotional reading you’ll ever find. Well, whom do you agree with? Are you a Christian in the mould of Campbell Morgan or a Christian who stands with Benjamin Warfield? Or are you somewhere in between?

Growing up in a Campbell Morgan world

I grew up in a Campbell Morgan world, a world without creeds or confessions. I don’t suppose I had ever heard of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed until I was in my late teens. As far as I know, I never heard them read or sat with a congregation which recited them together in public worship. I’d never seen a copy of the Westminster Shorter Catechism or the 1689 Confession.

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