On Creeds & Confessions

“And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, ‘A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous…'”

Deut. 26:5

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

1 Tim. 1:15

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”

2 Tim. 1:13

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Subsection

Constitutionalism

Commentaries on the Westminster Standards

Creeds are Not an Element of Worship

“He Descended into ‘Hell'”

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Order of Comments

Articles
Books
On the Apostles’ Creed
On the Nicene Creed
Reformed Confessions
The History of Subscription
On ‘No Creed but the Bible!’
That Creeds, Able to Err, may Deliver Wholly Inerrant & Infallible Truth
A True Creed is a Secondary Rule of Faith
On the Nature of Proof-Texts

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Articles

Gebbie, D. Douglas – The Experiemental Religion of the Westminster Standards, 2015, 22 paragraphs.  Rev. Gebbie has been a pastor in the Free Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Reformed Church.

Harper, James – The Uses and Value of Subordinate Standards  1843  8 pp.  from the larger work by various authors, Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines: held at Edinburgh, 1843, Containing the Addresses and Conversations, p. 93 ff.  Buy  158 pp.

Professor James Harper was of the United Secession Church.

Hodge, Charles

The Nature and Necessity of a Public Profession of Religion  from his The Way of Life   Buy  1841

All too often Christianity is thought to be a personal opinion that one can keep to themselves and requires nothing.  Here is a Biblical corrective.  Christ said, “whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”  Mt. 10:33

What is the “System of Doctrine?”  1936, the article is edited by Dr. J. Gresham Machen and contains extracts from Hodge’s Discussions in Church Polity

An article on confessional subscription and the meaning of the phrase “system of doctrine” in ministers’ and elders’ ordination vows

What is Meant by Adopting the Westminster Confession?  HTML, from the Princeton Review of 1867 and later published as Appendix II of A.A. Hodge’s The Confession of Faith, Banner of Truth edition, p. 420-426

Kennedy, John – Answer to the Declaratory Statement of 1892 in the Free Church of Scotland, part 1part 2HTML, with the five paragraph Declaratory Act at the beginning.  The Declaratory Act of 1892 in the Free Church was a declaration of the Church’s interpretation of the Westminster Confession under five points, some of which taught against the Confession itself.  The intent of the Act was to open the door to union with the broader United Presbyterian Church.  The Declaratory Act, not being of a constitutional nature, but only a current interpretation of the constitution, did not materially change the constitution.  Thus the conservatives, bound by their unaltered constitutional vows to the constitution of the church, stayed in the church, though two ministers left and formed the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.  The foreseen union between the United Presbyterian Church and the Free Church took place in 1900 and the United Free Church was formed.  The Constitutionalists stayed out of the unconstitutional union, continued the Free Church of Scotland, and repealed the Declaratory Act in 1905.

The Declaratory Act includes the statement, “that liberty of opinion is allowed on matters in the subordinate standard not essential to the doctrine therein taught.”  With such ideas rife in confessional churches today, Kennedy’s dismantling of such broad-tent subscription is an example for conservatives today.  

Miller, Samuel

On the Importance of Creeds and Confessions: an Introductory Lecture, with an Appendix entitled A Letter to Scripturista 1833  95 pp.

The Vows of Teaching and Ruling Elders  1833  2 pp.  abridged by Rev. Morton H. Smith

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Books

Miller, Samuel

Doctrinal Integrity  Buy  including The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions, 1839, 138 pp. and Adherence to our Doctrinal Standards, 1833, in three letters, with a Preface by Kevin Reed, 1989

The classic piece showing the Biblical warrant and necessity for creeds in the church, and the great importance of officers upholding them with their vows. 

A Letter to a Gentleman of Baltimore: in reference to the case of The Rev. Mr. Duncan [in reference to the necessity and utility of creeds]  1826  91 pp.  This is a lengthy letter to an anonymous friend reviewing Rev. Mr. Duncan’s book Creeds, which argued against the use of creeds due to the sufficiency of the Bible.

Letters to Presbyterians, on the present crisis in the Presbyterian Church in the United States  1833  340 pp.  Letters 6-8, on the topic, are also in Doctrinal Integrity above

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On the Apostle’s Creed

1600’s

Forbes, John – ‘On the Apostles’ Creed’  in Instructiones Historico-Theologicae (Amsterdam, 1645), p. 1  tr. Michael Lynch

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1800’s

Cunningham, William – The Apostles’ Creed  1863  14 pp.  being Chapter 3 from his Historical Theology, vol. 1, p. 79 ff.

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Webpage

“He Descended into ‘Hell'”

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On the Nicene Creed 

Cunningham, William – The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church and the Nicene Creed  1863  38 pp.  from his Historical Theolgy, vol. 1, p. 267

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Reformed Confessions

ed. Jean-Francois Salvard, Theodore Beza, Lambert Daneau, Antoine de la Roche Chandieu & Simon Goulart – The Harmony of Protestant Confessions  Table of Contents   Latin  1581  700 pp.

In 1581, the first Harmony of Protestant Reformed Confessions of Faith was published in Geneva.  It was the result of a collaboration between the Huguenot ministers listed above.

They published it in response to the publication of the Lutheran Book of Concord in 1580.  It included a comparison of eleven Reformed confessions and the Lutheran Augsburg Confession.  In 1842, it was translated into English, reorganized and enlarged by Peter Hall.


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The History of Subscription to Creeds

1500’s

Lillback, Peter A. – ‘Confessional Subscription Among the Sixteenth Century Reformers’  in ed. David Hall, The Practice of Confessional Subscription  Buy  1997

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The Westminster Assembly

Mitchell, Alexander – Appendix, pp. 511-12 of The Westminster Assembly: its History and Standards  1884

Mitchell, A. & Struthers, J. – footnote on pp. lxxi-ii  in Minutes of the Westminster Assembly  1874

The authors document and discuss the historical point that Westminster, and the English Church, did not require subscription to the Westminster Standards.

This is important as it shows that Westminster divines arguing variant views during the Assembly (which views did not make it into the Standards), does not warrant persons today using this as justification for taking exceptions to the Standards (as no exceptions were ever approved of by Westminster, and as the contents of the Westminster documents do not approve of such variant views).

Rather, the nature of the majority vote process at the Assembly was that the final statement of doctrine in the Westminster Standards was that which the majority of all the parties could agree on.  This accounts for differing parties at the Assembly without necessarily approving of their views.  Nothing was approved by the Assembly except the documents it produced, and the Westminster Assembly approved all the content of those documents without exception.

When the Church of Scotland did require subscription to the Westminster Confession, there was no category of ‘exceptions’ that were allowed.

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1500’s-1900’s

Godfrey, W. Robert – ‘Subscription in the Dutch Reformed Tradition’  in ed. David Hall, The Practice of Confessional Subscription  Buy  1997

Duncan, III, J. Ligon – ‘Owning the Confession: Subscription in the Scottish Presbyterian Tradition’  in ed. David Hall, The Practice of Confessional Subscription  Buy  1997

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1690-1800’s

Hamilton, Ian – The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy: Seceders and Subscription in Scottish Presbyterianism  Buy  1990

Sealy, Charles Scott – Church Authority and Non-subscription Controversies in Early 18th Century Presbyterianism  2010  250 pp.  PhD thesis, Univ. of Glasgow

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America

ed. David Hall – The Practice of Confessional Subscription  Buy  1997

Many chapters survey and relate to American history on the topic of confessional subscription. 

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On ‘No Creed but the Bible!’

Samuel Rutherford

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649), ch. 2, pp. 28-32

“Arminians: ‘The Word of God is sufficient for the deciding of controversies, its clear; what need is there of decision, if men acquiesce to the decision of God as it lies in Scripture?— if the word of God express the sense of God, or if it have need of interpretation, why is there not a free interpretation left to every man?  Do we think our words are clearer than the word of God; we do a mighty injury to the word of God, if we believe that.  How much better were it, if we would nourish peace and concord leaving interpretations free to every man?  It is most sure to contain ourselves within the speaking of holy scripture, and the form of words of the Holy Ghost, and that no man be troubled who shows himself willing to contain himself within these.’

[Rutherford’s] Answer:  …for in principles of faith, that Christ is God and man, and died for sinners, the Scripture is most plain, and what need then [is there] of our interpretation [if the Arminians be correct]?  Then let Arians and Socinians believe him to be God-man and to die for sinners in their sense, the Familists in a contrary sense, the Georgians [after David George, d. 1556] in another contrary sense, the Papists in a third, the Protestants a fourth, and so as many heads, as many faiths, every sect and man must have some sense, else his faith is nonsense; and if he err from the sense of the Holy Ghost, the scripture is no scripture, if it be believed in a sense contrary to the scripture…  and so his faith is no faith, but a vain night-fancy; and seeing the word of God gives us but one faith [Eph. 4:5], and one truth, and one Gospel; if interpretations be left free to every man, these Libertines gives us millions of faiths with millions of senses, and so no faith at all.

Secondly, they give us two decisions: one made by God, and another by the Church contrary to God’s: that has no rule but every man’s private judgment and free fancy…

Fourthly, That ‘no confessions ought to be but in express words of Scripture’, shall free all men and consequently all Churches from obedience to that which Peter commands, 1 Pet. 3:15, ‘Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.’  When Stephen, Acts 7, and Paul, Acts 26, were accused of heresy and speaking against Moses and the temple, they made a confession of their faith not in words of Scripture, but in deductions and necessary consequences drawn from Scripture and applied to themselves; and those in Nehemiah’s time who wrote and sealed or subscribed a Covenant, did not write and seal the express Decalogue and Ten Commandments…  Neh. 10:29-34 ff., compared with Neh. 9:38, which words are not a confession nor Covenant in express Scripture…

…should by some confession and Covenant ‘give an account of their faith and hope with meekness and fear.’  And what particular persons are obliged to do, that Churches, when they are slandered as unsound in the faith, are obliged to do: and so I look at a form or confession of faith as a necessary apology for clearing of the good name of a Church defamed with heresies, and new sects…

…Now that it is not sufficient that they be put to subscribe a confession of faith in only scripture words is clear: 1. Because the Jews will swear and seal the Old Testament in their own sense, but their sense makes the Old Testament to be the word of man, not the Word of God.  The Sadducees acknowledged the five books of Moses to be the Word of God, yet because they denied the resurrection of the dead, Christ argues them, Mt. 22:45, ignorant both of the power of God asserted in the books of Moses and of the scriptures…  Yet would the Sadducees have sworn and subscribed all the book of Exodus as the undoubted Word of God…  but when they denied the resurrection, sure these words ‘I am the God of Abraham’ etc…  making the Covenant of Grace to die when Abraham died, and Abraham to have perished in soul and body as they expounded it, was not the Word of God;

And Papists will subscribe the Old and New Testament and the three creeds, the Nicene Creed, the Creed of Athanasius, and that which commonly is called the Apostles’ Creed.  Yet as they expound the Word and these Creeds, we say they transform the Word of God into the doctrine of devils [1 Tim. 4:1-4] and most abominable idolatry;

The greatest heretics that were, Arius, Nestorius, Appollinaris, Macedonius [who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit], the Treithite [a Tritheist] acknowledge the scripture to be the Word of God, and will swear and subscribe the word of God and contain themselves intra sacre scripture lecutiones, ‘within the words of scripture’.  But their faith is not the faith of the scripture, and this makes ten thousand and millions of faiths, whereas the Word says there is but one faith [Eph. 4:5].  For Arius has one faith, Apollinaris another, Nestorius another, and every heretic a faith according to the sense that he falsely puts on the scripture, and all may swear one confession of faith in scripture words.”

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That Creeds, Able to Err & being Fallible, may Deliver Wholly Inerrant & Infallible Truth

Samuel Rutherford

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649), ch. 2

pp. 24-5

“Yea the fallible church may determine infallible points.  This is a principle that Libertines proceed upon, that men who are not infallible may err, and therefore can hold forth to others no infallible truth, which is most false, for prophets and apostles, Nathan, Samuel, David, Peter, being deserted of the immediately inspiring Spirit, did err, as well as the Church and pastors now deserted of the ordinary Spirit can and do err.  For ‘all men’, prophets and apostles, ‘are liars’, Rom. 3, yet they may and do carry infallible truth to others; a blind man may hold a candle to others.

3.  By this reason [of the Libertines] pastors can preach nothing certain in fundamentals [which is absurd], though faith come by hearing and faith is of a certain and determinate fixed truth of God, more permanent than heaven or earth; Why? because by this reason pastors in preaching fundamentals are not infallible.

4.  Nor is this a good reason: It is believed the Church may err in synods, ergo [therefore], it does err and determines nothing that is infallible and certain in synods; no more than this is a good consequence: David may sin in praying, ergo, he does sin in praying: a potentia ad actum non valet consequentia [a consequence from potential to an act is not valid].”

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p. 35

“…though senses of Scripture rendered by synods be fallible in the way they come to us, because men delivering them may err, yet being agreeable to the Word, they are in themselves infallible.”

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p. 36

“For what synods determine, being the undeniable Word of God, is intrinsically infallible, and can never become fallible, though fallible and sinful men that are obnoxious [liable] to error and mistakes do hold it forth ministerially to others: and it is false that we are to believe that what synods determine according to the Word of God, we are to believe it is fallible and liable to error, and may [be] an untruth because they so determine; for then, when a synod determines [that] ‘there is but one true God,’ this principle of faith is believed to be subject to retraction and falsehood, because a synod has determined it to be a truth.

But the truth is, we are to believe truths, determined by synods, to be infallible, and never again liable to retraction or discussion, because they are, and were in themselves and without any synodical determination, infallible, but not for this formal medium, because so says the synod, but because so says the Lord.”

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A True Creed is a Secondary Rule of Faith

Samuel Rutherford

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649), ch. 2, pp. 25

“Arminians: ‘A confession is not a rule of faith; it has not the lowest place in the Church.’

[Rutherford’s] Answer:  The covenant written and sealed in Nehemiah’s time was a secondary rule of faith, and a rule even so far as it agreed with the Law of Moses, for they enter in a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, not to give their sons and daughters in marriage to the heathen, not to buy victuals from the heathen on the Sabbath, to charge themselves to give money to maintain the service of God, Neh. 9:38, ch.10:1-3, 29-32, which written Covenant was not Scripture; and [further,] Acts 15, the decrees of the synod [of Jerusalem] were not formally Scripture, yet [were] to be observed as a secondary rule [Acts 15:28; 16:4].”

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On the Nature of Proof-Texts

Richard Muller

PRRD (2003) 1.426

“Virtually all of the orthodox systems cite a wide variety of texts–dicta probantia [proving texts]–which are intended for use, not crassly as proof texts for citation without exegesis, but as points of reference to the long-established results of the church’s exegetical tradition.  The dicta probantia or proving texts serve not to circumvent study of the text but to indicate received interpretation leading from exegesis to doctrine.”

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