“Confessional” or “No Creed but Christ”? (Part 2)

In a previous post (my second one ever, in fact), I jotted down my thoughts on the whole issue regarding confessions of faith. Please go back there to get the foundation for this post. However, for this short post, I want to publish a quote across which I recently came that puts those thoughts of mine in the previous post into a clear, concise, and powerful statement.Here is the quote by the somewhat famous American Presbyterian theologian William G.T. Shedd:

It is impossible to make abstract Scripture the rule of faith for either an individual or a denomination. No Christian body has ever subscribed to the Bible merely as a printed book. A person who should write his name on the blank leaf of the Bible and say that his doctrinal belief was between the covers, would convey no definite information as to his creed. He might be a Socinian, or a Calvinist, or anywhere between these extremes.[1]

Basically what Shedd is saying is that to claim, “I only believe what the Bible says,” is in actuality meaningless. This quote comes out of a book that Shedd wrote entitled Calvinism: Pure and Mixed in which he is defending the Westminster Confession of Faith in a time when the Presbyterian churches in America were in the middle of revising it. One of the sentiments that was going around was that the Confession be revised not according to Calvinistic orthodoxy, but to Scripture.[2] Shedd’s objection to this is that it is simply impossible. Why? Because Scripture has to be interpreted. Scripture is not a systematic theology (of which a confession of faith is merely a miniature version). Therefore, it is impossible simply to say, “I believe what the Bible says—nothing more, nothing less. If the Bible doesn’t say it explicitly, I don’t believe it. The Bible is my creed.” Again, while this sounds noble, it simply isn’t possible. The Bible is a congruent whole, written by many human authors yet one divine Author. There are many crucial doctrines to the Christian faith that Scripture simply does not say in as many words. Furthermore, even when Scripture is interpreted, it can be interpreted wrongly, hence the need for well-defined and distinct confessions of faith.

Let me give an example. How would such a person respond when inquired about the triune nature of God? Well, they would almost have to deny it, since the Bible nowhere explicitly says that God is, as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.” It is not enough to say, “The Bible is my creed,” because Scripture means many different things to many different people. As Shedd says above, Socinians, Arians, Pentecostals, Methodists, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Catholics all believe what the Bible says—just in their own (often illegitimate) ways.

So, in my judgment, enough with this “no creed but Christ/the Bible” business. When someone says that, they are saying absolutely nothing about what they believe and, consequentially, that they believe absolutely nothing. I truly appreciate the nobility of the intention but, in reality, it lacks anything substantial.

[1] William G. T. Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1893), 152–53.

[2] Ibid., 151–57.


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