One of the hallmark doctrines of the Protestant Reformation was Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone. The Reformers were willing to die on that hill defending the sufficiency of Scripture alone to guide our doctrine, our worship, and our church government. We hold to that same principle. Yet, it was the Reformers and their children who gave us the great theological creeds and confessions that still guide us today. Where would we be without the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Heidelberg Catechism?
Of course, there are people who contend that all creeds are wrong. They contend that we must simply follow the Scripture. Such people overlook a fundamental fact—all of us have a creed. We all have those things we believe that the Scripture teaches. A creed is what we believe. Credo is a Latin word which is a statement of our beliefs. Those who most oppose creeds in theory still have their own unwritten creeds. They still believe certain things about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, salvation, the sacraments, etc. It is impossible for people to not have a creed. The most important question is this one: Shall we write down our creed or not? Having a written creed is important because it allows us to unite together on the things we believe in common. Creeds are always secondary to the Scripture, though, because a creed is meaningless unless it is a true attempt to compose a statement that is true to Scripture. The next most important question is this one: Is the Scripture sufficient or do we need to go beyond the principles of the Bible for our doctrine, worship, and church government?
Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9—“So there is nothing new under the sun.” And, the philosopher, George Santayana, once said, “Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.” We must look at history, but we must not look only at the past. As the old Russian proverb says, “He who forgets the past, loses one eye. He who dwells on the past, loses both eyes.” All those statements are why I like to look back to the issues that divided the Old Light Presbyterians and the New Light Presbyterians in the eighteenth century. Those are issues that are still relevant to us today. Joseph Tracy, in his magnificent work, The Great Awakening: A History of the Revival of Religion in the time of Edwards & Whitefield, got to the heart of the issue between those two groups. The Old Light Presbyterians, Tracy wrote, “claimed the right to enact rules, not contrary to the laws of Christ” (p. 62). The New Light Presbyterians “contended that church courts have no legislative power whatever; that they are authorized only to administer the laws that Christ has made” (p. 62). The latter position is Sola Scriptura, or God’s ways. The former position is against Scripture and leads to man’s ways. To phrase it a little differently without changing the meaning, the Old Light position was this: “The Scripture might not teach this, but it does not forbid it either.” The New Light position was this: “We can only do what the Scripture permits.”
A careful consideration of the various issues facing the church today will reveal that this division is still with us. The progressives (who detest being called liberals) excuse all manner of deviations from the Scripture on the basis that the Bible does not forbid it. Where, they ask, does the Bible condemn a person having same-sex attraction? It makes no difference to them that the Scripture very carefully hedges the seventh commandment. It makes no difference to them that the Larger CatechismQ & A says, “What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment? The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections…” If same-sex attraction is not included in that list, words have no meaning.
Of course, when progressives or liberals are confronted with the Westminster Standards, they claim that they only want to be Scriptural. They are then dismissive of confessional statements. Edmund Burke in an eighteenth century speech on the Act of Uniformity said, “The subscription to Scripture is the most astonishing thing I have ever heard, and will amount to just nothing at all. Gentlemen so acute have not, that I have heard, ever thought of answering a plain obvious question: What is that Scripture to which they are content to ascribe?” (W. G. T. Shedd, Theological Essays, p. 338). In other words, when a person says that they hold to Scripture, the next question has to be: Which verse? What is that Scripture and what is the meaning of it that they say they hold to? If they cannot give us that, their claim to hold to Scripture is meaningless. If they do give us that Scripture, then their interpretation of it becomes their creed. So, we are left with this position that all men have a creed. Is it God’s? Or, is it man’s?
Note: My wife and I have been involved in a legal battle over the last few months concerning our oldest grandson. I cannot and will not go into any details, but it has been very stressful for us. We feel that Job-like trials have been placed on us for nothing that we have done. Your prayers are greatly appreciated.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Destin, FL 32540
Please send any donations to Vanguard Presbytery to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.
We have new mission churches starting in Clovis, New Mexico; Lubbock, Texas; Birmingham, AL; Kansas City, MO; Clarksville, TN; Tillsonburg, Ontario; and, Sparta, TN. Our desire in Vanguard Presbytery is to start new mission churches all across the country. We know that many of you have a desire to be a part of a Vanguard church or mission in your area. Several of you have expressed that desire to us. Pray for us and we will continue to pray for you. We would love to be able to assist you in starting a Vanguard mission church in your area.