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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Pride: An Excerpt from Richard Baxter's 'The Reformed Pastor' | Main | The wind blows where it wishes by Pastor John Samson »

    Jesus Asks His Church: "Who Do You Say That I Am?"

    Confessing Christ with All the Saints- Part 1
    The Word of God is the foundation, the sole infallible and inerrant authority and source for all we believe and do as Christians. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness in his holy word (2 Peter 1:3). We are to teach the Word of God as Christians, and particularly as Christian ministers we are to seek to teach the Bible as accurately as we can (2 Timothy 2:15).

    For any Christian, and particularly ministers of the Bible, one of the first things realized in the study of the Bible is that the Word of God must be interpreted, and because of this need of correct interpretation we as members of Christ’s Church must know how to interpret the only infallible rule of our faith and practice, and know that our interpretation is correct. The Word of God must be taught and preached by the minister called of God, and we must seek to be faithful to our calling for Jesus’ sake.

    But how can we do this, knowing especially that the word of God has been misinterpreted throughout church history? The answer lies first of all in considering a healthy and biblical understanding of the Church in our creeds, confessions, and councils. The Word of God must be interpreted by the minister (“carefully handled”, or “rightly divided” as the KJV translates it), and our interpretations should seek to be consistent and line up with other orthodox ministers not only in the present, but in the past as well. This means we should read and interpret the Bible with the Church.

    Credo: “I Believe”
    Let us first of all defined the word “creed”; the English word “creed” comes from the Latin verb credo that simply means “I believe”. As Christians we are not only to believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, making us full fledged members of the invisible Church of Christ, but we are commanded to then make confession with our lips before the visible Church and the world (Romans 10:9-17).

    God’s people have always confessed publicly what was true in their heart and minds before the assembly of saints, as well as before the watching world as witnesses (Matthew 16:16-18). “Who do you say that I am?” is one of the most important confessional questions a person can ever make, and the answer to the question has eternal significance for all. In fact, in the time of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, those who made a public confession of Christ could be thrown out of the synagogue, the corrupted visible Church of the time whose leaders were denying Christ:

    ESV John 9:22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.)

    ESV John 12:42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;

    There are early creeds and confessions found in Holy Scripture that instructs us that creeds and confessions are biblical in origin. Creeds and confessions are summaries of what we believe as the Church. There are two different confessions of faith in Paul’s letters worth considering:

    ESV Philippians 2:5-11: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    ESV 1 Timothy 3:16: Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

    Many scholars and teachers of the Bible believe the above scriptures to be early creeds and confessions in the Christian Church that were interpretations and an articulation of the Holy Spirit’s teaching (ca. AD 30-40s). In the last book of the Bible, the resurrected Jesus encourages the churches to whom he speaks in Revelation 2-3 concerning those who believe in him and confess him before the world, that he will confess their names before his Father and the angels in heaven:

    ESV Revelation 3:5: The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

    Yet in many evangelical churches today some Christians are leery of creeds and confessions, because some in the church in the past have abused creeds and placed them in more importance and authority than the Bible. Some today hold to a fallacy that confesses very simply “No Creed but Christ” in opposition to creeds and confessions, not realizing that this is a creed and confession!

    As Christians, we should be concerned with anyone abusing or misusing creeds and confessions, placing them as an authority over the Word of God, but at the same time we should understand that we want to attempt toward unity in the visible Church by confessing the truth of the Bible with other saints both dead and living.

    Confessionalism and Anti-Confessionalism
    There are real dangers of confessionalism, that is where one places creeds and confessions above the authority of the Word of God, but there are also dangers in anti-confessionalism, which although starting with a noble goal to place the Bible first, can end up with the misinterpretation and mishandling of Scripture that we are commanded to avoid by the Apostle Paul.

    Because there are dangers and abuses of creeds and confessions, let us consider at least two of the most common concerns as to why many evangelicals today tend to avoid creeds and confessions (both positions have the same commendable concern about adding or subtracting from the Word of God):

    1) Creeds and confessions can be exalted above Scripture and add to or subtract from teaching of the Word of God; and 2) Creeds and confessions can cause individual Christians to lose their liberty of conscience because creeds and confessions are insisted upon for membership in local churches, yet might be unbiblical, and thus bind the Christian’s conscience unnecessarily to something other than the Word of God.

    1) Let us address the first reason: If the confessions and creeds are considered more important than the Word of God itself or the creeds and confessions are held above the Word of God in authority, then this would be a legitimate problem and a very noble and biblical reason for rejecting creeds and confessions. We must avoid allowing anything to usurp the sole and final standard or authority of the Bible. Yet, creeds and Confessions should be understood as “subordinate standards” to the Bible in order to place them properly under the Word of God in importance as the interpretation and confession of what the Word of God teaches.

    Creeds and Confessions should be thought of like formal or collective interpretations of what the Bible teaches, much like a sermon that is interpreted by one ordained pastor-elder when he declares the teaching of Scripture to the congregation after he exegeses and studies the passage with other pastor-elders both dead and living in his commentaries. Creeds and confessions are simply helps on interpretation, and they assist Christians to know and have more confidence in the handling of the Bible in interpretation, because they are doing their interpretation with hundreds of years of interpretation that preceded their birth.

    2) If a creed or confession was imposed upon Christians without being shown to be exegeted or derived from Scriptural teaching in the Bible then it would indeed be a threat against men’s individual consciences. However, the creeds and confessions that have been exegeted from Scripture and handed down to us by those who served and learned in the Church before us, can be studied by the Church today as they interpret their Bibles with those who went before them, allowing their consciences to see the Biblical proof for confessing the Scriptures in a particular way.

    It is important for each Christian to study the creeds and confessions of Christianity with their Bibles, so that they might uphold the truths interpreted and summed up in them. Each Christian must be able to accept the creed and confession as biblical according to their own consciences, but they need to be encouraged to know and study the creeds and confessions together with all the saints both dead and living.

    If the ordained office of pastor-elder has authority from Christ to declare and teach his Word as His ambassadors, then this teaching office should also have the responsibility to profess and confess this faith before the world, as well as to protest that which the Church believes is in error. The reason why there are creeds and confessions are to confess what the Bible teaches, and protest what it does not. The Apostle John in 1 John 4 makes plain that we are to “confess” our faith about Jesus.

    ESV 1 John 4:1-3: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

    Who is the Jesus of Your Confession?
    The question is not whether we will confess Jesus or not, but whether we are confessing the Jesus of the orthodox Christian Church’s confession. In other words, all those who claim to follow Jesus will confess “Jesus”, but which Jesus are they confessing? This is why theologically and experientially you truly cannot merely confess “no creed but Christ”.

    I have had many people come to my door in the last ten years or so who told me that they confessed Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, upon my questioning them further, I realized that they did not have the Jesus of the Church’s confession. One group of men questioned the early creed and confession called the “Nicene Creed” because it declared that Jesus was “begotten, not made” and they had decided as a group of those who called themselves Christian to deny this teaching and confession of the Church to declare the opposite: Jesus was made, and he was the first created by God according to their confession.

    Which Jesus are we confessing as individuals and as the Church of Jesus whom we profess?

    Perhaps you say you believe in the “Bible alone” and this is your plain and simple creed. Which “Bible” are you speaking of? Do you mean the Roman Catholic Bible that includes the Apocrypha? Do you mean the liberal Bible that contains God’s Word, but is not really God’s Word? Do you mean the Bible that is God-breathed, infallible and inspired, consisting of 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New? What do you mean when you say you believe in the “Bible alone”?

    You must confess at this point foundationally to interpret, or to make clear what you believe is the teaching on the Word of God itself. You must interpret what it is you mean by the Bible- - and so in one way you can never confess alone, you will be confessing with the Church as she has accurately confessed concerning the Bible, or you are erring, and this is very important to consider, especially if you are a minister or teacher of God’s Word.

    Take the Bible’s teaching on God as another example. How do you confess the God of the Bible? Is he a Trinity? Is he one God who manifests himself in three modes? Is God a Spirit and what does this mean that we are made in his image? Is God a wrathful God? Is he gracious? Confess! Tell me what you believe- - confess. Are you confessing correctly and biblically, and with the Church?

    Many in Jesus’ day said he was a prophet, or a great teacher, but Jesus’ real question was: “Who do you say that I am?” and this is the most important question for us to answer today:

    Who is Jesus?

    Is Jesus equal with the Father and the Spirit, although distinct in person from them? Is Jesus an angel of God? Is Jesus resurrected and at God’s right hand? Did Jesus come in the flesh? Is he in glorified flesh now at the right hand of the Father? Is Jesus God? Is he merely a good man? Confess to me!

    The Church in the ordained office of pastor-elder has the collective duty before Christ the King to do what every individual pastor-elder is called and ordained by God to do. Pastor-elders have the duty and responsibility of interpreting the Bible together with the Church, and this means with Christians both dead and alive through faithful interpretations in the Bible found in creeds and confessions of the Church. We must confess as a Church before the world what it is we believe, and protest against that which we do not believe and think is in error, and we must do this too together with all the saints both dead and living.

    What I am saying here as plainly as possible, is that we must interpret the Bible, and in our interpreting of the Bible, we are going to confess with the truth of the Word of God, or against it altogether, or perhaps some rough and sketchy place somewhere in-between. The importance of studying the Scripture with all the saints comes to the fore here.

    Are you as a Christian or minister confessing what the Church of Christ has historically taught concerning your interpretation of the Word of God? Do you interpret the Word of God rightly with the rest of the Church of Christ? How is a person saved? What is the gospel? These are issues that our fathers and mothers in the faith have wrestled with in the past. What does it mean for a person to be saved by grace? How has grace been misunderstood in the past, and how are you as a Christian or minister opposing this error and upholding the correct interpretation of the Bible on grace?

    As we are called upon to submit to those Christ has ordained as pastor-elders in our present experience as they rightly declare the Word of God to us, so we are called to learn from pastor-elders as they have articulated creeds and confessions to aid us in our study of the Bible. Whether pastor-elders are still alive, or have passed on long ago, the Holy Spirit was working in their lives to help them to rightly handle the Word of God, as much as he still helps us today, and what a great praise to God’s sovereign and providential oversight of His Church throughout the centuries! God gave us the Church to nurture us as a school!

    Part Two: Seeking Confessional Unity with Other Christians
    Rev. Charles R. Biggs
    www.aplacefortruth.org

    Posted by Charles Biggs on November 16, 2005 04:16 PM

    Comments

    Charles,

    Great post! It raises a lot of issues that I've struggled with in the past, and still struggle with today. I'd like to mention a few of them.

    1) In regard to using creeds and confessions as guides to rightly interpreting Scripture...the question immediately follows, "How do we know the creed is right?" The answer, "Test it in the light of Scripture." But how do we rightly interpret Scripture? We do so in light of our historic creeds. It seems to become circular, or at least a very tight spiral! This is seized upon at every turn by (1) anti-credal fundamentalists, who'd say it should all be left to the Holy Spirit, and (2) Roman Catholics, who'd say that the CHURCH is our rule of faith, and gives us confidence that both our creeds and our interpretations are correct.

    The "Spirit-only" solution leads to chaos, as there is no higher authority than the self by which to validate one's interpretations. The Catholic solution is neat and tidy, except that their own argument for infallibility is itself circular (we're infallible because Matt. 16 says so, and we know Matt. 16 is infallible because we infallibly say so!) In the absence of an infallible interpreter, it seems we must find some other way of validating both our interpretations of Scripture, and our creeds.

    Does this, in effect, make other means of verifying knowledge (such as grammatical interpretation, historical study, or philosophy) more authoritative? Does the key to rightly dividing Scripture and rightly confessing Christ, really lie in hair-splitting distinctions about Greek grammar, or what Cyril of Jerusalem *really* meant?

    Perhaps these are issues you intend to address in your following posts. Either way, I look forward to your thoughts!

    Dear Bill,

    This can be a complicated issue that raises a lot of questions, huh?!

    I would say you are correct when you say that we enter a spiral, an interpretive one, between reading orthodox confessions and interpreting ourBible's while appreciating the work and illumination of the Holy Spirit with
    the Church, and also with the individual who is interpreting. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said to his apostles that the Spirit would lead us into all truth -- first the apostles, then in our interpretations as we seek to understand the closed, final revelation of the apostles.

    I will address further in my next post hopefully, but once we enter this interpretive spiral as individuals studying with the Church or "together with all the saints", we are then ready to begin the process of understanding the essentials and non-essentials in Christianity, and able
    better and more effectively to seek unity with regard to the truth, which is the prayer of Christ for his people (John 17; Eph. 4:1ff).

    We want to seek unity with regards to the truth, first we must be aware of how has Scripture been rightly interpreted, check it against Scripture, then begin studying with other Christians in our own time as to how to continue
    to construct, or build theologically and confessionally on this truth as we are also sanctified by it!

    Hope this helps!
    In Jesus,
    Charles

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