As part of the one, holy, catholic church, we hold to the creeds formulated by the early church and confessed through the ages. This is why each Sunday we recite the Apostles Creed, which reminds us of the fundamentals of our faith. And as a Reformed church, our elders subscribe to the confessions developed by faithful men following the Reformation. But why do we bother with these traditional documents? Why isn’t the Bible alone enough?
First, we must realize that tradition is inevitable. It is not whether we will have tradition, but which we will have. We do not want the kind of tradition that Christ rebuked the Pharisees of – man-made rituals and teachings that replaced the clear commands of God and burdened the people. But we do want traditional teaching that is in conformity with and subordinate to our ultimate standard – the Word of God. This is the kind of tradition that the Apostle Paul commends in his epistles.
Now some might still respond – if the Bible is the ultimate standard, why isn’t it alone enough? And what is missing with this objection is that by necessity we all must interpret, systematize, and confess the teachings of Scripture. Every time a pastor preaches, or someone speaks up at a Bible study, or a mother explains something to her child – they are interpreting the Word of God.
J.I. Packer had a helpful way of defining tradition. He called it “the fruit of the Spirit’s teaching activity from the ages, as God’s people sought understanding of Scripture.” We can either say, “just me and my Bible,” believing to have all the wisdom and insight needed to understand the Word within in our own limited minds and in our own short lifetimes. Or, we can humble ourselves, and hear what the Spirit has taught the church throughout the centuries. For Christ promised that when He departed the Spirit of truth would come and guide His people into all truth.
So my exhortation this morning is to sing the creed with joy and with faith. Receive the biblical teachings of those that have come before us. And as you do this, you then honor the teaching work of the Spirit, through His Word, in the lives of countless saints throughout history.