Much of what we have already considered regarding creeds can be said regarding confessions. In the Reformed faith, confessions refer to the comprehensive documents concerning doctrine composed by the Protestant Reformers and their successors. Like the creeds from the early church, confessions carry an authority that is subordinate to Scripture. They are not infallible and can err and be improved on.
Some argue that confessions serve to create doctrinal division within the church. But this is not so. Doctrinal differences already exist because Scripture requires interpretation and harmonization. Rather than escalating division, confessions rather serve to create unity—they unite Christians to a common understanding of Scripture. They create doctrinal “fences” that keep ministers and churches together within what is believed to be biblical doctrine.
As we continue to consider the role of tradition in the church, one of the first places to start is with the ecumenical creeds. As we have seen, “No creed but the Bible” is itself a creed, and a poor one at that. Nobody is actually capable of living according to that… creed. You can pretend that Scripture is all you use for doctrine and right living, but if you take a step back, you’ll discover that you (and your church) absolutely have a creed. It may be unwritten, but it comes out in the sermons, in the liturgy, in the Sunday School lessons, and in the home. The alternative to this is to acknowledge that God has created us in such a way that we must interpret Scripture—and thus confess what we believe in creeds, embrace tradition, and joyfully study and proclaim what the church throughout the ages has established.
As part of the one catholic church, we hold to the creeds formulated by the early church and confessed through the ages. And as a Reformed church, we subscribe to the confessions developed by our Reformed fathers in the faith. But why do we bother with these man-made documents? Isn’t this just adhering to vain tradition? Why not join the “no creed but the Bible” crowd?
Louis Berkhof (Introduction to Systematic Theology):
The position of the Church in the world calls for a united testimony. Every Church owes it to other Churches and to the world round about her, to make a public declaration of her teachings. If it is but natural that w desire to know something about the character and convictions of the people to whom we would entrust our material interests, it will certainly be considered highly desirable, and in fact quite essential, that we know exactly where a Church stands, in which we would seek spiritual guidance for ourselves and for our children. Moreover, one Church will have to know where another stands, in order to be able to determine in how far it can correspond, cooperate, and possibly affiliate with such a Church. The Church of Jesus Christ should never seek refuge in camouflage, should not try to hide her identity. And this is exactly what she does in the measure in which she fails to give a clear and unequivocal expression of her faith.