In an article in the Tennesee Baptist Newsjournal, Baptist & Reflector, a messenger at the Tennessee Baptist Convention raised a motions calling for prospective trustees and committee members to not be required to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. He said that the question should be, “Do you affirm God’s Holy Word, the Bible, as his perfect and complete revelation.” This was for the purpose of unity in the Body of Christ and not making the standard a document written by men.
This got me thinking about Christianity, unity and creeds.
I have had to deal with this issue before. Having gone to a Christian Church college for a semester. The Christian Church believes that denominationalism is wrong and we should not be known as Baptist, Methodists, and such, but just as Christians. Thus, the issue of denominations was raised frequently.
First off lets look at unity. What does the Bible say in regard to unity and Believers. Psalm 133 goes like this,
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
So unity among believers is good and desirable. This passage compares unity with the anointing of Aaron. This harkens the reader back to Leviticus 8:12 where Aaron is consecrated to the Lord by anointing. Thus, unity among brothers is compared to an act of consecration to the Lord. Then it is likened to the dew from Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. Wind from the Mediterranean Sea would blow the dew from Hermon, which was in the north, on the mountains of Zion. The goods of one mountain would be given to another. So, those that are unified are an aid to each other. Unity is pleasant, good, sanctifying, and providing. Unity is not something to be thought of lightly. Unified should be a place that is sought after.
I will say that to many times unity is not taken seriously. People will argue and divide over things that should not be divisive. Yet, because our eyes are on others things beside the things that are from above and our hearts are not overwhelmed in gratitude of the Savior’s love and His blood spilled in our behalf we divide. We will not take the time to be humble and gentle in our discussions and disagreements. Unity is to much a vision amongst believers as it should be a reality.
The Bible has more to say about unity. Yes, as Christians, unity is to be pursued in our local churches and amongst every body that confess the Lord Jesus Christ. But listen to Paul’s words to the Philippians,
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether
I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in
one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
A goal is set for unity attain. We are to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side. Yet that is not the end of what Paul wants of the Philippians. The unity has a purpose; it is for something. They are side by side for the gospel! Unity is not an end itself.
The church is unified for the spread of the glory of Jesus Christ among every tribe and tongue to the glory of His name. We live with one another to treasure, keep, and proclaim the gospel. For this purpose we are unified!
Taken together, Unity is good, pleasant, sanctifying, and providing if it is used in keeping the faith of the gospel. If it does not complete the goal then unity of the body is a failure. For it does not ultimate profit people. If unity becomes the focus instead of the gospel then the only message that can satisfy man and redeem him from the wrath of God is not preached. Lies start to over take truth so that no one is offended.
On this point, I will say that most attempts to unify the church today break away from the purpose Christ intended unity to have. What is called unifying today is usually people selling away truth for the approval of man. Satisfying the division between men has become more of a priority than satisfying the division between one and God. Offending man has become far greater a crime than offending God. These actions are completely contrary to what God had in mind when He called His church to be unified. What is happening in the church today, under the mask of unity, grieves the Holy Spirit and eclipses the gospel from a lost and dying world.
Unity is to glorify Christ by being for the faith of the gospel. Unity is pleasant and good if it accomplishes this. And that is the unity the church must strive for. Not rebellion masquerading as unity.
From what the Bible tells us about unity, should Christians use Creeds or just say, “we use the Bible.”
If unity is about the gospel, then our question of membership should be about the gospel not about one’s views of the Bible. (I am not saying that one’s views of the Bible will not affect the gospel, I believe that in the end it will. I am just saying that it is not the first and only question.) If the church is to be unified with whoever just says, “I affirm God’s Holy Word, the Bible, as his perfect and complete revelation.” then we show that we have no concern for what they believe the Bible to teach. The Christian faith is not about the book, it is about the message of the book. It is because we cherish the message that we cherish the book. The message is what distinguishes between who truly believes.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you
received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast
to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. (1 Cor 15:1-2)
The message (gospel) is what we received. It is what we are standing on. It is the means by which we are being saved.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ
died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he
was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he
appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five
hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have
fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all,
as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor 15:3-7)
Our unity is founded on the gospel that we have received.
The test of unity must be that of the person’s belief of the message. Thus, to simply ask, “Do you believe that the Bible is the only Word of God?” is to miss the test of true unity amongst Christians. We must ask the person what they believe the Bible to teach.
This is where Creeds and statements of faith become an essential. For they are means to test if one holds to the message we believe. If it is a good creed or statement, then it will lay out the message by which we see who accepts and who does not.
What about the fact that they are written by men? I really do not understand this problem. If a Creed contains the message that we have received then how in the world does the message lose its authority? How does clarification and translation diminish or remove the message? If that is the case, then one’s translation of the Bible is the same level as a creed. It was printed by men and written in a different language of all things. It did not come directly form the mouth of God. Also, what is the difference between what is written by men and what is spoken by men? Any clarification of a verse during a conversation with a lost person immediately means that the verse has lost its authority? Or not even clarification, just saying it puts it in the words of men. Especially if it is not in the original Greek or Hebrew. So, I am not bought with the “words of men” argument.
Unity is to guard and spread the glory of Jesus found in the gospel to the world. This is why we seek to be unified with the brethren. When we seek the unity as a means for the dispersion of the gospel then unity is good, pleasant, sanctifying, providing, and well pleasing to God. Thus we unify ourselves on this message. Anybody that does not agree with is message is reach out to with hope that they will receive the message. Anybody that believes it and cherishes it is embraced. And Creeds and statements of faith help us in make this distinction.