Baptists, Creeds and Confessions |


It’s time to set the record straight. Baptists are not anti-creed. Or at least they shouldn’t be.

Perhaps you have heard Christians (probably Baptists) say “no creed but Christ” or “no creed but the Bible”.

Both of these sayings sound appealing. Which Baptist will establish equal authority with the Lord Jesus Christ? Who would claim that the Church has equal or superior authority to Holy Scripture? The desire to preserve the authority of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture is noble and just. The rightful Lord of the church East Jesus Christ and the Bible East The final, complete and sufficient word of God. Unfortunately, despite their appeal, these creed mantras present a false equivalence not intended by Creeds and Confessions, they fail to recognize that all Christians are creeds by definition, and they ignore the fact that historically many Baptists have writing and affirming confessions of faith.

For starters, throughout our 400 years, Baptists have written and given birth to many confessions of faith. It is true that many have opposed written and formalized statements of faith, and many others have welcomed such agreed formulations.

Even today, some Baptists are strident in their rejection of Creeds and Confessions. I understand that in Australia only one State Baptist Union includes a reference to rejection of creeds or denominations. They do, although they ask all voters to affirm a doctrinal basis.

One of the earliest figures associated with the birth of Baptists is John Smyth. In 1609, Smyth wrote a confession of faith, although he never published it. Some of Smyth’s ideas, however, became untenable for many Englishmen who had moved to Amsterdam with him. Smyth became a Mennonite and many of his followers eventually separated from him and returned to England where they (under Thomas Helwys) established the First Baptist Church. Smyth was so concerned with avoiding the liturgy (which he felt stifled the work of the Spirit) that he did not allow the Bible to be read at the assembly. Be that as it may, Smyth is hardly the Baptist example ultimate.

In 1611 Thomas Helwys wrote a statement of faith for English Baptists living in Amsterdam. Since then, no less than 50 Baptist Confessions of Faith have been written, published and affirmed by various Baptists throughout the centuries. The Second London Baptist Confession (1689) and New Hampshire Confession (1833/1853) are still used today in many Baptist networks. In other words, any blanket statement that Baptists are anti-creed cannot be sustained. The historical record demonstrates that Baptists are among the most prolific denominational writers among all Christian denominations. And these do not include all of the faith statements and doctrinal foundations that are used today in Baptist communities.

When Baptists talk about creeds and denominations, the correct description should be, many Baptists adhere to denominations and creeds while others do not, and sometimes the two groups live and serve together.

We have answered the question, are Baptists anti-creed. The next question is, should Baptists be anti-creed?

In 2004, Russell Moore observed,

“All Christians are, by definition, ‘creeds’. After all, the Spirit tells us that the regenerate person must “confess with his mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in his heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:9 ESV). All Baptists are, by definition, “creeds” since our name signifies that we share a belief in the meaning of baptism in identification with Christ. This is where the hypocrisy of the “anti-creed” Baptist shell game is so dishonest.”

From the earliest days of the Church there has been a standard of belief, a statement of fundamental truths required by churches. Even the New Testament gives us proof of such statements. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

For what I have received, I have passed on to you as being of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures , and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

Relying on the anti-creed movement can be a concern to preserve the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and to uphold the authority of Christ. Far from undermining them, Credo and Confessions, if they do their job, will articulate and support these fundamental elements of the Christian Church. More often, or at least in contemporary situations, the problem is admitting that there are crucial points of doctrine on which Baptists no longer agree, and then having to deal with the question of what do next. Confessions and beliefs require agreement and commonalities, while “no belief by Christ or the Bible” is vague enough to include all sorts of weird, wonderful, and downright heterodox positions. While Creeds and Confessions require established teaching, there is another “Baptist” value that goes against this, namely that the Spirit of God has new truths to enlighten us. This particular “Baptist” distinction is one I will address on another occasion because it is as historically controversial as the question of creeds. Hence the use of quotation marks.

Creeds and confessions of faith have long played an important role for churches in articulating faith and doctrine, and in forming partnerships and unions. They are not infallible documents like Scripture, but they can serve as faithful witnesses and summaries of apostolic faith and teachings crucial to the Church. A church that disconnects from historic Christianity risks drifting away from the once-delivered faith. Is it any wonder that Baptists can reject the bodily resurrection of Christ and still remain united? Should it surprise anyone that substituted penal atonement, though formally declared in the doctrinal basis of ABM, can be dismissed by some as a hateful teaching and yet joyfully commune together?

Creed and Confessions can serve churches in these 4 helpful ways:

First, they base our churches on historic faith. They remind us that we are not separate or distinct from the faithful churches that have preceded us over the millennia; we share the same apostolic faith.

Second, they serve as a buttress, helping to preserve a church’s theological beliefs. They give churches a point of reference to summarize fundamental beliefs and particularities. Somewhat ironically, despite all the talk about not trusting confessions, many Baptists are currently rushing to write statements of belief relating to sex, gender, and marriage.

Third, such statements serve to aid memory and function as useful catechetical tools.

Fourth, they serve to unify the church. For example, when we recite the Apostles’ Creed in church, with one voice, we affirm the faith we hold together.

The next time a Baptist looks you in the eye and tells you confidently that Baptists have no creed but Christ, maybe ask them, which Baptists? And then, if the conversation allows, explore with them the reasons for their objections.


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