Many conservative Christians, especially those in the Baptist and Adventist denomination, have grown up hearing, “No Creed but the Bible.” It sounds like a strong call to biblical fidelity, but is it actually faithful to God’s word? Here are 10 reasons we should pull a Frozen and “Let it go!” (If I had hair, I’d sling it back while I sang the song, but you will just have to imagine that for yourself!).
- It is ambiguous and in need of clarification. Does this slogan mean the Bible, correctly interpreted according to its sense (author’s intended meaning) is our final authority in matters of faith and practice (so, Sola Scriptura e.g. Mathison 9),[i] or, does it mean the Bible is the only authority in church life and the only basis for our views with no help given to us by creeds, confessions, or any and all interpretations (so Solo Scriptura, e.g. Mathison Chp. 8)?[ii] If the former, conservative Protestants agree en mass and rightly understand the place and proper use of creeds and confessions while maintaining the supremacy of the Scriptures. In which case, something like the NAE statement poses no problem whatsoever. If it means anything close to the latter, then there are any number of serious problems that flow from it. Since I think most people who quote this intend this in the latter sense I’ll address it as such. These are the problems I see with it:
- It is a wrong appeal for unity. For the Advent Christians and prior to them the Christian Connection Movement which influenced them, and prior still the Restoration Movement which influenced them, this slogan has its roots in a desire for Christian unity.[iii] The goal is admirable, yet the mere appeal to a common source breaks open the doors to likewise seek unity, or at least be willing to accept it, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, liberal Christianity, universalists and any number of dozens if not hundreds of cults that all appeal to the Bible as their source. Someone who cites this slogan as their principle for unity is essentially saying, “All you have to do is appeal to the Bible and we will accept you no matter your views or theological persuasion and with no debate, questions, or concern, after all, we are all Bible believing Christians here!”[iv]
On the other hand, seeking a common sense (i.e. meaning) as Nicaea did for example, clarifies the lines instead of blurring them, and unites those seeking faithful biblical truth from false teachers. Ligon Duncan rightly says, “Whenever false teachers were appealing to the Bible and twisting it to suit their own purposes, Christians defended the truth by clearly articulating their scriptural convictions with the most faithful language they could muster—and which the false teachers could not affirm.” And again, “The point of a confession is to ensure the public teaching of the church is as close to the teaching of Scripture as possible.”
- It teaches disordered priorities: Connected with above I would say if unity is the highest goal then truth will suffer because as we know from Jesus’ life, truth divides. Churches that chase the pretty butterfly of unity as their topmost focused goal are often unaware of the danger ahead as they walk off the cliff of liberalism. This is largely true of the modern day ecumenical movement and its search for unity.
And yet, truth, rightly conceived can also unite as well. The priority is to abide with Christ and abide with His word and then, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). The church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) and upon that truth we must stand, and upon that truth we must unite. We do not need to spell out every jot and tittle mind you, but the basics need to be understood.
- Disordered priorities leave the door open to heresy. This can be seen from the very beginning of the Restoration movement which started as various independent strands that came together and united. W. Stone was instrumental in one major stream that formed the Christian Connection movement that would later combine with Campbell in the North, many of whom would later spill into the young Adventist movement and influence it formatively (e.g. no Creed…, character as the test…, Bible names for Bible things, etc.).[v] Alexander Campbell was a powerful driving force behind his strand of the movement and solidly orthodox in his view of God, the nature of Christ, etc. but not Barton Stone, he brought with him all of his own heretical views that denied the Trinity and the deity of Christ and yet, despite concern, Campbell accepted him. Then again, it was just a matter of time since he had little recourse to object because once they agreed on the premise, “no creed but the Bible,” Campbell and his followers were in a bit of a theological quagmire.
Adherents to “No Creed…” will argue this is a moot point because in practice many Baptists and Advent Christians have not been overtaken by liberalism or heresy. Notice our point here, “it leaves the door open.” People often leave their car doors unlocked and their house doors unlocked and think nothing of it… until their car is stolen and their house burglarized. Then they wish they had taken precautions! “So the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Thieves have already broken in to similar houses. 3 come to mind:
First, the Restoration Movement of churches still around today has been plagued with a liberal invasion within their denomination as well as persistent attacks by Jehovah’s Witnesses who seek to exploit their weakness on the Trinity.[vi]
Second, and third, both the United Churches of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ trace their origin back to such ideas which began as “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine.” Consequently, it should be no surprise to us that today both denominations have walked headlong into the sea of radical liberalism affirming homosexuality, supporting abortion, and viewing the doctrines of heaven and hell as “speculative.”[vii]
B.W. Stone’s polluted hermeneutic poisoned the well that the Christian Connection drank at and shared with the young Adventist movement. We are similar in many ways to the Disciples of Christ and the RM, and there is no reason to believe a 12th Declaration will stem the wave that is coming since by our very structure it holds no binding authority. Our problems as a denomination are more deeply rooted than this single fallacious slogan of course, but one thing at a time.
- It leaves the door open to heresy in various forms. The slogan effectively says, “I just believe what the Bible says,” yet this obscures the truth of the matter. What the person really means is, “I believe what [my interpretation of] the Bible says.” This then conflates one’s own interpretation of the Bible with what the Bible actually says and ASSUMES they are one and the same. This undermines biblical fidelity because it lifts man made interpretation to the level of inspiration thus promoting the very thing the slogan was intended to prevent!
OR, two people have opposing views of the Word and rather than appeal to agreeing on the majors (a basic set of standards that form the essentials) and allow diversity within the minors (the non-essentials), both interpretations must be seen as equally valid for both people despite contradiction or theological importance. We might observe that practiced consistently this…
(a) creates a radical individualism (that was the soil from which it sprang),[viii]
(b) removes objective truth (i.e. the biblical author’s intended meaning) and replaces it with relativism (whatever meaning I intended is okay for me and whatever you intended is okay for you),
(c) replaces hermeneutical principles by which we assess valid from invalid interpretations and strong from weak ones and replaces it with an overly broad theological pluralism that has no recourse but to say all interpretations derived from the source are equally accurate with none better or worse than another because evidently Scripture is not clear about anything… at all!
[iii] See The Oxford History Of Protestant Dissenting Traditions – The Nineteenth Century Volume 3, ed. Timothy Larsen et. al. 2017: 276-294 (chapter 11). For their intertwining history see A Basic Chronology of the Stone-Campbell Movement (pdf).
[iv] The original desire of the Campbell movement was to return to “primitive Christianity” before Creeds, confessions, etc. ruined all our supposed unity. Yet this overlooks that those early churches in the NT still had the Apostles to help settle disputes and regulate the faith with their authoritative teachings. There simply is no way to return to primitive Christianity without some rule of faith guiding the process. Even Campbell and those who joined him came to realize that in practice (see note 3 for the historical background).
[v] The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement ed. Douglas A. Foster, 2004: 154-55, 190; more detail in Christians Only: A History of the Restoration Movement by James D. Murch, 2004: 83-96 entitled, “Barton W. Stone and The Christian Connection.”
[vii] The United Churches of Christ base their unity on another principle of the restoration movement, namely, that unity is “not on doctrine or polity, but on Christian spirit and character,” (website). That should sound familiar, Advent Christians hold to the same ideals. Gotquestions.org offers a short summary on The Disciples of Christ calling them one of the most liberal denominations in the US (though to be fair many conservative churches have broken away from the movement). For a full article see “The Churches of Christ, The Christian Churches, The Disciples of Christ” at equip.org.