10 Problems with “No Creed but the Bible.” Part 2

Pastor Corey McLaughlin       Comments Off on 10 Problems with “No Creed but the Bible.” Part 2

6. It requires a commitment to naïve presuppositions. In order to accept this slogan and what it teaches one must presuppose some very basic truths.  One author investigating the history of B.W. Stone and this phrase points out three assumptions in particular that must be made (Disciples and the Bible:  A History p. 19-26):

a. The meaning of the Bible is clear.

b. The interpreter is free and capable.

c. The hermeneutical method is common sense.

Stone said, “We may take the Bible alone, and Bible facts, without note or comment as the only standard of faith and practice…” (p. 22).

Dig into Stone’s own views and we might ask what he considered “clear” Bible “facts?”  Well, Arminianism as opposed to Calvinism, immersion rather than sprinkling, Credo-Baptism as opposed to infant baptism, a rejection of Trinitarianism, a rejection of the deity of Christ, and the moral influence theory of the cross over against the substitutionary atonement of Christ.  Clearly we are not working with the same definition of “clear”!!  While many of these are non-essentials, the nature of Christ and the nature of God are paramount to a faithful representation of biblical truth.

The author in the above link takes all of these assumptions to task dismantling each one in turn and I would concur with his assessment.

7. It throws the baby out with the bath water. The assumption in this slogan is that creeds and confessions must automatically stand against the plain meaning of Scripture with no allowance made that perhaps some creeds and confessions do in fact embody and are faithful to the plain meaning of Scripture.  This was the contention of Campbell and Stone as well, both from a Presbyterian background and both agreed that creeds divide.[1]

Instead what we need is a basic and consistent hermeneutic to evaluate secondary statements derived from and supported by Holy Scripture so that we can weigh and affirm those things which are in line with God’s intent for His people.  If someone wants to debate how inspiration works, that’s fine, but that inspiration is clearly taught, that is a given, a starting point.  If someone wants to debate how the God-head functions, there is room for lots of dialogue, but that the Triune God exists, that is a foundational truth.  It is not a difficult or contrived argument that Scripture explicitly affirms the deity of three distinct Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Phil. 2:5-12; Col. 2:9; John 16:5-15; Acts 5:3-4), thus revealing the truth of the Triune God-head, yet allowing as well for mystery (Deut. 29:29; Matt. 3:16-17; 28:18-20; Rom. 11:33-34).  It is to our shame and embarrassment that Advent Christians have been so chained to this “No Creed…” principle as to miss the most rudimentary starting points for the Christian faith.

This is all not to mention that the principle itself, “No Creed but the Bible” is self-refuting on a number of different levels.

8. It is self-refuting in terms of logic. I know some will think this objection is just trying to be fancy with words, but if words have meanings and convey truth then they ought to be consistent.  This slogan sounds no different to me than the relativist who confidently asserts, “There is no such thing as absolute truth!”, thus asserting at least one fundamental absolute truth they do in fact adhere to and undercutting their main premise.  Likewise, “No creed…” is…a…creed, used authoritatively both to protect one’s beliefs and to exclude not just those who are historically creedal, but even those who simply want a basic statement of faith.

9. It is self-refuting in terms of consistency. Where does the concept come from?  Does it come from human reasoning or biblical teaching?  The slogan purports to teach that only the Bible should be our creed, yet where in the Bible does it teach that only the Bible should be our creed?  In fact, I would instead follow Carl Trueman’s exposition of 2 Timothy 1 and argue that Paul’s command to “hold fast the form of sound words” in fact demands that we faithfully and accurately preach, teach, and confess words that are in line with Scripture and to the extent that they agree with Scripture they are therefore authoritative (The Creedal Imperative, 72-79).

I might also point out three remaining inconsistencies here: 

(a) the slogan does not work when applied to itself since it rests on the fact that the canon of the Bible must first be defined by authoritative early church creeds and councils (since the New Testament does not define its own canon) before it can apply the slogan and before there can be any agreement as to what constitutes the “Bible” in the first place (so The Shape of Sola Scriptura 248).

(b) One might wonder if this slogan were God’s intent, then why does He want us to preach at all?  Preaching is not the Bible, but truths based upon the Bible which people often receive as God’s word to them, but are always a mingling of human interpretation and biblical truth.  Should we not simply read the Bible without note or commentary and let the people in the pews do what they may with it?  That seems to me a more consistent use of the slogan’s philosophy.

10. It is self-refuting in terms of practice. The word “Creed” comes from the Latin Credo meaning, “I believe.”  The fact of the matter is that everyone has a creed, whether implicit or explicit, formal or informal.   Everyone reads the Bible through a particular lens, a starting point, stated or unstated (so Trueman in The Creedal Imperative p. 15).

So, instead of denying this fact, or trying to skirt around “declaring” non-binding “principles” (read “suggestions”) we ought rather to declare authoritatively the most clear, revealed, core tenets of the faith as our starting point, entrance point, and replication point for our denomination.

Incidentally, I am sure that if leaders in the more conservative branch of the Churches of Christ began teaching infant baptism, or that even suggesting that pouring or sprinkling were acceptable for baptism, then no appeal to “no Creed but the Bible,” no matter how accepted, would curb the outcry since they are absolutely against these practices (they just don’t make them formally “binding” by signing a statement of faith but evidently they are nonetheless binding in practice).  This is what Trueman is talking about.

In the end I think the Sola Scriptura should be the guiding principle.  When rightly defined it affirms the final authority of the Bible, but does not exclude the wise council of those who have gone before us.  It recognizes freedom of interpretive communities while not affirming the validity of every individualistic interpretation.  It recognizes that there will be, in a fallen and imperfect world, a certain relativism between these interpretive communities yet still finds common ground and unity around the principle itself and the core tenets of the faith.  In every way it is superior I believe to the Solo Scriptura inherent in the AC slogan “No Creed but the Bible.”

For more on this topic via blog thoughts:

[1] Barton Stone – A Spiritual Biography by D. Newell Williams, 2000:  159- 174 (The Bible Alone).