Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 6, 1969
NUMBER 43, PAGE 3b,5a

Christians, Creeds And Sects

(Third In A Series On "Restoration Thoughts")

Edward Fudge

In the days of the "Declaration and Address" and the Springfield Presbytery, according to J. H. Garrison, "Christianity seems to have been regarded as a system of theological subtleties and abstractions to be defined and its definitions defended, rather than as consisting of personal loyalty to Christ and love to one another."

Party loyalty demanded creeds, and creeds begot more misguided allegiance to parties. Thomas Campbell sought to eliminate human creeds, not as being evil within themselves, but because of their evil fruits.

It is the abuse not the lawful use of such compilations that we oppose...Although we may appear to our brethren to oppose them; this is to be understood only in so far as they oppose the unity of the church. ("Declaration and Address")

John S. Sweeney, a later disciple of note, expressed his opposition to human creeds in these words:

The fact is, human creeds only increase the trouble they are made to prevent, or to rid the church of. And this because, as interpretations of what the Spirit of God has said, they interpret too much. They make more essentials to salvation and more conditions to Christian fellowship than the Holy Spirit has made...ln religion we should not try to contract the wide margin God has left for individual freedom of thought and conduct.

Seventeen centuries of creed-making only brought the church to its delinquent condition of 1808, and proved once for all that creeds could not cure the ills of suffering Christendom. Even the Protestant revolution had helped but little in this respect. Sweeney pointed out that "every Protestant party has aimed to get back to New Testament Christianity by offering to Christians a better and more Scriptural human creed than any that had been tried before; and instead of getting back to the New Testament the creed only made a new party or denomination."

When the "Declaration and Address" appeared, many looked on it as another creed for one more party or sect. This outlook simply verified the existence of the part of human nature which accepts only what matches one's pre-colored opinions. Campbell had plainly stated, in the "Address" itself, that this was not his intention. He had appealed that "none imagine that the subjoining propositions are at all intended as...a new creed or standard...or as in any wise designed to be made a term of communion; nothing can be further from our intention."

Even today some confusion exists among those claiming no human creed as to -what their creed actually is. One will say, "My creed is the New Testament." Others, just as dedicated in their opposition to human creeds, explain, "Our creed is Christ." These answers are indicative not of a difference in belief, but of a rather loose usage of the term "creed." The ambiguity is clarified in this quotation from James C. Creel, an early preacher among the disciples.

There is this distinction between what is called a creed and a rule of faith and practice; namely, the creed is a summary of what is believed, a summary of "the faith," while the rule of faith and practice is "the faith" itself...The one divine creed, the summary of the whole religion of Jesus Christ, the summary of New Testament Christianity, is expressed in this one plain proposition: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God...The one divine rule of faith and practice in the religion of Jesus Christ is the pure word of God, especially the New Testament.

Every student of the Bible will agree with that same author when he affirms:

The faith of the apostles is a personal faith, faith in the divine person, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. With the apostles the question was not simply, what do you believe? but the question was, whom do you believe? or, in whom do you believe?

The question of creeds, for these men, involved more than a quibble in semantics or a point of theological quarrel. With them this was a very basic point, for the creed as a standard of conformity, or measure of orthodoxy, or boundary of fellowship, directly disputes the very authority of Christ. In his book, Christianity Restored, Alexander Campbell made this plain. "The keeping up of any dogma, practice, or custom," said Campbell, "which directly or indirectly supplants the constitution, laws, and usages of the kingdom over which Jesus presides, is directly opposed to his government; and would ultimate in dethroning him in favor of a rival, and in placing upon his throne the author of that dogma, practice, or usage, which supplants the institution of the Saviour of the world."

The exclusion of human creeds (written or unwritten) and authorities in religion does not jeopardize a spiritual or obedient life, for to the true believer, "trust in Christ goes just as far as obedience in 'Christ goes," to borrow words from James C. Creel.

"No man can serve two masters," said Jesus, and the renunciation of all but Him cannot but please Him. This was the ambition of the early pioneers. Their efforts can be called a "Restoration Movement," then, for they sought to restore to King Jesus the power and authority given Him by the Father but supplanted and ignored by human creeds and authorities.

Alexander Campbell summed up the task in this regard with these pregnant lines: "Let the Bible be substituted for all human creeds; facts, for definitions; things, for words; faith, for speculation; unity of faith, for unity of opinion; the positive commandments of God, for human legislation and tradition; piety, for ceremony: morality, for partisan zeal; the practice of religions for the profession of it; — and the work is done."

If Brother Campbell were still living, one suspects that he might suggest the same task today. —

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