Creeds & Confessions
Our Use of Creeds and Confessions
New Life acknowledges the usefulness of creeds and confessions as summaries of biblical doctrine. Every healthy church, as well as every heretical cult, carries with it some understanding of the Bible by which it lives. To assert, “We will have no creed but Christ; it is wrong to formulate some uninspired document and elevate it to importance,” is itself in fact a creed, an uninspired statement of merely human origin which succinctly states one’s understanding of the Bible and is elevated to a place of importance in the life of the church.
By contrast, we openly assert that it is impossible for Christians not to formulate some summary of biblical teaching and then to navigate accordingly. Therefore, we rejoice to have such excellent synopses of scriptural religion as the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. They are not inspired by God and are ever subordinate to the divinely inspired Word, the Bible. In fact, they have been altered a few times over the years as God the Holy Spirit has led his church more accurately into the faith given to the saints once for all.
But by these standards, our understanding of the Bible for faith and life, belief and duty, may immediately be known by outsiders inquiring into our views.
Furthermore, they form a pattern of sound doctrine (2 Tim. 1:13-14, 2:2) by which our churches and leaders are held accountable. They may not swerve aside after every “wind of vain doctrine.” At their ordination, our pastors, elders, and deacons promise that they “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” It is important to note that individual members are not asked to receive and adopt our confessional standards upon joining our church, but only to affirm the most basic truths of the Christian faith. We have joyful fellowship in our church with many members in our church who do not hold to particular points in our confession.
Nonetheless, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms do form the summary of our faith, and so they also serve as excellent tools for instructing children and adults alike in the whole counsel of God, and for confessing our faith, to the glory of God, in our worship.
In 1643 the English Parliament summoned almost 160 men, mostly ministers, to advise it on restructuring the Church of England along more biblical lines. Meeting regularly at Westminster Abbey in London for several years, this group became known as the Westminster Assembly.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, formulated in numbered paragraphs in 33 chapters, was completed in 1647. It is an outstanding expression of biblical theology framed by men of deep pastoral and preaching experience with the needs of God’s people in mind.
Catechisms are teaching provided in question and answer form, appropriate especially for memorization. The Westminster Assembly, after several frustrated attempts to devise a catechism, finally concluded they would need two, one more exact and comprehensive, one more simple for children and beginners in the faith.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, containing 107 questions followed by, generally, single-sentence answers, was also completed in 1647. The Shorter Catechism distills in its justly famous first question that emphasis on the sovereignty and centrality of God which runs throughout the Westminster documents (as it does the Bible itself!) — “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” The Catechism goes on to stress that this can only be achieved by conformity to God’s Word and will. Hence, both the Shorter and Larger Catechism are divided into two parts. The first part states what we are to believe concerning God and his works, and the second part states what duty God requires of us (in his law and his gospel).
The Westminster Larger Catechism was completed in 1648, answering 196 questions with much more detail. It serves as an excellent guide book to the theology of the Bible.
Because of the tempestuous political background against which the Assembly performed its work, its Confession and Catechisms were only for a short time used by the Church of England, but they have continued to be the most widely influential of all the Reformed statements, and serve even today in churches throughout the world, including presbyterian, congregational, and baptist.