The Great Confessions of Christendom
January 23rd, 1974 @ 7:30 PM
1 Peter 5
THE GREAT CONFESSIONS OF CHRISTENDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 5
1-23-74 7:30 p.m.
Now the lecture last Wednesday night was concerning creeds and confessions of faith, and I am not through. So the lecture tonight is a continuation and a conclusion to these two introductory lessons on The Great Confessions of Christendom.
First, there are three ancient universally accepted confessions of faith or creeds. You remember, we said “creed” comes from the first word of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe, credo, I believe.” So a creed is an expression of doctrinal belief, what the Bible teaches.
Now there were three of those ancient universally accepted creeds. They are formerly or tacitly acknowledge by the Greek, the Latin, and the Protestant churches. They are called the ecumenical or general symbols. And those three universally accepted and acknowledged confessions of faith are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.
The first, the Apostles’ Creed is the simplest. The other two, the Nicene and the Athanasian are but fuller developments and interpretations of the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles’ Creed is more popular in the West; the Nicene Creed in the East. And when you speak of the West, you are thinking about Western Europe and the United States. When you think of East, you are thinking about the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Greek speaking church.
The Nicene Creed gives clear and stronger expression to the doctrine of Christ’s deity against the Arian heretics. Arius was a heretic that you would call a Unitarian. He believed Jesus was a good man, a great man, a godly man, but He was a man, and He was not the Lord. That is the heresy of Arianism. And it was against the heresy of Arianism, Unitarianism, that the Nicene Creed was made.
The Athanasian Creed—the three great creeds—the Athanasian Creed, develops the whole doctrine of the Trinity and of the person of Christ against the various heresies of the post-Nicene age. The Nicene Council was in 325, and an ante-Nicene father is a father, a great leader of the church, who lived before 325. The post-Nicene fathers were the great leaders of the church who lived after 325 AD. In later years, the Reformation creeds gave more explicit exposition to the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures and to the doctrines of sin and grace.
Now we’re going to speak first of the Apostles’ Creed, the Symbolum Apostolicum. It is a summary; the Apostles’ Creed is a summary of apostolic teaching, in full harmony with the spirit and with the letter of the Christian faith; as the Decalogue is the law of laws, as the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of prayers, so the Apostles’ Creed is the creed of creeds.
It is the great, basic, universal all-inclusive confession of the Christian faith. It contains all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary to salvation in simple and scriptural language. It follows the order of the Scripture, beginning with the God of creation, to the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead and the life everlasting. It is by far the most popular summary of the Christian faith ever made. Like the Lord’s Prayer, it loses nothing of its charm and effect by frequent use and recital. Martin Luther said, “Christian truth could not possibly be placed into shorter or clearer statement.” All the churches accept it. It is universally honored. If anyone did not believe in the Apostles’ Creed, he would not be a Christian.
What is the origin of the Apostles’ Creed? We do not know. It gradually grew out of the confession of Simon Peter in Matthew 16:16, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and out of the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19-20, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” It was originally a baptismal confession. And remember, I said that that’s where you get the word “symbol” for it. A symbol is, in later Christian history, a symbol is a confession of faith and was taken from the baptismal symbol. The baptizing is a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection, our death with Him and resurrection with Him [Romans 6:3-5]. So the Apostles’ Creed was originally a baptismal symbol, a baptismal confession.
It was at first committed to memory, not to writing. And for several hundred years it was repeated by oral transmission and was not written down. It was first written down in Greek by Marcellus of Ancyra in 340 AD. Then it was written down in Latin, first, by Rufinus in 390 AD.
Now I’m going to read the Apostles’ Creed, then I’m going to read it phrase at a time, and I want all of you to repeat it after me. I’m going to read first. This is the great confession of faith of the Christian church, of all time, universally and will always be that:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hades. The third day He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, Amen.
Could you conceive of anything more beautifully concise, more reflective of the Christian spirit, and more keeping with scriptural language than that? Now I repeat, if anybody cannot say that in faith, they are not Christians. They are something else. Whatever else, they’re atheist, agnostic, Hindus, Muslims, Mohammedans, whatever, but no Christian in the world but that can say that creed in all sincerity, “Credo, I believe,” that’s the first word.
Now I’m going to say it phrase at a time, then I want all of you to repeat it:
[Dr. Criswell states and congregation repeats]
I believe in God the Father Almighty, [I believe in God the Father Almighty], Maker of heaven and earth. [Maker of heaven and earth]. And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son [And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son] our Lord; [our Lord]; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, [who was conceived by the Holy Spirit], born of the Virgin Mary, [born of the Virgin Mary], suffered under Pontius Pilate, [suffered under Pontius Pilate], was crucified, dead, and buried. [was crucified, dead, and buried]. He descended into hades. [He descended into hades]. The third day He rose from the dead, [The third day He rose from the dead], He ascended into heaven, [He ascended into heaven], and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; [And sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty]; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. [from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead]. I believe in the Holy Spirit, [I believe in the Holy Spirit], the holy Christian Church, [the holy Christian Church], the communion of saints, [the communion of saints], the forgiveness of sins, [the forgiveness of sins], the resurrection of the body, [the resurrection of the body], and the life everlasting, [and the life everlasting], Amen. [Amen].
Now isn’t that a beautiful thing? And as I have said, this is the universal expression of the Christian faith.
Now the second great, universally acknowledged creed, confession of the Christian church, is the Nicene Creed. It is the product of the Nicene Council of 325 AD. What happened in that day was the whole Christian world, from one side of it to the other, was torn by a brilliant exponent of the Christian faith by the name of Arius.
He was a magnificent preacher, and it is hard to do anything with a gifted preacher. Like Harry Emerson Fosdick, Harry Emerson Fosdick was a heretic if there ever lived one. He was a modernist of the first order. He was a liberal of the nth degree. There’s hardly a great tenet of the Christian faith that Harry Emerson Fosdick believed in.
He didn’t believe in the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25]. He didn’t believe in the coming of the Lord [John 14:3]. He didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. He didn’t believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. He didn’t believe in blood atonement, the salvation of the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. He was as rank a heretic as ever lived. But Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the greatest preachers of all time. And there wasn’t anything that you could do about him. He was a voice of tremendous power. I went all the way one time to New York City just to hear Harry Emerson Fosdick preach. Any man that can preach is almost unassailable, he’s almost ungettable at. Now don’t come up to me and say, “Pastor, you know that’s not in the dictionary.” But that’s a preacher. A preacher all through the years who has been gifted of God, a Demosthenian gift, a Ciceronian gift, a man of great power in speaking, he’s almost unassailable.
Well, Arius was that. He was a tremendous preacher. And he sowed down the Christian world with Unitarianism. That’s what we’d call it today; teaching that Jesus was a man and not God! He was opposed by a great orthodox leader named Athanasius. And the Arian controversy literally tore the Christian world apart. It set it against itself, and great leaders became followers of Arius, so much so that Arius apparently swept the entire world with him.
Now remember, by that time the Roman emperor had become a Christian. And Arius was acceptable to these men of state, of government. It just looked as though Arius had won the world. And do you remember that saying, when Athanasius was told that the whole world had followed Arius, you remember Athanasius replied that famous saying, “Then it is Athanasius contra mundum, Athanasius against the world.”
Well, the Council of Nicaea, which is the first great ecumenical council of the church, was called in 325 AD to confront that Arian heresy. And in the providence of God, orthodoxy, the doctrine that Christ was God, deity––and we’re going to see how the thing is worded in a minute––orthodoxy was triumphant in that Nicene Council. And out of it came this Nicene confession of faith, or creed. It is the Eastern form of the primitive Apostolic Creed. It arose out of the mighty struggle with the Arian heresy. The terms, and you’re going to hear them when I read it in a moment, the terms “coequal, begotten before all worlds, very God of very God, begotten not made,” are reflective of that terrible struggle with Arius.
You know it’s strange how people will pick up something that the pastor will say once in a while. Somebody came up to me one time after a sermon I preached and said, “Pastor, what do you mean by that expression I heard you use in the sermon today, that Jesus is very God of very God? What do you mean by that?” Isn’t that strange that that somebody should have picked up that little phrase? Well, that’s where I got it. It came out of the Nicene Creed, “very God of very God.”
As the declaration of the Nicene Council, the creed is the first to obtain universal authority. Remember, I said the Apostles’ Creed was just something that they were saying, just all over the whole world; before a man was baptized he would say the Apostles’ Creed, but it was something that they just said. But the Nicene Creed was the authoritative voice of orthodoxy for the Christian world. As with all the primitive creeds, it also arose out of the baptismal formula and was intended for the baptismal service as a confession of faith of the catechumen in the triune God.
Now I have an illustration of that here; how these things, these great universal creeds grew out of the confession that the catechumen, the initiate, the young convert made when he was baptized. The great ancient historian of the first Christian centuries is Eusebius of Caesarea.
And Eusebius, this tremendous historian, in his epistle to the church at Caesarea, says of the creed that he proposed––now he was a member, he was one of the pastors who attended the Council of Nicaea––he says that he proposed a creed, a confession of faith at the Council of Nicaea. And the one that Eusebius proposed is almost identical to the one that was finally adopted.
Now look. Eusebius says that he learned that confession, that creed that he proposed to the Nicenean Council, he learned it as a catechumen. That is, these little kids that we send over to Libby Reynolds’ and Millie Kohn’s class to learn that little, this little book that I have, they call them in the ancient day “catechumens,” and they studied a catechism.
Here in this little book, after each one of the chapters, I have a catechism, but I call it “questions and answers.” I’m just that much veering away, you know, from the ancient church. It’s just like a whole lot of things we veer away from because they do it. Isn’t that a shame? Why don’t I call it a catechism? Well, I should have, but I just got chicken at the time, so I put “questions and answers” there.
Now a catechumen was what we would call somebody who had just accepted the faith, and they were teaching them the faith. So Eusebius says that he learned that confession, that creed, as a catechumen, that he professed it at his baptism, that he taught it as a pastor, and it was derived from our Lord’s baptismal formula.
Now I’m going to read the Nicene Creed:
I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son. Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. And I believe in one holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the world to come, Amen.
Now isn’t that a magnificent statement to be universally published as the orthodox faith? There’s only one little thing in that Nicene Creed that I would change as a Baptist: “I acknowledge one baptism,” I would change, “because of the remission of sins.”
Now they’re using the Scriptures, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” [Acts 2:38]. But “for” can mean “because of” just as well as it can be “in order to.” If you say, “You know, I have an uncle who was hanged for murder”; well you don’t mean he was hanged in order to murder but because of murder, he murdered somebody; “because of.” Well, in the Greek, that word eis can be used “in order to” or “because of”, either way. So if I could spell it out in the Bible, I’d spell it out here in the creed, “I acknowledge one baptism because of the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, Amen.”
Now, you can see in the Nicene Creed how they are spelling out the deity of Jesus Christ. “The only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” You can see how the creed comes out of its confrontation with heresy. Now that’s a magnificent statement.
Now there is one other universally acknowledged creed by the whole Christian world: it is the Athanasian Creed. Now here again, as with the Apostles’ Creed, its origin is involved in obscurity. It is like the Gloria en Excelsis and like the Te Deum. You don’t know where they came from. They just arose out of the life of the Christian people.
Since the ninth century AD––that would be in the 800’s AD––it has been ascribed to Athanasius, that great, Christian, orthodox leader who opposed the heretic, Arius. Athanasius was pastor of the church at Alexandria, and he was the chief defender of the deity of Christ against Arius. The creed did not come from him. In all of the writings of Athanasius, you’ll never see it nor any reference to it. It is of later origin. But his great name secured for it almost universal authority. And the spirit of the creed reflects exactly the spirit of the great orthodox defender of the faith Athanasius. It is a clear, concise summary of the doctrinal decisions of the first four great ecumenical councils. The first four great ecumenical councils are the Council of Nicaea, the first one in 325 AD; the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD; the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD; and the Council of Chalcedon. That’s a town just across the Bosporus Strait from Constantinople, in 451 AD. Those are the four great, universal ecumenical Christian councils. These four councils are by far the most important of all the ancient councils. They settled forever the orthodox faith regarding the Trinity and the deity incarnation of Christ. Now I put those two together, the “deity incarnation” of Christ.
The Athanasian Creed was looked upon with great reverence during the Middle Ages. It was almost daily used in devotions, people recited it every day. The Reformation leaders inherited that veneration for the symbol. It was formally adopted by the Lutherans. Luther regarded it as the most important and glorious composition since the days of the apostles. Isn’t that a remarkable tribute to this creed?
May I say it again? Luther said that the Athanasian Creed is the most glorious and important composition since the days of the apostles. Even the great Puritan preacher Richard Baxter, while wanting to soften its damnatory sentences, nevertheless lauded it as the best statement on the Trinity. Its brief sentences are artistically arranged and rhythmically expressed. It is a musical creed. It is a dogmatic psalm or song. Now I’m going to read the Athanasian Creed which is much longer than the other two. The great splendid virtue of the Apostles’ Creed is its brevity. It says it just like that.
Now this is the Athanasian Creed. And when I read it, you’re going to see how it spells out the Trinity. And next Wednesday night our lesson will be on The Infallible Word of God; but the next Wednesday night, the lesson will be on The Trinity. And you ought to be able to say something to a Jew, to a Unitarian, to an unbeliever, who asks you about the Trinity. And we’re going to try to frame that lesson so that you can say it simply and effectively.
Now I want you to look at how the Athanasian Creed will spell out the Trinity, which in heretical confrontation almost always refers to our defense of the deity of Christ. Hardly anyone of any theistic belief at all but will believe in the doctrine that God is God. And if they believe in the Holy Spirit at all, that the Holy Spirit is God, but your confrontation lies in whether Jesus is God or not.
Now that was the great storm and struggle that swirled around Arius. Now you look at this Athanasian Creed and see how they spell all of it out. And there’s not a syllable of this but that you could say, “Amen,” to. And if it weren’t taking up so much time, we’d just repeat it as we did the Apostles’ Creed.
All right, it goes, one––it’s like a song, it has little short stanzas in it, and they are numbered, one, two, three. And it goes right on down to the end of it. There are forty-four of them. All right, let’s begin.
- Whoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Christian Faith:
- Which Faith except one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
- And the Christian Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
- Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.
- For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost.
- But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.
- Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Spirit.
- The Father uncreated: the Son uncreated: the Holy Spirit uncreated.
- The Father infinite: the Son infinite: the Holy Spirit infinite.
- The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Spirit eternal.
- And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.
- As also there are not three uncreated: nor three infinities, but one uncreated: and one infinite.
- So likewise the Father is Almighty: the Son Almighty: and the Holy Spirit Almighty.
- And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.
- So the Father is God: the Son is God: and the Holy Spirit is God.
- And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.
- So likewise the Father is Lord: the Son Lord: and the Holy Spirit Lord.
- And yet there are not three Lords: but one Lord.
- For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord:
- So are we forbidden by the Christian religion: to say that there are three Gods, or three Lords.
- The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.
- The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created: but begotten.
- The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten: but proceeding.
- So there is one Father, not three Fathers: one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
- And yet in this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater, or none less than another [there is nothing before, or after: nothing greater or less].
- But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.
- So that in all things, as aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshiped.
- He therefore that will be saved, [let him] thus think of the Trinity.
- Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting life: that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
- God, of the Substance of the Father; begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world.
- Perfect God: and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
- Equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead: and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
- Who although He is God and Man; yet He is not two, but one Christ.
- One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God.
- One altogether; not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person.
- For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.
- Who suffered for our salvation: descended into Hades: rose again the third day from the dead.
- He ascended into heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
- From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
- At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;
- And shall give account for their own works.
- And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
- This is the Christian Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he can not be saved.
Now that is the Athanasian Creed. What do you think of that? Isn’t that a magnificent thing? Spelling it out, spelling it out, spelling it out, spelling it out, just spelling it, spelling it, spelling it, saying it again and again and again. For you see the great struggle, stormy, in the church concerned the person of Christ. And when we say, “Jesus is Lord,” Paul said, “Except a man can say that he cannot be saved” [Romans 10:9]; when we say, “Jesus is Lord, Jesus is God, Jesus is deity,” you are saying what men by the uncounted thousands have laid down their lives to defend, that one little thing.
Haven’t you heard me say many times, as I would refer to the martyrs in the first Christian centuries, there was a little touch word, a little touchstone that the ancient Roman Empire would use as they persecuted the Christians? “Kurios Kaisar, Kurios Iēsous; Caesar is Lord, Jesus is Lord.” All that the first Christians had to do to save their lives was just to say, “Kurios, Lord, Kaisar, Caesar”; that’s all. And then, maybe take one little pinch of incense and put it on the fire that burned before the image of the emperor; that’s all.
And it was presented to the first Christians in those first centuries as a patriotic duty, something that pulled the empire together. But those Christians by the uncounted thousands had rather be fed to the lions than to say, “Kurios Kaisar, Caesar is Lord,” or to take one little pinch of incense and put it on the fire that burned before the image of the emperor.
When you read things like that, doesn’t it show you how cheap is the faith of the Christian people today? Why, we have people in our denomination that’ll get up and openly deny the deity of Christ, openly scorn the inspiration of the Scriptures, absolutely make fun of people who believe in the coming of the Lord, and nobody thinks anything about it; wouldn’t even consider it. He’s just up there talking and go right on. He can be anything among us.
You see, the more I look at this, the more I kind of have a little feeling in my own heart that’s growing like a little plant in me. I kind of believe that people that say we belong to such and such ought to believe something. And if they don’t believe it, they don’t belong to such and such. Now I kind of feel that way. To be a Christian means you believe something. And that’s what these confessions of faith were. They came out of blood and fire and persecution!
Now a little brief word and we must hasten because I am not going to take anymore time than these two lectures introducing these articles of faith, our confession of faith. Now a word about the Reformation creeds then a word about our Baptist creeds, our Baptist confessions of faith; the Reformation creeds are many. And some of them are of great length—some of them occupying as much as three hundred printed pages. The creeds of the Reformation brought to evangelical Christianity a threefold doctrinal distinction from Roman Catholicism. There are three things that the Reformation leaders wrote in their creeds, their confessions of faith that separated them from the Roman Catholic Church against which they were inveighing.
One; the confessions of faith of the Reformers set forth the principle of the absolute sovereignty of the Bible, in opposition to the Roman doctrine of the Bible and tradition. It was sola scriptura to the great Reformers. It was the Bible alone and nothing else, just the Bible. That’s the first great principle of the Reformers that they wrote in their confessions of faith; sola scriptura, the Bible alone and nothing else—whereas so much of the practices of the Roman Church are traditional, they arose out of the thinking of men.
All right, second: the great Reformers set forth the doctrine of justification by the free grace of God, through a living faith in Christ, as the only and sufficient Savior [Ephesians 2:8-9], in opposition to the Roman doctrine of justification by faith and good works. The Reformers preached and wrote in their confessions of faith that a man is saved, he is justified by the free grace of Christ alone and not by any good works that he could do [Ephesians 2:8-9].
It isn’t “trust in Christ and be baptized, trust in Christ and take the Lord’s Supper, trust in Christ and do good, trust in Christ and pay your debts, trust in Christ and,” and just name all the rest of it. Do penance, or go to mass, or whatever, say these prayers, on and on. The Reformers set forth the great doctrine in their confessions of faith that a man is saved by trusting in Jesus alone. That’s what saves him [Ephesians 2:8-9]. He does good works out of love and gratitude to God but not in order to be saved [Ephesians 2:10].
All right, third: the Reformers set forth the doctrine of the universal priesthood of the believer [1 Peter 2:5], in opposition to the Roman doctrine of the exclusive priesthood of the clergy. They emancipated the laity from slavish dependence upon the governing priesthood. Can you imagine the awesome power that the priesthood had when the people believed that that man could send you into everlasting damnation? He could excommunicate you from the church. And excommunication meant eternal and everlasting fire.
Can you imagine the horror of the people when the power of the priesthood could cover so awesome an interdiction as that? Well, the great third doctrine of the Reformers that they wrote in their confessions of faith was that the believer was his own priest. He could go to God for himself. His salvation did not depend upon a priest or upon any other man. He could go straight to God for himself [1 Peter 2:5].
Now, you will find that––and I’m going to take just a minute to point this out in the Scriptures. In the fifth chapter of 1 Peter, Peter refers to the whole congregation as being the clergy. Now isn’t that an astonishing thing? He starts off in the fifth chapter of 1 Peter, “The elders who are among you I exhort, who also am a sumpresbuteros, a fellow elder. . .I exhort you to feed the flock of God” [1 Peter 5:1-2]. Now the third verse, “Neither as being lords over God’s clergy, God’s heritage, the congregation of the Lord, but being examples to the flock” [1 Peter 5:3]—in that passage, translated here “heritage,” he uses the word kleros, “clergy.” And he refers to the whole congregation as being clergy people, clergymen, clergywomen [1 Peter 5:3].
All of us are priests. All of us are clergy, all of us, according to the Bible. Now he spells that out twice here. Look. In the second chapter of 1 Peter he says, “Ye also are living stones, built up a spiritual house,” this is verse 5, “an holy priesthood, you are, you are a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” [1 Peter 2:5]. You don’t have somebody else as priest. You are the priest, and you offer up spiritual sacrifices unto God. In the ninth verse of that second chapter he refers to “the royal priesthood, the people of God, that ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into light” [1 Peter 2:9].
Now those are the three great doctrines written in the confessions of faith of the Reformers. One: the principle of the absolute sovereignty of the Bible; it is the basis and authority for all that we believe. Second: the doctrine that we’re saved by faith in Christ and not by doing good works [Ephesians 2:8-9]. And third: the doctrine of the universal priesthood of the believer; we can go to God for ourselves [1 Peter 2:5]. You can talk to God for yourself.
Now there are two great confessions of faith in the Reformation. One: there is the Augsburg Confession of 1530. It was prepared by Philipp Melanchthon, the scholarly leader of the Reformation who worked by the side of Martin Luther. With the full approval of Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon wrote out that Augsburg Confession of 1530. It struck the keynote for all other evangelical confessions, and strengthened the cause of the Reformation everywhere. This is the great confession of the Reformation, the Augsburg Confession.
Now the other tremendous Reformational Confession is the Westminster Confession of 1647. I’ve only chosen two because they’re the two greatest; the Augsburg on the continent and the Westminster Confession in England, which is our great English confession.
The Westminster Confession of 1647 was adopted by the English Parliament under Puritan leadership. It sets forth the Calvinistic system in scholarly maturity. No other Protestant symbol has such a clear, concise, and exhaustive statement on the Bible, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and the other doctrines of our faith. It is received by the great men of Protestant Christianity universally. The merits of the Confession have been admitted by the Episcopalians and even by the Methodists, who entirely descent from its Calvinistic theology.
One of the ironies that I see all the time is this. There’ll be somebody in the Methodist church who will join the Presbyterian church by letter, and there’ll be somebody in the Methodist church who will join the Presbyterian church by letter. They will just switch from the Methodist church to the Presbyterian church just like that. And that’s the funniest thing in the world to me because the theological doctrine of the Presbyterian church is directly antithetical to the theological doctrine of the Methodist church.
You know what that shows me? That people don’t know “nothing” about anything. Or, they don’t care. That’s an astonishing thing to me! With the Westminster Confession, the creed-making period of the Reformed church came to an end. Most of our denominational confessions of faith are based upon the Westminster Confession of Faith.
In 1647, that ended, the great creed-making, confession-making era in the church. All the other confessions of faith that come after that are but repercussions of, in our case in the Protestant faith, in the Baptist faith, the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Now I want you to stay with me until the end of this, it’ll not be too long. I want to speak of our Baptist confessions of faith. The first Baptist confession of faith arose out of bloody persecution. They were prepared for apologetic defensive purposes.
When the king was about to harrow all of the Baptists out of the country, or about to burn them all at the stake, or about to ship them out, or make slaves of them, or whatever, the Baptist people wrote a confession of faith in defense of what they believed, because they were accused of so many things that were untrue of them. Now Baptists have historically repudiated authoritative creeds which were binding upon the churches and individuals. But they have never hesitated to publish and defend statements of faith for the purpose of expressing their common belief to others and in order to strengthen the faith of individual believers among themselves. They’ve never hesitated to publish a confession of faith.
The confessions describe the doctrines held by the churches. They are never used as tests of orthodoxy. The churches are free. The confessions have no authoritative or binding force. No church has any power over any other church. No minister has any power over any other minister. Every church expresses its own belief. Several churches who express their common beliefs unite in an association for missionary, benevolent, and educational purposes, but no church is required to acknowledge the authority of any higher tribunal. Now that is the stated published Baptist doctrine.
Whether that’s altogether good or not, I don’t know. I’m beginning to doubt it. But whether it is actually just like that, I know it isn’t quite that because of things that I pointed out to you in my first lecture—how some of these churches that go off into certain things are, we disassociate ourselves from them.
Baptists are divided doctrinally into two groups, one of which is much larger than the other. One, Regular Baptists, called Calvinistic Baptists, Particular Baptists; that is we. A smaller group is called General Baptist, Free Will Baptist, Armenian Baptist. These change the doctrine of election. Our church and our denomination would belong to the first group. We are Regular Baptists, or Calvinistic Baptists, or Particular Baptists.
Now there are seven Baptist confessions of faith, of which you hold the seventh one in your hand. One: possibly the first public confession of faith adopted by a Baptist fellowship was in February 24, 1527, by the Swiss Brethren Conference, meeting at S-c-h-l-e-i-t-h-e-i-m, Schleitheim because they call a “th” a “t,” they can’t say a “c” in German. So it’s Schleitheim. It presents the unanimous belief of the Swiss Baptist pastors, and it’s very quaintly expressed.
Number two: in the English speaking world, the first confession of faith was called, quote, “The Confession of Seven Churches of London.” It was adopted by a group of seven churches in London in 1644. They were a persecuted, maligned group of Christian believers, and they published this confession in defense of themselves. It consists of fifty-two articles. In all important doctrines and principles, it agrees with the orthodox Reformed church, except for the articles of the ordinances, or sacraments as the Reformed church would call it, and church government.
Three: the third confession is the “Confession of Somerset,” published in 1656. It was signed by the delegates of sixteen Baptist churches in Somerset and adjoining counties in England. It has forty-six articles.
Four: and this is the great one, the Second London Confession of 1677, reprinted in 1688, and reprinted in 1689. The edition of 1689 is by far the most important and authoritative of any of our confessions of faith because, number five: the Philadelphia Baptist Association in America adopted that London Confession in 1742, with two additional articles.
Now I’m going to tell you what they are. They’re interesting. It was published by Benjamin Franklin, and its use became widespread. It is a lengthy document with the addition of, quote, “A summary of church discipline,” and quote, “The Baptist Catechism.” See there, they used the word “catechism.” Our forefathers did. It contained three hundred three printed pages. Now isn’t that a confession of faith?
Now the two additional articles that the Philadelphia Confession added to the London Confession are singing psalms. See, they didn’t believe in singing this trash that you have in our hymnbook. They didn’t believe in that. They thought that was of man and being of man was of the devil. They didn’t believe in singing gospel songs or spiritual hymns. They believed in singing psalms, in singing psalms, and that was all.
So the two additional doctrinal articles that the Philadelphia Baptist Confession added were singing psalms and the doctrine of the laying on of hands. Wouldn’t that be interesting if we believed in the doctrine of laying on of hands today? I haven’t got time to go into that. The confession is strongly Calvinistic.
Now, the sixth one: The New Hampshire Declaration of Faith. Notice “declaration.” That is the term the Baptist Convention of New Hampshire insisted upon. It was adopted by the little churches of New Hampshire in 1833. Because the Declaration of Faith was reprinted in several widely used Baptist church manuals, it became the one most of our people know.
It was largely prepared by Dr. J. Newton Brown, editorial secretary of the American Baptist Publication Society, and editor of a universal encyclopedia of religious knowledge. It is short, concise, and contains eighteen articles. It’s like the Apostles’ Creed. It just goes just like that. It presents the Calvinistic system in a mild form.
Now last, number seven: the statement of the Baptist Faith and Message, adopted by our Southern Baptist Convention in 1925. It adopts the New Hampshire Confession of Faith with some deletions, changes in wording, and ten additional articles, with a separate section on science and religion, prompted by the evolutionary controversy raging at the time.
Now remember I told you these confessions of faith come out of apologetic confrontation when the church is faced with a great heresy. Well, that confession in 1925, adopting the New Hampshire Confession of Faith and adding to it sections on science and religion, came out of the controversy that was swirling around evolution.
Now last: the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963; this is a revised form of the articles of faith adopted in 1925. This revised statement was prepared by a committee composed of the presidents of the state conventions presided over by the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who at that time was Dr. H. H. Hobbs. The statement came about as a result of a controversy in the convention concerning the nature of the Bible, the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible. These are the articles of faith of our First Baptist Church.
Now I need one of those. I don’t have one. I left it at home. I need one of those little white booklets. Will you notice, will you notice…well? Inside, they put it at the back page. Yes, the copy I have has it on the front page. Will you notice, “These articles of faith reflect almost to the word the “Baptist Faith and Message,” a statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1963?
Some changes have been made under the first article, the tenth article, the thirteenth article, and the fifteenth article. But what we’re going to study, our confession of faith, is what you have been taught in this message that I have brought you tonight. Now here you are, son. No, you keep it because I want you to have it.
I have done all this, these two things, first for my own soul; this is the first time that I have ever studied such a thing as this. And it was immensely, immeasurably interesting to me. In church history I would just touch it again and again, you know, just run into it, bump into it here and there. But this is the first time I have ever looked at it as such. And I’m sorry that I had to take two Wednesday nights to do it, but it was impossible––see I’ve taken two hours for it––and it was impossible for me to do it in one.
Now next Wednesday night then, we’re going to start with these confessions of faith, every article of which is born out of the blood and suffering of the Christian people. We’re going to take the first one next Wednesday night, which is the infallible Word of God, the inspiration of the Scriptures. How do you know it? Why do you know it? And then the next is going to be on the Trinity, the triune God. And then the next will be, and then right on through; the doctrine of man, the fall and our salvation, and on and on.
Now I am sure that there are some last things that you all are to do. Are you going to pass those collection plates and pick up these cards? Or, Dr. Eddleman? And then, before we go, we want to have a prayer, and I want those sweet people who joined the church to come up here, and we’re going to shake hands with them tonight.