Confession of faith

What makes a creed dangerous

A youthful Barton Stone stood before an austere group of church leaders, steadying his thoughts. This was the day of his ordination. He might be asked numerous questions to test his knowledge of religion, but he knew one question was coming for certain. He feared that the “wrong” answer would mean he could not preach.

The dreaded question came in due time: “Do you receive and adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith?” “I do,” Stone declared loudly enough for everyone to hear, “as far as I see it consistent with the word of God.”

Interestingly no one objected to his candidacy, and he was ordained to preach in Cane Ridge and Concord Kentucky.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is a creedal statement. In it are numerous excellent observations about the Bible and the Christian life. But there is a profound difference between a written article (this is a written article) and a creed. You recall that when Paul preached to the Bereans they “examined the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They did so recognizing that even the words of a good preacher might be incorrect. They would check the truth of his statements with the word of God.

I see no difference between a written article and a sermon. They are all words written (or spoken) by men, mostly well meaning, but by men nonetheless. When you read an article, compare it with Scripture, the same way you would a sermon. A piece of writing is no more dangerous, or less so, than a sermon. The danger lies in one’s pretention to speak authoritatively for God.

What makes a creed so dangerous – please note this – is it is intended to be an authoritative expression of God’s will. An article is true only to the degree it conforms with the Bible. No one should accept it as a prerequisite for conversion, or in Stone’s case, preaching.

You might notice that preachers use books. A carpenter has hammer and chisel, and a preacher has books. I have a few books in my office. Sometimes I gain a great insight from someone else’s writing; sometimes I disagree with what the writer says. When that happens, it usually inspires me to study why I disagree. What I find is usually the basis of a good sermon, or article for that matter.

A creed is dangerous, you see, because it is considered (by some) to be authoritative. An article or book is potentially uplifting because it expresses the thoughts of a godly, though imperfect writer, whose desire is to strengthen his readers.

Barton Stone would later author some books and edit a periodical he named the Christian Messenger. Clearly he did not believe it was wrong to write, just as it is not wrong to deliver a sermon.

There is only one piece of writing that is authoritative. It’s been translated in a multitude of languages. It’s an all time best seller. It is the Bible. Place your ultimate allegiance there.

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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