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THE DANGER OF CREED BOOKS
Victor M. Eskew
The word “creed” comes from a Greek term meaning “I believe.” A creed book, therefore, is a compilation of the beliefs of a particular religious organization. Creed books are also referred to as Disciplines, Manuals, and Confessions of Faith. Almost every major denomination in the United States has a creed book.
Since the days of the Restoration Movement, faithful preachers of the gospel have tried to warn against the dangers of creed books. Recently, this author has had this belief confirmed as he read through portions of the Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Church. In a section entitled, “Episcopal Greetings,” one danger came to light. The Discipline is set forth as a divine revelation. Here’s the quote: “We have therefore expected that the DISCIPLINE would be administered, not merely as a legal document, but as a revelation of the Holy Spirit working in and through our people” (p. 1). If something is a divine revelation, then it has divine authority. In essence, the Methodist Discipline is just as authoritative as the Word of God. Now we have a group with two revelations governing them: the Word of God and the Methodist Discipline.
A second danger of the creed books was found in page 29 of the Methodist Discipline. Under the section entitled, “Of the Justification of Man,” we read this sentence: “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.” In this verse, faith only is taught as the means whereby God justifies man. This statement stands in stark contrast to what is found in the Bible in James 2:24. James writes: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” The Methodist Discipline and the Word of God are at odds on the doctrine of faith only. If both of them come from God, then the Holy Spirit has contradicted Himself. If the Discipline is not a divine revelation, shouldn’t it be rejected for the truth proclaimed by an inspired writer?
Another danger was seen when this writer examined a later edition of the Methodist Discipline. The one quoted above was published in 1956. In the 1968 edition, the “Episcopal Greetings” began with these words:
“’Change in all around we see,’ is both lyric and fact. To careful observer of the life of the United Methodist Church, this axiom is also the prudent estimate of our condition.
“The churches forming the United Methodist Church – The Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church - bear marks of change. We trust it has been with a purpose, that the prophetic voice of the Holy Spirit has been heard and obeyed. That our obedience has not always been forthright and straight- line we acknowledge with deep regret” (p. v).
This statement admits that this new edition of the Discipline will advocate change. Apparently, the Discipline from 1956 was not sufficient. It was not timeless. In essence, what Methodists believe today may not be what Methodists will believe in the future.
A final danger of the creeds that we will discuss comes from another quote from the 1968 edition. “The Book of Discipline is the first written document uniting us in the United Methodist Church” (p. vi). This volume unites Methodists together. The Baptist Manual unites Baptists. The Confession of the Presbyterian Church unites Presbyterians. In essence, the creed books of the denominations create walls of separation that keep them apart from one another. This is contrary to Jesus’ will found in John 17:20-21. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Jesus desires for His followers to be one. He wants them to unite upon His Word. He does not want them divided by man-made creeds. As long as creed books exist in the religious world, separate, distinct religious groups will be found. These divisions will exist contrary to the New Testament of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:10).
Creed books are very dangerous. Some see them as just as authoritative as the Word of God. They often contradict the Word of God. They change over the course of time. They also keep those who claim to believe in Christ separated from one another. Dear readers, the only book we need to guide us is the Bible. It, and it alone, instructs us in the way of salvation (I Tim. 3:15; Rom. 1:16-17), directs our steps (Ps. 119:105), governs our lives (II Tim. 3:16-17), unites us in Christ (Phil. 3:16), and shows us the way to heaven (Acts 20:32).