Creed vs Manual

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EastTN | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 21 2020 10:11 AM

DAL, I think you could do some good if you helped people think through the real issues. Churches of Christ have used a number of teaching tools over the years that have served a "catechetical" function, including theological terms like "Trinity," short slogans and longer formulations like the "five finger exercise."  Other traditions use similar tools, including creeds, confessions, catechisms and other summaries and statements of faith. (And as MJ points out, scripture includes a number of short doctrinal formulations may have been used in a similar way.) 

Of course, you can use these tools in at least a couple of different ways.  You can use them as teaching tools, or you can use them as a test of who's "in" and who's "out."  My guess is that many, many church of Christ preachers may not be fully aware of the extent to which creeds are used as teaching tools in other traditions, and not just as formal tests of orthodoxy.

As I've said, historically the primary issue within the Restoration Movement wasn't whether you could use a short summary of Christian beliefs as a teaching tool, but whether you could require formal adherence to a written creed as a prerequisite to fellowship.  Or, in church of Christ jargon, whether you could "bind the conscience" of another believer based on anything other than Scripture itself (sort of a sola scriptura on steroids). Over time that led to a strong aversion to creating anything called a "creed," "confession of faith" or "catechism." And with the church of Christ branch of the Movement, there's no formal governing body above the individual congregation, so it isn't clear how a common credal statement would be formally adopted anyway.  (Though as you've noted, individual congregations are putting things on their websites that could easily be used as not just a teaching or evangelistic tool, but as a litmus test for membership. I think it would be useful if you could help congregations think through exactly what they are - or aren't - doing there.)

As an aside, as I understand it the "be silent where the Bible is silent" came from a slightly different concern. Barton Stone in particular felt quite strongly that the theology of the time had become unduly speculative and was, for instance, positing things about the nature of the Trinity that he believed went beyond what we can actually know from Scripture. He felt that such speculation wasn't useful, and that the theological wrangling it engendered created unnecessary division. For Stone, the two issues were related because he believed the Westminster Confession of Faith contained some material that was unduly speculative, and shouldn't be used to "bind the conscience" of believers. (As I recall, at one point in his career he was asked to affirm the Westminster Confession, and did so with the addition of "insofar as it accords with Scripture.")

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