Protestant Statements of Faith

A post I read in another thread pointed out that many Protestant statements of faith begin with the Bible placed in the preeminent position and then proceed to talk about God, the Trinity, Jesus, etc., instead of beginning with a statement about belief in God and proceeding from there. Now please understand that I am in no way trying to imply that all Protestant denominations do this, but the observation did get me thinking, so I started looking around the net a bit and found the poster’s observation rang true with many of the statements of faith I looked up. For example:

The statement of faith provided by the Southern Baptist Convention website begins:

[quote=The Baptist Faith and Message]I. The Scriptures

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39; 16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.

II. God

There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.

. . . .
[/quote]

Likewise, the Assemblies of God Fundamental Truths begins:

[quote=Assemblies of God Fundamental Truths]1. WE BELIEVE… The Scriptures are Inspired by God and declare His design and plan for mankind.

  1. WE BELIEVE… There is only One True God . . . .
    [/quote]

The Westminster Confession of Faith as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America begins with “Chapter 1 Of the Holy Scripture” before proceeding to God and the Holy Trinity in Chapter 2.

Finally, here are the beginnings of the statements of faith found on the websites of two protestant mega-churches near where I live:

[quote=Word of Life Church]What We Believe

Our Statement of Faith

THE BIBLE

We believe The Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, is the authoritative Word of God. It alone is the final authority for determining all doctrinal truths. In its original writing, the Bible is inspired, infallible and inerrant.

(Proverbs 30:5; Romans 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21)

THE TRINITY

We believe there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit. These three are coequal and coeternal.

(Genesis 1:26; Isaiah 9:6; Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19; Luke 1:35; Hebrews 3:7-11; I John 5:7)

. . . .
[/quote]

[quote=Pinelake Church]The Bible

We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. They were written by human authors under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit, with the result that Scripture is God’s Word—entirely true and without error in the original writings. They are the supreme and final authority for Christian beliefs and living. We further believe that the focus of all Scripture is the person and work of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21; Psalm 119:11, 89, 105, 160; Jude 3; Romans 15:4; Titus 1:1-3)

God

We believe there is one living and true God, who is the Creator, Preserver, Redeemer and Ruler of the universe. He is infinitely perfect in every way and eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (in a relationship known as the Trinity). We believe these three are one God and each possesses fully the nature, attributes and perfections of deity. (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 6:1-3; 40:12-28; 45:5-7; Jeremiah 10:10; Matthew 28:19; Acts 17:24-25; Romans 11:33-36; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 John 3:20)

. . . .
[/quote]

(Continued below)

(Continued from above)

Now compare the foregoing with what is posted on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website under “What We Believe”

“Our profession of faith begins with God, for God is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end of everything. The Credo begins with God the Father, for the Father is the first divine person of the Most Holy Trinity; our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works.”

—the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 198

Catholic belief is succinctly expressed in the profession of faith or credo called the Nicene Creed:

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

So my question is, why do many Protestant statements of faith place such preeminence on the Bible instead of beginning with God and then stating that a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible flows from first believing in Him?

Also, I should mention that the United Methodist Church did not follow along with some of its Protestant brethren. The UMC statement of faith began with the Trinity and didn’t get to the Bible until fourth or fifth.

The Christian Book of Concord, the collection of confessional documents of Lutheranism, has as its initial section the three ancient Creeds of the Church.
The Augsburg Confession, which follows, starts with

Article I: Of God.

1] Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; 2] that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and 3] yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term “person” 4] they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.

bookofconcord.org/

Even though our confessions start with the three creeds, and the first Article of our hallmark confession affirms the Council of Nicaea, we are sola scripturist.

Jon

When I was a Protestant pastor I composed a statement of faith that did not start with the Bible but it certainly mentioned it. What surprized me was that the ancient Creeds did not even mention the Bible! I guess it didn’t occur to me that the Apostles’s Creed was composed before the Bible was finished and the Nicene Creed before it was cannonized. What I now realize is that when we confess faith in the holy Catholic Church it implies that we will also believe the book (the Bible) that the church both wrote and cannonized. The amazing thing to me is that by confessing faith in the Church, we bring the authoritative voice and teaching of Jesus right into the 21st Century instead of leaving it bound up in an ancient document that even in its day was not a comprehensive or complete statement of faith. In other words, as a Catholic, Christ can speak to me today in a difinitive way that, even if I don’t like it, I can not reason or rationalize or justify my way out of. I guess that’s why Jesus started the church instead of writing the Bible.

Very well said. :thumbsup:

What strikes me is that scripture tells us in many places that it is not a complete record. What I hear in response is that scripture is “sufficient.” I do not want a sufficient relationship with God. I want to be knocked off my feet! That requires, exactly as you say, a living voice of Christ speaking to mankind in all ageas, as freshly as he did on the mount of the beatitudes. I love the scriptures, try hard to read them daily, and have gathered a collection of otherwise unused bibles in various translations. But, as has been revealed to you, the human heart knows that there is more to God, more to Christ, more to the Holy Spirit, and more to revelation than is contained in the limited written record. An infinite God cannot be contained within the covers of a book - no matter how inspired that book may be.

Deuteronomy 8:3 states, and our Lord reiterated to the evil one, that man lives “by every word that flows from the mouth of God.” The bible does not - indeed cannot - contain every word of God. God’s living Word is kept elsewhere within a living, apostolic authority.

You really should consider posting here more often!

From such a marginal group as the Seventh-Day Adventists:

“Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as the only source* of our beliefs. We consider our movement to be the result of the Protestant conviction Sola Scriptura—the Bible as the only standard of faith and practice for Christians.”

*Nothing at all there about the visions of Ellen Gould White, who “revealed” many of the Adventits’ peculiar beliefs.

As well, from another “bible alone” perspective, have a look at these stated beliefs about the (66 book) bible from the preface to the 1975 “The Open Bible” (Thomas Nelson, Inc. Publishers)

According to Dr. Wilber M. Smith (underlining mine),

  1. The Bible discovers and convicts us of sin.
  2. The Bible helps cleanse us from the pollutions of sin.
  3. The Bible imparts strength.
  4. The Bible instructs us in what we are to do.
  5. The Bible provides us with a sword for victory over sin.
  6. The Bible makes our lives fruitful.
  7. The Bible gives us power to pray.

Each of these traits is associated with the Holy Spirit. Can it be that some believe the bible to be a living tabernacle of the Holy Spirit? As such, that would seem to authorize any and all private interpretations of scripture - regardless of what Peter wrote about that practice.

A very interesting thread idea SoMissCatholic.Thanks for asking the question because it really is an important one. To answer your question, the reason for this can often be found in the preambles of many of the statements.

Lets take for example the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M), which is the current confession of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is itself an expansion on two earlier BF&M (1925 and 1963 respectively). The BF&M is itself a much revised version of the 1833 New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith. The SBC’s website provides a side by side comparison of all three BF&Ms here. Each begins with a preamble, and all three preambles include the following explanation for how confessions of faith function in the Baptist tradition (emphasis added by me):

(1) That they constitute a consensus of opinion of some Baptist body, large or small, for the general instruction and guidance of our own people and others concerning those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us. They are not intended to add anything to the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

(2) That we do not regard them as complete statements of our faith, having any quality of finality or infallibility. As in the past so in the future, Baptists should hold themselves free to revise their statements of faith as may seem to them wise and expedient at any time.

(3) That any group of Baptists, large or small, have the inherent right to draw up for themselves and publish to the world a confession of their faith whenever they may think it advisable to do so.

(4) That the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.

(5) That they are statements of religious convictions, drawn from the Scriptures, and are not to be used to hamper freedom of thought or investigation in other realms of life.

I think after reading this portion of the BF&M’s preamble it should be readily apparent why a Southern Baptist confession of faith would begin with Scripture. Both the authority and the content that the confession possesses is (at least claimed) to derive entirely from Scripture. It is Scripture first and foremost that should ideally constitute the doctrine and practice of the Church as point four mentions, “Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.” Scripture alone can bind the conscience. If Scripture is not the foundation of any confession of faith (according to this outlook), then such a confession has failed to assert from the beginning why it should be a reliable confession at all.

As the section on The Scriptures proclaims, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction.” Not only does this first line attest to God’s authorship of the Bible, but it sets down from the beginning that Southern Baptists believe that it is the primary means by which God has revealed himself to mankind and the primary means of divine instruction. Through the BF&M, the SBC is essentially saying the following:

Scripture contains God’s revelation to man and divine instruction. So, read that. This document highlights some important points of biblical emphasis and remarks on biblical interpretation that are particularly relevant and essential for the common faith, life, and worship of Southern Baptists.

Of course, there are other ways to know about God, nature, etc. However, what Southern Baptists are emphasizing in their BF&M is that God’s perfect written revelation to man is Scripture. It is in Scripture that we have “the simple conditions of salvation revealed in the New Testament, viz., repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.” We would know a lot less about God if we did not have his most perfect written, universal revelation–the Bible.

(continued in next post)

(continuation of last post)

The Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths was written with much the same rationale.

It was first composed in 1916, two years after the AG was first established by a group of Pentecostal ministers. They were very reluctant to even create written confession of faith or creed in the early years, preferring to claim Scripture as their only confession or creed. Doctrinal controversies quickly put an end to that dream, however. The major controversies erupted over the doctrine of the Trinity (Truths 2 & 3) and initial evidence (see Truths 7 & 8). The language (though no essential doctrine or content) was given somewhat of a major revision in 1961. Still, even today we can see how formative these controversies were to the formation of the AG’s doctrinal identity. Around two pages out of six are dedicated to defending the biblical nature of the Trinity.

Given this history, we can safely assume that the Fundamental Truths were always meant to be an explanation of why certain widely held AG beliefs were biblical and therefore necessary to preserve the unity and fellowship of the AG. Scripture was not just a primary source from which these Fundamental Truths were identified and drawn. A need to identify important matters of Scriptural truth and interpretation was the whole reason the Statement of Fundamental Truths was written to begin with.

So, with that being said, lets now look at the preamble to the Statement of Fundamental Truths both as it now exists today (and how it compares to the Southern Baptist BF&M) and as it was first written and approved at the 1916 General Council of the Assemblies of God. Today, the preamble reads:

The Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. This Statement of Fundamental Truths is intended simply as a basis of fellowship among us (i.e., that we all speak the same thing, 1 Corinthians 1:10; Acts 2:42). The phraseology employed in this Statement is not inspired nor contended for, but the truth set forth is held to be essential to a full-gospel ministry. No claim is made that it covers all Biblical truth, only that it covers our need as to these fundamental doctrines.

Notice the similarity to the BF&M’s preamble. First, both preambles proclaim in almost identical language that Scripture is the “sole authority” or “all-sufficient rule” for faith and practice (see point 4 above). Second, both preambles take pains to point out that these confessions of faith represent merely a consensus of opinon among the subscribers. This is so that all within the fellowship can “speak the same thing” about “those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us” (see point 1 above). Third, both preambles emphasize the incompleteness of such confessions of faith. Neither are inspired or infallible and neither were designed to be inspired or infallible. Both preambles state outright that these confessions are not “complete statements of our faith” (see point 2 above) or that it “covers all Biblical truth.” The statements were not designed to do this. (In the case of Fundamental Truths, the way it came into existence was much like the ancient creeds which were compiled in response to the threat of heresy). These statements as they now stand simply meets the needs of their respective denominations at this time, and both the AG and the SBC reserve the right to change these statements as new controversies and threats to the unity of the fellowship or the integrity to the Christian gospel arise.

Now that we’ve looked at the preamble to the Statement of Fundamental Truths as it exists today and have compared it to the BF&M preamble, I’d like to point out small but still interesting changes that were made to the original preamble, which I’ve reproduced below (emphasis added):

This Statement of Fundamental Truths is not intended as a creed for the Church**, nor as a basis of fellowship among Christians, but only as a basis of unity for the ministry alone (i.e., that we all speak the same thing, 1 Cor. 1:10; Acts 2:42). The human phraseology employed in such statement is not inspired nor contended for, but the truth set forth in such phraseology is held to be essential to a full Gospel ministry. No claim is made that it contains all truth in the Bible, only that it covers our present needs as to these fundamental matters.

First, the original preamble explicitly stated that the Statement of Fundamental Truths was not a creed. The revised preamble has removed this clause, which implicitly recognizes that such a statement does function as a creed, albeit a creed that begins by asserting the all-sufficiency of Scripture in faith and practice.

Second, the original preamble also explicitly stated that this document was not to be used as a “basis of fellowship among Christians” (meaning that it was not a test for determining authentic Christians or excluding other Christians with different beliefs). Originally, it was only to be used as a doctrinal standard for and among ordained ministers, so that both unity and orthodoxy would be guarded.

Third, the original preamble included the phrase “it covers our present needs as to these fundamental matters.” This would indicate that temporary or ad hoc nature of the statement, since it was in response to a series of specific theological disputes where clarity was needed. Later, however, the word “present” was removed, indicating that the AG was beginning to see this statement as more of a permanent and sub-ordinate and somewhat authoritative confession of the Pentecostal faith.

:thumbsup: That is an excellent point!

Thanks for your reply. I understand what you are saying, but it still just seems a little odd to me. Probably because I do not come from a sola scriptura background.

I also find it a little ironic that those certain anti-catholic protestants who love to attack the Church for failing (in their eyes) to put God first, many times have a statement of faith that itself does not put God first.

The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England

**I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
**There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The scriptures are mentioned later.

Well, they would see themselves as putting God first by basing any and all confessions on God’s revelation to man. God is a God of revelation. He is a God who speaks. He has chosen to reveal himself through his word, and it has pleased him to preserve the record of this revelation, including the greatest revelation of all, the Word incarnate, his Son Jesus Christ, in Holy Scripture. So, that is where we begin, the Word of God.

Lutherans and Anglicans, as noted, are exceptions. But it is indeed a common pattern. And the reason, as Itwin said, is that they want to establish the authority for their beliefs before saying what they believe. I agree that this points to a serious problem in Protestantism. Epistemology (how you know what you believe) has become a central part of the faith itself, and this is unhealthy. This has affected Catholics as well (in fact a lot of contemporary Catholic apologetics takes this approach, which I think is a terrible mistake), but the central Catholic creedal statements are unaffected.

The best diagnosis of this problem that I know is William Abraham’s Canon and Criterion. His treatment of medieval Catholicism is unfair–he reads 19th-century Catholic preoccupations back into the Middle Ages, which enables him to argue that the confusion between canonical standards and epistemological criteria goes back before the Reformation. But he’s very good on Protestantism:p

Edwin

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