CREEDS AND CONFESSIONS.

IN this paper will be found a letter from brother Conrad, of Kentucky, dissenting from some part of our reply to brother Buckley, of Alabama. We are sorry that our remarks have been understood as involving a reflection upon any of our churches or brethren, as nothing could have been more foreign to our intention. So far as we are prepared to answer the first interrogatory of brother Conrad, we believe the practice of writing a brief summary of the faith held, is very general among the Old School Baptist churches, but a practice by no means peculiar to them, but equally common among the New School, and nearly all orders of professed christians; but the practice we believe is not universal among the churches of our faith. It was not our design to denounce the practice, or find fault with the brethren who think them necessary, nor even to insinuate that such brethren as adopt them thereby reject the New Testament as a rule of faith and practice, or think that look insufficient (when duly understood) to thoroughly furnish them to every good work. So far from entertaining such an opinion of our brethren, or of any of them, we are satisfied that their motives are to guard against innovations, heresies, disunion and confusion. In coming together in church fellowship, nothing can be of more importance than harmony; two cannot consistently walk together if they be not agreed. One Lord, one faith and one baptism must be acknowledged, received, professed and practiced, to distinguish the church of Christ from the various branches of anti-christ. The fellowship of the saints also rests on the same basis as at the day of pentecost, when “they that gladly received the word were baptized, and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” - Acts ii. 42. We are aware that many designing men, in order to lead the saints into some new theory, and away from the simplicity of the gospel, have commenced their work by denouncing creeds, confessions, &c., and have professed great attachment for the bible as an infallible rule; and others again, to bring about an unlawful amalgamation of the saints with the children of the bond-woman, have taught that a particular set of views are of little or no importance, and consequently all discriminating confessions should be laid aside. To protect the saints from confusion and disorder therefore, our brethren have in most instances, at the organization of churches, prepared and adopted a written declaration of what they understood to be the doctrine and order of the gospel, as taught in the scriptures.

But brother Conrad will inquire why “we, for ourself, are getting more and more out of favor with written creeds, confessions of faith,” &c.? In answer, we respectfully submit The following reasons, viz.:

First.  The Old School Baptists are coming to be much less in need of written creeds to distinguish them than formerly, by their conformity to the New Testament as their only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice; while every other sect and denomination are departing further and further from even the form of sound words. The time has been when the several branches of anti-christ professed as strict a regard for the scriptures as a rule of faith as the Baptists did; while at the same time they construed the language of the divine record to mean the very opposite of what we were taught by the Spirit to understand; but the time has now come in which they publicly disavow such regard for the bible as a rule, and take the ground that the scriptures were only designed as a general outline of what God requires, and that the ingenuity of man is to be taxed to fill up the blank, by co-working with God, in contriving ways and providing means for the more effectual execution of the divine will and salvation of sinners, and that many things, for which there is neither example or precept in the bible, are of more importance in the work of saving sinners than any thing which the bible contains. Hence a strict adherance to the New Testament is at this time a more prominent and distinctive badge of our peculiar faith, than all the written creeds and confessions that were ever written by uninspired men could possibly be.

Second.  Our next reason is, that whatever written creeds have effected in preventing innovations and confusion in our churches, they cease to be effectual at present. A vast number of the New School churches of our acquaintance have as sound and unexceptionable articles of faith as ally we have ever found written among the Old Fashioned Baptists; and yet run as greedily after the error of Balaam as any of the arminians of the present age; so that the very creeds which were designed to preserve the church from a connection with heresies and heretics are used for the opposite purpose, and churches which have gone quite over into New Schoolism are retained in our associations, because they still retain the written confession of faith in their church book, and annually preface their associational letters with a copy of their original confession, thus rendering themselves perfectly invincible by fortifying themselves with the same confession of faith which we also hold.

Third.  We are more and more convinced by our own observation that there is no valuable object secured by the use of written creeds, which is not equally secured to every gospel church by a direct reference to the word of God. Is it said, “But we differ in our construction of the word of God?” The same may be said of creeds; the truth is, those who would cavil with the scriptures would cavil with the best creed that was ever written by uninspired man.

Fourth.  There is a very great discrepancy in the written confessions in use among those who are perfectly agreed in their understanding of the scriptures. It has not been uncommon in some of our association where the churches were in the most perfect apparent harmony and fellowship, to find in their different versions of the leading sentiments laid down in the preface of their letters an entire want of harmony. We have something like a bushel of such documents which have been sent us for publication at sundry times and from divers places; were they all spread out in the columns of the SIGNS, they would do for more to confuse and obscure the real sentiments of Old School Baptists than to elucidate and make them plain.

Fifth.  Without imputing anything improper to brethren, churches and associations, the writing of a creed to be made binding as a standard of faith, does seem to us to imply what none of our Old School brethren wish or dare to say, viz.: That the New Testament is not a complete and sufficient rule of faith and practice to the saints of God. If complete, it cannot be improved; if sufficient, nothing more is required.

Sixth.  The practice of adopting creeds written by uninspired men, did not originate with the church of God; nor is the practice authorized upon any express or implied command of God, or example of the primitive church. Nothing was required to identify the primitive church more than their strict observance of all things whatsoever Christ had commanded. A confession and profession of faith was required to be made verbally by every person on application for fellowship and membership in the church; on such profession they were received and baptized, and as long as they held fast this profession of their faith by walking conformably to the gospel, they enjoyed the apostles’ fellowship. And it is our honest impression, that the best confession of faith that can be adopted at this time, should be much more plainly written than with ink and paper; there is a way of showing our faith by our works, by our attachment to the cause, our submission to the government of Jesus, our love to the brethren, our close conformity in word and doctrine, and in faith and practice to the New Testament, more effectual than all the written parchments dictated by councils of good or bad men since the apostolic age of the church.

“So let our lips and lives express
The holy gospel we profess;
So let our works and virtues shine,
To prove the doctrine all divine.
Thus shall we best proclaim abroad
The honor of our sovereign God.”

A written creed may be carried in our pockets, while our hearts are far from righteousness; but the faith of God’s elect must exist in the heart, exercising its governing power over those whose happy privilege it is to possess it.

We cannot agree with our correspondent in his application of Romans i. 31, for we have no idea that the characters there described were ever guilty of breaking any covenant entered into by or obligatory upon the members of a gospel church; the violation of any contract is a species of covenant breaking, and as it is required of every one, in uniting with an Old, School Baptist church, to promise conformity to the New Testament, as the only infallible rule of faith and practice, any departure from. that rule, even by substitution of other rules, is so far covenant breaking, and any departure from the scriptures as a rule is so considered, and so treated by our Old School churches, when satisfied that such is the case, whether the thing in which the offending party has offended be named in a set of articles or not.

The confusion alluded to in the church at Corinth, (1 Cor. xiv. 26) was not to be prevented by written confessions, but by a strict observance of the directions which the Holy Ghost gave them by this inspired admonition of the apostle; otherwise, when they came together each might have a creed, each a confession and each a summary of faith, which might possibly differ is widely as the psalms, doctrines, tongues, revelations and interpretations of which Paul complained. This admonition goes rather to show the necessity of keeping everything out of the church that is not plainly authorized, than to show the necessity of additional psalms, doctrines and interpretations. Written confessions, as defined by brother Conrad, are written interpretations of the word, and show the peculiar doctrine embraced in the confession. Let each come together with his written creed, and what would they lack of the confusion which existed among the Corinthians?

Our brother inquires, if we were called to assist in the organization of a church, and we should find the constituents destitute of a written summary, whether we could report them perfectly joined together in the same mind, judgment, &c.? If we should find them perfectly joined in all things contained in the New Testament, we could. But, in our judgment, they might have a set of very clear articles of faith, and each sign his name and pledge himself to abide by them for ever; and still in our estimation lack that perfect unanimity which we consider essential to the fellowship of the gospel. We would not measure them by their written creeds, but by the measuring reed with which John was commanded to measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein; (Rev. xi. 1) and if we should find the city four square, having twelve foundations and twelve gates, and in all things agreeing with the measurement of the reed, we would not dare pronounce her deficient because she had no written creed other than the bible.

Brother Conrad entirely mistook our use of the words, “But who shall dare to say that the New Testament is not a sufficient standard of faith and practice?” in his inference that we designed to charge our brethren with denying the sufficiency of the New Testament as a rule. The church in which we hold our membership, and both churches to which we statedly preach, have written summaries of their faith, and we believe that it would be hard to find any churches in our country who more firmly believe that the New Testament is an infallible, complete and sufficient rule of faith and practice. So that according to his construction of our words, the charge would have fallen heavier upon our own head than on his or any of those brethren who held written confessions, without regarding them in the light in which he understood us to regard them.

It is true we do not regard the Old Testament as a rule of faith and practice to the gospel church, or our faith would still be looking for a Savior to come, and still we should practice the service of the worldly sanctuary, and perform the carnal ordinances of the old dispensation. With this distinction brother Conrad is not only with us, but has carried out his views in clearer language, in “declaring that the scriptures are the only proper rule of faith and practice, and in his profession of faith he only makes a declaration briefly of what he understands to be contained in the New Testament.” In this, if we understand our brother, we are perfectly agreed. We not only hold that it is lawful for the disciples of Jesus to declare frankly what they understand the scriptures to teach, but that it is their duty to do so; and this we intended to express in the words which he quoted from us, viz: “Brethren cannot too well understand each other in regard to their faith and practice.” Certainly such declaration does not require them to disown the New Testament as their only rule.

The want of harmony which brother Conrad inferred, between our remarks, and much of our published writings, and our practice, and above all, in what he understood to be an implied rejection of our brethren and their sentiments, is altogether owing to his understanding us differently from what we designed to express. If there is any implied discrepance between our doctrinal views and those of our brethren in Kentucky, and other places, we are not aware of it; and certainly our brethren abroad have had abundant opportunity to know of our doctrine and practice for the last twelve years.

In regard to Christ’s having quoted from the Old Testament, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, writing, &c., brother Conrad will not say that these were like the saints of the present day, uninspired men; nor do we believe our brother would be willing to give modern written opinions, even of the best of men, an equality with what was written by immediate inspiration of God.

Brother Conrad says all that we write or preach is our creed, and confession of faith, &c. Very true; but not in the common acceptation of these terms; in this qualified sense of creeds and confessions, we not only admit the propriety of them, but we consider it the bounden duty of all the children of God, as opportunity is offered, to declare verbally, or in writing, what God has taught them, and thus contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.

Perhaps we have written sufficiently upon this subject for the present, and we sincerely hope that our explanation may be satisfactory to brother Conrad, and to all others who have been hurt with us. We certainly did not intend to start any new game for controversy. When we wrote to brother Buckley we wrote as we believed, and called on our brethren to examine the subject for themselves, and not trust to our views. Brother C. has complied with our request; he has written frankly, and we think in the spirit and temper of the gospel, and we hope that all that has been written by us both, may serve to edify, and at least lead our brethren to inquire at the holy oracle.

NEW VERNON, N. Y.
July 15, 1844.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 459-467