Charles Carrin’s Open Heart Letter tells his story of leaving the Primitive Baptists for other pastures. It is a very captivating story, whether or not you agree. The following admission really caught my attention.
For 30 years of ministry there were certain New Testament scriptures which I was unable to preach. Why? I felt honor-bound to interpret every Bible verse through our Articles of Faith. If scriptures did not agree with the Articles I thought I was confused about the Scripture. The Articles were right (I reasoned). If I had preached any Scripture contrary to the Articles I would have been excommunicated. I am convinced many other godly pastors are submitting to the same tragic error, and getting the same zero-results in their ministry.
In addition, Carrin wrote, “The enormity of Scripture can never be reduced to a few humanly-composed statements of faith.” Articles of faith are utilitarian for Baptists, but have at least at times been controversial as well – that is, whether you should even have them. In theory, all Baptists believe the Bible is the “only rule of faith and practice.” Most, however, do not think that it is wrong to express one’s views in some type of confession of faith. The early Separate Baptists in the United States for years stood solidly against creeds or articles of faith. George Bagwell expressed their view this way: If human creeds contain less than the Bible on the subject of religion, then they are incomplete. If they contain more than the Bible, they are not worthy of credit—are superfluous. If they contain the same as the Bible, then they are not creeds, but Bible itself. The Separate Baptist aversion to written creeds seems to have been thoughtful and sincere. However, many of them eventually saw the benefit of stating to others some of the things they believed about the Bible.
Properly understood, a statement of faith is neither authoritative nor immutable. It is prepared by individuals or churches to let others know some things they believe about the Bible. Associations adopt a statement of faith usually with the additional reason of providing a sort of minimum standard the churches need to hold in order to be able to cooperate with one another on an associational basis.
The problem with a creed or confession of faith is not that people or churches might try to express what they believe to others, but that their words can become deified documents, existing for their own purposes. The brasen serpent of Moses served a purpose (Numbers 21:8-9). Long after it outlived its purpose, the brasen serpent became a snare to the people (2 Kings 18:4). Hezekiah king of Judah recognized this and called it Nehushtan – a piece of brass – then broke it in pieces.
Let articles of faith succinctly and simply express to others what we believe. If the document becomes a snare, break it in pieces. If we can only preach a creed, break it in pieces. If we are interpreting the Bible by our creed rather than fashioning our creed to the teachings of the Bible, break it in pieces. Let the statement serve a purpose. Let it not become a stumblingblock or an idol.