Often people and even congregations boast of “No Creed but Christ” or “No Creed but the Bible,” meaning they are downplaying the importance of having formulated doctrines of the Scriptures. A while back I wrote the following letter (edited slightly for the blogosphere) to a man named Tony living near the church to whom I had been witnessing. Tony had stated this belief to me and said he did not need to go to church. Perhaps some of the thoughts contained in this letter might be of help to you.
Thank you for the letter that you sent me at the beginning of the month. I thought about visiting you, but then decided to write back so you could think through my answers to your concerns. Then if you would like to talk personally about these things, I would be glad to meet with you.
A statement you made in your letter seems to be a good summary of your concern: “Having been associated with a legalistic church one thing I don’t need is much more doctrine.” You asked if the Reformed Presbyterian Church is big on doctrine. I can understand the concern you are expressing here.
What I would like to ask you to consider, Tony, is that the question you need to be asking at this point in your life is not “How much doctrine is necessary?” but “Whose doctrine am I going to follow?” Jesus warned the Pharisees (who we know were big on doctrine) in Matthew 15 that “Well did Isaiah prophecy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Jesus is stating that their problem was not that they had doctrines, but that the doctrines they had were men’s commandments rather than God’s. He told them the result was that, “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.” In this same story (Matthew 15:1-20), Jesus chastises them because they are more concerned about keeping their ceremonially cleansings (which were not commanded by God but came from the traditions of men) than they were about keeping the fifth commandment regarding honoring their parents.
What this means is that we must be very careful that what a church is teaching comes from the Scriptures and is not man’s false philosophies and traditions. That we must be diligent to do this is seen in the Lord Jesus’ warning to His disciples to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-12). The way to be sure that we are not following cunning teachings and lies is to carefully study the word of God. That’s why God’s word must be like bread to us (Matthew 4:4) as we constantly eat from it so that we will be strong enough to avoid the devil’s temptations. Jesus says His disciples must abide or live in His word, for it is only then that they will be free (John 8:31-32).
That’s why the Lord has given the church teachers so they can build up the saints, so they will not be like children tossed here and there by the crafty doctrines of men, but mature and stable in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). That’s why every Christian must diligently study the Bible, to make sure the teachers he has put himself under are speaking the truth of God’s Word (Acts 17:11). As a pastor, I take God’s commandment in I Timothy 4:13-16 very seriously, “Give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine….Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” How important true doctrine is, for it leads to Christ and salvation (John 5:39)! And false doctrine leads to damnation (Matthew 18:6-7)!
Tony, please be careful about going to a church that makes light of teaching and doctrine as a reaction against the legalism of your former church. It can sound pious to say things like “No creed but Christ.” Yet what someone has said is true, “Men trade in the Ten Commandments of God for the thousands of commandments of men.” If a church does not have a clearly written confession of faith that explains what they believe on essential issues, then people soon find themselves under the binding influence of man’s opinions and traditions rather than the freeing word of God.
I invite you to return or to speak further with me about this issue, for one final encouragement I would give you is to not give up on the church. Often people use a bad experience they have had as an excuse not to go to church at all. Remember, Christ is still Lord and has promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18), which is His body (I Corinthians 12:12-14) that He is the head over (Ephesians 1:22). One of His commands that we must keep is not to forsake worshipping Him and fellowshipping with His body (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Your motto should not be “No Creed but Christ.” Rather, it should be “No Creed but Christ’s Creed.”
Sincerely in Christ’s Service,