John Frame writes:
In my heart, I wish there was no need for creeds or for the denominations that subscribe to them. Denominations are always to some extent the result of sin, of party spirit (see 1 Cor. 1–4). I wish that when someone asked me my religious affiliation, I could simply say “Christian,” and that when someone asked me my religious beliefs, I could simply say, “the Bible.”
Unfortunately, such simple answers are no longer sufficient. All sorts of people today claim to be “Christians”, and even “Bible-believers”, who are actually far from the kingdom of Christ. Liberals, cultists, and new-age syncretists abound. When you visit a neighbour, inviting him to church, he has a right to know what you believe. If you tell him you are a Christian and believe the Bible, he has a right to ask the further question, “What do you (and your church) think the Bible teaches?” That is the question which creeds and confessions are designed to answer. A creed is simply a summary of an individual’s or church’s beliefs as to the teachings of Scripture. And surely there can be no objection to placing such a summary in writing for the convenience of members and inquirers.
Confessions are not Scripture, and they should not be treated as infallible or as ultimately normative. Indeed, I believe it is important that in a church fellowship it be possible to revise the creeds. And for that purpose, it must also be possible for members and officers to dissent from the creed within some limits. Otherwise, practically speaking, the creed will be elevated to a position of authority equivalent to Scripture. A “strict” view of subscription in which ministers are never permitted to speak contrary to any detail of the creed might be seen as a way to protect the orthodoxy of the church. However, in my view, such a view is actually subversive of orthodoxy. The reason why is because it is subversive of biblical authority and sufficiency. Under such a form of subscription, Scripture is not given the freedom to reform the church according to God’s will.
But creeds themselves are perfectly legitimate – not only for churches and individuals, but even for seminaries. For seminaries, too, need to be able to tell supporters, students, and prospective students what kind of doctrine is taught in the curriculum.
The Reformed faith is a wonderful discovery for many Christians. I have heard many people testify that when they began to study Reformed theology, they saw for the first time that the Bible really made sense. In other forms of theology, there is a lot of artificial exegesis: implausible divisions of verses, rationalising “hard passages,” imposing extra-scriptural schemes on the text. Reformed theology seeks to take Scripture very naturally, as the authors (human and divine) evidently intended it to be taken. There are, of course, difficulties within the Reformed system as in others. But many people, when they begin to read the Bible under Reformed teaching, experience an enormous increase in comprehension and in confidence. The Word of God speaks to them in greater power and gives them a greater motivation toward holiness.