Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Importance of the Creeds for Christian Youth

Rev. Angus Stewart


Creedless Christianity and Christian Youth

There are various ways of explaining and underscoring the importance of the Reformed creeds, especially as regards the youth. One way is to consider what happens all too often to people (particularly young adults) who develop some interest in Christian things but know little or nothing of the great doctrines and confessions of the Reformation.

Through the influence of peers and the teaching at many Christian youth events, which chime with man's natural inclinations, young creedless converts may be led into Arminian thinking that salvation comes according to man's free will and that evangelism is little more than presenting four spiritual laws.

Many narrate their personal story along these lines: “Along came a friend who raved about some little book that 'took seriously' Scripture's message on the end times or who gave me a copy of a Scofield Reference Bible. Soon I was hooked on dispensationalism, with its literalistic reading of the Old Testament prophets (contrary to their New Testament interpretation) and sensationalistic, science-fiction views of the book of Revelation. I became a 'prophecy expert' and spent my time guessing the identity of the two witnesses of Revelation 11, wondering if the Antichrist will be a Jew or not, and juggling the number 666 in all sorts of ways.”

Along with a dispensationalist view of the future, the young convert often is led to embrace a charismatic view of the present, such that the miraculous signs wrought by Christ and His apostles and prophets in the first century are available now to Spirit-filled people in the twenty-first century. The “healings” performed by big-name televangelists or upon people in other cities and lands; the gibberish gabbled by poor, deceived people; bold assertions by fools or confidence tricksters—all these things are passed off as special works of the Spirit, contemporary manifestations of biblical miracles, tongues and words of wisdom, respectively.

A warmed over “Christian” version of modern, trendy pop culture—bands, lead singers, gigs, etc.—is passed off as “worship.” Feelings are aroused; other young (and not so young) people seem to be enjoying themselves; “God's presence” is said by many to be experienced in their midst. Knowing little about the scriptural and confessional Reformed faith, many are swept away into “will worship” (Col. 2:23).

In this context, baptistic ideas and independentism frequently flourish. “Where does the New Testament expressly state in so many words that the infants of believers should be baptized?” “Baptism is an ordinance signifying our act of faith!” “Where are denominations in the Bible? Or creeds? Or theological seminaries? Surely these things are merely part of 'the traditions of the elders'!”

Though the situation varies somewhat between countries and from place to place, sadly, much of evangelicalism around the world is Arminian in its view of salvation, dispensationalist in eschatology, charismatic or Pentecostal in its view of miracles and worship, and baptist and independent in ecclesiology. Or at least many, if not all, of these traits are dominant.

Many professed believers, especially those brought up in non-Christian homes and converted as young adults and who do not know the riches of the Reformed faith, are carried away, to a greater or lesser extent, by the multitude into some or all of the above, thinking all the while that that is biblical Christianity! Only later do some discover that these are Anabaptist ideas and not those of Scripture and the Reformation at all!

A lot of people—myself included—could have saved themselves a lot of trouble had they been brought up on solid creedal Christianity or introduced to the Reformed faith early in their spiritual life. Some eventually end up disillusioned with the shallowness and frothiness of modern evangelicalism, wondering if that is all that there is. Others get badly burnt, taking years to recover.

The dominant evangelical culture is high on emotions and man-centred fads, and low on doctrine, with much of the little that is taught being false. At best, it ignores the Reformed creeds; often it attacks them. Its devotees are left like a weather vane or a flag on Mount Everest “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). Its people are wide open to the ideas of some popular preacher (like Rob Bell or Rick Warren or Joel Osteen or N. T. Wright) or trendy book (like The Shack) or the latest fad that merely apes the world (like political correctness, women office-bearers, social justice, false ecumenism, etc.) which lead people away from Jesus Christ and His truth.

Readers who have been brought up in solid Reformed homes have a lot for which to thank the sovereign God! In this way, you have been kept from a lot of heartache!

Creedal Christianity and Christian Youth

Let us now turn from the increasingly broad way of modern creedless evangelicalism to the old paths of the confessional Reformed faith. Yes, this way is castigated by many as narrow, but it is a good way providing rest for the soul and leading to life (Jer. 6:16; Matt. 7:13-14).

The number 1 and central objection to creeds is that they are unbiblical. But this Anabaptist position misunderstands the written Word of God and its role. The first thing for which God-breathed Scripture is “profitable” is “doctrine” (II Tim. 3:16). Note that the Bible itself is not doctrine, for it is “profitable for doctrine.” The true church faithfully draws its doctrine from the inerrant and supremely authoritative Scriptures (rightly interpreted) and systematizes it, according to the will of God and by His Holy Spirit.

The creeds are crucial for young adults (and others) in joining and remaining in a faithful church for all three of the distinguishing marks of a true church are directly linked to the creeds. The creeds set forth (1) the pure doctrine of the gospel, (2) the right understanding of the sacraments which the church administers and (3) the standard for church discipline in doctrine and life (Belgic Confession 29). How many, including young people, are members of a church for wrong, man-centred reasons: family, friendliness, etc. Others neglect instituted churches altogether.

Moreover, how are heretics identified and disciplined without the creeds? People point to the Bible. Well and good! But what does the Bible teach? What do the office-bearers and members confess as scriptural doctrine? No one knows for sure! Various people in the church world define it differently, and it changes in peoples' minds over time. How could a heresy charge be framed with such soft and mushy boundaries? Church discipline goes out the window and the third mark of the church is lost!

Biblical and Reformed doctrine summed in the creeds—honestly maintained!—not only shapes the church's membership and discipline but also its preaching (so that, for example, the minister is kept from riding his hobby horse and towing the congregation along), as well as its catechizing and Bible studies and, hence, its missions and sister church relations.

The young believer is helped by the creeds, not only in understanding and experiencing the church's apostolicity and holiness (e.g., Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Days 32-52), but also its catholicity and unity, and that not only with churches around the world today but with faithful creedal churches over the centuries. After all, the creeds to which we subscribe are called the Three Forms of Unity.

Turning to something even more obviously practical and immensely personal for young adults, the creeds (and the Reformed faith they summarize) help in courtship and marriage. If Scripture requires of church members that “all speak the same things,” being “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” so that there are “no divisions” (I Cor. 1:10), how much more ought this be the case with that person with whom you are contemplating becoming “one flesh,” that is, “one body” and “one spirit” (I Cor. 6:16-17)?

“Can two walk together except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3). How then can a man and a woman walk together in marriage (usually for decades) until death them do part, except they be agreed? This involves living together; eating, drinking and sleeping together; praying and worshipping together; engaging in church life together; training children together; working their way through hardships together; confessing their sins against each other; etc. Thus young Reformed adults must date and marry only those with whom they are doctrinally united—united in the creeds. Both must be able to confess the same truth with “I believe,” before they can say, “I do.”