§4. Value and Use of Creeds source
Confessions, in due subordination to the Bible, are of great value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice. In the form of Catechisms they are of especial use in the instruction of children, and facilitate a solid and substantial religious education, in distinction from spasmodic and superficial excitement.
The first object of creeds was to distinguish the Church from the world, from Jews and heathen, afterwards orthodoxy from heresy, and finally denomination from denomination. In all these respects they are still valuable and indispensable in the present order of things. Every well regulated society, secular or religious, needs an organization and constitution, and can not prosper without discipline. Catechisms, liturgies, hymn-books are creeds also as far as they embody doctrine.
There has been much controversy about the degree of the binding force of creeds, and the quia or quatenus in the form of subscription. The whole authority and use of symbolical books has been opposed and denied, especially by Socinians, Quakers, Unitarians, and Rationalists. It is objected that they obstruct the free interpretation of the Bible and the progress of theology; that they interfere with the liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment; that they engender hypocrisy, intolerance, and bigotry; that they produce division and distraction; that they perpetuate religious animosity and the curse of sectarianism; that, by the law of reaction, they produce dogmatic indifferentism, skepticism, and infidelity; that the symbololatry of the Lutheran and Calvinistic State Churches in the seventeenth century is responsible for the apostasy of the eighteenth.
The objections have some force in those State Churches which allow no liberty for dissenting organizations, or when the creeds are virtually put above the Scriptures instead of being subordinated to them. But the creeds, as such, are no more responsible for abuses than the Scriptures themselves, of which they profess to be merely a summary or an exposition. Experience teaches that those sects which reject all creeds are as much under the authority of a traditional system or of certain favorite writers, and as much exposed to controversy, division, and change, as churches with formal creeds. Neither creed nor “no creed” can be an absolute protection of the purity of faith and practice. The best churches have declined or degenerated; and corrupt churches may be revived and regenerated by the Spirit of God, and the Word of God, which abides forever.