What guide or standard of authority should we follow in religion: the Bible or man-made denominational creeds and creed books? Different denominations have different creeds and church laws, thereby contributing to religious division and confusion. Should we follow human religious laws or the inspired Scriptures?
Every responsible person realizes that religious people are divided into various different groups. Those who claim to believe in Jesus have formed contradictory, disagreeing denominations.
People often wonder about the cause of this division.
One reason people are divided is that they follow different religious guides or standards of authority: creeds, creed books, church laws, etc. They use different ways to decide what they will believe and practice. When different religious guides disagree with one another, then the people who follow those creeds will necessarily disagree with one another. But, if all people would follow one and only one guide, this would be a major step toward unity.
The purpose of this lesson is to examine the human creeds of various denominations and compare them to the one truly undenominational guide, the Bible.
By a “creed” I refer to a source of authority which a group recognizes as a standard of guidance by which it determines church doctrine. Should we accept as authority in religion the various creeds, creed books, and church laws written by men according to their human wisdom, or should we follow the Divine wisdom revealed in Scripture?
In this study, we will document our statements by quoting from the creeds of various groups. Jesus and His apostles often examined the beliefs of various groups of their day. We will simply follow their example, but we do not seek to hurt anyone. Rather, we are concerned about souls. We seek to help people know truth and receive eternal life.
Notice how the Bible compares to other standards of authority in the following ways:
Every standard must be originated by someone. We here ask who is the originator of these various standards? What is their source?
A. The Bible Came from God.
Its origin is Divine. It is a message from God to man.
John 16:13; [14:26] – Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth. As these men spoke and wrote, the teachings they revealed were not human in origin, but were the very will of God.
1 Corinthians 14:37 – The things Paul wrote were the commandment of the Lord.
2 Timothy 3:15-17 – All scripture is given by inspiration of God.
When we follow the Bible, we are following God’s will for man, not human ideas.
[1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 3:3-5; John 16:13; Matthew 10:19,20; Galatians 1:8-12; 2 Peter 1:20,21; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Luke 10:16]
B. Other Standards Came from Men.
They are human in origin. The writers were not inspired or guided by the Holy Spirit. Generally they do not even claim such. Nevertheless, denominations recognize these writings as authority – rule or law – which the group uses in determining what it should or should not teach and practice.
Methodist Discipline, p. v:
Traditionally United Methodists have not only been happy to be guided by the Discipline as a book of church law, but they have also usually regarded it with a certain degree of reverence… — 1973 edition
Nazarene Manual, p. 27:
…we, the ministers and lay members of the Church of the Nazarene … do hereby ordain, adopt, and set forth as the fundamental law or constitution of the Church of the Nazarene the Articles of Faith, the General Rules, and the Articles of Organization and Government here following… – 1972 Edition.
Page 44 tells how this Constitution may be repealed or amended by 2/3 vote.
Presbyterian Book Of Confessions, section 9.04:
The United Presbyterian Church … is guided by the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds from the time of the early church; the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Second Helvetic Confession from the era of the Reformation; the Westminster Confession and Shorter Catechism from the seventeenth century; and the Theological Declaration of Barmen from the twentieth century” – 1967 edition
Note that they claim these creeds are founded on the Old and New Testaments; but they are not the Old and New Testaments – they are man-made creeds in addition to the Bible.
Roman Catholic Catechism
Page 9: Do we get from the Bible alone all our knowledge and certainty about what God has told us? No, there is also Sacred Tradition … What is tradition? The Word of God handed on to us by the Apostles in their preaching and by their successors in the Church to the present day…Page 51: Did God intend that the Bible alone should be the guide to salvation? No, because certain things in the Bible can be misunderstood, and because the Bible does not have everything God taught.Page 56 – Does Jesus require us to follow the Pope in matters of religion? Yes, because obedience and loyalty to the Pope are among the chief requirements of Our Lord’s plan for unity in His church – A Catechism for Adults, 1975 edition.
Many other examples could be cited. Sometimes members of these groups will affirm that they do not recognize these writings as authority. Nevertheless, the denomination they are a member of does recognize and follow them. These are human standards in addition to the Bible. Men wrote them and men can change them.
What is God’s attitude toward such human authority in religion?
Human authority has never been acceptable to God in spiritual matters.
Isaiah 55:8,9 – Our ways are not God’s ways. His ways are higher than ours as Heaven is higher than earth. Men by our own wisdom are not able to know what pleases God. We cannot invent doctrine and expect Him to be pleased.
Jeremiah 10:23 – It is not in man that walks to direct His path.
Matthew 15:9,13 – For this reason, Jesus forbids our following man-made teachings. It makes our service to God vain. Such doctrines will be rooted up, and those who follow teachers of these doctrines will fall into the ditch (v13,14).
[Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11; Colossians 3:17; Proverbs 14:12; 3:5,6; Revelation 22:18,19; 1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 1 Peter 4:11]
Jesus is the only law-giver for His church.
Matthew 28:18-20 – He had all authority in heaven and on earth, so men should observe all things He commands.
Ephesians 1:22,23 – He is head over all things to His church. What is left for men to rule or make laws over? [James 4:12]
The fundamental error of all man-made religious authority is that it puts man in the place of God. It says that men are wise enough to make rules about how to serve God, whereas God says men do not have this wisdom. Only God has the right to make religious laws, and those laws have all been made and revealed in the Bible.
People who respect the authority of Jesus will not make or follow laws other than those He has revealed. To follow man-made laws is to show lack of respect for Jesus!
How adequate are these standards in meeting our needs? How sufficient and reliable are they as religious guides?
A. The Bible Is a Perfect Standard of Authority.
It completely satisfies everything we need in a standard of religious guidance.
It is complete.
If the Bible did not answer some question that was essential for us to answer to be saved, then we might need some other guide. But the Bible contains all the information we need to please God and be saved.
John 16:13; [14:26] – The Holy Spirit guided apostles to all truth. They wrote in the Scriptures what they received from the Spirit.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 – The Scriptures furnish us perfectly or completely to all good works. They answer every essential religious question.
2 Peter 1:3 – God has granted all things that pertain to life and godliness.
Any information which is not provided in the Bible is information which is not essential to our salvation (Deut. 29:29).
[Acts 20:20,27; Jude 3]
It is understandable.
If the Bible was written in such a way that men could not understand it, then we might need some other standard. But the Bible can be understood by every honest person of normal intelligence, sufficient to receive salvation.
Mark 7:14 – Jesus instructed the multitudes of common people. He said every one of them should understand what He spoke.
2 Timothy 3:15,16 – The Scriptures are able to make men wise to salvation, and are profitable for doctrine, reproof, and instruction in righteousness. But they can so profit us only if we can understand.
1 Corinthians 14:33 – God is not the author of confusion. But if, as some claim, the Bible cannot be understood, then God would be the author of confusion. Since He is not the author of confusion, the Bible must be understandable.
[Eph. 3:3-5; Isaiah 55:11; John 8:31,32; Proverbs 2:1-9]
It is eternal (indestructible).
If the Bible has been so corrupted since it was written that it no longer contains the truth, then we would need a new standard. But the Word of God is eternal.
2 Peter 1:12-15 – The Scriptures were written so people would have the message of inspired men even after those men were dead. It was intended for future generations.
1 Peter 1:22-25 – The word lives and abides forever. It is not like plants that spring up and then die.
2 John 2 – The truth will be with us forever.
John 12:48 – Jesus’ words will be present even at the Judgment as the standard by which our destinies will be determined.
Psalm 119:152,160; Isaiah 40:8; 30:8 – These same promises were made regarding the Old Testament. The promises were fulfilled so completely that the message was preserved hundreds of years till Jesus’ lifetime. It was so perfect then that He and His apostles repeatedly cited Scripture as Divine authority without ever once implying anything was missing or inaccurate.
These same promises have now been made regarding the entire written word, so we can be sure that God, by His power has likewise kept this promise. The record written by the inspired men will always exist and be available to guide honest people.
[Jude 3; Matthew 24:35; Psalm 12:6,7]
It is infallible (inerrant).
If there was any possibility of mistakes being in the Bible, we might need another guide. But there is no mistake because it is the word of God.
John 17:17 – God’s word is truth.
Psalm 33:4 – God’s word is right. You and I may be wrong, but God’s word is never wrong.
God cannot lie or make mistakes. Since the Bible is the word of God, it must be right in everything it teaches.
James 1:25 – The Gospel is “the perfect law of liberty.” We need no guide but the Bible.
[Psalm 119:160,142,128; 19:8; 147:4,5; Romans 3:4; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18; Job 33:16; Num. 23:19]
B. Other Standards Are Imperfect.
The very fact these standards are human in origin proves they are imperfect. What does man ever do perfectly? Further, by comparing them to the Bible, we see they are different. Whenever men take something that is perfect and then change it, they make it imperfect.
There are three possible ways for a man-made standard to be different from the Bible.
1) It may contain more than the Bible. It may teach us to practice something which is not authorized in the Bible. This would be “adding to” God’s word.
2) It may contain less than the Bible. It may release men from practicing something which God’s word teaches us to practice. This is “taking from” God’s word.
3) It may substitute for what the Bible says. This is both taking away what God says and then replacing it by adding something else God did not say.
What does God think about guides that are different from His word?
Galatians 1:8,9 – If anyone, even an angel, preaches a gospel different from what inspired men taught, He is accursed of God.
2 John 9 – Whoever fails to abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. But following human standards – whether by failing to practice what Jesus teaches, or by practicing things He never authorized – is a failure to abide in the teachings of Jesus.
Revelation 22:18,19 – Whoever adds to Jesus’ words, God will add to him the plagues in the book. Whoever takes from God’s words, his part will be removed from the holy city.
Again, the basic error of human standards is that they show a lack of respect for the teachings of Jesus. All human standards are written on the presumption that weak, imperfect human beings can write a better standard than what was written by the all-wise, infallible God. This is why God refuses to allow His people to follow any other standard but the Bible. When we truly respect the teachings of Jesus, then we will not seek any other religious standards of authority.
[Col. 3:17; Acts 3:22,23; Matthew 28:20; 4:4-7; 15:1-14; 7:2l-27; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:16,17.]
What is the fruit or the result that occurs if we follow these guides?
A. The Bible Produces True Christians, Members of the One True Church.
The gospel reproduces like seed.
Luke 8:11,15 – The seed is the word of God. When good hearts receive this seed, it grows and produces fruit. Note the connection between the seed and the fruit.
All doctrines are like plants. The plant bears fruit, which produces a seed. The seed produces more plants, which bear fruit, etc.
In religion, when teachings are planted in a man’s heart, if his heart is receptive (good soil), the seed will produce fruit in that person’s life. He will become the kind of person the teaching says he should be.
1 Peter 1:22-25 – We are born again into God’s family by obeying the incorruptible seed, which is God’s word, the gospel.
Notice this procedure in conversion.
Romans 1:16 – The gospel (seed) is God’s power to salvation.
Romans 10:17 – Hearing the gospel produces faith.
Mark 16:15,16 – Faith leads to obedience – i.e., baptism. The person is thereby forgiven of sins. He is born again as a child of God.
Acts 2:47 – The Lord then adds him to His church, which is God’s family.
Galatians 5:22-24 – He must then bring forth fruit as God teaches – a faithful life. If he remains faithful, he will receive the inheritance, which has been promised to family members.
God’s word is the seed that produces Christians, members of God’s family. This is how the seed worked in the first century; and the same seed will always produce the same results when planted in receptive hearts, even today. If we just follow God’s guide, we become simply Christians, members of Jesus’ church. We are not members of any denomination, just like people in first century were not.
[Acts 2:38; John 3:3,5; Galatians 3:26,27; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Cor. 12:13; 1 Tim 3:15; 1 Peter 1:3,4; Romans 8:14-17]
B. Other Standards Produce Denominations and Division.
False doctrine also produces fruit.
Galatians 6:7 – Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. Seed reproduces after its own kind. The fruit of an apple tree is apples. The fruit of a corn plant is corn. Since man-made standards are a different seed from the Bible, we must expect it to produce different fruit.
Matthew 7:15-20 – Regarding false teachers Jesus warned, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Consider the “fruit” of man-made religious guides.
What fruit do denominational creeds produce?
Some years ago a poll was taken of six denominational leaders regarding their creeds (Gospel Digest, 6/61 – slightly reworded.)
Two questions were asked:
(1) If I refuse to follow the creed of your denomination and follow only the Bible, can I be a member of your denomination? All six denominational preachers answered, “No“!
(2) If I refuse to follow the creed of your denomination and follow only the Bible, can I still be a Christian and go to heaven? All said, “Yes.”
* No human denomination is essential to salvation. All admitted you can be saved outside their denomination.
* No human creed is essential to salvation. All admitted you can be saved without following their creed.
* Human standards result in denominational division. Each denomination has its own creed, and the peculiar doctrines stated in those creeds, are what separate them from one another. And since they admit we need not follow their creeds to be saved, they are admitting they are divided from one another over things that make no difference regarding ones salvation.
* Simply following the Bible will not make you a member of a denomination. In fact, if you insist on following only the Bible, you can’t be a member of a denomination. They will not accept you if you refuse to follow their creeds!
What does God think about these facts?
1 Corinthians 1:10,13 – Paul taught there should be no division among Christians. We must firmly oppose error, but denominational division is not the result of people standing firm for what God requires. They admit people in other denominations are still pleasing to God! They are divided over man-made doctrines. Surely God is displeased.
Ephesians 4:4-6 – There is one body and one faith, just as surely as there is one God. God will not accept many different faiths, any more than He will accept many different gods.
John 17:20,21 – Jesus prayed for unity among believers. But the result of man-made guides is division.
If all people would really obey the Bible, the result would be unity: all people would be Christians, members of the one true church. The fruit of following man-made standards is division: people are divided into many different denominations, contrary to God’s will.
We have learned why we should not follow man-made religious creeds: They are human in origin, they are imperfect, and they lead to denominational division.
But we have also learned how we can please God in spite of all the man-made denominations, creeds, and division. We can be simply Christians, members of Jesus one true church, without being members of any denomination. How? Just like people in the first century were: by rejecting all man-made teachings and following only the pure teachings of the New Testament!
In the survey described earlier, a preacher in the church of Christ was also asked the questions. The substance of his answers was: The church of Christ is not a denomination and we do not have any creed besides the Bible. If someone followed only the Bible, that person not only could be a member of the church of Christ, he would be a member, because that is exactly what one must do to become a member!
What about you? Are you following the undenominational creed?
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