Category Archives: Denomination

Creeds and Christianity

Creeds and Christianity[1]

An important question needs to be entertained here. Why bother with man made confessions and creeds? Are not the words of Scripture sufficient? Shouldn’t we simply keep with the very words of Scripture to be safe?[2] Isn’t the making of Creeds an arrogant expression of dissatisfaction with God’s revelation?

At first blush, this sort of reasoning seems altogether pious and reverent, if not convincing. But were we to follow this line of thinking, will we be safer and will all controversies disappear? Will this make everything simpler? I do not think so.

First of all, the NT church had to contend against the Galatian heresy (see Galatians). Jude speaks about those who “crept in unnoticed…who pervert the grace of God into sensuality” (v.4). John tells us of those who deny that Christ has come in the flesh (2Jn. 7) or deny that Jesus is the Messiah (1 Jn. 2:22, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?). We could list more. Error existed in the first century so Paul anathematizes those who preach a gospel that is different to the one he preaches (Gal. 1:6-9). Jude contended for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This faith that was once for all delivered to the saints is the same as the “good deposit” entrusted to Timothy (2Tim. 1:14).[3] Paul exhorted Timothy to “guard” it. What exactly was he to guard? Is it the truths that Jehovah Witnesses teach? Roman Catholics? Oneness Pentecostals? Mormons?

Each person must clarify what the Bible teaches because many pervert the true sense of the Bible by using the words of Scripture. One writer correctly stated that the “Bible is not its own interpretation.”[4] As Shedd has noted, “An Arian could assent to the Scripture phraseology of the Apostolic Symbol [Creed] as he understood it, but not as it was interpreted by the Nicene Council, as teaching that the Son is ‘very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.'”[5]  For example, a JW member could affirm that Jesus is the Son of God as well as a Mormon. Even some non-Christian religions could affirm the same thing, like the Hindus. Yet, each one imports a different meaning to the phrase. By this one phrase of Scripture wrongly interpreted, the heretic supplants the overall sense of Scripture, its full systematic teaching. To believe that we only need to state scripture is naive biblicism. Not too long after the Reformation, Socinians rose up to argue for a “biblical” theology. They ended up denying the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, Incarnation, etc. on the basis of their literalist hermeneutic.[6]

Warfield has gone so far as to say (he who believed in plenary verbal inspiration) that “[t]he sense of Scripture, not its words, is Scripture.” Meaning, what the Bible teaches is more important than the mere words of Scripture; in other words, the words of Scripture, without the true sense of its meaning can be used deceptively. “It is not simply what the Bible says that is crucial but also what it means, and the only effective way to give public expression to that meaning is by the use of extra-biblical vocabulary and concepts.”[7]  We must not assume a biblical phrase or statement has been rightly understood because it has been affirmed.  Scripture could easily be used to advance heresy. “No ambiguous meanings should be permitted to hide behind a mere repetition of the simple word of Scripture, but all that the Scripture teaches shall be clearly and without equivocation brought out and given expression in the least indeterminate language.”[8]  Naive superficial biblicism seems orthodox and humble. But a call to use only Scripture words has been the cry of the heretics for centuries.[9]

We can offer another example. Everyone would confess that the Bible teaches that we must have faith in order to be saved. But faith in what? Does this faith itself justify?   What is the object of this faith? Does it include Christ? What about Jesus’ work and person? We could go on asking these questions. Some have actually believed that the power of faith itself is saving. Liberal theologians like Paul Tillich defined faith as being ultimately concerned.[10] Is that good enough? Bultmann would strongly argue that we are justified by faith. Yet his understanding of this matter radically differed from historic Protestantism and even from Catholicism, and more importantly, from the true teaching of the Bible.

J. G. Machen’s assessment of Creeds is relevant here.  In his generation, he fought against anti-doctrinalism and fervent experientialism.  His concerns and battles mirror our own struggles. He observed that we are not a creed making generation because of our intellectual and moral indolence.[11] What he said some 70-80 years ago applies even more to our generation. We might not be a creed making generation but we should be a confessional generation.

So, what actually is the purpose of a creed, a confession? Why do we need them? Let me list ten points to answer these questions. These points will also offer some of the positive benefits of having them.

1. They are summary statements of the Bible

They are not expressions of Christian experience. Once again, Machen’s timeless statement helps us here:

The creeds of Christendom are not expressions of Christian experience. They are summary statements of what God has told us in His Word. Far from the subject-matter of the creeds being derived from Christian experience, it is Christian experience which is based upon the truth contained in the creeds; and the truth contained in the creeds is derived from the Bible, which is the Word of God.[12]

Most of us think that the creeds are mere thoughts of men bereft of Biblical support. They view them as mere opinions of dead white men (and I happen to be an American who is half Asian).  It is true they are the convictions of men but are they also biblical? Because they said Jesus was fully God and fully man — do I reject it because they said it or do I accept it because it is biblical? Unfortunately, creedal statements are suspect simply because they are creedal.  Creedal statements, if they are worth anything, are summary statements of the Bible on various theological topics. We accept creedal and confessional statements only because they faithfully summarize the Bible’s teaching. We voluntarily adopt them because we believe they accurately represent what the Bible teaches.

2. They are intended to affirm biblical truths in a precise and discriminating way

The Confessions state precisely what the church believes the Bible says about certain doctrines (teachings). A confessional church voluntarily enters into an association stating that they all believe that the Bible teaches certain truths regarding various theological matters.

Each generation must, by its own study of Scripture, embrace the contents of the Confession. We do not slavishly receive them without reflection, deep study, or prayer. Many times we are forced to say, “I haven’t thought about that issue.” Or, “I thought it was such and such!” only to find out that our opinion was not as thoroughly worked out as the Confession’s.  Just studying the Confession (WCF) and its catechisms (LC and SC) forces us to articulate our own convictions more precisely (whether we accept the Confessional teaching or not).

Let’s use the doctrine of predestination as an example. Many decry this doctrine saying that we cannot know these deep things or they scream, “What about free will?” But, we assert that we are only stating what the Bible has revealed on this matter.  The Bible does teach this doctrine; it is in fact a biblical word. If the person denies predestination while at the same time professing that he only accepts the Bible, then what are we to make of his affirmation of the Bible?  Is he denying what the Bible teaches about the doctrine? Everyone has to believe in the doctrine of predestination (however conceived) because the Bible teaches something about that doctrine. Are we at fault for holding to a view we believe is biblical? Is the other person’s ignorance and lack of reflection on this doctrine more credible simply because he hasn’t given it much attention? One must have a belief in the doctrine because the Bible teaches it. All confessions state something about this doctrine because they sought to affirm the Bible’s truths in a precise way. We should not be denounced for thinking clearly about a doctrine by adopting our Confessional view (after prayer, study, and meditation coram deo).

3. They are purposefully stated to refute and combat errors

In having a Confession, we arm the church and protect her from errors and destructive heresies. Are JWs wrong? What about Mormons? Yes, the Confession clearly sets forth a biblical doctrine of Christology and salvation. We can quickly state the Bible’s teaching on Christ: “who, being the eternal son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.” (SC, 21)  Modern thinkers make non-committal theological statements (e.g., “As long as we love and believe in Jesus…”). They compose positions that are inclusive and not exclusive.[13]  A Roman Catholic can affirm that we are saved by grace through faith and a JW and a Mormon can affirm that Jesus is the Son of God. However, the moment we demand that the theological statements be more focused and precise (“by faith alone” or “fully God and fully man”) is the moment we expose the heretic.[14] 

The Confessional statement takes the entire teaching of Scripture to heart (e.g., fully God and fully man) and not merely an isolated phrase from Scripture (“Son of Man”). Heretics have hidden under the cover of a biblical phrase (wrongly interpreted) but exposed and routed through the clear and precise biblical teaching of the Confession, Creed, or Catechism.

4. A Christian cannot be a Christian without making some creedal statement (credo [I believe…])

A Christian must always give a summary statement of what the Bible teaches on various subjects whenever he conveys his thoughts while witnessing, while instructing, while praying, etc.  It is impossible to not have a doctrinal position. A Confession firmly states what he [more precisely the church] believes. A Christian must believe something. Did you know a JW could confess clearly that he believes everything the Bible teaches? He just interprets the Bible incorrectly (heretically)! So, making a creedal statement will help a believer to distinguish himself from a Jehovah’s Witness!

On the other hand, the one who denies creeds simply has not fleshed out his thoughts on various topics or simply has not thought through any thing.  What does the Bible teach about the natures of Christ? What does the Bible teach about creation, sex, the State, Lord’s Supper, atonement, the Trinity, etc.? He or she may not have a written creed but he or she still embraces a subjective/ internal/ unspecified creed of his/ her own making.  This becomes apparent when they say, “I don’t think those who never heard the gospel will go to hell.” In stating such a position, they have unwittingly conveyed their thoughts on General Revelation, Atonement, Providence, Original Sin, etc. They deny the Scriptural (and Confessional) teaching but also end up affirming the ancient old error of Pelagianism. Everyone has a creed; some understand their creed clearly while the rest remain confused and ambiguous.

5.Those who deny creeds and confessions are often lazy Christians

Those who decry Confessions and affirm the Bible many times hide their laziness. They have not worked through what the Bible has taught on various issues. How do the testaments relate? What role do works play in the OT and the NT in our justification? How does Abraham’s covenant impact the new covenant? Is there an overarching principle pertaining to both covenants? All these are hard questions and most of them have been answered in our Confession. However, most people in our generation have not even considered them. I believe Trueman’s poignant words cannot be refuted.

Some evangelical church members, and even some ministers, decry ‘systematic theology’ as if it were some alien construct imposed on the text only to distort the Bible’s own teaching; but such talk is arrant [downright errant] nonsense.

The Reformers were biblical exegetes par excellence, and yet they constantly brought 1500 years of doctrinal formulation to bear upon their exegesis. If systematic theology has been abused to produce exegetical distortion, that is the fault of the practitioners not the discipline. What I suspect the pulpit critics of systematic theology more often mean is that the theological problem they face in the text is beyond their mental powers, and they are hoping to excuse their lack of hard-headed theological thinking in a manner which makes them appear more, not less, biblical. Better, apparently, to offer the congregation incoherence and confusion than draw upon the theological heritage of the church. Such superficiality has no place in an evangelical pulpit. [15]

I have known very few anti-confessional people who have pondered the numerous and weighty doctrines in the light of Scripture. They decry “systematic theology” and creeds but how have they answered some of the important theological questions of Christ’s two natures? How have they explained the Trinity? Once they convey their thoughts on these questions, they are stating a position either for or against a creed’s teaching. In studying the catechisms, confessions, creeds, etc. we are forced to ponder them, search the Scriptures, ask questions, read, think, pray, meditate, etc. It demands study! It is not for fainthearted or lazy professing Christians. It requires mental energy, constant study, prayerfulness, careful attention to the entire Bible, and a great depth of reflection. Some of us have lost sleep over these issues!

I assume that the person who adopts or embraces a Confessional view has given it serious study and prayer. Lazy is the man or woman who only adopts it because it is convenient. The person may not understand everything thoroughly but he has faithfully given conscientious attention to everything in the Confession or Creed before he adopted it.

6. Aren’t confessional people often spiritually dead (dead orthodoxy)?

Technically, this is a misnomer. A truly orthodox person cannot be spiritually dead (part of being truly orthodox is to be regenerate). However, we recognize that there is an intellectual show of orthodoxy without its power in the person. Nonetheless, we must also notice that we cannot progress unless we have a firm doctrinal position. Our spiritual life depends on faithful adherence to what the Bible teaches. Machen shows a true believer stands on true doctrine. Orthodoxy doesn’t kill; it is the sine qua non of spiritual life.

The subject matter of Christian doctrine, it must be remembered, is fixed. It is found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to which nothing can be added.

Let no one say that the recognition of that fact brings with it a static condition of the human mind or is inimical to progress. On the contrary, it removes the shackles from the human mind and opens up untold avenues of progress.

The truth is, there can be no real progress unless there is something that is fixed. Archimedes said, ‘Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.’ Well, Christian doctrine provides that place to stand. Unless there be such a place to stand, all progress is an illusion. The very idea of progress implies something fixed. There is no progress in a kaleidoscope.[16]

Remember, confessional and non-confessional people can both be “dead” or lifeless. That doesn’t mean confessing certain things makes you dead. In fact, a careful study of these doctrines most often challenges, encourages, nourishes, and enlivens believers. However, there is always the danger of assuming that our experience is the same as our confession. One’s expressed love for his spouse may be far from how he actually treats and loves her. Mark Johnston says the following:

Perhaps the greatest threat of all to the church and the teachings on which she stands in every generation is that of sliding into nominalism. Paul warns Timothy that the Last Days will be characterised by those (in the church) who have a ‘form of godliness’ but who deny its power (2Ti 3.5). He warns against them in the strongest possible terms.

It’s a danger that lurks most subtly in the Reformed community where we are inclined to lay great store on scholarship and precision. It can be paradise for the kind of people who Paul is warning about – especially those who delight in controversy.  The essence of Christianity that is authentically Reformed is its concern for authentic experience. The experiential Calvinism of the Reformation and Puritan eras was driven by the conviction that all truth leads to godliness. The study of theology can never be merely academic.[17]

The fault is not the confession but our sinful souls. The confession does not lead us to death; it is our unbelieving hearts that lead us astray. We must always examine our hearts as we study and confess.

7. Our fallible Confession can be revised

We affirm that the Confession is not infallible and that it can be revised.  The Confession must always be subject to the authority and teaching of Scripture.  We can only receive and adopt the Confession if we believe it is a faithful teaching of Bible. In principle, changes could be made to the Confession (as the American Presbyterian church has done already in the areas of church/state relationship, Pope as being the Antichrist, and its teaching regarding marrying sisters of one’s deceased wife). However, we wonder if our generation is really in a position to offer wise changes. It humbles us when we compare our generation to the piety and theological understanding of the past. 

We think our situation is like a medical student who became a doctor (we’ll call him Dr. Smith).  He finds that six of his peers from his medical school are offering a new method of surgery to the medical community.  These six peers were considered the worst students in his class.  Yet they offer their novel approach right after graduation.  Would we not say that Dr. Smith’s hesitation and reservation are warranted? That does not make the new procedure wrong per se but it does make it suspect because of these doctors’ own ineptitude. We think our church is in a similar situation—all of us are too weak.  Most of our pastors have stopped reading theology and most of them have forgotten to use their biblical original languages. Yes, technically speaking, we could offer corrections. Realistically, we remain ill equipped.

So, when we embrace a Confessional viewpoint it does not mean we have jettisoned the Bible as our sole authority. Embracing a creed or confession means we have concluded that the confession or creed faithfully teaches what the Bible teaches. If everyone in the denomination or a particular church believes the confession is wrong, then they should seek to have it changed.

8. There is a body of doctrine to be believed

Paul speaks of the “good deposit entrusted to you” and the “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13-14); he writes about how the Roman Christians were thrust on to a body of doctrine — “the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17). Jude writes about “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  Paul did not shrink from declaring “the whole counsel of God” in Acts 20:27. In these passages, we are taught that a body of teaching has been received by the church and deviation from it meant a departure from the Gospel. So there is nothing wrong with making that body of doctrine in the Scriptures explicit! Our confessions and creeds do just that! They make the “body of doctrine” explicit and clear!

9. Our generation desperately needs creeds and confessions

Most true evangelicals believe that modern Christians lack theological depth. With all the confusion surrounding our culture (gender issues, theological confusion, weird and odd and heretical perspectives on every doctrine (atonement, Trinity, God’s attributes, Christology, the Holy Spirit, demonology, angels, doctrine of man, etc.)), we need clearer biblical and theological statements and not less.

Pluralism has forced Christians to minimize their convictions but we need to affirm bold biblical theological statements, not to be contrarian but to affirm God’s unique revelation! The world wants to squeeze us into her mold but we need to be transformed by God’s truth. One of the best ways to counter that influence is to clearly know and affirm our theological convictions by way of creeds and confessions.

What modern Christians believe differ from our earlier Protestant forefathers. J. I. Packer once wrote in his introduction to Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, “Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned or even recognized by the pioneer Reformers.”[18] Packer could not have been more correct. We verge on confessing a form of Christianity that has no connection with the historic church because of our therapeutic view of theology. Contemporary Christianity needs to be different from the world and our creeds and confessions will anchor us in the Bible’s teaching far better than what now passes as Christianity.

10. Creeds and Confessions connect us to the Faith confessed by true believers in the past!

Many non-confessional evangelicals now embrace ressourcement theology (a theology of retrieval).[19] They seek to better understand theology by mining the riches of the early church, Medieval divines, and perhaps the Reformers.[20] This movement is refreshing (though not without dangers) because it compels our generation to interact with deep and godly thinkers from the past. The same effect could be gleaned from studying and working through the confessions of the church as well as the older creeds. Surely we can learn from the past!

When we embrace and confess the same doctrines of the early church and the Reformation, we end up standing with the saints of old. We don’t confess in solitary isolation from our brothers and sisters of the past but actually stand with them in the present by our common confession and creed.[21]

[1] The first version of this study was presented in April of 2008. I have reworked the original study and added to it for today’s study (2020).

[2]Anglicans like William Chillingworth argued for this. See B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931; reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 217. Even Philip Doddridge did the same; see D. Macleod, Jesus is Lord: Christology Yesterday and Today  (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 100.  “The biblical terms, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, were freely used by the Sabellian and Arian of early times, because they put a Monarchian or Arian construction upon them” (Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, 2:436). “After all, there is not a heretic in the history of the church who has not claimed to be simply believing what the Bible says, or who has not quoted biblical texts by the score to justify his position. When meaning is at stake, it is not enough simply to quote Bible verses; the overall theological context of those verses is also necessary, as is the deployment of extra-biblical vocabulary” (C. R. Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism [Ross-Shire: Christian Focus Pub., 2004], 76-77).

[3] This is “the pattern of sound words that he heard” from Paul (1:13; cf. 2:2).

[4] Trueman, The Wages of Spin, 76.

[5]Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, 2:437.

[6] See C. R. Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus Pub., 2004), 24-25. Trueman equates our modern creed “No creed but the Bible” with “neo-Socinianism.” He is spot on. Socinians were sophisticated liberals holding to some presuppositions held by our modern Evangelicals.

[7] Trueman, The Wages of Spin, 76.

[8]B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931; reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 218.

[9]R. Letham, “Review of A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, by Robert Reymond,”WTJ 62:2 (2000): “This has been the cry of heretics down the centuries. In the fourth century, the Arians and Eunomians appealed to Scripture, against the Homoousion party’s use of extra-biblical terminology. See the rebuttals of Gregory Nazianzen Fifth Theological Oration, 3, 3; Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, 25; Athanasius, De Decretis, 21. Calvin faced the same problem himself, Institutes 1:13:3. It was because of heresy that the church had to think in this way to defend the faith” (315).

[10]See P. Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957).

[11]J. G. Machen, God Transcendent and Other Selected Sermons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 152.

[12]J. G. Machen, God Transcendent, 145.

[13]Machen, God Transcendent, 147.

[14]Cf. Beattie, The Presbyterian Standards, 36.

[15]C. R. Trueman, Reformation: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow  (Wales: Bryntirion Press, 2000), 72-73.

[16]Machen, God Transcendent, 152.


[18] Packer and Johnston, “Historical and Theological Introduction,” in Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957), 59.

[19] Cf. I offer two examples, some twenty years apart, to show how long this trend has been gaining steam, see Gavin Ortlund, Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019) and Daniel H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999). Numerous other books and essays have been published in the last few decades on this topic.

[20] Many of them criticize Evangelicals for not going beyond the Reformers. I think their criticism lacks weight but that will have to wait for a different time.

[21] Sadly, many evangelicals lack this and in reflecting on these doctrines, they have capitulated to Papism.

Denominations: Is it wrong to be in a denomination?

Being “non-denominational” always sounds better than being in a denomination. No one wants to be “labeled” or narrowly pigeonholed. Some even seem to believe that their non-denominational status is inherently superior to those stuck in an old man made denomination.

But is being in a denomination inherently bad? They seem to imply that a denomination needs a justification for its existence while being non-denominational requires no justification. I don’t know when or how this happened but that seems to be the state of affairs now.

In this study, I want to argue for the benefits of being in a denomination and argue that an independent non-denominational church creates more problems than they know.

What is so great about…?

I want to present a typical scenario to help us look into the supposed benefits of being non-denominational. Let’s say the non-denominational church in question called itself Community Church of Warminster (CCW). This church emphatically distances herself from being connected to a certain denomination. She sells this as her strong point. They remain adamant about this — they desperately seek to be THE community church for everyone in their neighborhood and city.  Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans, non-denominational, etc. can all come. They exclude no one.

Furthermore, denominational churches, they argue, were started by men. Wesley (for Methodists and Wesleyans), Calvin (Presbyterians and Reformed churches), Luther (for Lutherans), etc. A non-denominational church depends only on the Bible and not on the fickle and peculiar personalities of men and fallible institutions. Her eyes behold only the Bible and nothing else!

Sounds great! She remains open to all and excludes no one. They also depend on the Bible and not on men and great personalities. These things appeal to every believer. Who can disagree with that? That surely makes a non-denominational church great! Right?

Hidden Assumptions

Under closer scrutiny, these things may not be as beneficial as they first appear to be. But what does CCW believe? Does CCW tell us anything about what she believes? Will she always believe it? Is that belief dependent on the pastor or her leaders? The simple affirmation, “We just believe in the Bible.” is both naïve and misleading.

No church exists without some doctrinal positions. She has to believe in something. To say they believe in the Bible doesn’t tell us much. The devil espouses the Bible. Jehovah’s Witness and even the Mormons appeal to the Bible. Roman Catholics do the same. The question remains, “What doctrines or teachings do you believe come from the Bible?” Once we frame the question that way, many churches part company from each other. Many churches that purport to believe in the Bible rarely read it from the pulpit.

Most non-denominational churches have a statement of faith or beliefs. Often they tend to express their beliefs in minimal terms. But even here they can mislead. Every church has a position on women preachers, baptism (paedo, credo, salvific, etc.), Lord’s Supper, Christ’s return, its view of the millennium, view of the OT (dispensational, covenantal, etc.), Ten Commandments (all say they believe them but most deny the second and fourth), God’s sovereignty, church discipline, church government, etc. but they rarely ever set forth where they stand on these important issues.

For example, Calvary Chapel[1] lists what they believe. It doesn’t tell us about their view of women’s ministry, Ten Commandments, church discipline, and God’s sovereignty. They believe in baptism by immersion but we know nothing else as to its meaning. They are clearly dispensational though they do not say so. Their Trinitarian formulation borders on being modalistic[2] and their view of Christian fellowship is faulty — the basis of Christian fellowship should not be “Christ’s agape love”[3] (does that clause mean Christ’s love for us or our love for others on account of Christ’s love)?

A lot more could be said. But who holds the pastor accountable? Can the entire church simply change all those views? Does each staff member have to hold to these doctrinal views? Is the pastor the final authority? Are there elders?[4] We don’t really know any of these things.

To Form a Perfect Union?

Individual non-denominational churches remain unconnected to any other church in any formal way. They can meet with other churches but nothing requires or encourages that. In their efforts to be open to everyone, they can only be that way if someone comes to that church. CCW remains unattached to any other church and technically, she could live and die without ever fellowshipping with other local churches!

Presbyterian churches have voluntarily joined themselves together by their mutual confession of faith. We have a “built-in” fellowship. We remain connected to other churches in our denomination and the leadership regularly meets with the leaders of other churches. Some of them meet together as churches on a regular basis while the rest of them have to meet together as elders (in Presbyteries).

Having said all of this, being in a denomination will not necessarily determine the church’s general attitude. She can be either charitable and catholic (in the generic and the true sense of the word) or be sectarian and parochial. Whereas being Presbyterian may help to foster a more generous charitable spirit, it does not necessarily always happen. Truly, if we are one in Christ, then we must love those whom Christ loves.

KEY THOUGHTS: Beyond the Local Church

Creeds and Confessions or What we Believe (Statement of Faith)

A non-denominational church list what they believe. Most are short and very simple. We would expect something like that in CCW.

Conservative Evangelical Bible believing Presbyterian churches hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms. Many godly and learned men met together to write this Confession (all of them well aware of the historic creeds and confessions) and it has stood the test of time since 1646. The WCF was something of a consensus statement by many of the great men of the seventeenth century. These men held to more distinct views on many other matters but these statements in the WCF were held by all of them.

However, “What we Believe” statements seek to be minimal. Therefore their broad statements create many more questions (because they are not as comprehensive). Also, because they were written by a few people and not necessarily by the most biblically and theologically equipped men, they tend to lack depth and insight (being unaware of the broad differences of opinions on certain matters). For example, many people do not know that the modern view of the “rapture” is less than 150 years old! Such a view was never ever considered before this. Yet, some believe if you don’t believe in the “rapture” then you are not a Christian![5]

To argue that nobody wants to follow “men” and instead follow the Bible overlooks a simple point. These “What we Believe” statements were composed by contemporary men and I can hardly believe they are godlier and more theological than the men who penned the WCF. They were all composed by men — which one is more biblical and more thoroughly theological and reflective of the Bible’s overall teaching?

We hold to these Confessions not by coercion but by conviction. After reading, studying and reflecting on the Bible’s teaching, we have come to believe that these statements in the Confession reflect what the Bible teaches as a whole. Yes, they were written by men ages ago but we believe the truth of Scripture has not changed. We embrace these doctrines because we believe they are in accordance with Scripture. The same can be said of the “What we Believe” statements. Both maintain their biblical basis. We affirm more and with greater precision; they affirm very little and some of their statements lack clarity.

KEY THOUGHTS: Minimal vs. Comprehensive; Credal by Conviction and not by Coercion

Church Government

Every church has some form of “leadership.” The question is not over its simplicity vs. complexity but its fidelity to the Bible. Is the church government in accordance with Scripture? Many non-denominational churches do not have “elders” or “deacons.” They have boards, committees, etc. All of them have a “pastor” and other leaders but the Bible clearly teaches that the church leaders are to be her elders who teach and oversee the flock of God.

The “pastor” is not superior to the other elders but they work as a body of elders. They hold each other accountable and are held accountable by the church and Presbytery. Here is where this is very important. We can be sure that everyone will voluntarily teach what the Confession teaches and that it will be (at least it should be!) the same in all the churches. Since all her elders believe the Confession faithfully reflects the Bible’s teaching, they require each individual elder to consistently teach what the Confession teaches.

In a non-denominational church, the pastor often has the highest authority. Sometimes, the ruling body (whatever they might call it, the board, etc.) has the highest authority and they hire and fire as they see fit. The doctrine that is being taught reflects the mind of the individual leader or the governing authority and no external doctrinal standard can hold him or them accountable. For example, in a non-denominational church, the pastor can say, “The Bible does not teach that Jesus is God.” The congregation may not like it but what can they do? Doesn’t it become a power struggle to see if the pastor stays or not? What if several people in the congregation have been convinced by the pastor? What happens now? In a Presbyterian church, we can say up front that we have already declared in our Confession and its Catechisms that the Bible teaches that Jesus is fully God! That doctrine continues to be what we believe the Bible teaches. So, the same pastor could be charged of heresy or formally disciplined and in the end, excommunicated. An appeal could be made to a larger body of elders beyond the congregation if it become messy in the local congregation. The same doctrinal standard will be used both in the local congregation as well as the local presbytery to try the heretic of his Arian Christology!

In a Presbyterian structure, the pastor will be held accountable either by the elders and/or the Presbytery. Her doctrinal distinctives regulate what can being taught! If the pastor no longer believes what he professed to believe when he joined the denomination, then he can leave or be deposed.

Because the Presbyterian church is a Confessional church, you don’t have to wonder what the pastor and the elders believe. Will this pastor teach such and such? You cannot be certain in a non-denominational church. However, in a confessional denominational church, though emphases may differ, each pastor will generally teach those basic doctrinal positions each pastor and elder voluntarily believes.

KEY THOUGHTS: Voluntary Association; Independent vs. Connectionalism (cf. Acts 15); Elders and not Boards, etc.

A Rose by any other name?

A non-denominational church may say they are free from the opinions of men and open to all people. Yet, their doctrinal distinctives, whether explicitly stated in a statement of belief or not, reveal their theological pedigree (whether they know it or not). Everyone is either an Arminian or a Calvinist; a paedobaptist or a credobaptist; covenantal or dispensational (though there may be moderating positions between these two); etc. That is, they are either Baptist or not — each church maintains a position on these and other theological issues.  A church may not want to be called Baptist and yet everything they believe in and everything they teach have been held by Baptists. That doesn’t per se make it right or wrong but not labeling oneself doesn’t mean the church can escape a label. A denominational label describes the kinds of beliefs held by the church — some are conscious of that while others are not. A rose by any other name is still a rose. A Baptist is a Baptist even if he disavows it. Avoiding a theological or denominational label does not enable a church to escape it.

If one has chicken pox, then one has it even if he or she does want to call it that. They could avoid the label entirely but call it what you will, it is still chicken pox. A church may avoid being denominational and being theologically labeled but what they believe still has a “label” perfectly describing them.

KEY THOUGHTS: Theological labels help us and do not limit us

CONCLUSION: There are several non-denominational independent churches that are healthy and powerful in their community (cf. John MacArthur’s church) but the church’s theological distinctives will disappear once the pastor retires. The same could be said about each denominational church but these churches are guaranteed certain theological positions after their pastor retires.


[2] To say “who manifests Himself in three separate persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is classic modalism. The word “manifests” is not the word to use because that is the word Sabellius and other modalists used to describe the Trinity. Our LC says,  “There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one …God” (LC, #9).

[3] This phrase literally means Christ’s love love — there isn’t anything unique about the word “agape” per se no matter how many times ministers argue that it is a unique kind of love (it just means “love”).  Our fellowship is based on our union with Christ and in having the same Holy Spirit dwelling in all of us.

[4] Calvary Chapel’s statement talks about the church government being simplistic — “church government should be simplistic rather than complex and bureaucratic.” It should read “simple” and not “simplistic.” This is a very unfortunate formulation. It states what they avoid but does not set forth what they affirm.

[5] Our view of the “end times” (eschatology) is very basic and held by almost all Christians.