When Martin Luther nailed his famous list of 95 statements to the Wittenberg University Church door, he ignited a reforming fire that would blaze across the world. At the heart of his concern was the place of the Bible in the life of the church. Where did ultimate authority reside? In the church? or in the Scripture?
The Reformation movement stood on 5 pillars, historically known as the 5 olas, Latin for "alone." Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone - is the belief that the Bible is our only infallible and inerrant authority simply because it is the Word of God. It finds as its creative source the very breath of God. The church, made up of fallible leaders, has, does, and will make mistakes, poor decisions, and even get wrapped in both personal and doctrinal error. It is only as the church is bound by the Word that it can partner well in the mission of the Kingdom.
But, along the way, those who held to sola scriptura wrote summaries of their doctrines for the purposes of clarity and passing truth to the next generation. These documents, known as creeds took on a significant role in church life, and became a primary educational tool for the young. As a result, creeds, along with confessions of faith, slowly became the place people went to understand, proclaim, and defend biblical truth. This has elevated the practical place of creeds in the life of the church to the extent that many now know them better than their Bibles.
The question must be raised: where do the historic creeds and confessions of the church stand in terms of authority in the church? The simple answer is that, not being inerrant or infallible, the creeds and confessions never rise to the authoritative level of Scripture, and should never become a substitute for knowing, studying and teaching the Bible. Yet, they do carry authority, under the Scriptures, as the gathered wisdom of godly men throughout history. While not inspired by God, they must still be recognized as the conclusions of those men, under the guidance of God the Spirit, labored in the Word and prayer to teach the Scripture to the church for centuries.
So, the Bible or The Creeds? Yes! The Bible is supreme, being God's inerrant Word. And the creeds are helpful guides in understanding the Bible. The Bible alone can bind our consciences to obedience, while the creeds can help us understand what those who have gone before recognized as essential and necessary for the life of obedience.
The Bible is our treasure, and must be our first priority for reading, studying, and reflection. It alone has the power to open blind eyes, bring new life, and sanctify us more and more in godliness. Creeds, being the word of men, while helpful, are no substitute for the Word of God.