Creeds & confessions of the Presbyterian Church in Canada

To God the glory - Chinese text


Victoria's Chinese Presbyterian Church in Canada

Creeds and Confessions

A lecture delivered by Dr. Cecil J. Kirk in The Chinese Presbyterian Church Victoria, British Columbia on Saturday, January 26, 2002

The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a confessional church.  What does that mean? Let me try to answer that question by referring, first of all, to the words which precede the ordination or induction of a minister:

"The Presbyterian Church in Canada is bound to Jesus Christ, her king and head. The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as the written word of God, testifying to Christ the living word, are the canons of all doctrine by which he rules our faith and life."

In other words, everything we do, every decision we make must be tested by and be in accordance with the word of God. But there is a lot in the Bible and so, over the years, the Christian Church has summarized its teachings and put them in capsule form, as it were. These condensed statements are called creeds or confessions. Sometimes too a church may feel the need to clarify a position or make a statement on a particular issue and at such a time a declaration will be issued on that subject. Within the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church in Canada we have examples of each of these and in this course of our discussion this morning we will look at one from each area.

Before proceeding, however, let me make one or two other preliminary statements. First, I want to underline what has already been stated - each of these creeds, confessions or declarations is only a subordinate standard of our church. Our primary standard as a church is the Bible, the Word of God. All these others are secondary to, or come under, the scriptures. I will come back to this point when we think about what Reformed Christians believe. Secondly, to ordinary readers of the English language today, the word "confession" refers to an admission of sin or wrong doing and is associated with sorrow or guilt, but in the tradition of the church "confession of faith" is associated with confidence, certainty and willingness to take a stand. In a confession the church, in effect, says:  "This we most assuredly believe, regardless of what others may believe or of any persecution which may come upon us for taking this stand." It is not the church triumphant which confesses but the church militant, riddled with sin and weakness, which nevertheless gives public utterance to its confidence in God.

In the process of handing down the faith from one generation to another, two actions are required:  the elder should teach the younger, and the younger should show evidence that he has understood and made what he has been taught his own. Teaching the faith is not putting a suit of clothes on a young person, but grafting a living tissue into him. The Christian Church from its earliest days has been ready to profess its faith; indeed there are many such statements of belief to be found in the scriptures themselves. It was during the first four centuries especially however, that the creeds of the church came into being. The word "creed" comes from the Latin "credo - I believe". The earliest creeds were associated with baptism, the instruction of new Christians and defence against heretics and refer not so much to WHAT we believe as in WHOM we believe.

Gradually the creeds developed to help people understand the content and nature of the Christian faith; they were used as an affirmation of faith when people gathered for worship and to explain to those outside the church the beliefs of Christianity. It is in this sense that we repeat one of these creeds at our Communion services. From the N.T. we discover that the earliest creed was probably a simple statement made by those about to be baptized: "I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God." A more intensive statement about God as revealed in Jesus Christ was developed in the churches and became known as the Apostles' Creed. It is apostolic in the sense that it carries us back close to the faith of the church in the age immediately following the apostles themselves.

The structure of the Apostles' Creed is very obvious. It is built around the three persons of the Trinity. The longest of the three articles concerns Jesus Christ. It is the story of his birth, death, resurrection and coming again and forms the very heart of the creed. It becomes clear here that the thought of the time was concerned not with questions about the inner essence of the Trinity but with the truth of the incarnation, the reality of Jesus' human life here on earth. The heresy that was being contested was gnosticism which could not countenance a God who really became a man but wanted to talk about a God who pretended or appeared to be like a man.

In addition to the Apostles' Creed our church also confesses the Nicene Creed. By the fourth century a great debate had arisen in the church regarding the relationship between God the Father who was the Creator, and God the Son who was the Redeemer. Is the Redeemer a kind of second-class God, higher than mankind but lower than the real God? The Roman Empire was literally torn asunder by the debate. By order of the Emperor Constantine about three hundred bishops assembled at Nicaea in 325 A.D. and managed to work out a solution which spoke of the Son as "begotten, not made" and "of one substance with the Father".

But the debate did not end there; dissatisfaction erupted soon again and for the next fifty plus years the creed was strongly contested until at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. the main points of the stand taken at Nicaea were finally ratified. The Nicene Creed is the most universal of all those used by the Christian Church. The structure of the Nicene Creed is much like that of the Apostles' Creed. The first paragraph deals with God the Father Almighty and is quite brief. The second and longest paragraph deals with our Lord Jesus Christ and it is here that the main points which the creed wishes to assert are made with the emphasis being placed in different ways on the unity that there is between Jesus Christ and God the Father. The third paragraph begins with the Holy Spirit and passes on to the Church, baptism, the resurrection and the life to come.

Please note:  this page contains only the beginning excerpt from Dr. Kirks lecture on "Presbyterian Creeds and Confessions - and - Presbyterian Government" part of an introductory 1/2 day workshop given to members of the Victoria Chinese Presbyterian Church on January 26, 2001.

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Rev. Lam translating for Rev. Dr. Kirk at lecture on Presbyterian creeds and  confessions

Please note:  this page contains only the beginning excerpt from Dr. Kirks lecture on "Presbyterian Creeds and Confessions" part of an introductory 1/2 day workshop given to members of the Victoria Chinese Presbyterian Church on January 26, 2001.