Eddie Bauer On Creeds, Promises, And Covenants

I continue to learn theology at one of our local malls. Last fall I learned about True Religion. More recently I was at Eddie Bauer. Upon putting away the store receipt, I happened to notice a little blurb on the back titled, “OUR CREED.” Confessionalist that I am, I could not help but read it. It says, “To give you such outstanding quality, value, service and guarantee that we may be worthy of your high esteem.” My first reaction was to think, “That’s not a creed, that’s a promise. After all, creed is derived from the Latin verb, credere, that is, “to believe.” The Eddie Bauer creed was not propounding any doctrine about God or man.” On reflection, however, I realized that Eddie has a point. Creeds do normally confess weighty doctrines, and Eddie’s creed does not do that, but creeds are also promises. They are promises by those who confess them to those who hear them. Eddie’s creed gets half of it right. When a congregation or a denomination adopts and confesses a creed, it is making a promise to itself and to the members thereof: “This is what we believe, this is the theology, piety, and practice to which we will hold one another accountable.”

Creeds of one sort or another are found throughout the Bible, from Deuteronomy 6:4 (“Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is One”) to 1 Timothy 3:16:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

In the history of Christianity, the church has confessed four genuinely “catholic” (i.e., universal) creeds: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Athanasian Creed. The Protestant or evangelical churches of the Reformation (Lutheran and Reformed) confessed their faith through the catholic creeds, but also by confessing the faith in response to Roman Catholicism and other errors. The Reformed began confessing their faith in the early 1520s. The first great Lutheran confession (signed by John Calvin!) was the Augsburg Confession in 1530. We confessed our faith in the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Canons of Dort (1619), and the Westminster Standards (1647). For a time, the great Protestant or evangelical churches were faithful to these confessions or promises, but gradually that fidelity faded. Adherence to these promises became increasingly nominal (i.e., in name only) or formal (i.e., mere outward profession). When a denomination holds a creed only nominally or only formally, that is “dead orthodoxy.”

Eventually, by the late nineteenth century, some within the Protestant churches began to attack the faith. In some cases, they did so (as in the case of Charles Augustus Briggs) by asserting that they were being more faithful than others and by alleging that those who actually believed the confessions were unfaithful! The tension between the substantial rejection of the confessions and the outward profession of them was too great to maintain. It created an Alice-in-Wonderland world. Those who no longer believed the old creeds eventually came clean and confessed that they no longer really believed the old confessions of faith. On this, see Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism.1

Nevertheless, there was a fairly lengthy period of time—it was different in each case—where folk had substantially broken the promise they made to each other, where pastors broke the promises they made to the members of the congregations, and where members of the congregations broke promises they had made to each other and to their children; and yet they all went on mouthing the creeds and confessions. Then, gradually, they no longer even bothered to recite any creed; and then few could even say what the creed of their church was or even where it was to be found.

Of course, there is nothing entirely new about this. In 2 Kings 22–23, the very same sort of thing is recorded. Remarkably, despite having sworn blood-soaked oaths before God and man (Exod 24), the church lost track of God’s Word! “We will do all the words of this law” became, “Huh?” When the law was recovered, King Josiah’s reaction is instructive:

And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD. And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant. (2 Kgs 23:1–3)

Notice how the king and the people reacted to recovering the Word of God. They made a covenant. They took oaths, they made promises of fidelity. That is the proper response. They heard the great story of redemption again. They believed it again, and they confessed their faith again. Notice how intertwined are the ideas of confessing, covenant, and promise. The one leads to the other and they to the next. They recovered their identity as the redeemed people of God. They took up the divine Word again, they confessed that Word, and they promised fidelity to that Word. This is what God’s people do.

We live in a time of casual relations to promises. They seem to be easily made and easily broken. Businesses do it all the time and the economy is in ruins because of it. Perhaps they learned from the great, prestigious, mainline, tall-steeple Protestant churches. After all, after recovering the good news of justification with God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we confessed our faith, made promises, and swore solemn oaths. But those promises did not last very long.

The crisis in the Church of Scotland, provoked by the blatant challenge to the authority of God’s Word in the church, provides an opportunity for those in that church and elsewhere—in the mainline, borderline, and sideline churches—to reevaluate their relationship to the Word of God and to the confession of that Word in the church. Where are we? Do we confess the faith heartily, or have we forgotten that we even have a creed? Could we find it before the elders visit? Do the elders even care about it anymore? Does it inform our theology, piety, and practice, or are we merely mouthing the words?

We in the borderline and sideline churches, however, should not imagine that nominalism and formalism exist only in the mainline. There is plenty of it in our circles. The mainline did not assume room temperature overnight. They passed through stages. The mainline churches became merely nominally Reformed and merely formal (outward) in their confession—if they bother to confess at all. If it happened to them, it could happen to us. It is happening to us.

Take a lesson from Eddie Bauer. A creed is more than a collection of truths; it is a promise. Forgotten or ignored creeds are broken promises. Take a lesson from King Josiah. The only proper response to broken promises is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Of such is the kingdom of God. Of such is the beginning of a recovery of the Reformed confession.

Notes

  1. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009).

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the Heidelblog in 2009.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


RESOURCES

Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
USA
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


4 comments

  1. Amen. Thanks for this insight. Ever since I read RRC I’ve found a renewed appreciation for the creeds and confessions. It’s struck me that it has become fashionable for young men coming into Presbytery (PCA) to name one or two “exceptions”to the confession. I don’t understand why; is that supposed to be a badge that the candidate has really read and thought about it? As a minister my subscription is indeed a promise to the folks in the church that what the confession says is really what I believe and teach; isn’t it?

  2. I remember my first Presbytery meeting after jumping the dispensational Baptist/Bible Church ship. It was in the North Texas Presbytery and they examined three candidates for licensure. All three took exception to the wording of WCF and WLC on the fourth commandment. One took exception to the wording concerning the second commandment.
    And all were granted. I was still wrapping my head around confessionalism, and I remember turning to the elder from my church sitting next to me and asking, “If none of you actually believe this, why do you bother confessing it?” He didn’t have an actual answer, just some mumblings about BCO regulations.

  3. Machen certainly was and is such a fine Christian stalwart! I’d not known he founded the OPC! I’ve always been highly impressed w/them the several times I visited! The first 2 times I visited the OPC out of Elk Grove, CA., I was so very impressed w/the loving families and their children in particular!
    To this day, I’ve never seen such loving and respectful children as I met there. Nearly all approached me w/open arms, truly respectful w/such glee in their eyes, and even pronounced my difficult last name respectfully! I’ve never forgotten those experiences which occurred in 1993, I believe.
    I just wanted to give a shout out of respect and admiration for the OPC and Mr. Machen. Obviously, we need so many more of these stalwarts and denoms and the like these disturbing days! Glory to our Yahweh God!✝️📖👍

Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are welcome but must observe the moral law. Comments that are profane, deny the gospel, advance positions contrary to the Reformed confession, or irritate the management are subject to deletion. Anonymous comments, posted without permission, are forbidden.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.