Over the years, churches and councils have developed catechisms and creeds to summarize the key doctrines of the Christian faith. Many of these affirmations of truth show clearly how the church has traditionally viewed Scripture and its authority. As American churches move farther away from the authority of Scripture in our lives and churches, are we losing some of the doctrines that generations of Christians have considered fundamental to the faith? What kind of an effect is this having on morality within the church?
Historical American Christianity
It is clear from many of the old catechisms that the early American church believed the Scriptures—and the Scriptures alone—were the authority in their lives. Two prominent documents, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646–1647) used by Presbyterian and Reformed churches and the Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742) a creed used by Baptist churches, both use almost identical wording to describe the authority and exclusivity of the Word of God,
All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life . . . . The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself…
The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.
The doctrine of the American church has historically been largely based on the Scriptures. Since they believed that Scripture was the ultimate authority, it was Scripture that dictated what they were to believe. For that reason, the fundamentals of Christian doctrine were firmly accepted and a high standard of morality permeated churches and, by extension, much of the culture.
An Alarming New Trend
Today, while many churches and denominations still give lip service to the old creeds and catechisms, the state of the American church shows that they interpret these affirmations of truth in a much different way than did generations before them. According to a Lifeway survey, eight out of ten churchgoers in America think that the Bible is God’s Word and that it is accurate. While on the surface, this looks like a great statistic, a closer look into churches shows that American churchgoers of today do not understand what the Bible being God’s Word actually means.